This promises to be an interesting addition to the annual awards trail, which could always use new below-the-line honors. Previously, the American Society of Cinematographers has only given out one award for feature film work — the nominees for which were announced last week. This year, however, they’re introducing a second: the Spotlight Award, which will recognize outstanding cinematography in lower-profile films that have either premiered at festivals or opened in limited release.
That, obviously, is great news for international cinema that otherwise doesn’t get much of a foothold in the awards season. (Though, to be fair, the existing ASC Award has been kinder than most to foreign fare: “The Grandmaster” is among this yea’rs nominees, while “The White Ribbon” and “A Very Long Engagement” both won the prize.) Anyway, the inaugural Spotlight Award nominees all hail from outside the US:
Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski, “Ida”
Mark Lee Ping Bin, “Renoir”
Camille Cottagnoud, “Winter Nomads”
Two of these nominees I can vouch for. The Polish period drama “Ida,” a wonderful creative comeback for director Pawel Pawlikowski, won the top prize at the London Film Festival and appeared on my Top 25 list last year; much of its impact comes down to its rich black-and-white cinematography, an exercise in stark composition and glistening contrast.(The film has its US premiere at the Sundance Film Festival next week.)
“Renoir,” meanwhile, was France’s (unsuccessful) 2013 Oscar submission: a biopic of the eponymous Impressionist master, it’s middle-of-the-road stuff, but elevated by Mark Lee Ping Bin’s luminous imagery, which channels the light and palette of Renoir’s own work. (Lee is, of course, one of the craft’s true contemporary masters: his other credits include “In the Mood for Love,” “Norwegian Wood” and “Flight of the Red Balloon.”)
I haven’t seen “Winter Nomads,” a Swiss documentary about French shepherds that appears to be heavy on snow-draped vistas. It’s worth noting that the film won the documentary section at last year’s Camerimage festival, which is specifically dedicated to the art of cinematography; “Ida,” meanwhile, came out on top in the narrative section.
The winner will be announced at the ASC’s awards ceremony on February 1.