How Cinematography, Editing, & More Enhance Oscar-Worthy Performances

So much goes into a great performance: an actor's ability to connect with a character, to emote convincingly, and -- great filmmaking.

In this video essay from Keyframe, Jake Swinney discusses the connection between Oscar-nominated performances and the quality of the films in which they appear, asking, "How can something technical manipulate our perception of an actor's performance?"

Video is no longer available:

There's more to great acting than just -- great acting, and Swinney does a fantastic job of breaking down the technical elements that enhance an actor's performance. For example, if cinematography works to inspire and increase certain emotions in the audience with lighting, framing, and camera movement, an actor's projection of said emotions in his/her performance is bolstered when paired with it. Take Swinney's commentary on the cinematography in The Revenant for example:

This technically complex long take not only enhances Leo's intensity, but also proves he is really riding this horse, adding to the extreme physical nature of his performance.

This might come as no surprise to you. Of course the quality of a performance will seem better when the cinematography, editing, VFX, hair and makeup, and set design all coalesce to communicate the emotional elements of a story. Conversely, all of the technical elements of a film rely on its actors' ability to bring the story to life. See -- the two need each other. (Isn't that kind of nice?)     

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Bradley Cooper went through FAR MORE in the making of American Sniper than Leonardo DiCaprio did for The Revenant. And Bradley Cooper's acting was EXCELLENT, just EXCELLENT! Yet he didn't win an Oscar. That's how hard it should be to get an Oscar nomination. (but Bradley Cooper should have won, I think a victim of being in a movie too politically incorrect)) I don't think Leonardo DiCaprio's acting was worth an Oscar nomination. I didn't connect with his character. He seemed like he had no real world understanding of who the person he was portraying really was. Sure, he cried, he acted like he couldn't talk, he had the blood daubed all over his face, he limped, he acted desperate for food, he went into the freezing cold river, he had the spittle on his beard, he ate real, raw liver. But it didn't resonate. It just felt like a rich Hollywood-ite's odyssey into what he thought was true acting. Benicio DelToro was much more gripping in Sicario--and he's not even nominated. (again, Sicario another example of being too politically incorrect.)

And it's not just me unimpressed with Leonardo DiCaprio's acting in The Revenant. This from an (undisclosed) exec branch member of the Oscars:

"I rule out Leonardo immediately because it’s a ridiculous performance," says this longtime voter in the executives branch. "They are running his campaign based on how hard it was to make the movie, right? I’m tired of hearing about it — that's what he gets paid for!"

February 24, 2016 at 8:26PM, Edited February 24, 9:13PM

Gene Nemetz
live streaming

I connected with him though, found it very convincing. I really don't see why it was ridiculous or how it should have been more toned down.

Sicario on the other hand for me was a real disappointment (and that had nothing to do with politics), one of the movies that I was looking forward too (after seeing Prisoner). I loved the cinematography, but I lost any connection to the lead actors after they went into Mexico.

February 25, 2016 at 12:47AM

Gerbert Floor
DP / Director / Camera / Editor

If you want a good idea of how much the other elements of a film are critical to the performance go watch Battlefield Earth or the Star Wars prequels. The director, editor, etc can make or break even well-seasoned actors.

February 28, 2016 at 12:38AM

Ryan Gudmunson
Recreational Filmmaker