Oscar Volley: Best Cinematography Predictions2012 – 2015 would – cpn

BABYLON

CHRIS: The Cinematography category has recently skewed heavily towards Best Picture nominees. Years like 2012 – 2015 would often have 2-3 nominees from outside the Best Picture race. However, the past three years have only had one non-Best Picture nominee crack the lineup (The Tragedy of Macbeth, News of the World, and The Lighthouse respectively). Sensing this trend, I’m starting my predictions by looking at the most likely overlaps between Picture and Cinematography this year. Janusz Kaminski is in good position for lensing The Fabelmans. Not only is it the presumed Best Picture frontrunner, but Kaminski is a two-time winner who has recently scored nominations for Spielberg projects like West Side Story, Lincoln and War Horse.

Bigger is often better, so I’m considering the other epics in the Best Picture race. Even with mixed reactions, Babylon is a large beast and Linus Sandgren has an Oscar for another film with director Damien Chazelle, La La Land…

Blockbusters like Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: The Way of Water which just started screening are also very much in the hunt for their expansive cinematic undertaking. I could also see strong Best Picture contenders like Everything Everywhere All At Once and The Banshees of Inisherin making plays in Cinematography to strengthen their Oscar narrative. EEAAO is a dazzling, ambitious journey through the multiverse which makes inventive use of the camera to tell its story. Meanwhile, the small isle of Inisherin feels magical and desolate at the same time thanks to the beautiful cinematography by Ben Davis. What do you think Eric? Which films are the frontrunner to you in this category?

EMPIRE OF LIGHT

ERIC: I think the frontrunner might be that rare exception: Roger Deakins feels certain to be nominated for Empire of Light (which is looking unlikely as a Best Picture nominee). He and Emmanuel Lubezki are lodged as the two greatest cinematographers working and if either of them has a shot at anything in any given year, they’re going to return. Deakins is a glorious master of light plus he’s the perfect partner for Sam Mendes: he’s able to honor and deliver upon Mendes’ instincts for classicism, but he gives everything a kind of magic that further elevates the work.

Otherwise I agree completely on Janusz Kaminski as a sure bet…he plays smart homage to 8mm and the Bolex days, and then picks moments to go more theatrical when it fits dramatically. His high school segments are pretty standard-issue, but there’s a lot of artful decisions he and Spielberg make together throughout the film. I personally wouldn’t vote for him as one of the five best this year, but he’s guaranteed a nomination. And Linus Sandgren — I’m guessing he’s in third place now…his La La Land win was richly deserved, and here we have a variation on that theme.

CHRIS: You’re right to never bet against Roger Deakins. It may have taken him until his fourteenth nomination to win, but the Academy sure loves him. He’s now won twice, for 1917 and Blade Runner 2049, and has been nominated for six of the past 10 years. While I did not love Empire of Light, I can’t deny that he makes the 80s set English seaside town look gorgeous.

ERIC: The other two slots are wide open. I am a huge fan of Banshees, but it’s McDonagh’s framing, not the cinematography, that feels like the star. “Inventive use of the camera” is a great way to describe EEAAO, but do we think voters will also see that as more of a feat of direction than cinematography? I think they’ll both miss the lineup.

To me, James Friend’s work on All Quiet on the Western Front is a strong contender. It looks and feels different than 1917 did a few years ago, and it’s very painterly. Your thoughts on that? And one other question: to what degree do you think this branch cares about previous Oscar history? For example, do you think they are more likely to embrace people they’ve embraced before, like Darius Khondji (Bardo), Claudio Miranda (Top Gun Maverick), and Greig Fraser (The Batman), despite their films being less typical entries for this category?

THE BATMAN

CHRIS: Between Kaminski and Deakins, I don’t suspect we’ll need too many veteran cinematographers in the category. Some of the biggest names in this category lensed big commercial bombs this year, such as Emmanuel Lubeski (Amsterdam) and John Seale (3000 Years of Longing). Last year’s winner for Dune, Greig Fraser, is back behind another beautifully lensed blockbuster film with The Batman. That franchise has competed in this category before for entries as varied as Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Joker and Batman Forever. This new entry has a very distinct style, with the Iceberg Lounge scenes being visually arresting in particular. I could see it being the fifth Batman movie to compete here. As for the other cinematographers that you mentioned, both Darius Khondji (Bardo) and Claudio Miranda (Top Gun Maverick) are also in the hunt, particularly the latter. Miranda could even win if Top Gun fever sweeps the Oscars.

I love that you brought up James Friend’s work on All Quiet on the Western Front. That film was a visual feast! While it didn’t have as overt of a hook as 1917’s long, tracking shots do, Friend’s work was plenty flashy and harrowing. Combined with the score, All Quiet on the Western Front really packs a punch that voters will likely remember if they bother to see it. It has the potential to be a surprise nominee here, a la Never Look Away. Speaking of that movie, are there any “out of left field” contenders you could expect to show up in slot 5? Are there any that you are rooting for?

Based on momentum and chatter, I wouldn’t count out Mandy Walker’s work on Elvis. It certainly could win the award for MOST Cinematography, but it was a hit and people have embraced Baz’s eccentric style, aggressive zooms and all. Part of me would love to see Nope sneak into this category. The camera did a great job both obfuscating and highlighting its elusive monster. Plus, I’m always a fan of daytime horror. As a self proclaimed Tár-head, I would also love to see Florian Hoffmeister nominated for his work on the film. There are wise framing decisions throughout that put us in Lydia’s skewed perspective, while also creating a sense of unease.

TÁR

ERIC: Chris, I join you in pulling for Hoffmeister’s work in Tár. Todd Field has him working in a muted palette that feels right for the world of classical music and academia, but the scenes somehow feel warm AND cold simultaneously. The cinematography works as a key element to add to the lightly Brechtian tone of the film…Hoffmeister’s work creates a distance and a slightly clinical edge to the proceedings which really helps you read the film. It’s one of the best cinematography achievements of the year in my opinion.

I will probably be wrong on both of these counts, but I’m still not onboard the Elvis and Top Gun: Maverick Oscar bandwagons. I know they’re widely seen, but the crafts people tend not to care about box office, and in fact are often resentful that the folks who get the jobs on movies like this have endless amounts of money in their budgets to achieve their trickier shots, so sometimes these movies are viewed as having limited creativity on the photography side. I’d say Maverick has the larger chance though, and Miranda is super talented. That said, I think Greig Fraser has a better shot than both for The Batman. I think the movie is a turd, but people like this trend towards darkness to the point where you can barely see things…to me, it verges on parody.

What are personal favorites that you’re rooting for? Any out-of-left-fielders you can think of? (I don’t think you’re alone on Nope.)

CHRIS: I’ll stick up for The Batman if only to say I think it has some sense of humor of how self-serious the franchise has become. The cinematography does use a burnt orange sky to lighten up the seedy underworld, which gets more play in this entry. Plus, Robert Pattinson has made a career out of knowing how to appropriately brood and I support that. But that’s neither here nor there.

If there were any longshots I would love to see, I would throw my voice behind Michal Dymek’s work in Eo and K.K. Senthil Kumar’s lensing of RRR. The films could not be any different, of course. There are many bold choices in Eo, in particular the strobing red lights that punctuate much of the film. However, Dymek’s brilliant cinematography is fundamental towards the audience’s interest in the subject. The camera allows us to understand and align with the perspective of the titular donkey and get on board this wild, emotional ride. Speaking of wild rides, no movie this year is as big and bombastic as RRR, and that includes any Marvel adventure or aviation blockbuster. Kumar makes every action set piece, musical number and interpersonal moment feel like a grand, bright, epic spectacle. If Oscar were truly going with “Most Cinematography,” this would be an inventive inclusion.

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