Oscars Best Cinematography race: ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ surges, but watch out for ‘Elvis’
Before the Oscar nominations were announced, Best Cinematography seemed like one of the easiest categories to predict. After all, Claudio Miranda (“Top Gun: Maverick”) was boasting the greatest precursor haul and a nomination from the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), but his exclusion from the academy’s lineup leaves the race short a clear frontrunner. While most Gold Derby Experts and users are currently forecasting a win for James Friend (“All Quiet on the Western Front”), several alternatives appear plausible.
“All Quiet” followed its British Society of Cinematographers (BSC) win with a BAFTA victory, but wasn’t nominated at the upcoming guild awards being held March 5. If “Top Gun: Maverick” takes that, it should solidify Friend as this year’s top contender, but if it goes another direction, the race is on! Below are arguments for and against each of this year’s Best Cinematography nominees.
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James Friend, “All Quiet on the Western Front”
Why it will win: A poetically shot WWI epic, “All Quiet on the Western Front” is the contender most in line with past winners. The safe money, at least according to Gold Derby’s odds, is on Friend. Without Miranda in the mix, the Oscar is his to lose. Friend just picked up a BSC Award and the BAFTA.
Why it won’t win: A far more conceptually audacious war film, “1917,” won this category just a few years ago. While one could argue the varied visuals in “All Quiet” are better, the film isn’t doing anything new, such as guiding viewers through a battle zone in a “single” two-hour take. Also, Friend wasn’t recognized by ASC. Only two movies–1989’s “Glory” and 2006’s “Pan’s Labyrinth”–have claimed the Oscar without a nomination from the guild. Finally, his BSC win, though impressive, isn’t indicative, as the group doesn’t correlate with Oscar voters enough to be considered a bellwether on its own.
Mandy Walker, “Elvis”
Why it will win: Going into Oscar night with eight bids, “Elvis” is the second-most nominated film in the lineup (“All Quiet’s” International Feature notice gives it the edge with nine). It’s also the only contender with nominations from BAFTA, BSC, and ASC to go along with its Oscar mention. If Walker upsets at the 37th ASC Awards on March 5 and beats Miranda – our combined odds place her behind the “Top Gun: Maverick” DP and Greig Fraser (“The Batman”) –”Elvis” will be one to look out for at the Oscars.
Why it won’t win: Because so much of the movie’s aesthetic is achieved through editing, visual effects, costumes, and production design, voters may have trouble discerning Walker’s contributions from those of other crafts. Members of the academy’s cinematography branch clearly didn’t, but they won’t be the only ones weighing in this time.
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Roger Deakins, “Empire of Light”
Why it will win: No group is more inclined to appreciate a film about the majesty of movie theaters, especially when the package is this achingly beautiful to look at and assembled by one of the industry’s most revered cinematographers. Sam Mendes’ direction and Deakins’ photography made a winning combination three years ago (“1917”) and were strong enough to get “Empire of Light,” which fell short of notices for Best Actress (Olivia Colman) and Best Picture (not to mention Best Score, where it wasn’t even shortlisted), a slot over heavily predicted contenders like “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Avatar: The Way of Water.” Deakins lost the Critics Choice Award and BAFTA, but is still in play for an ASC win.
Why it won’t win: Though a handsome love letter to movie theaters, “Empire of Light” doesn’t demand to be seen in one the way some of the other nominees do. The romantic drama is this lineup’s quietest inclusion, even without competition from “TG: Maverick” and “Avatar.” Unless the academy, which a year ago gave this award to “Dune,” has undergone an identity shift, “Empire of Light” will have trouble prevailing over more visually robust nominees. Furthermore, you have to go back to 1949, when there were still separate cinematography Oscars for color and black-and-white films, to find a winner that wasn’t nominated in any other category (“She Wore a Yellow Ribbon”).
Florian Hoffmeister, “Tár”
Why it will win: “Tár” is this lineup’s purest achievement in photography. Devoid of digital effects, pyrotechnics, or period detail, the movie rather employs elemental compositions and clean, surgically precise camera movement. If this prize were awarded to individual scenes, Hoffmeister would easily be taking it home for architecting the single take at Julliard. “Tár” is also the only nominee with a corresponding bid for Best Director (Todd Field). The film’s most impressive cinematography accolade so far is the Golden Frog it picked up in Toruń, Poland at the EnergaCAMERIMAGE Festival. It was nominated for the Critics Choice and BSC Award.
Why it won’t win: Though the argument is rendered moot by the film’s nominations for Best Director, Editing, and Cinematography, the perception that “Tár” is foremost an acting showcase for Cate Blanchett nevertheless lingers. That will turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy if enough academy members vote based on what they believe will win, regardless of their personal feelings. The movie isn’t registering with some voters beyond its lead performance. And while Field’s inclusion in Director is a boost, that didn’t matter when “Dune” won Cinematography without a nomination for Denis Villeneuve.
Darius Khondji, “Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths”
Why it will win: Dalíesque production design and hyperkinetic, colorful tracking shots make “Bardo” easy to appreciate visually. Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s previous two films, “The Revenant” and “Birdman,” won this category, and “Bardo’s” cinematography largely resembles Emmanuel Lubezki’s work on those movies. Finally, Khondji, whose credits include “Se7en,” “Evita,” and “Uncut Gems,” still doesn’t have an Oscar, making the industry veteran overdue. The film’s mention here proves that neither its ASC nomination nor its Silver Frog win at EnergaCAMERIMAGE was a fluke.
Why it won’t win: “Bardo” clearly doesn’t have broad support within the academy, failing to even land the Best International Feature nom for which many had it slotted. Like Deakins, Khondji is his film’s only notice. History is not on his side. Academy members who appreciate the film’s visual pomp but want to throw their vote behind a formidable contender may simply default to “All Quiet” or “Elvis.”
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