Best Cinematography 1981

1927/28 through 1997

Which of the 1981 nomineees for Best Cinemaotgraphy was really the best?

Excalibur (Alex Thomson)
On Golden Pond (Billy Williams)
No votes
Ragtime (Miroslav Ondricek)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (Douglas Slocombe)
No votes
Reds (Vittorio Storaro)
Total votes: 19

The Original BJ
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Re: Best Cinematography 1981

Postby The Original BJ » Wed Sep 27, 2017 7:39 pm

I'm not full revisionist on Heaven's Gate -- I think the narrative can be sluggish, and it's just simply too long (at least the extended Criterion Collection cut). But it's nonetheless admirable for its clear ambition and impressive technical craft, and I'd have to single out the cinematography's gorgeous portrait of the American West as being worthy of citation here.

I also love the playful pastiche of the images in Pennies From Heaven, and agree that Chariots of Fire would have been a worthy part of this conversation as well.

On Golden Pond was presumably cited for those sun-dappled, shimmery shots of the lake, which at least give the movie some visual breathing room. But most of it is in filmed play territory, and it's the easiest nominee to brush past.

Excalibur's self-seriousness definitely lurches into silliness a lot of the time, but the movie is photographed with enough flash that this random nomination isn't inexplicable. The earthy realism of the film's look is certainly more artful than the antiseptic gloss of Camelot, but I'm a bit surprised it's our runner-up here. For me, the movie is too much of a chaotic jumble to feel like a cohesive aesthetic vision.

Ragtime has beautifully lit images, beginning with that entrancing, out of context waltz that opens the film, and continuing throughout a series of storylines that cover quite a bit of geographic ground. I don't think the visuals ever tip into territory that's truly inventive, but this is a handsome-looking period piece across the board, and a solid nominee in this category.

I'll stick up a bit for Raiders of the Lost Ark here, because I think it's a pretty dynamically shot film. The action sequences -- probably some of the best committed to film -- wouldn't have worked without the nimble grace of the camera moves, and the lighting of individual moments (Indy coming upon the idol, the boulder escape, the rope climb out of the torch-lit snake trap, and of course the opening of the ark) is part of what makes so many of those beats iconic.

But in the end, I concur with Oscar and our majority here -- Reds is the best choice. The lighting here is often striking, from the low-lit Communist meeting scenes, to the harsh streams that illuminate the nighttime moments of revolution. And the compositions often do an excellent job of filling the frame with hustle and bustle while capturing the details of crucial emotional beats, as in one of my favorite moments in the film, when John and Louise stumble upon one another at the train station, and the images take us from busy long-shots to tightly focused close-ups for maximum dramatic impact. And the last shot is heart-wrenching -- perfectly lit and framed. This is the most ambitious and beautiful work on the ballot, and my easy winner.

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Re: Best Cinematography 1981

Postby dws1982 » Fri Sep 08, 2017 12:43 pm

Mister Tee wrote:I'll side with Magilla this time around: though I didn't love Chariots of Fire overall, I found its cinematography exquisite -- it looked like tintypes from the 20s brought to life. I was sorry it wasn't cited, and happy for David Watkin that he won several years on. (He'd also done great work on Lester's Three Musketeers.) He'd have had my vote were he nominated.

This really is an odd omission, since it's a period piece with lots of pretty outdoor shots. I agree, it would've been a very deserving nominee.

Not going to vote here, because Raiders is the only one of these I've seen within the past year (or five years, even). Reds and On Golden Pond are both available on streaming services though, and the other two aren't hard to come by, so maybe I can add my vote in the near future.

Ondricek and Storaro will both likely get my vote on their next nominations, though, and although I can't say the same for Billy Williams, he probably would've got my vote for Women in Love.

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Re: Best Cinematography 1981

Postby Mister Tee » Wed Sep 06, 2017 1:35 pm

This is a year where, in contrast to most of the preceding decade, I actually don't have a clear favorite among the nominees.

I'll side with Magilla this time around: though I didn't love Chariots of Fire overall, I found its cinematography exquisite -- it looked like tintypes from the 20s brought to life. I was sorry it wasn't cited, and happy for David Watkin that he won several years on. (He'd also done great work on Lester's Three Musketeers.) He'd have had my vote were he nominated.

Pennies from Heaven would also make a better nominee than some on the slate.

The cinematography is far from the worst element of the execrable On Golden Pond, but it's certainly not special enough to have been singled out here.

I'm sorry to say I only ever saw Excalibur on television, so I may not be fairly judging it. It had an interesting enough look, but didn't jump out at me as award-deserving.

Raiders of the Lost Ark was of course an enormous hit, and great fun. It had the impressive final sequence of melting-Nazi-faces, but apart from that, I can't remember any particular visual splendor.

Ragtime was a great-looking movie overall (it would have got my vote for production design), and it had a glow to it that sticks in the mind. But again, it wasn't as special as the great winners from '76-'80.

Neither, to be honest, was Reds -- its win was more in the spirit of the 60s epics than of this latter period, earned by its grand sweep rather than by exquisite lighting. However, it had its moments of the latter -- particularly in the climactic sections of part one, where the intoxication of revolution is caught as much by camera movement and lighting as by dialogue/voice-over. And one can hardly quibble with an award to Storaro, even if this falls short of his most monumental achievements. So, a vote to ratify the Academy choice -- though, on another day, I might as easily have gone for Ragtime.

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Re: Best Cinematography 1981

Postby Precious Doll » Wed Sep 06, 2017 5:35 am

Excalibur gets my vote here with Ragtime & Reds being the close runner-ups.

Some of my other favourites from the year were Ralf Bode for Raggedy Man (better I think that his Coal Miner's Daughter lensing) & Vilmos Zisgmond for Blow Out. As both the films failures at the box office they were never going to be in contention.

I'd also like to mention Richard Ciupka lovely work on Atlantic City. Shame that the recent French Blu Ray changed the colour coding from that lovely golden look of the film as I recall it to teal.
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Best Cinematography 1981

Postby Big Magilla » Wed Sep 06, 2017 4:00 am

For the second year in a row they ignored Freddie Francis, who this year photographed The French Lieutenant's Woman, a disappointing film overall, but one that was gorgeous to look at. This oversight was not as bad as the one for The Elephant Man , but two years in a row meant an almost thirty year wait between his win for Sons and Lovers and his second nomination for Glory.

Even more outrageous was the snubbing of never nominated David Watkin for (Chariots of Fire) and Russell Boyd for (Gallipoli). Watkin had to wait four more years for his first and only nomination, resulting in a win for Out of Africa. Boyd had to wait 22 years for his only nomination and win for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

So who would I eliminate to nominate those three?

I'd start with Billy Williams' nomination for "the loons..the loons". That opening scene in On Golden Pond was nice and Henry Fonda's rescue scene was well-done, but the rest of it was fairly routine.

Excalibur had some nice shots in it, but much of it was pretty murky.

Ragtime's cinematography was the best thing about it, but the film was an overall mess from a revered novel and should not have been nominated.

That leaves Raiders of the Lost Ark and Reds as the only standing nominees I'd consider. Although I would have preferred Reds for Best Picture and Chariots of Fire for Best Cinematography, I'll give my default nod to the Oscar winner here. Reds it is.
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