Oscar Predictions: Best Cinematography

Best Cinematography Nominees:
Lincoln, Janusz Kaminski
SkyfallRoger Deakins
Life of Pi, Claudio Miranda
Django UnchainedRobert Richardson
Anna Karenina, Seamus McGarvey


A good case can be made for four out of the five nominees in this category (Django Unchained seems like an also-ran and has the least likely shot at a win). The curious question will be if the Academy for the fourth year in a row (following AvatarInception and Hugo) goes with a Visual Effects-driven film or if this time they choice a more in-camera choice. My guess, considering the love they’ve already given it with 11 nominations, Life of Pi will win this.

Life of Pi is a visual feast, with highly artistic, symbolic, and colorful computer-generated design. Using a pastel palette and a reflective water surface, the film spends most of its running time relying entirely on its imagery. However, those images seems only partially captured and almost entirely created. The cinematographer not only facilities this scheme but also oversees it conception and deserves to be credited for its overall success. Yet, unlike Inception or Hugo, the “realistic” portions of Life of Pi – making up almost a third of the movie – are shot inside the confines of a sterile apartment. How can a film with such long sections looking so drab actually win this award?

If the Academy doesn’t go with Pi, they might go for Lincoln. Januscz Kaminski pushes the titular character into the shadows of the frame so as to place him beside his numerous political opponents. Kaminski brings scenes filled with crackling dialogue to life by mimicking the glows of natural sunlight and candles. Often resting on a subtle dolly movements instead of quick cuts, the images come in wide shots even while confined to tight interior spaces. It’s rare to see a picture that uses its production design in such a nuanced manner without dismissing it or overly promoting its “wow” factor. While this isn’t the most grandiose work Kaminski has done, it’s his most intricate and fitting. If Daniel Day-Lewis and Tony Kushner get the Oscar, it would be perfect for Kaminski to as well. However, he already has two, so it’s doubtful he wins again.

Skyfall and Anna Karenina are both lensed by experienced and well-lauded British cinematographers. Both films are feasts for the eyes and could easily please enough to get a number of votes. My sense is that Karenina will have too many detractors to stand out, while Skyfall should be seen as too much an “action” film for the tastes of many voters. In truth, Roger Deakins’ work, while stunning for the series, doesn’t stand up next to some of the others in this category. While I do think Skyfall has a shot at the win, if they call Deakins’ name, it will be a vote for his legacy rather than his work on this specific film.

Django Unchained has some of the most sloppily composed and tonally uneven images I’ve seen yet in a Tarantino movie. As though a visual scheme was never entirely laid out or the creator thought the messy construction fit a certain “Spaghetti Western” approach, much of the film feels like it’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. One of my biggest issues with the film is that it doesn’t follow through on the basic conceit of being a Spaghetti Western. I couldn’t tell if it was a straight parody, a lazy homage, or something altogether different. While much of that has to do with writing, directing, and editing, the images don’t add anything compelling to the mix. I’m not a huge fan of Robert Richardson in general, because I think he brings little unique personality to his compositions and lighting (a good reason why he works with some of the most particular directors). This strikes me as some his least interesting work yet.

WILL WIN: Life of Pi
COULD WIN: Skyfall
SHOULD WIN: Lincoln 

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