Oscars Lowdown 2014: Best Cinematography – Does a longtime bridesmaid finally get his due?

02.20.14 4 years ago 15 Comments

In the lead-up to the 86th annual Academy Awards on March 2, HitFix will be bringing you the lowdown on all 24 Oscar categories with multiple entries each day. Take a few notes and bone up on the competition as we give you the edge in your office Oscar pool!

We couldn’t possibly cover the year in cinematography more than we already have, but to say it once more, it was a pretty astounding year for the form. Great work was left on the sidelines in this Oscar race, as the ASC couldn’t even limit itself to just five nominees. True masters are at work here and I couldn’t begin to complain about any of the inclusions (even if I am bummed about this or that contender that missed).

Nevertheless, it seems as though the Academy will do right by the most deserving of the year’s nominees, as like in a number of below-the-line arenas this year, one film seems to be dominating the conversation.

The nominees are…

“The Grandmaster” (Philippe Le Sourd)
There’s no question that Wong Kar-wai’s latest is of a piece with his portfolio of work, by which I mean it’s an extravagant and lush production captured with gorgeous photography. Even with the ASC nomination, though, it seemed like the film might have difficulty pushing past Best Picture players like “Captain Phillips” and “12 Years a Slave,” but here it is. That’s about as far as the merry-go-round is likely to go on this film (which also picked up a costume design nomination), but it’s hardly alone on that front as this category has a pretty clear choice. (Check out our interview with Le Sourd here.)

“Gravity” (Emmanuel Lubezki)
That choice is “Gravity.” And Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, six nominations in, 20 years removed from his first American gig (“Reality Bites”), he’s set up to finally win an Oscar. He’s probably owed a couple at this stage, for “Sleepy Hollow,” maybe. Certainly for “The New World,” “Children of Men” and “The Tree of Life.” “Gravity” is his crowning achievement to date, though, an impeccable vision against so many odds. It’s a CG marvel, yes, but one with a visual identity owed completely to Lubezki, lest anyone think this win would be undeserved due to the impact of visual effects in the film. Warner Bros. has done a good job of making the technical prowess of this work stand above that fray, and by God, the man deserves it. (Check out our interview with Lubezki here.)

“Inside Llewyn Davis” (Bruno Delbonnel)
The Coen brothers weren’t able to collaborate with their usual DP, Roger Deakins, on “Inside Llewyn Davis.” But what they got from Bruno Delbonnel was some of the richest, most exquisite work of the year. The atmosphere is a character in this film, as it often is in Coen works, and every frame could go on a wall free of context and serve as a beautiful conversation piece. Any other year I’d say give this man a trophy, but it’s tough when there’s a juggernaut like the frontrunner in the room. Whatever the case, nothing takes away from this accomplishment. It may well be Delbonnel’s best work to date, and that’s saying a lot. (Check out our interview with Delbonnel here.)

“Nebraska” (Phedon Papamichael)
Phedon Papamichael finally landed his first Oscar nomination this year for the black and white stylings of Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska.” The landscape does a lot of the work for him in this film, so much stark Americana beauty out there to point a camera at. But the economy of the work and the compositional grace throughout is really beautiful. It was shot in color to provide an out for the studio but it sings on the screen, fooling even the greatest of DPs into thinking it was shot on celluloid rather than digital. I imagine this one may get more than a few votes. (Check out our interview with Papamichael here.)

“Prisoners” (Roger Deakins)
You knew if Roger Deakins had a film in the mix, he’d show up on the final list of nominees, and here he is. “Prisoners” is such a finely crafted film top to bottom and Deakins really seemed to be honing in on something with his work on it. There’s a simplicity to it, a hallmark of much of his work, really, but particularly so here. Frames captured through billows of engine smoke and drab, grimy windows scatter a precipitous landscape captured with an ease of skill that, of course, fellow cinematographers respect immensely. One of these days he’ll get the win. Perhaps next year with “Unbroken?” (Check out our interview with Deakins here.)

Will win: “Gravity”
Could win: “Nebraska”
Should win: “Gravity”
Should have been here: “Her”

I would of course love to have seen Sean Bobbitt here, too, but there were just too many to choose from. Benoît Debie is another. Too many. Hoyte Van Hoytema’s soft touch on “Her,” though, was just amazing. Anyway, while this or that movie will get a couple of votes, you know where the smart money goes.

What do you think deserves to win Best Cinematography this year? Vote in our poll below.

Who should have been here instead? Have your say in the comments section.

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