February 5, 2016

Oscar-Worthy Cinematography: A Look at the 2016 Academy Award-Nominated Films

What does Oscar-worthy cinematography look like in 2016?

In yet another fantastic video from Fandor video essayist Kevin B. Lee, we get to take a deeper look at the visuals of this year's nominees for Best Cinematography: Ed Lachman for Carol, Robert Richardson for The Hateful Eight, John Seale for Mad Max: Fury Road, Emmanuel Lubezki for The Revenant, and Roger Deakins for Sicario.

Lee has taken out the audio from each 1-minute clip of the films to give you a better chance to focus on the visuals. (He recommends muting his commentary for the first watch, too.) 

We've got many of the usual Oscar suspects here, including, of course, Chivo Lubezki, who has won two years in a row, and Roger Deakins, who has been nominated 13 times, but has never won. So clearly we're looking at world-class cinematography -- the craft performed at its very best, but what exactly makes it worthy of an Academy Award?

Well, each film brings something unique to the table, whether its Lubezki's sweeping wide shots in The Revenant, Seale's brilliant use of space (near and far) in Fury Road, or Richardson's use of expert camera movements in The Hateful Eight. Personally, I have a real affinity for close-ups and voyeuristic perspectives, which is why Lachman's delicate, fetishistic POV in Carol consumed my attention so voraciously.

Why? Because it's the way a woman, who hasn't looked at another woman, looks at a woman for the first time. (Of course this is a generalization, but stay with me.) Lachman was able to put to screen the ferociousness, the longing, and the terror of the queer female gaze. It's subdued, yet ravenous. It's curious, but careful. More importantly, it's constantly aware of the attention it's bringing.

Take a look at this clip of Carol (Kate Blanchett) and Therese (Rooney Mara) sitting at a diner:

There are a lot of things going on here. First of all, it looks like a long lens was used to capture these shots, which gives the viewer the sense that they're eavesdropping or spying on the two women's conversation. Furthermore, every shot is an over-the-shoulder (OTS), which gives the impression that we're peaking over our diner booths to listen in, or to look at the gift, or to witness one woman holding another woman's hand.

A stark contrast to this scene is this one that depicts a private moment between the two women. You'll notice Lachman takes a more classical approach to his camerawork, that is until around the 0:45 mark, where he tracks Blanchett's hand gliding along Mara's shoulders, shallowly focusing on it as if to say that this is what Mara's character is fixated on.

As you can see, this scene is much more intimate -- even the colors are warmer and more inviting. It's as if Lachman is trying to say that these two women are safe here from all of the peering eyes looking to uncover them -- though, still, they haven't found safety between each other.

Which DP do you think deserves the Oscar for Best Cinematography?      

Your Comment

27 Comments

The Revenant

February 5, 2016 at 2:33PM

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COYCO
Director of Photography
265

100% agree
BUT check out the comedic trailer for "Super Bowl Jesus".
Shot & cut on an iPhone 6:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hzPmzYmRNQ

February 7, 2016 at 1:57AM, Edited February 7, 2:00AM

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Daniel Reed
Hat Collector
983

Mr. Roger for Sicario!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

February 5, 2016 at 2:35PM

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Keith Kim
Photographer
1371

I wish too. But he will probably get close second. I like it that he says he is a servant to the scene.

February 6, 2016 at 1:00AM

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Gene Nemetz
live streaming
456

I think the same. Probably he won't win, but taking into account the rest of nominees it will be easier to accept that.

February 9, 2016 at 3:43AM

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Extremely strong field of contenders this year. Don't want to choose.

February 5, 2016 at 2:53PM

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Totally different camera styles for totally different styles of movies. Hard to compare. Good luck jury.

February 5, 2016 at 5:04PM, Edited February 5, 5:04PM

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Being a landscape guy, my personal favorite is The Revenant. I just loved the use of the wide angle throughout. But I agree with everyone else that it's going to be a tough choice and I'm glad I don't have to make it.

February 5, 2016 at 6:52PM

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Ethan Cardoza
Cinematographer/Editor
173

I'm rooting hardcore for Roger... Sicario was a cinematic masterpiece in the most subtle of ways. The way he created a gritty Mexico without jumping over the edge - you could see how he innovated upon his use of sodium and mercury vapor lighting from No Country for Old men, but he also perfected his landscape technique from Skyfall. Also the homage paid to Silence of the Lambs with the night vision sequence was phenomenal...

I love Chivo but the beginning of the Revenant felt so masturbatory. It was impressive movement for the sake of impressive camera movement - I thought it would've felt much more captivating with editing. He definitely hit his stride halfway through the film (right as Leo has to crawl out of the pit - not a spoiler) and from then on I was interested, but it felt slow and dull up until that point. His use of natural lighting was also impressive, but there were also definitely moments where he added artificial lighting (look at the square eye lights in fire scenes - very obvious to keep ambience up) so its not exactly revolutionary...

Richardson's work on Hateful Eight was also amazing and, as the video said, "He was able to transform a small wooden shack into a theatrical landscape". It was masterful use of motivated camera movement and lighting that brought me back to some gorgeous classics, but it didn't speak to me like Roger's work on Sicario.

Again, just my $0.02! All these films were absolutely gorgeous and everyone is entitled to their own opinions!

February 5, 2016 at 8:16PM

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Aidan Gray
Director of Photography Assistant Camera | Gaffer
1377

Beautiful work by each of them, lets leave the pain of selections to the Jury :) But a note worth mentioning is that though Mad Max: Fury Road content is a big NO for my sensibilities, the way everything is packaged, it literally draws you into the movie. If the trailer is of such calibre, I can imagine what it would be sit in a cinema hall and watch it ( I didn't watch the movie ). It met the objectivity of Cinema which is to capture the minds of the audience.

Cinematography is a difficult proposition in such screenplays ( storyboards :) ), logically showcasing the insanity - logic meets insanity for a starbucks coffee..Hun...But the tour (cinematography) of the huge constantly mobile canvas was impeccable, as an audience you could understand what was happening at any place in the chaos both geographically and narratively. It's quite an achievement because the purpose of cinematography is to convey to the audience, whatever tricks you use - lenses, lighting, angles etc...

Also, I like the arrogance of the makers, it was an open challenge to the audience, "You watch it for a minute and we will grab you on this absurdity ride" - Your left side of the brain conquered without your knowledge. Full Marks there.

Ok...Let me quickly wriggle out of this insanity before it grabs me in :P

Good Luck to all the Masters.

Cheers!!

February 5, 2016 at 9:11PM

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Arun Meegada
Moviemaker in the Making
212

It Follows.

February 5, 2016 at 10:25PM

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James Manson
Photographer
109

Mad Max. Too good to not win.

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Why is Hateful 8 even in there?? Not much different than a made for tv movie. Everything, save for a few short moments, was uneventful. There had to be other movies that are better work. Oh yeah, shut up, it's a Tarantino movie.

February 6, 2016 at 12:57AM, Edited February 6, 1:02AM

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Gene Nemetz
live streaming
456

The Revenant, I would like some variety and for Deakins to win but Chivo's work in The Revenant was simply sublime to put it succinctly. Mad Max Fury Road was also impressive but it was more about capturing the spectacle of the situation rather than the natural beauty. Also in terms of sheer effort/ Lubezki should win outright.

February 6, 2016 at 10:48AM

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Matt Nunn
Amateur
124

The Hateful Eight deserves nothing more than being forgotten.

February 6, 2016 at 12:22PM

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Danny Bittman
Director / Writer / Media Composer
93

Nice! Excellently put, right to the point, giving it its due.

I agree with you, I wish I had never seen it. I was sorry to my friend who I had talked into going to it.

February 6, 2016 at 1:23PM

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Gene Nemetz
live streaming
456

First Hateful 8, now another movie shot on film, not doing well:

'Box Office: "Hail, Caesar!" Underwhelms' http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/box-office-hail-caesar-underwhelms...

In other words, film does not save a movie. No one is caring what movies are shot on. Are even people that are sensitive about film staying around making it a point to go to a movie just because it was shot on film? And, now seeing 'Hail, Caesar!' is not doing well, are they going to rush out to spend money on it in a futile attempt to save some face for film?

Jus askin. ;O)

February 7, 2016 at 12:03AM, Edited February 7, 12:07AM

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Gene Nemetz
live streaming
456

And yet, both Star Wars (the reason Hateful Eight isn't doing so hot) and Jurassic World, the two biggest earners of 2015, were both shot on film. Don't look for patterns where there are none.

February 8, 2016 at 12:11PM

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Oscar Stegland
DP/Steadicam
592

I wasn't looking for a pattern.

It was a response to those who think just because a movie is done with film it will do well, and that film has a real future.

February 10, 2016 at 9:17PM

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Gene Nemetz
live streaming
456

At this level of cinema it goes down to aesthetic of your sensor, be that film or digital. Film will be used for nostalgia, and "old times". No different then Black and White.

February 8, 2016 at 1:27PM

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Jesse Cardoza
Director of Photography, Camera Assistant, Gaffer
15

I don't really get your point.

You don't like films shooting on film? This article was about cinematography, not film vs digital.

Do you want me to list all the films shot on digital that were utterly awful and say "DIGITAL IS DEAD!"

No, because that would be ridiculous. Let the director and cinematographer choose what aesthetic they'd like for their film. If they want to shoot it on an iPhone and it works for what they're doing then so be it.

Every format has it's merits and no format will ever dictate whether a film is good or not. That's really not how it works.

February 17, 2016 at 5:27AM

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Jake Gorton
Producer
227

I am surprised "The Danish Girl" and "Brooklyn" were not included in the noms.

February 7, 2016 at 2:14PM, Edited February 7, 2:14PM

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Shaeden Gallegos
Marketing Coordinator at RED DIGITAL CINEMA
100

This year was one of the best on record for the photography masters. When you get to this level we have to nit pick. Everyone of these films deserves the little golden man. If Mr. Deakins can not win for "Prisoner's" or "No Country for Old Men" he will no way win for the much weaker "Sicario". Robert Richardson adapted his "blown out" aesthetic, but not enough. "The Oscar goes to Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki." No other film combined technique and narrative as beautifully as in "The Revenant". This film, even with DiCaprio, would be a much lesser film if Chivo was not calling the shots.

February 8, 2016 at 1:24PM

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Jesse Cardoza
Director of Photography, Camera Assistant, Gaffer
15

I felt Sicario was his strongest work since 2007, and I really hope he wins for it but it won't happen.

Love Lubezki but the technicality of the camerawork pulled me out of the story too many times.

February 11, 2016 at 6:22PM

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Oscar Stegland
DP/Steadicam
592

I loved The Revenant and I agree there is a super tough fight this year. But I am wondering if anybody noticed The Walk was very beautiful work too.

February 10, 2016 at 1:14AM, Edited February 10, 1:14AM

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Bhushan Gaur
Director / Writer
79

The Walk was one of my favorite movies from last year. Maybe not the "best" but I enjoyed watching it a great deal. More so than most of these other films mentioned for Oscars, Revenant included.

February 11, 2016 at 10:17AM

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I personally think the real Battle is Between The revenant,Mad max and Sicario.

February 19, 2016 at 12:20PM, Edited February 19, 12:20PM

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chandan singh
Director of photography,sound designer
1

Such a good movie. Cannot wait to watch it!

June 7, 2016 at 3:24PM

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Such a good movies in this article. I hope Carol will win thi year.

August 14, 2016 at 12:44PM

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