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Longlists to Nominees: Cinematography

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It’s time to look at some pretty pictures.

  • All is Lost
  • Computer Chess
  • 47 Ronin
  • The Great Beauty
  • Her
  • Inside Llewyn Davis
  • Prisoners
  • The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
  • Spring Breakers
  • To the Wonder
  • A Touch of Sin
  • 12 Years a Slave
  • Upstream Color

Good cinematography takes so many different forms that picking just five nominees is damned difficult. You have to weigh the documentary style against the formal, natural colors against stylized colors against black-and-white, composition against chaos, and so on. I’m going to provide images from each film, and for once I’m going to forgo my previous lists and try and pull my final five straight from the longlist. So here goes.

  • All is Lost

 

The first few moments of the film, I thought this would get on for sure. The rest of the film looks good, but it’s not up to that standard. It’s not nomination-worthy.

  • Computer Chess

Much as I’d love to nominate this–the idea of taking vintage 80s video cameras and making the film look like an 80s artifact is one of the film’s primary delights–it just wouldn’t make the cut. The competition is too tough.

  • 47 Ronin

There are a few gorgeous shots here (there’s one incredible shot that I couldn’t find online), but…not quite enough. I’m picky like that.

  • The Great Beauty

Same deal. The high points are high, but there’s not enough of them. Props for the extended upside-down shot at the beginning, though.

  • Her

I was hoping Hoyte van Hoytema would exceed his work on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy here, but it was not to be. Nice looking film, but, again, I’m picky. I know what I like.

  • Inside Llewyn Davis

One of the film’s two Oscar nominations was for its cinematography. And there’s some nice work here, but it’s mostly just foggy lighting and muted colors. For a nomination, I can understand it, but…I just don’t have a lot of enthusiasm for this film, for some reason. It’s right on the edge in this category, but it’s vulnerable. (Fuck, I’ve dismissed almost all of these.)

  • Prisoners

It’s Roger Deakins. His work on Skyfall should have won the Oscar. The Academy nominated this film only once (which is ridiculous), but it was here, and it was richly deserved. This film looks incredible.

  • The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The first 15 minutes have some absolutely magnificent shots. Really brilliant stuff. Unfortunately, the cinematography and the film itself become more conventional after that point (though both are still good), so it ultimately falls short of the mark for a nomination.

  • Spring Breakers

I apologize for the weak example, but this is one film whose cinematography is best appreciated in the viewing. The use of color is glorious. It looks great from start to finish (Benoît Debie is a master; his work on Enter the Void is equally masterful). It’s on.

  • To the Wonder

Terrence Malick. Enough said.

  • A Touch of Sin

Some of the best composition of the year. I couldn’t find many stills from the film (this film was horribly, horribly underseen), but seeing it in a theater, I was consistently impressed by the strength of Nelson Yu Lik-wai’s work. No reason this isn’t getting nominated.

  • 12 Years a Slave

The Academy missed out on this one, somehow. I really liked the cinematography here, though–it gave the film an air of immediacy at the same time that it felt long ago and far away–a strange balance that enhances the film’s power. And the scene where Solomon must burn up a letter to his loved ones, and watches the embers slowly go out in the darkness, is one of the most tragically beautiful of the year. On it goes.

  • Upstream Color

Some very nice work here–it’s an extremely visual film, and the visuals are part and parcel of its dreamlike nature. Whether it makes the final five or not I’m not sure, but it’s yet another element of the tour de force that Shane Carruth (director, writer, male lead, producer, composer, cinematographer, co-editor, and co-camera operator) accomplished here. God, what a movie.

So here’s what I’ve got under active consideration: Inside Llewyn Davis, Prisoners, Spring Breakers, To the Wonder, A Touch of Sin, 12 Years a Slave, and Upstream Color. Seven films for five slots.

Llewyn Davis is off. I was on the fence about it. 

Prisoners, Spring Breakers, A Touch of Sin, and 12 Years a Slave should all be on. But do I go with To the Wonder or Upstream Color?

Terrence Malick films are consistently gorgeous. To the Wonder is no exception.

They got a classy looking shot of a fucking Sonic. Sorry, Upstream Color, but you just missed out on this one.

And the final five:

  • Prisoners
  • Spring Breakers
  • To the Wonder
  • A Touch of Sin
  • 12 Years a Slave
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