Dissecting the Oscars: Best Cinematography

In space, no one can hear you scream.
In space, no one can hear you scream.

From now and until the Academy Awards on March 2nd I’ll be analyzing the most important races of the year, and if there is time, the lesser ones. Let’s start with Best Achievement in Cinematography. The nominees are:

Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity.
Bruno Delbonnel, Inside Llewyn Davis.
Phedon Papamichael, Nebraska.
Roger Deakins, Prisoners.
Philippe Le Sourd, The Grandmaster.

First of all, let me commend the Academy for not nominating movies with “pretty pictures”. One of the main problems of frontrunner 12 Years a Slave (a good film, not a great one) is the contrast of brutality and panoramic views to the point of distraction. Every single one of the nominees is here because it supports the story with an appropriate look.

Emmanuel Lubezki makes space a scary place again in Gravity. Delbonnel preternaturally overcast cinematography matches the protagonist’s soul in Inside Llewyn Davis. Papamichael’s luscious black-and-white makes the American Midwest feel otherworldly in Nebraska. By focuses on the faces of the combatants as opposed to the elaborate choreographies, Le Sourd gives martial arts a makeover in The Grandmaster.

Then there is Roger Deakins. The best director of cinematography at work today has been nominated eleven times, with zero wins. It’s the biggest travesty this side of Martin Scorsese. That said, Prisoners is not his most competitive entry. There is merit in making the suburbs threatening without going all Tim Burton on us, but next to Lubezki, his work feels a bit pedestrian. There is a chance Deakins gets the sympathy vote, but he should win fair and square.

Lubezki is the big fish here. Besides making 3-D relevant for once, the camera work in Gravity is phenomenal. The film opens with a 17-minute long scene with no cuts. The difficulty of such feat in a sci-fi film is colossal. The protagonists’ disorientation is palpable, as well as the emptiness of their surroundings. Lubezki achieves all this with remarkable elegance. Unlike the other candidates, Alfonso Cuarón’s most frequent collaborator breaks new ground. He is head and shoulders above the rest.

Should win: Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity. Will win: Lubezki.

Author: Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Journalist, film critic, documentary filmmaker, and sometimes nice guy. Member of the Vancouver Film Critics Circle. Like horror flicks, long walks on the beach and candlelight dinners. Allergic to cats.