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« 8 Days til Oscar...| Main| Podcast: Favorite Past Films & Performances by this Year's Nominees »
Feb 20 2016

Undersung Works by the Oscar Nominated Cinematographers

Josehere.The five gentlemen nominated for theBest Cinematography Oscarhave amassed a more than respectable amount of accolades,they boast a collected 37 Oscar nominations between the 5 of them,with Edward Lachman being the least nominated having only two (both for his previous collaborations with Todd Haynes) and Roger Deakins being the perpetual bridesmaid with 13 career nominations and no wins (not that he needs them anyway,he has 3 BAFTAS and 3 ASC Awards to console him).

Even if these folks get nominated for awards all the time,some of their work has been received coolly by awards bodies.Unbelievable,I know.So,here are5 "undersung"achievements by this year's nominees...

Edward Lachman -Erin Brockovich
(Interviewed here forCarol)
Many people forget that cinematography goes beyond pretty framing,filters and breathtaking light,it also has a lot to do with how/where the camera moves.As "found footage"and home recordings become more prevalent in modern filmmaking,it's impossible not to think about that intimate scene in Steven Soderbergh'sErin Brockovichin which the heroine (Julia Roberts) gives the "Miss Wichita"monologue,as her boyfriend (Aaron Eckhart) lies in bed.Lachman's camera never stops moving,it shakes as if embarrassed by how intrusive it's being,but it also falls under the heroine's charm.She might not be dressed like a queen,but in the eye of the camera few people have ever looked more regal.

Robert Richardson -Kill Bill Vol.1

As divisive as Quentin Tarantino's work tends to be,his collaborations with Robert Richardson have all won unanimous praise.Even people who don't likeThe Hateful Eightagree that the film contains some astonishing work of light and shadow.But when Richardson and QT went all out in their kung fu extravaganza,no one offered them trophies for the ingenious way the O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) battle is beautifully and brutally lensed,or the camera's gleeful fear as it follows Daryl Hannah's wicked Elle Driver down a hallway.

John Seale -Gorillas in the Mist
While most of his work has been characterized for its use of yellows,goldens and oranges (everythingMad Max:Fury Roadis),this 1988 film seems to be the exception because of its lush greens and blues.I distinctly remember as a child being terrified of this film (I was two when it came out,don't judge) because of how the camera penetrated the jungles of Rwanda never knowing what would turn up around the corner.Few times have the films captured the mystery of nature with such awe.

Emmanuel Lubezki -Great Expectations
(Interviewed here forThe Revenant)
Chivo certainly isn't wanting for accolades.He might very well win his third Oscar in a row forThe Revenant,but it's a shame that his less "showy"films don't get the same kind of attention that his gimmicky efforts do.Think about the voyeuristic richness of his work inY Tu Mama Tambien for instance,or the intense greens and romantic light of his work in Alfonso Cuarón's adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel (this is incidentally the only Cuarón film not to be nominated for a single major award of any kind).While Chivo gets much praise for his ability to take the camera to insane places,or to do mesmerizing tracking shots,very rarely has be been commended for how great he is at lighting movie stars.Has Gwyneth Paltrow ever looked more radiant than she does in this film?The scene where she steals Ethan Hawkes' water in the park is so sensuous and beautiful,one might expect Garbo to appear onscreen rather than Paltrow.

Roger Deakins -Revolutionary Road
(Interviewed here forTrue Grit)
Yes,Deakins was nominated for an Oscar in 2008,for his work inThe Reader(along with co-cinematographer Chris Menges),but in the rare time when people didn't go fully gaga about both his achievements during the same year,his lush,expressionistic work in Sam Mendes' film was snubbed by pretty much every major organization (except for the ASC).To say it was because he had done two period films with Kate Winslet would be to reduce his work to extremely simplistic terms.His work inThe Readeris sensual,inRoad,it's pragmatic and almost satirical in its compositions.His framing shows how the Wheelers' dreams are oppressed,and by the time he opens up the spaces the camera is capturing,the lead characters have become so damaged that the frame feels like a cage.

Which of their works do you wish had received more praise?
Who are you hoping wins this year?(Cinematography Oscar Chart)

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Reader Comments (13)

I think that shot of Winslet's a bit poor taste.

February 20,2016 | Unregistered Commentermark


February 20,2016 | Unregistered CommenterAnonny

I am super on the record about adoring Deakins work,but his work for REVOLUTIONARY ROAD doesn't get anywhere near the admiration it deserves.It's probably top 3 or 5 of his whole body of work,for me (I'm a massive defender of that entire movie though...).Call me crazy,but A SERIOUS MAN also stands out.

KILL BILL VOL 1 is one of maybe 3 times (JFK and parts of BASTERDS) that Richardson has really wowed me.

February 20,2016 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

"Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events"is definitely unsung Lubezki.

February 20,2016 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Richardson's most underrated work in in Shutter Island and Casino.

And his best work is Snow Falling On Cedars.

February 20,2016 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Chris -- agreed on Richardson.Kill Bill is his best work and usually he's overvalued and yet Kill Bill is the one that received no awards attention.Madness,I say.

February 20,2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Revolutionary Road is so devastating in such a quiet,insidious way,and much of the credit goes to Deakins' subtle work.The geometrical lensing is so appealing aesthetically but has a cruel irony.Again,like with Kate,RR should have gotten the Oscar nod.

February 20,2016 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

jonathan - I loved Lemony Snickets!why doesn't get more love?

February 20,2016 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

Just to put in a word for Richardson: I don't get why he may be considered overvalued.He's one of the best currently working,no?And while I'm not much of a fan of Kill Bikll,I think Richardson's more recent work with Tarantino has been stellar,and has brought him three very well-deserved Oscar nominations.Also,Hugo is exquisite.

I don't think of John Seale as generally about warm colours.Mad Max: Fury Road and The English Patient,yes,but Witness,Rain Man and Cold Mountain - his other nominated films - are all pretty chilly (not necessarily in a bad way) and have cooler colours.Witness is very well photographed,capturing the growing sensuality of the relationship between the central pair.And Rain Man is a very underrated achievement,cinematography-wise.

February 20,2016 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

I remember thinking,after I saw (and hated)Revolutionary Road,that the cinematographer must have hated Leo,because he never looked less attractive than throughout that film,whereas Kate looked incredible despite the misery of her character.And that's when the name Roger Deakins stuck with me.

February 20,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Deakins deserves the real thing,and I am rooting for him this year.

February 20,2016 | Unregistered CommenterFadhil

Paul Outlaw: That's kind of the problem with RR's cinematography and why The Reader was probably more deserving.You should be unsure which Wheeler is the worse person and the entire production contorts itself against DiCaprio.

February 20,2016 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Veering off topic from cinematography but referencing three of the films mentioned here:

1.Patrick Doyle deserved an Oscar nomination for his Great Expectations score.

2.Kill Bill 2 is a better screenplay than Django or Hateful Eight and deserved a nomination.

3.It's funny how at the time in 2000 it seemed obvious that Soderbergh should win the Oscar for Traffic but now years later Erin Brockovich has aged SO well (and so much better than Traffic) that it seems hard to believe he didn't win for that film instead.

February 21,2016 | Unregistered CommenterAkash

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