OSCAR COUNTDOWN: Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects

Life of Pi (2012) 2013 Oscar Predictions Best Cinematography

Throughout Oscar season, Film Misery will be offering almost daily breakdowns of the categories in the Oscar race. Today we continue with the technical categories.

Best Cinematography

The Nominees:
Anna Karenina
Django Unchained
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Skyfall

There may be no person in Hollywood more overdue for an Oscar than cinematographer Roger Deakins. In his 40 year career he has shot the films of respected directors like Martin Scorcese, Edward Zwick, Ron Howard, Andrew Dominik, and most famously the Coen Brothers. This year marks the 10th Oscar nomination for Deakins for his work on the James Bond film Skyfall. Skyfall doesn’t necessarily demonstrate the best work of Deakins’ career, but the addition of his keen eye to the crew has made it one of the best shot action movies in recent memory. He’s smart enough to pull the camera back in the kinetic scenes to give the audience full perspective of the characters in frame. His cinematic touches also allow for some incredibly imaginative fight scenes, such as the one where Bond’s silhouette fights with that of an unnamed assassin. However, his true genius lies in the way he shoots scenes where not much happens at all. This scene for example:

Notice how Deakins frames Bond and his Quartermaster with their faces square in the middle of background picture frames, as if they are not human beings, but portraits to be examined by the audience. This fits with the idea that this Bond film is particularly aware of the entertainment aspect that Bond has provided audiences for ages and the hesitancy to paint him as a flesh and blood person.

Will the 10th nomination be the one that finally earns Deakins his due? Unfortunately the master may have to wait another year as Claudio Miranda seems poised to get his first win for the work he did on Ang Lee’s Life of Pi. The trend over the last three years has been to give this Oscar to the more effects driven movies, with 2 of the last 3 winners (Avatar and Hugo) being shot in 3-D. If the perception is that visual effects lead to a higher degree of difficulty, than Pi is probably the leader with a more overt use of CGI and 3-D effects than any other nominee this year.

Rober Richardson just won last year for Hugo, so he probably won’t win a second year in a row for his work on Django Unchained. Janusz Kaminski is an almost automatic nomination in this category whenever he works on a Spielberg film that is well received in other categories, but he’s already won twice and his work on Lincoln is no more spectacular than those efforts. Seamus McGarvey deserved an Oscar for his work on Joe Wright’s Atonement, and luck might be on his side this year with his latest Wright collaboration Anna Karenina. However, Anna Karenina was not nominated for Best Picture and only three films since the year 2000 have won this category without a Best Picture nomination; none since the expansion of the number of nominees.

The American Society of Cinematographers might shed a little light on this category when they announce their winner this coming Sunday, although their winner only matches up with the Oscar winner about half the time.

Predicted Winner: Life of Pi

Life of Pi (2012) 2013 Oscar Predictions Best Cinematography

Best Visual Effects

The Nominees:
The Avengers
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Life of Pi
Prometheus
Snow White and the Huntsman

The one category at the Oscars that seems to have room for the Summer blockbusters is Best Visual Effects, although big budget action movies are rarely the winner in this category. A surprising number of recent winners in this category have also been nominated for Best Picture including Hugo, Inception, Avatar, and all three Lord of the Rings movies. This year only one Visual Effects nominee made it into the Best Picture category: Ang Lee’s Life of Pi. Every other movie in this category was nominated for three or fewer total Oscars with Prometheus only being nominated for one.

The Visual Effects Society announced their winners yesterday and Life of Pi won “Best Visual Effects in a Visual Effects-Driven Feature Film.” The winner of that award has gone on to win the Visual Effects Oscar 7 of the last 10 years, which strengthens the case for Life of Pi to win the Oscar. The Avengers and Prometheus are more CGI dependent, but science fiction films almost never win in this category. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has proven it is NOT The Lord of the Rings at the Box Office and in the awards race and the Academy is not likely to give it an Oscar this year. Snow White and the Huntsman should be happy just to be nominated, although the use of visual effects are the best part of the movie.

Predicted Winner: Life of Pi

Stay tuned for more Oscar category breakdowns over the next several days.

Which films do you think will win Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects? Which films you think deserve to win?

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  • Hilary Kissinger

    Nice post, Alex! I just saw ‘Life of Pi’ this afternoon and think it’s a likely shoe-in for one if not both of these categories.

    I also found a lot to love in Life of Pi beyond the visual effects which has dominated all discussions about the film.

    • I always suspected I’d be in the minority of Film Misery for not falling head over heels for it. Gorgeous as Ang Lee’s consistent vision is, I simply didn’t have much stake in this battle for survival. Still couldn’t be happier Ang Lee’s getting this much positive mainstream attention.

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