Nouse Devours the Oscars Day 13: Cinematography

wonders if Emmanuel Lubezki is headed towards a third consecutive Oscar

Editor’s Note: Our Oscar countdown continues with one of the most obviously important categories to film, for what are movies with the photography?

carol photo

One of the entrapping surfaces in Carol

The Nominees
Carol (Ed Lachman)
The Hateful Eight (Robert Richardson)
Mad Max: Fury Road (John Seale)
The Revenant (Emmanuel Lubezki)
Sicario (Roger Deakins)

Trivia: This is a group with 37 nominations amongst themselves (Deakins 13, Richardson 9, Lubezki 8, Seale 5 and Lacham 2) and 6 wins (1 for Seale, 2 for Lubezki and 3 for Richardson). Lachman is the only one to have not photographed a Best Picture winner before (Deakins did No Country for Old Men, Lubezki did Birdman, Seale did The English Patient and Richardson did Platoon).

Despite being a vital part of film, it’s hard sometimes to define exactly what Cinematography is and what its job is on the screen. In fact a lot of what the Cinematographer or Director of Photography does, gets lumped together with the contributions of the Director. However, as previous Cinematographer award winners have shown, the two roles although closely linked, are not the same. A film that wins Best Director will not guarantee a win for Best Cinematographer, or vice versa. The best way to think of a Cinematographer’s function is, that if the Director provides the vision, the Director of Photography is responsible for making that vision a reality. It’s all very well for a Director to say I want the hero to ride into the sunset, the red light framing his silhouette, but you need the Director of Photography to work out how this can be captured on camera. Working together with the lighting and camera team, the director of photography designs each shot, deciding exactly where the camera should be positioned and where and how the light should hit the camera.

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The gloomy naturalness of The Revenant

Looking at this year’s nominations, there is a clear favourite in Emmanuel Lubezki. With two Cinematography Oscars already under his belt, for Gravity and Birdman, a recent best Cinematographer Bafta and with The Revenant also being tipped for a Best Director and Best Picture Oscar, the odds seem to be considerably in his favour. Lubezki has been praised across the board for his work on The Revenant. As a film that has been described as a visual spectacle, Lubezki’s talent and quality of work has been vital for the film’s success. Moreover, there was a particular feature of The Revenants cinematography that made it so impressive, and this was that Lubezki only used natural light for the filming. To put this in some context, it meant that shots had to be meticulously planned, because the perfect light for a particular shot might only last ten minutes. The entire production of the film had to work with the light and the weather.

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Shooting in the dark in Sicario

However, this is not to say that Lubezki isn’t against some stiff competition. A serious competitor for The Revenant is Roger Deakin’s for Sicario. Working on films such as No Country for Old Men, True Grit and Skyfall, Deakin’s is a bit of a legend in the world of Cinematography. As a Director of Photography with years of experience in documentary filming, there is something very raw and gritty in Deakin’s style that perfectly suits Sicario. Deakin not only creates images that are beautiful but images that illuminate and heighten the entire material of the film. He is acutely aware that the work of the cinematographer should add to the story and impact of the film and not steal the show, as it can be argued happens in The Revenant.

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Furiosa in the night in Mad Max Fury Road

Furthermore, if we’re looking at visual spectacles it’s impossible to ignore Mad Max: Fury Road which was nothing short of triumph for Cinematography. The entire film was this incredible exercise into pushing the boundaries of what film could achieve. Cinematography was pushed to the Max (excuse the pun) with shots of manic car chases tearing through fiery tornadoes. Cinematography completely and unashamedly steals the show in Mad Max: Fury Road. It doesn’t detract from the material of the film because it is the material of the film.

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“As I lay me down in the snow” from The Hateful Eight

With the beautiful work of Lauchman for Carol and Richardson for The Hateful Eight also nominated it’s hard to call a certain winner. Lachman was previously nominated for his work on another Todd Haynes 50s melodrama with Far From Heaven doing typically deep period work. Richardson, meanwhile, shot both of the previous Tarantino films – which both earned him nominations.

When it comes to actually winning, m prediction is that The Revenant will win the Oscar for Best Cinematography, however I personally would love to see Mad Max: Fury Road take home the prize.

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