OSCAR FORECAST: Best Cinematography 2013

Best Cinematography Predictions (10-17-12):
Lincoln, Janusz Kaminski
Anna Karenina, Seamus McGarvey
Argo, Rodrigo Prieto
Life of Pi, Claudio Miranda
Skyfall, Roger Deakins

Of all the tech categories, Cinematography always has the best chance of honoring a work of artistry that may not necessarily be linked to voters’ overall opinions of the film. In the past decade, we’ve seen such inclusions as the alienating The New World (before praising Malick became en vogue) and the blockbuster Batman Begins. That said, it’s incredibly rare for the winner of Best Picture not to show up here as a nominee, so while there’s some adventure for photography, it’s a far cry from the beacon artistic appreciation in general.

The past two years have brought us a new development in Best Cinematography. Both winners – Hugo and Inception – also won Best Visual Effects while not winning Best Picture. This link means, if nothing else, that innovations in computer technology are now infiltrating cinematography and are going to continue to be heralded in the Effects category and in this one also. That fares very well for Life of Pi, which may be the biggest lock in any category for Best Visual Effects. I hadn’t initially considered the film a visual treasure (at least not on the basis of pure photography), but the more buzz I hear, the more I think it might be this year’s Inception and Hugo. Like those two pictures, there will be people that love it and people that can’t stand it. Life of Pi won’t win Best Picture, but it has to be a frontrunner here at this moment.

As long as Argo remains the frontrunner in the Best Picture category, it will stay a logical choice for a nomination here. The cinematography was lush with muted 1970s browns and grays, while also vibrant, especially when bathed with Hollywood sun. Nothing in the picture felt “new” in terms of its photography, but it did capture the world with the kind of authenticity that bodes well with Academy voters. Similarly, Lincoln has to be considered a favorite, for what will likely be the most exquisite lighting we see from a studio film all year. Nothing comes close to the depth of Kaminski’s deep black shadows. His halo candlelights look to create a wash of nightmarish reality within the walls of old American interiors. Nobody will be shocked if Kaminski wins his third Oscar.

The final two slots will likely come down to The Master, Anna Karenina, Les Misérables, and Skyfall (with Django Unchained having a distinct possibility as well). The Academy has proven it willingness to go for blockbusters in the past, and they love Deakins as much as any shooter working today. If the film gathers support as a smart entry into the James Bond canon, I have a gut feeling people will give it love for its images. The Master has the the 70mm gimmick, but will people go for a film that they see as primarily close-ups? I seriously doubt it. Anna Karenina has been applauded for innovative shooting techniques and startling images. McGarvey and Wright have faired well with the Oscars in the past, I think this one has a very good shot to get in.

Also, don’t be surprised to see Cloud Atlas sneak into this category. I’m unsure how people will respond to the film. There’s a small chance Cloud could still some of Life of Pi’s thunder. Ditto for The Hobbit.

Safe Bets:
Lincoln, Janusz Kaminski
Argo, Rodrigo Prieto
Life of Pi, Claudio Miranda

Strong Possibilities:
Anna Karenina, Seamus McGarvey
Skyfall, Roger Deakins
The Master, Mihai Milaimare Jr.
Les Misérables, Danny Cohen
Cloud Atlas, Frank Griebe + John Toll
Django Unchained, Robert Richardson
The Dark Knight Rises, Wally Pfister

Rest of the Field:
Beasts of the Southern Wild, Ben Richardson
Zero Dark Thirty, Greig Fraser
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Andrew Lesnie

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