NOTE: Apologies for the lack of activity this weekend. The snow storm cause a large branch to knock out power in my house for a day, which was followed by a long loss of internet. Things are finally back!
Next month the precursor awards will start pouring in from critics groups, guilds, and major Awards bodies such as the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Traditionally Oscar chatter in the months leading up to precursor awards is mostly void of much discussion surrounding the technical categories. Many of the technical categories are rather predictable (Visual Effects) and many look remarkable similar to the Best Picture nominees (Film Editing), but some remain more of a mystery than any of the major categories and are worth discussing right down to the wire.
This week I want to highlight a category that cinema-lovers have good reason to pay close attention to: Cinematography. While every category at the Oscars is fascinating there may not be a category that better separates film from comparable mediums than this one. Plays have scripts, acting, and costume design, operas have sound mixing and art direction, but cinematography belongs to film alone.
The race is notably unclear at this point in the year, but 2010 has already offered some fantastic contributions to the art of cinematography. Based on the trends of previous years and the word of mouth from this year, here is how I see the category right now.
Out of all the brilliant directors of photography that are currently working in the industry, there may be none that are more overdue for an Academy Award than Roger Deakins. The frequent Coen Bros. collaborator has been nominated for the Oscar eight times with no statue to his name making him the living cinematographer with the most nominations without a win. In his previous efforts he has demonstrated some of the most stunning cinematography of all-time including his sublime work in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and the subtle stillness of No Country for Old Men.
This year Deakins will exhibit his mastery on the Coen Brothers’ next film True Grit, which is yet to be seen by any critics. Based on the trailer that was released earlier in the year it appears that Deakins may be in top form once again for this Western, which many speculate will be an Oscar sleeper hit. Assuming that the Coen Brothers don’t somehow manage to turn in an uncharacteristic flop, it is safe to call Deakins a frontrunner in this category if for no other reason than his time has come.
The Cinematographers branch of the Academy is one of the most admirable because they often reach outside the sphere of Best Picture frontrunners when determining their nominations. Previous nominees have included The White Ribbon, Changeling, The Black Dahlia, and The Prestige – films that were not even much apart of the Best Picture conversation in their given years. This year a few films from the outside may make their way in for this category. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince earned the series its first cinematography nomination when Bruno Delbonnel got behind the camera last year. For the next film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, Delbonnel steps aside in favor of two-time nominee Eduardo Serra. With the same director the franchise could see the same success.
Christopher Nolan’s films have rather good luck at getting noticed by the Academy. His past three films – Batman Begins, The Prestige, and The Dark Knight – have all received Best Cinematography nominations. His 2010 release, Inception, is one of his most visually ambitious films and it re-teams him with cinematographer Wally Pfister whose only nominations have come while working under Nolan’s guise. That nomination should be automatic.
Other strong contenders include Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak who have a rare cinematography collaboration for Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours. Mantle took home the Oscar in 2009 for his work on Slumdog Millionaire, and Chediak has never been recognized for his films before which include 28 Weeks Later and Repo Men. Another winner from the aughts that could repeat is Russell Boyd who re-teams with Peter Weir for the sweeping epic The Way Back. Weir and Boyd’s last collaboration Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World won Boyd his only Oscar.
Potential contenders for 2010 who have never been nominated before include Matthew Libatique for Black Swan, Jeff Cronenweth for The Social Network, or Hoyte van Hoytema for The Fighter. As has been the case in previous years, the current winner could be someone who is not even on the radar yet. We will soon have questions answered as the precursor awards begin to get doled out.
The nominees for the 25th Annual American Society of Cinematographers Awards will be announced on January 11th and the winners will be presented on February 13th, 2011.
Current Predictions for Best Cinematography:
1) Roger Deakins – True Grit
2) Wally Pfister – Inception
3) Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak – 127 Hours
4) Russell Boyd – The Way Back
5) Eduardo Serra – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
The Oscar pages will be updated later today to reflect the changes. What are your thoughts? Is there any film you are rooting for?