Best Cinematography Predictions

Current Predictions (10-06-11):
Emmanuel Lubezki, Tree of Life
Newton Thomas Sigel, Drive
Wally Pfister, Moneyball
Januscz Kaminski, War Horse
Guillame Schiffman, The Artist

Best Cinematography Notes (10-06-11): Easily one of my favorite Oscar categories. Images are the aspect of films that burn deepest into my memory. Some people eat up dialogue by memorizing lines and consuming screenplays. For me, it’s the images that I take away from films. Even if it’s just the slight angle on a person’s face that helps highlight an expression or a shadow that falls over an actresses eyes as she contemplates a situation, it’s the images I want to dive into. Thankfully, the Academy has been pretty good lately at nominating genuinely beautiful films like Batman Begins, Changeling, and The New World. Rarely do I find their chooses unexpectedly flat.

All signs this year point to Emmanuel Lubezki’s work in Tree of Life. Lubezki consistently churns out textured images with a sense of depth and emotion unlike any other cinematographer I can think of. He is the epitome of soulful with each image a photograph that garners a visceral response. Tree of Life is a total visual and aural experience of the highest degree. If there ever was a film deserving of cinematography recognition this is it. The only thing that might work against Lubezki are the long CGI sequences. Voters may see these as a jarring break from the otherwise naturalist approach. Janusz Kaminski’s work continues to be a step ahead of most cinematographers working today.

A recent side by side comparison of Kaminski’s darkness in Munich as compared to Harris Savides’ work in Amercan Gangster offered me a first hand look at how much depth and detail Kaminski provides a subject. American Gangster is a fine-looking film, one of my favorite of the past decade. Next to Munich it, frankly, looks amateur. You should try it and see for yourself. However, Kaminski has his share of awards including two Oscars. I doubt War Horse will be that extraordinary to get him a win. Likewise, Wally Pfister just won his Oscar last year for Inception. I found his work stunning in Moneyball stunning and a far greater achievement than the gluttonous bravura of Inception. Every image in Moneyball has a lush shadowy quality that provides insight into the dim Northern California gloom. He presents the story in a velvety hue that wasn’t required by the script. It’s a profound achievement. Pfister won’t win the Oscar but he gets the award for being visionary amidst normal circumstances.

If the Academy nominates Drive for Editing and Direction then they will go for it here as well. However, there’s a distinct possibility that Drive could be entirely shut out by the hordes of closed-minded voters. Remember Drive isn’t for the faint of heart and this is an organization that picked The King’s Speech for Best Picture.  Finally, the film most on the fence is The Artist. It’s in black and white so there will be those who hand it awards just because of that. To my eye, the film looks like forgettable pastiche, with a style led first by its very self-conscious visuals. Perhaps I will be surprised but I could see The Artist as being the lazy nomination of this category.

Again, the film to look out for is Hugo. The novel is a rich visual essay that could translate beautifully to the screen. Robert Richardson is no slouch at creating grandiose photography. No surprise here is Hugo gets in. Also, J. Edgar has a very good shot at being recognized. Eastwood’s films are nothing if not always gorgeous. Only Changeling has been nominated recently, which was a well deserved pick. They may honor this one for its photography as well, especially if the film starts garnering praise.

Good Bets:
Emmanuel Lubezki, Tree of Life
Januscz Kaminski, War Horse

Strong Possibilities:
Guillame Schiffman, The Artist
Wally Pfister, Moneyball
Newton Thomas Sigel, Drive
Jeff Cronenweth, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2
Chris Menges, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Robert Richardson, Hugo
Hoyt Can Hoytema, Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy
Andrew Lesnie, Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Tom Stern, J. Edgar

Wishful Thinking:
Adam Stone, Take Shelter

Bad Bets:
Peter Sushitzk, A Dangerous Method
Phedon Papamichaell, The Descendants
Adriana Goldman, Jane Eyre
Phedon Papamichael, The Ides of March

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