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.)
Video is no longer available: vimeo.com/153484691
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:
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=5syeZtqaEg0
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.
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pk_Xixo_P3g
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?