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« Soundtracking: The 2019 Original Song Nominees| Main| Team Experience reactions #2: Final questions from today's nominations »
Tuesday
Jan 14 2020

Is Black-and-White the Path to Gold?

byCláudio Alves

Lately, it seems every time a film shot in black-and-white is even tangentially associated with Oscar buzz, it becomes an immediate contender for the Best Cinematography trophy.Even if many were skeptical (not Nathaniel,who predicted it),The Lighthouseproved this once again when it conquered a nomination for the work of DP Jarin Blaschke.In this case, at least, the nomination is amply justifiable withThe Lighthouselooking like a series of haunted daguerreotypes, full of shiny fluids and battered bodies, ominous tempests and the enticing flame of the titular lighthouse.

Still, that's not always the case.Here are all the black-and-white Best Cinematography nominees of the 21st century…

THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE(2001)
Roger Deakins

GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK(2005)
Robert Elswit

THE WHITE RIBBON(2009)
Christian Berger

THE ARTIST(2011)
Guillaume Schiffman

NEBRASKA(2013)
Phedon Papamichael

IDA(2013)
Łukasz Żal and Ryszard Lenczewski

ROMA(2018) - winner
Alfonso Cuarón

COLD WAR(2018)
Łukasz Żal

THE LIGHTHOUSE(2019)
Jarin Blaschke

Most of these nominations are inspired choices, but some leave a little to be desired.Phedon Papamichael's nod forNebraskais particularly galling.There's a sort of Peter Bogdanovich homage going on in Alexandre Pain's mean-spirited opus, but the silvery tonalities ofPaper MoonandThe Last Picture Showare miles away from this digital miasma of muddled greys and blandly lit interiors.There are some good shots throughout but it’s difficult not to think that nomination is mostly due to a perceived artistic superiority of black-and-white cinema.

Of the past few years, onlyFrances HaandThe Good Germanseem like potential black-and-white contenders that were ignored.However, that's excluding beautiful black-and-white indie or international films that weren't near Oscar's radar like Miguel Gomes'Tabuor Nicolas Pesce'sThe Eyes of My Mother。Those never stood a chance.The Lighthousemight have suffered a similar fate, being a bizarre horror hybrid, but it prevailed surely thanks to being under the A24 banner and featuring two stars.Whether this happened thanks to honest artistic recognition or a mere spark of cinematic nostalgia for black and white films, it doesn't really matter.What matters is that one of the year's best-looking films was rightfully nominated for the Oscar!

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Reader Comments (14)

Roma has some stunning shots, but I think a lot of it isn't amazing.Always good but not sure usually great.

January 14, 2020 | Unregistered CommenterMe

A.The Lighthouse's cinematography nomination.Q.Which nomination made you the happiest this year, Ken?

January 14, 2020 | Unregistered Commenterken s.

The cinematography in "Cold War" is absolutely breathtaking.It should have won the Oscar.

January 14, 2020 | Unregistered CommenterDl

Claudio - Maybe it's worth a rewatch of "Alexandre Pain's" Nebraska.:) Mean-spirited is off the mark.The relationship between father and son, struggles with aging, end of life care for parents, and toxic family relationships are all given such careful but simple attention.Payne's forthright handling of these painful concepts is, to my eye, done with and aim to display the tenderness, care, and kindness that they can be dealt with (but often aren't).The result, for me, is verisimilitude.

Papamichael's cinematography not only serves that vision, but also compliments it in a way that brings forth the vast, sometimes empty, expanse of the American west and small town living herein.

Cinema, at its best, reflects life.Nebraska does so for me in a way that few films ever have.

January 14, 2020 | Unregistered CommenterTravis

Travis -- Thank you for your comment.Maybe I should give it a rewatch, though I've long had problems with Payne's cinema.I rewatched Nebraska upon the release of Downsizing and I'm afraid to say my opinion only soured.

Still, I'm glad you had such a different experience with the film and find so many things to value about it.I'm grateful for the feedback and the different perspective.

January 14, 2020 | Unregistered CommenterCláudio Alves

These are gorgeous stills.I love black-and-white cinematography (and I love the Frenchified "Alexandre Pain").

January 14, 2020 | Unregistered CommenterWorking stiff

Claudio, I'm loving all your articles!这样的门齿,聪明的写作。T提名he Lighthouse is richly deserved...it's not just "good black and white cinematography" but continual construction of eerie, ethereal, terrifying, and comic images.I also think Nebraska is Payne's weakest film, btdubs.

January 14, 2020 | Unregistered CommenterEricB

I too have been the Cinematographers branch has a taste for black and white!Which doesn't mean that some of these nominations aren't deserving, because they are.

Cláudio, Travis: I also rate Nebraska pretty highly but I have also had some issues with Payne's work.关于 Schmidt, Sideways and The Descendants all had flippant moments that were jarring for me (alongside a lot that was involving and touching).That said, I liked The Descendants more on a second viewing.

January 14, 2020 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

Love "Nebraska," defend the nomination, and co-sign Travis' eloquent post.

As far as other stunning B&W films that missed out on a nod here, this past year's Czech Oscar submission "The Painted Bird" would have made a fine nominee.

January 14, 2020 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Just seen 1917 and Deakins can't lose.It is not only the quality, but the challenge.

January 14, 2020 | Unregistered CommenterJesus Alonso

Even when was out of the radar of Oscar nomination, Temporada de Patos (Duck Season) also has a beautiful black and white cinematography

Why almost doesn't exists movies in another colors?I would like to watch a movie in sepia.

I just can remember the Guatemalan film Hasta el Sol Tiene Manchas using a yellow filter but no other one is even close.

January 14, 2020 | Unregistered CommenterCésar Gaytán

César Gaytán -- Thank you for the recommendations.They sound like great pictures which I'll try to watch.Hasta el Sol Tiene Manchas looks particularly interesting, at least aesthetically.

January 14, 2020 | Unregistered CommenterCláudio Alves

Love, love Nebraska.One of my favorite films of the past decade.

I was telling my friends on Sunday night that this was my wish for a shocker nomination, and it came true--The Lighthouse has a cinematography Oscar nomination.YES!

January 14, 2020 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I wish there were more black and white films now- it can create some really haunting images- up the mid 1960's serious films were shot in black and white- color was for musicals and spectacles

January 14, 2020 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

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