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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Oscar Series: Best Cinematography

Achievement in Cinematography
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Roger Deakins
Atonement, Seamus McGarvey
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Janusz Kaminski
No Country for Old Men, Roger Deakins
There Will Be Blood, Robert Elswit

How can you not love all the cinematography nominees this year? All five of these films look absolutely stunning. Really, you can't go wrong with giving the Oscar to any one of them. I was blown away by all five movies.

Through my research of this category, I came across a fascinating fact. Look at how "well" the ASC and Oscars match in this category. An "amazing" 6/21 since the ASC award started back in 1986. Oh no, Robert Elswit. That's 29 percent accuracy. I couldn't believe it. The ASC has matched up 2/7 this decade with wins for Conrad Hall ('02 with Road to Perdition) and Dion Beebe ('05 with Memoirs of a Geisha).

This could be another category that could win your Oscar pool. Let's take a closer look.

I want to start by looking at Roger Deakins (double nominee) for his work on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and No Country for Old Men. Deakins is one of the most respected cinematographers working today. He will come into the Kodak Theatre a disappointing 0/5 and has two shots to get his first win. Here's the biggest problem. He's a double nominee. That could split the vote and cost him a win. Honestly, I love Deakins' work in Jesse James better than No Country. Though, No Country is the better received film. It's a serious dilemma for voters. Which film do I vote for? The last double nominee for cinematography was Robert Surtees back in 1971. And yes, he went home empty-handed.

The one thing I like about his chances are that people will want to award him for such a great year. Maybe everyone in Hollywood decides to vote for No Country. It's the film with more momentum and Deakins should hope all the campaigning will pay off. If you look at Steven Soderbergh back in 2000, he was a double nominee for directing. He won the Oscar that night since the voters decided what film to vote for. There was no debate between Traffic and Erin Brockovich. It was Traffic all the way. There's still a fair chance that could happen with Roger Deakins and don't be surprised if it does.

Seamus McGarvey for Atonement is a first time nominee. Still, his work was unbelievable. How could you not admire that long, tracking shot on the beach. It's honestly one of the best I've ever seen. The average person doesn't realize how difficult that shot is to get and it was pulled off. I am a little worried about him since this is such a stacked field. He's like the new kid on the block and I can't see him getting votes over the other nominees. If Atonement seemed like it had more support and was a serious Best Picture contender, then I would say he could win. That just isn't the case and that's why I think he will be on the outside looking in.

Janusz Kaminski for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly could be the big spoiler this year. The guy already has two Oscars (2/4 lifetime with wins in '93 for Schindler's List and '98 for Saving Private Ryan), but there is something about this film. Somehow a film about a paralyzed man, who could only blink his left eye was extremely beautiful to watch. Also, the stylized approach of shooting a majority of the movie from the POV of Bauby must have been a challenge. And, you really have to admire it. I look at Kaminski kind of how I looked at Guillermo Navarro last year with Pan's Labyrinth. It could be one of the big upsets of the night.

Robert Elswit for There Will Be Blood is the favorite on a lot of people's list. Really, I would love to see him win. The ASC curse kind of scares me a little, but he could be a rare exception. For one, the support for Blood is strong. It may lose at in the of the major categories (Picture, Director, Screenplay), so people will look to reward it elsewhere. Elswit is also a well respected cinematographer who many people feel is overdue. This may be only his second nomination (0/1 lifetime), but it feels like he has been around for some time. His collaboration with P.T. Anderson is at its best with Blood (shot all four of Anderson's previous films). For a film set in the desert, it's beautiful to look at. The burning derrick is one of the most fascinating shots of 2007. With that said, you have to think that the Oscars could be his moment.

Considering that this category can sometimes be unpredictable, don't be surprised if there is an upset. Did anyone think Emmanuel Lubezki would lose last year? I know a lot of people who thought it was the best cinematography of the decade, yet it lost the Oscar. Also, read as much as you want into the guild comparision. Believe it or not, most of the guilds have matched up 2/7, 3/7, or 4/7 for the decade with the Oscars. The only exceptions really being the DGA and ACE. Dare I say that stats are sometimes overrated. Go with your gut feeling when deciding in this category.

Check back tomorrow as I look at another category.

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