Categories One-by-One: Cinematography

For the films of 2014
Kellens101
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Re: Categories One-by-One: Cinematography

Postby Kellens101 » Tue Feb 17, 2015 10:31 am

The Original BJ wrote:An interesting race, with some very good nominees, but a conundrum in terms of making a prediction. The two nomination leaders don't have the kind of traditionally beautiful visuals that usually win, the most superficially obvious candidate was a critically disliked Oscar bust, and the other more classically gorgeous pictures were low-grossing artier efforts.

Ida was a terrific nomination morning surprise. I think the images are startlingly beautiful -- gorgeously lit, immaculately framed, and full of emotional resonance even when quietly still. (The shot of the open window after the movie's most dramatic moment sticks in the memory quite powerfully.) Of course, the movie has some major hurdles to overcome to win, which dws pointed out -- it's black-and-white AND foreign. If The White Ribbon, with the most acclaimed cinematography of its year and an ASC award, couldn't do it...if Good Night, and Good Luck, a Best Picture nominee in English couldn't do it...I have a hard time seeing Ida being anything other than a cool niche nominee.

As I said in the ASC thread, the nomination for The Grand Budapest Hotel is a great reward for a kind of cinematography we don't see in this category very much, one where the framing and camera movement are the key elements in making the photography so unique. This isn't to say the movie doesn't pop with a dazzling display of cinematographic color -- in a way, it's almost like the inverse of Ida -- but I rate both Costume Design and (especially) Production Design far more likely places for the Academy to reward Budapest for its visual panache. The movie's overall popularity, and the fact that it IS visually exciting, certainly keep it in the running, though.

Strictly in terms of visuals, Unbroken would seem on the surface like the most typical winner in this category. I depart a bit from dws in admiring the cinematography as much -- obviously there's a level of visual beauty here that's undeniable, but it feels pretty generic to me, like standard prestige movie gloss, rather than anything unique. I do think, though, that there are a handful of shots that make one think "Cinematography prize" while watching the movie, so I'd argue it's definitely in the running for the award. But, of course, it has some key drawbacks as well, mainly the fact that the movie just doesn't seem that well liked with Oscar branches, not even getting the decent below-the-line haul many thought it would. Also, I assumed there might be more chatter about the fact that Roger Deakins is monumentally overdue for this prize, but it's been pretty quiet on that front too. A while back I suggested Legends of the Fall might be an apt precedent for failed Oscar bait triumphing here, and that movie actually won over a not dissimilar slate -- two Best Pic nominees that weren't classically beautiful, an eye-catching but foreign nominee, and a low-grosser from outside the main races.

Of course, there's a world of difference between '94's low-grosser, which was a big flop, and this year's, a highly acclaimed effort with a stronger-than-anticipated showing in nominations. I hadn't really thought of Mr. Turner as a possible win candidate until Mister Tee implied it yesterday, but it certainly could be a kind of compromise choice. It's a gorgeously shot movie, with landscapes designed to look like works of art, and beautifully lit interiors that somehow don't manage to feel self-consciously arty, but down-to-earth and lived-in. And it seems like the kind of movie that could appeal to a wide range of Academy voters -- I imagine the more conservative crowd will find it a tasteful period piece, with the auteurists admiring it for its stylistic and narrative invention. Plus, as I said in the Costume Design thread, I think a majority of voters will make a point to check it out. In really examining the race, I have to rate it a higher candidate than I initially thought.

I agree with what Mister Tee wrote a while back, that Birdman could win the ASC prize and still lose the Oscar -- there's precedent for Lubezki's highly acclaimed work to appeal to Cinematographers (Children of Men, The Tree of Life) but to fall short with the Academy membership as a whole. But despite the fact that the visual innovation of the movie's seemingly one-take wonder isn't the kind of thing that usually wins here, it's not often that such singular work is attached to a movie as Oscar-popular as Birdman, and though there are some major categories where the movie will compete very strongly, this does feel like a category around which the movie's partisans will want to coalesce. And in terms of finding a recent precedent for a winner, this might be an odd comparison, but I wonder if American Beauty might be something of a forerunner. It, too, was a movie widely praised for its cinematography, but it didn't feature the kinds of epic shots and natural landscapes typically associated with the victor in this category. But, at the end of the day, the combo of visual panache, legendary cinematographer status (which by this point Lubezki has achieved), and Best Picture pull was enough to get the movie the win here.

I'm not making a prediction quite yet -- I'm very interested to see where the ASC goes first. That said, if Birdman keeps up its winning streak, I could still see it losing the Oscar. And if Unbroken or Mr. Turner prevail, I wouldn't necessarily bet the farm on either of them winning with Oscar either.


It's such a hard choice. What would you pick as best of the year? It's a tough decision between the beautiful black and white of Ida, the painting-like compositions of Mr Turner, and the glorious one-take of Birdman.

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Re: Categories One-by-One: Cinematography

Postby nightwingnova » Thu Feb 12, 2015 4:29 pm

For me, this is the trickiest category this year.

In recent years, the Academy has chosen sweeping and splashy extravaganzas with varying degrees of CGI: Avatar, Inception, Life of Pi and Gravity.

The one exception: the sublimely filmed hit and Best Picture nominee Hugo beat the acclaimed cinematography of Best Picture nominee but low box office performer The Tree of Life and the wonderfully proficient film of Best Picture winner The Artist.

No winning film in this category has not been also nominated for Best Picture or Best Foreign Language Film for 10 years (since Memoirs of a Geisha).

So that should eliminate Mr. Turner (sorry) and Unbroken, especially since they haven't garnered much Oscar news attention.

Ida is in the running because there is a precedent for a foreign language winner - Pan's Labyrinth for 2006. But Labyrinth garnered much publicity for Guillermo del Toro's fantastical world and was a hit by foreign language film standards. Ida so far has earned somewhat over $3M.

So we're left with Best Picture front runner Birdman for its technical proficiency (appearance of being filmed in one take) and fellow Best Picture nominee, the colorful comedy Grand Budapest Hotel. No other substantive precedents to follow. Both pictures are critical favorites.

Comedies tend to get the short shrift from the Academy but Grand Budapest looks real good and the cinematography lends significantly to the overall comedic tone and effect and pretty images.

On the other hand, while Birdman's cinematographic achievement isn't showy, it is well-filmed and it's technical achievement celebrated within the industry (the question is how many of those actually casting ballots have been exposed to this publicity).

Ok, taking a chance, I'll go with the "serious" film and celebrated technical achievement over the much prettier but comedic film (some of you have mentioned American Beauty as a comparable precedent).

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Re: Categories One-by-One: Cinematography

Postby CalWilliam » Thu Jan 29, 2015 7:14 am

You all have said everything on this category, but just some quick thoughts:

2007 was a tough year for predicting tech categories indeed, and Roger Deakins was nominated twice for No country for old men and Jesse James (two outstanding works) and finally There will be blood won. How this man doesn't have an Oscar yet is beyond me. So we'll have to wait more, because Unbroken is NOT the film he should be rewarded with. It's a bad movie with gorgeous visuals, too beautiful, too harmless according to what the movie is dealing with (or tries to), so for me it turns out to be contradictory cinematography, but I suppose this is not Deakins' fault, but Angelina's. If he didn't win along with Coens, nor for Jesse James, nor for Skyfall, nor for True grit, he definitely won't have a chance this year neither.
Mauro Fiore 1 - Roger Deakins 0. Shame on you, Academy.

The Grand Budapest Hotel should win in other categories in spite of this one, specially considering two other and truly impressive works this year.

I don't care about Ida. They love nominating black & white movies just for showing off. Of course, it's a good work, but as you've already said, NO chance at all.

That leaves us with Mr. Turner and Birdman. It's true Birdman would be some kind of an unprecedent winner, but this is just too remarkable to let it scape, and Lubezki is indeed a two time Oscar caliber winner, though I think his Gravity victory was undeserved. Not winning for The tree of life was another crime perpetrated by the Academy members.
I'd be happy with Mr. Turner prevailing, but it seems very unlikely, though it'd be a great winner.
My own conclusion turns out to be a category full of brilliant stuff, with an uncertain result, but I truly believe Lubezki's victory will be easy again.

Ultimately the thoughts were not that quick. :roll:
"Rage, rage against the dying of the light". - Dylan Thomas

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Re: Categories One-by-One: Cinematography

Postby Mister Tee » Wed Jan 28, 2015 9:05 pm

When I read dws’ take this afternoon, I thought, Well, I don’t have much to add to that – and then, the one original observation I thought I might make, BJ managed to note first.

A thought about the now-officially-aborted string of CGI movie wins: is it possible the branch did us a favor by not nominating Interstellar? Give how confused we all are about the category, might it have managed a plurality victory?

Legends of the Fall is an interesting analogy for Unbroken – both films were completely out of the topline races, but got three below-the-line mentions, including cinematography and sound (Fall’s third was art direction). But I had the sense the Pitt film was a hot-shot contender that year, where Unbroken feels like an fterthought. Legends of the Fall had come from pretty much nowhere and turned into a substantial hit; it marked the true beginning of Brad as box-office draw all by himself. And it had lots of wide-open vistas, the sort voters had often gone for in the category (as they had just two years earlier with another Pitt vehicle, A River Runs Through It).

I haven’t see Unbroken, which disqualifies me from rating it as visual achievement. But the reason I haven’t seen it might be worth noting: I’d have gladly attended last weekend, but the film was gone from all but one inconveniently located, second-string theatre. A movie that cracked $100 million, out of major NY theatres in four weeks. This suggests to me that, while the film pulled in an impressive enough dollar amount, it did it quick and dirty…like a crappy pre-sold summer movie. Whatever its final totals, it feels a bit like a fizzle. Now, it’s possible it’s still playing profitably in other areas of the country, but I’d suggest my neighborhood is closer to the Academy demographic, and if it can’t linger there, its award chances aren’t great. Even though, on paper, it seems the “prettiest”, and thus a potential choice.

I agree with both of you, that Ida is a wonderful-looking movie – black and white, which is almost always interesting on its own, but also full of memorable images. It’s hard for me to imagine it winning here, but then, on some level, I can say that about all five of these nominees.

Of the three visual categories, this seems the least likely place for Grand Budapest Hotel to triumph. It’s well-shot throughout, but the most striking frames are more apt to be viewed as credit to the director (for his staging) than to the cinematographer. It is true that a recent movie we thought mostly a triumph of design, Hugo, managed to pull its cinematographer along for an additional win – but, even if we didn’t agree with Hugo blocking out Tree of Life, I think we mostly saw it as sweepingly impressive enough that its win wasn’t an outrage. I don’t quite have that sense about Grand Budapest, which feels a bit small.

Speaking of things getting credited to the director: do people really think Lubezki is going to get votes from the un-cognoscenti simply for the movement of the camera? Don’t most see that as more a facet of directing? I felt the same when people were touting Children of Men: they kept talking about those long takes, whereas I thought a better sales pitch would have been the dust-of-war look of that final half hour. To a lot of people (I think a lot of voters), cinematographer means lighting cameraman, not the guy who points the camera this way or that. Now, clearly, Lubezki had to make all those long shots work, and lighting them properly was very much part of that; I’m not dismissing his work. I’m just saying by the classic definitions of this category, a film shot predominantly indoors, however acrobatically, would be a very atypical choice.

However, as I was going to say and BJ trumped me, America Beauty would be something of a precedent – at least as “movie that wins best cinematography without fitting any known profile”. In 1999, too, you had a brand-name cinematographer associated with a best picture contender, whose competition included another best picture hopeful (The Insider) without classic cinematography credentials (i.e., lots of interiors), and some low earners (The End of the Affair, Snow Falling on Cedars). The strongest challenge there probably came from – irony noted – Lubezki for Sleepy Hollow, but voters opted to keep Tim Burton in the production design ghetto. So Conrad Hall, as immensely popular with ASC as Lubezki is, got his rather unlikely second Oscar. Maybe we’ll see a repeat.

But, as BJ intuited from my hand-tipping yesterday, I’ve come around to thinking of Mr. Turner as the solution to this puzzle. I thought I was out on a wobbly limb with that, and I’m surprised/pleased to see dws has reached the same place. Of the four I’ve seen, it’s the most visually striking film; if it were a $40 million dollar grosser with, say, Benedict Cumberbatch, I think it’d be an obvious pick. The quite low financial profile means it’ll have to fight every step of the way, but I think it’s got as good a chance as any to be the last film standing.

Worth noting, the last year I can recall where the techs were this hard to figure – 2007 – I think I made the wrong picks just about everywhere. So, take my view with a grain of salt.

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Re: Categories One-by-One: Cinematography

Postby The Original BJ » Wed Jan 28, 2015 7:10 pm

An interesting race, with some very good nominees, but a conundrum in terms of making a prediction. The two nomination leaders don't have the kind of traditionally beautiful visuals that usually win, the most superficially obvious candidate was a critically disliked Oscar bust, and the other more classically gorgeous pictures were low-grossing artier efforts.

Ida was a terrific nomination morning surprise. I think the images are startlingly beautiful -- gorgeously lit, immaculately framed, and full of emotional resonance even when quietly still. (The shot of the open window after the movie's most dramatic moment sticks in the memory quite powerfully.) Of course, the movie has some major hurdles to overcome to win, which dws pointed out -- it's black-and-white AND foreign. If The White Ribbon, with the most acclaimed cinematography of its year and an ASC award, couldn't do it...if Good Night, and Good Luck, a Best Picture nominee in English couldn't do it...I have a hard time seeing Ida being anything other than a cool niche nominee.

As I said in the ASC thread, the nomination for The Grand Budapest Hotel is a great reward for a kind of cinematography we don't see in this category very much, one where the framing and camera movement are the key elements in making the photography so unique. This isn't to say the movie doesn't pop with a dazzling display of cinematographic color -- in a way, it's almost like the inverse of Ida -- but I rate both Costume Design and (especially) Production Design far more likely places for the Academy to reward Budapest for its visual panache. The movie's overall popularity, and the fact that it IS visually exciting, certainly keep it in the running, though.

Strictly in terms of visuals, Unbroken would seem on the surface like the most typical winner in this category. I depart a bit from dws in admiring the cinematography as much -- obviously there's a level of visual beauty here that's undeniable, but it feels pretty generic to me, like standard prestige movie gloss, rather than anything unique. I do think, though, that there are a handful of shots that make one think "Cinematography prize" while watching the movie, so I'd argue it's definitely in the running for the award. But, of course, it has some key drawbacks as well, mainly the fact that the movie just doesn't seem that well liked with Oscar branches, not even getting the decent below-the-line haul many thought it would. Also, I assumed there might be more chatter about the fact that Roger Deakins is monumentally overdue for this prize, but it's been pretty quiet on that front too. A while back I suggested Legends of the Fall might be an apt precedent for failed Oscar bait triumphing here, and that movie actually won over a not dissimilar slate -- two Best Pic nominees that weren't classically beautiful, an eye-catching but foreign nominee, and a low-grosser from outside the main races.

Of course, there's a world of difference between '94's low-grosser, which was a big flop, and this year's, a highly acclaimed effort with a stronger-than-anticipated showing in nominations. I hadn't really thought of Mr. Turner as a possible win candidate until Mister Tee implied it yesterday, but it certainly could be a kind of compromise choice. It's a gorgeously shot movie, with landscapes designed to look like works of art, and beautifully lit interiors that somehow don't manage to feel self-consciously arty, but down-to-earth and lived-in. And it seems like the kind of movie that could appeal to a wide range of Academy voters -- I imagine the more conservative crowd will find it a tasteful period piece, with the auteurists admiring it for its stylistic and narrative invention. Plus, as I said in the Costume Design thread, I think a majority of voters will make a point to check it out. In really examining the race, I have to rate it a higher candidate than I initially thought.

I agree with what Mister Tee wrote a while back, that Birdman could win the ASC prize and still lose the Oscar -- there's precedent for Lubezki's highly acclaimed work to appeal to Cinematographers (Children of Men, The Tree of Life) but to fall short with the Academy membership as a whole. But despite the fact that the visual innovation of the movie's seemingly one-take wonder isn't the kind of thing that usually wins here, it's not often that such singular work is attached to a movie as Oscar-popular as Birdman, and though there are some major categories where the movie will compete very strongly, this does feel like a category around which the movie's partisans will want to coalesce. And in terms of finding a recent precedent for a winner, this might be an odd comparison, but I wonder if American Beauty might be something of a forerunner. It, too, was a movie widely praised for its cinematography, but it didn't feature the kinds of epic shots and natural landscapes typically associated with the victor in this category. But, at the end of the day, the combo of visual panache, legendary cinematographer status (which by this point Lubezki has achieved), and Best Picture pull was enough to get the movie the win here.

I'm not making a prediction quite yet -- I'm very interested to see where the ASC goes first. That said, if Birdman keeps up its winning streak, I could still see it losing the Oscar. And if Unbroken or Mr. Turner prevail, I wouldn't necessarily bet the farm on either of them winning with Oscar either.

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Categories One-by-One: Cinematography

Postby dws1982 » Wed Jan 28, 2015 5:13 pm

We could wait on the ASC to weigh in here, but then again, they don't have the greatest track record: They've picked something different from the Academy half the time over the past decade. So why not go for this category, which is one of the strongest lineups of all this year. I probably would've replaced Grand Budapest and Unbroken (or maybe Birdman?) with Selma and American Sniper, but I can't argue with any of these nominees

With no 3D or effects-driven nominee, this category is an odd one. For all the talk about "traditional winners" in this category, the traditional winner of the past few years has been a 3-D effects movie. But in the years before that, of course, traditional winners tended towards outdoor locations--landscapes, war films, epic action.

I like the cinematography of Ida a lot. I know some might find it too "tasteful" and maybe even a bit lifeless, but I really appreciated the thought and detail went into the lighting and the framing and evoking the era. Ida has the advantage of being black & white and subtitled--two things that lead to Oscar nominations very frequently. But those things also don't lead to Oscar wins very often. I think a lot of voters will have seen Ida (unlike, for example, The Grandmaster last year), and I wouldn't rule it out completely, but I'd still probably rate it fifth.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is our sole nominee that was shot on film. I don't think we've had a year yet where all of the nominees were digitally, but we're definitely headed that way. (If something like The Theory of Everything or American Sniper had gotten this spot, we'd have an all digital lineup this year.) Grand Budapest is a well-shot film, no doubt (all Anderson films are), but I think a lot of what makes it special is in the fabulously well-designed sets (and costumes), rather than how they're photographed. But, granting that voters sometimes vote in tandem on some of these visual awards, and granting that Grand Budapest has to be a massive frontrunner for the Production Design award, I have to rate it an outside shot here.

I think Unbroken would probably be a stronger contender if the movie itself had been better received. I think it's a well-shot movie in general; It may be a little too pretty at times, and Jack O'Connell's hair was always too-obviously dyed (but that's for the Makeup/Hairstyling department), but some shots (on the raft, the sequence after they're captured by the Japanese) are pretty memorable. If it had even gotten a nomination for Best Picture, I'd rank it higher; if it had been one of the real frontrunners, up there with Birdman and Grand Budapest in terms of nominations, I might even call it a frontrunner to win this category. But given that this is only one of three nominations for the film, I have to call it an outside shot like Grand Budapest.

Birdman has won a lot of the critics awards and it's easy to see why: The one-shot thing had to have been meticulously planned and executed. On the degree-of-difficulty scale it had to rank up there with Lubezki's jobs with Cuaron and Malick. But is there any precedent for this type of film winning this award? It's mostly set indoors, it's not "pretty" in any conventional way, it's a character-driven comedy/drama. The visual trick will get it a lot of votes, but I question whether it'll be enough. There may be some Best Picture implications here as well: If Birdman is to have a shot at Best Picture, I think this is, along with screenplay, the one award it has to win. I can imagine it winning Picture without Actor, but not this.

I guess right now I'm leaning towards Mr. Turner. Not only is it really pretty to look at, it's not just pretty for the sake of being pretty. It references Turner's work, of course, and seems to be shot with an eye towards Victorian art in general. There's so many stunning shots in the film--Turner seeing the Temeraire being towed up the Thames was one, and my favorite must have been that shot of Turner fishing in a rowboat. I'm not confident on this, but Mr. Turner is in the wheelhouse of what they've voted for in the past. Not sure that the cinematography will land as well for those who see it on screeners, but that's how I saw it, and I was plenty impressed. (I wish I liked the movie overall more, but I plan to give it another look.)

So, right now I'm leaning towards Mr. Turner, but it's also probably the technical award about which I feel most conflicted.


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