Best Cinematography 1996

1927/28 through 1997

Of the 1996 Oscar nominees for Best Cinematography, which was best?

The English Patient (John Seale)
12
67%
Evita (Darius Khondji)
2
11%
Fargo (Roger Deakins)
3
17%
Fly Away Home (Caleb Deschanel)
1
6%
Michael Collins (Chris Menges)
0
No votes
 
Total votes: 18

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Re: Best Cinematography 1996

Postby Sabin » Sun Apr 29, 2018 1:10 pm

Mister Tee wrote
But, as BJ says, sometimes the most obvious choice is the correct one, and for me The English Patient is a no-need-to-ponder choice. I'd argue the film had this award won from its famous opening shot -- the plane flying over the desert that looks like a voluptuous female body. But there are so many other indelible images: Binoche flying along the ceiling, or watching the trees fly past her at the close; the sandstorm; the shots of the dying Scott-Thomas inside the cave. This is a gorgeous-looking movie, but it's not gorgeousness for its own sake (like, say, Doctor Zhivago or Ryans Daughter). It's delicate gorgeousness that serves its film at every moment. I can't imagine voting for anything else.

Starting to think I might've underrated this one, especially with so many opportunities to vote for Deakins down the road...
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Re: Best Cinematography 1996

Postby Mister Tee » Fri Apr 27, 2018 1:29 pm

A year after a slate completely different from my choices, the branch came up with one exceedingly close to mine. My top alternate would be Courage Under Fire -- like many Ed Zwick movies, its impressive visual look somewhat offset its turgid narrative. I'm afraid I don't buy into the idea that Breaking the Waves deserved mention (or its critics' citations). It felt to me like the argument was, it's so ugly it's beautiful in a way...but, for me, ugly was just ugly. Obviously mileage varies for some.

Evita was well-enough shot that I didn't begrudge the nomination -- though it was nowhere close to Khondji's work just a year prior. The film's pack of nominations seemed the sort the Academy had always given to musicals (even the far-worse The Wiz two decades earlier); it was never in the running to win here.

I rather liked Fly Away Home, in an Afterschool Special sort of way. And I think the aerial photography is pretty impressive. Deschanel had been denied so often, I was happy to see him make the list here.

As a film, Michael Collins is a bit middling -- impressively honest and tactful about its subject matter (not, in other words, a Braveheart), but never soaring to any particular heights. I do think Menges' look was distinctive, though: creating a textured view of a long-ago Irish era. Not a winner, but a very worthy nominee.

When I think of Fargo, the first two things I think of are Frances McDormand and the car emerging from the snow. Deakins always provided something extra, especially when working with the Coens, and his visuals helped keep a story that pushed boundaries from jumping off the rails. I certainly understand people admiring the work.

But, as BJ says, sometimes the most obvious choice is the correct one, and for me The English Patient is a no-need-to-ponder choice. I'd argue the film had this award won from its famous opening shot -- the plane flying over the desert that looks like a voluptuous female body. But there are so many other indelible images: Binoche flying along the ceiling, or watching the trees fly past her at the close; the sandstorm; the shots of the dying Scott-Thomas inside the cave. This is a gorgeous-looking movie, but it's not gorgeousness for its own sake (like, say, Doctor Zhivago or Ryans Daughter). It's delicate gorgeousness that serves its film at every moment. I can't imagine voting for anything else.

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Re: Best Cinematography 1996

Postby Precious Doll » Tue Apr 24, 2018 7:20 am

This was an easy choice for me: Fargo.

A couple of omissions which would have made better nominees were veteran John A. Alonzo for The Grass Harp & the never nominated Peter Suschitzky for Crash, who shot most of Cronenberg's best films (though Crash would not have been eligible until 1997 under Academy rules). Ironically, both these films were made by Fine Line who then discarded them on the rubbish heap, so they were never going to be in the running.

The other standout for me was Breaking the Waves, which BJ perfectly described below. Other notables were The Pillow Book, Portrait of a Lady, Lone Star, Ridicule, Carried Away, Two Days in the Valley and Andrew Knotting's one of a kind documentary Gallivant.
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Re: Best Cinematography 1996

Postby The Original BJ » Tue Apr 24, 2018 12:40 am

Breaking the Waves was one of the first movies I saw where I realized that a beautifully shot film didn't necessarily have to be "beautiful" -- I don't think it ever would have had a chance with Oscar, but its bleak look is distinctive and intoxicating, and would have been a worthy inclusion (though only as a nominee). Among more traditional choices, I agree that Hamlet and The Portrait of a Lady could also have been in the discussion.

Fly Away Home is a movie that might well have disappeared into film history were it not for this nomination. (Although maybe "disappeared even MORE" is a better way to put it). I saw it in real time, and have barely heard mention of it in twenty-plus years. Revisiting the movie for this poll confirmed what my faded memories remembered -- the nomination is clearly for the visual splendor of the flight sequences -- though I wouldn't say there's any especial artfulness brought to the photography beyond Deschanel's usual class.

Evita is obviously photographed with flash -- there's striking lighting and bold, stylish compositions and camera moves throughout. The problem is, I find the movie's entire aesthetic to be more appropriate for a music video than a historical piece. (Though one could argue that was Webber's aesthetic as well, so perhaps it's appropriate). It's a very understandable nomination, but one tied to an overall vision that doesn't entirely work for me, so I'll pass.

I rate the photography in Michael Collins pretty solid in general, but lacking any moments that leap out as getting into "wow" territory. It has a handsome historical scope, and feels authentic in the way it captures both city and country environs. The movie has some of the typical problems of big, sweeping epics -- it runs on too long, the romantic subplot is kind of a dud -- but it also has moments of visual grace that remind you you're in the hands of artists like Jordan and Menges. A solid nominee, but not a winner.

I'm most curious to see if folks here vote in this category based on English Patient/Fargo party lines, because I assume this race will come down to these two.

Fargo is a real triumph for Deakins. Some of the shots Sabin mentioned -- the car emerging through the snowstorm, the overhead parking lot shot -- instantly leap to mind when recalling images from the film, and the way the photography captures the harshness of the wintry landscape makes for a perfect (and somewhat unique) visual environment for the noir storyline. And while Sabin is right that the movie doesn't look like a Coen cartoon, there's still plenty of off-key humor in the oddball compositions to aid the material's darkly funny spirit. A strong nominee, though not, for me, as strong as some of Deakins's other nominations down the line, so I'll wait to honor him.

I was a Fargo Picture/Director voter, but I'm going to split from my team and vote for The English Patient in this category. In many ways, this is a film that feels almost concocted in a lab to win this prize -- the movie might well have wrapped up the Cinematography Oscar after that opening desert plane crash alone. But it keeps coming up with dazzling images throughout -- the sandstorm, the camel trek across the desert, Binoche and Andrews exploring the frescoes, Binoche riding past the trees -- and the shots are of an exceedingly artful quality. It's a film where, yes, the landscapes are naturally beautiful, but they're employed in such delicate ways, far beyond the mere spectacle of most epics, that one has to salute the cinematographer for capturing them with such sensitivity. Sometimes the obvious choice is the obvious choice for a reason.

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Re: Best Cinematography 1996

Postby dws1982 » Mon Apr 23, 2018 7:43 pm

Sabin wrote:Darius Khondji always makes me think of Christopher Doyle. They both shot a handful of the most remarkably gorgeous films ever made...and then what happened to them?

He's still working--he did The Immigrant and The Lost City of Z with James Gray, and he shot Amour with Michael Haneke. I think he's doing Nicolas Winding Refn's upcoming Amazon series as well.

Voted for The English Patient. What can I say, I'm a sucker for the big epics sometimes?

I like the other nominees too, and I can't argue with anyone voting for Deakins, but he's got five or six nominations that I like better.

Not sure that I have a lot of replacements. Not a huge fan of Breaking the Waves or its look, and many of the other Oscar contenders aren't typical cinematography contenders either. But I wouldn't have argued with recognition for Hamlet, and to throw in a few that probably never had a shot: Michael Ballhaus for Barry Levinson's most visually arresting film, Sleepers, and Stewart Dryburgh for either The Portrait of a Lady (which I actually like more than The Piano) or Lone Star.

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Re: Best Cinematography 1996

Postby Big Magilla » Mon Apr 23, 2018 7:17 pm

Thanks you, Sabin, for posting this.

1996 was not a great year for cinematography. I can't think of anything that was egregiously overlooked. In fact, I can't think of a substitute for any of the nominees.

Michael Collins and Evita were well photographed as was The English Patient, but, I was more impressed with the look of Fargo and Fly Away Home which was not a Disney movie and didn't go straight to video. It was a Columbia Tri-Star film that played the Toronto Film Fesitval and opened to strong reviews. Every body that awards cinematography recognized it. It was, to me anyway, the most deserved of Caleb Deshenal's five Oscar nominations. As good as it is, though, I think Roger Deakins' work on Fargo tops it and in doing so, gets my vote.
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Re: Best Cinematography 1996

Postby mlrg » Mon Apr 23, 2018 6:33 pm

Easy vote for The English Patient

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Best Cinematography 1996

Postby Sabin » Mon Apr 23, 2018 1:59 pm

The 69th Academy Awards went like this...
First ten minutes: fresh and innovative in a way no Oscar I've seen since has exactly replicated.
Next hour: boredom.
Best Supporting Actress: Juliette Binoche???
Rest of show: boredom. Good for Billy Bob Thornton.

I've never quite understood the hate for The English Patient. At the time when people were complaining it was dull, it always felt more like a condemnation of a changing moviegoing culture feasting on summer fare like Independence Day and Twister. In many ways The English Patient feels more like a Best Picture winner from the 80's than the 90's...but a better one than most. Only the Weinstein connection roots it in 1990's. Anyway, John Seale's Oscar was never in doubt. Before Oscar morning, I thought the only film that could give it a run for its money was Alex Thomson for Hamlet for its much-lauded use of 70mm. The English Patient is a beautiful-looking film, and much of that is the way he shoots the scenes from the past like a memory but in a unique way. Every scene seems lit by the sun that peeks through your eyelids before waking. Seale always struck me as a respectful cinematographer. His images always have a sheen to them but he's never flashy...and then of course came Mad Max: Fury Road, which I'd like to think must have something to do with how he shoots the desert sands in The English Patient. Seale doesn't get my vote, but his win is hardly a travesty.

We spent a bit of the last thread discussing the lack of a nomination for Darius Khondji's Se7en. I don't feel comfortable calling Evita a makeup nomination because I'm reasonably certain whoever shot Evita would end up with a Best Cinematography nomination. Darius Khondji always makes me think of Christopher Doyle. They both shot a handful of the most remarkably gorgeous films ever made...and then what happened to them? Anyway, Khondji is doing exactly what Alan Parker wants him to do. The shots are pretty gorgeous but they don't really create an engrossing story. Then again, nothing in the film really does. If you think the film works, then you probably think he deserves to win. I don't, so I don't.

I can barely remember anything from Michael Collins. It looks...fine? I think? Chris Menges shot The Mission so there's no need to honor him here.

I've always thought the acclaim for Fly Away Home was due to the dire state of pop entertainment in 1996. Here was a sweet live-action Disney film that feels straight to videocassette but with A-class talent and one of the greatest living cinematographers. It's a sweet little movie that feels far more transporting than it has any right to considering how forced the stakes are.

But my clear choice is Roger Deakins for Fargo. Even more so than Barton Fink, this is the highpoint of their remarkable collaboration. This is the moment where everything stopped looking like a cartoon, and with one or two exceptions they never went back. Countless shots stand out in memory. The car coming into view through the snowstorm in the credits. The overhead snowy parking lot. Or William H. Macy pulling up to see the deceased teller, with so much purgatorial darkness behind his upturned hood. There are many opportunities to honor Roger Deakins coming up but none of them feel as right as his victory here.

Even though he swept the critic's awards, I seriously doubt that Robby Muller (!) was in serious contention with voters this year. That would require voters seeing either Dead Man or Breaking the Waves, which admittedly enough of them did to honor Emily Watson in a field with Madonna, Debbie Reynolds, and Courtney Love amongst ten or twenty others. But what he did with Lars von Trier was pretty revolutionary stuff. Likely his co-victory for Dead Man was coattails but it's beautiful and unique black and white cinematography in the service of the oddest damn thing. Not only did the ASC ignore him, but they also added a sixth nominee, Vilmos Zsigmond for The Ghost and the Darkness. Beyond that, not sure who might have been in contention. Had The Portrait of a Lady and The Crucible not been such stiffs, they might have been in competition, as would Bound or Trainspotting if they had a bit wider appeal.
Last edited by Sabin on Wed Aug 01, 2018 12:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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