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2020 Oscar Circuit: Best Cinematography

2020 OSCAR PREDICTIONS: The race for Best Cinematography has long been one that fascinates hardcore Oscar audiences. For the past ten years, we have been living in a golden age of craftsmanship behind the camera. With legendary DPs including Emmanuel Lubezki,  Robert Richardson, and Roger Deakins (15 nominations and soon-to-be six wins among them this decade alone), it’s easy to be more drawn in by this race than all of the other technical awards.

There are a few precursors to consider when forecasting the Oscar here. The two most notable are the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) – the guild that recognizes its own craft and has membership overlapping with the Academy – and the BAFTAs.

The ASC winner (Deakins’ “1917” this year) has gone on to win the Oscar for Cinematography 14 times in the 30-year history of the guild, including eight wins in the past 16 years. That fifty-percent win rate isn’t a super strong stat to hang your prediction on. The BAFTA, however, seems to have forecasted a tad more accurately as of late, with the last seven winners going on to take home Oscar gold.

Another place to look for help is in the Oscar nominated films for Best Visual Effects. Six of the past ten winners there also won for cinematography.

Keeping that all in mind, let’s take a look at this year’s nominees for BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:

The Irishman” (Netflix)
Director of Photography: Rodrigo Prieto

DIRECTOR OF FILM: Martin Scorsese
PREVIOUS NOMINATIONS: “Silence” (2016), “Brokeback Mountain” (2005)
OTHER NOTABLE WORKS: “25th Hour” (2002), “Babel” (2006), “Lust, Caution” (2007), “Argo” (2012), “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013)

OSCAR SCENE: “You always charge a guy with a gun! With a knife, you run away”

Rodrigo Prieto received his third Academy Award nomination for his wonderfully lit work on Martin Scorsese’s latest. In an effort to deliver a changing look to reflect the passing of time, Prieto used fading colors via Kodachrome, Ektachrome, and ENR – each technique reducing color from the last – to span the 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond. Prieto was previously nominated for his work on Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain,” as well as another Scorsese flick, “Silence.”

Joker” (Warner Bros.)
Director of Photography: Lawrence Sher

OTHER NOTABLE WORKS: “The Hangover” (2009), “Wish I Was Here” (2014), “War Dogs” (2016)

OSCAR SCENE: “The Stair Dance”

After 24 years in the business, Lawrence Sher received his first nomination for Todd Phillips’ “Joker.” Like the film’s main character, Sher’s work dances a fine line between reality and fantasy. His slow, deliberate shots are a thing of beauty, often splashing vibrant colors against bleak, greenish-orange hues.

The Lighthouse” (A24)
Director of Photography: Jarin Blaschke

OTHER NOTABLE WORKS: “The Witch” (2015)

OSCAR SCENE: “The Arrival”

Fresh off his win with the American Society of Cinematographers (Spotlight Award), Jarin Blaschke received his first Oscar nomination. The DP’s exceptional work should have been recognized four years prior when he worked with “The Lighthouse” director, Robert Eggers, on “The Witch.” Using a micro-contrast technique via Kodak Double-X, Blaschke captured a dustier, more granular feel, helping set the tone for the dark and desolate themes of the film.

1917” (Universal Pictures)
Director of Photography: Roger Deakins

PREVIOUS NOMINATIONS: “The Shawshank Redemption” (1995), “Fargo” (1996), “Kundun” (1997), “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (2000), “The Man Who Wasn’t There” (2001), “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” (2007), “No Country for Old Men” (2007), “The Reader” (2008), “True Grit” (2010), “Skyfall” (2012), “Prisoners” (2013), “Unbroken” (2014), “Sicario” (2015), “Blade Runner 2049” (2017)
PREVIOUS WINS: “Blade Runner 2049” (2017)
OTHER NOTABLE WORKS: “Barton Fink” (1991), “Jarhead” (2005), “Revolutionary Road” (2008), “A Serious Man” (2009)

OSCAR SCENE: “1600 Men” (or about a dozen other options) 

Simply put, Roger Deakins is a god among men. When creating a list of the all-time best cinematographers, you would have to place Deakins at – or near – the top with the likes of Vittorio Storaro, Robert Burks, and Freddie Young. When it comes to the legendary DPs career work, “1917” just might be his greatest accomplishment. On his way to what will assuredly be his second Oscar (what a crime that this is ONLY his second), Deakins won nearly every major award in his path: NBR, Critics’ Choice, ASC, and almost certainly the BAFTA this weekend). From the scene of the year pictured above, to “The Night Window” sequence through the bombed-out French village, to the plane crash scene made famous by the film’s trailer, every frame is detailed and choreographed to the point that drives Sam Mendes’ movie to masterpiece-level cinema, and wholly immersive experience.

Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood” (Sony Pictures)
Director of Photography: Robert Richardson

DIRECTOR OF FILM: Quentin Tarantino
PREVIOUS NOMINATIONS: “Platoon” (1986), “Born on the Fourth of July” (1989), “JFK” (1991), “Snow Falling on Cedars” (1999), “The Aviator” (2005), “Inglourious Basterds” (2009), “Hugo” (2011), “Django Unchained” (2012), “The Hateful Eight” (2015)
PREVIOUS WINS: “JFK” (1991), “The Aviator” (2005), “Hugo” (2011)
OTHER NOTABLE WORKS: “A Few Good Men” (1992), “Heaven & Earth” (1993), “The Horse Whisperer” (1998), “Kill Bill Vol. 1” (2003), “Kill Bill Vol. 2” (2004), “The Good Shepherd” (2006), “Shutter Island” (2010)

OSCAR SCENE: “The Dance Party”

Like Prieto’s work on “The Irishman,” Robert Richardson majestically captured an era 50 years in the past. Tarantino’s most personal work covers Hollywood at the end of its golden age, and Richardson’s retro-approach to the film’s esthetics (using mostly anamorphic Kodak 35mm) turns “Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood” into a time capsule of 1969. His use of long tracking shots and extreme closeups made “Once” one of the more subtle cinematographic achievements this year.

WILL WIN: “1917”
SHOULD WIN: “1917”
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”


  1. 1917” (Roger Deakins)
  2. The Irishman” (Rodrigo Prieto)
  3. Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood” (Robert Richardson)
  4. Joker” (Lawrence Sher)
  5. The Lighthouse” (Jarin Blaschke)

Share your thoughts on the race for Best Cinematography below!

What do you think?

AC Fan

Written by Mark Johnson

Lover of all things film and Oscar. Fantasy sports’ equivalent of George Steinbrenner. Your very own Han Solo, making friends all over the movie-loving galaxy in spite of himself. When he’s not ranking just about everything or dominating boardgames, Mark is breaking down the Oscar race 24/7 with Rain Man-like stats and knowledge. In his downtime, you can find him commiserating with other Northeast Ohio sports fans because a hero isn’t complete without a little heartbreak. If Game of Thrones, Lost, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and Survivor are your style, then congratulations, you have something in common with this inglourious basterd.

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