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The Oscars are almost upon us, with all their unpredictability. You don’t need an oracle to tell you what will happen. You don’t even need a film critic. You need someone who sees into the very souls of the Academy voters. You need a Straight White Man.
We’re almost there, guys! Tomorrow night, we’ll find out over the course of four hours bloated with self-congratulation and overwrought pageantry just how wrong every word in every post in this series has been. But tonight, we soldier on. I’ve already talked quite a bit about most of the nominated films in this category, and I hate to repeat myself, so I’ll be deliberately keeping this relatively short. Here are your nominees for Best Cinematography and Best Director.
Carol – There’s not as much motion in Carol as in most of these other nominees, but the shots are well-composed without exception. As good as Carol is for the full two hours, for me so much of it comes back to that last scene. Everything about it has to be perfect and is, including the excruciating slow zoom on Carol’s face as Therese approaches her. Great, great stuff.
The Hateful Eight – Something I’ve read about, which I sort of saw but would never have pinpointed as a matter of cinematography instead of just clever staging, is Tarantino’s insistence on shooting the whole movie on 70mm film in order to get the widest possible view. On a fairly small set like the movie’s roadhouse, it means cinematographer Robert Richardson is shooting most of the room—and often most of the cast—anytime he’s not taking a closeup. It’s a cool effect and one of the things I genuinely liked about a movie I didn’t care much for overall.
Mad Max: Fury Road – All the vast and detailed world-building that George Miller did for Mad Max wouldn’t mean much if you couldn’t see any of it. Miller’s director of photography, John Seale, always seems to know just how to show it all off. A friend has described the result of what happens when “lunatic Australian senior citizens” finally get their hands on cutting-edge cameras. Everything in frame is in constant motion for almost the entire movie, and the camera never loses focus or shakes or seems to be trying to hide anything.
The Revenant – Emmanuel Lubezki can win his third cinematography Oscar in a row this year, and it’s hard to see how anyone can stop him. Lubezki brings the trademark long takes that have distinguished him since, what, at least Children of Men, but The Revenant is just as impressive in the wider, more static shots, showing off the vast wilderness and Hugh Glass’s almost insignificant place in it. The lighting is beautiful and, at Iñárritu’s insistence, 100% natural.
Sicario – Will someone please give Roger Deakins his Oscar already? A thirteenth nomination without one trophy yet to show for it, including the year he was up against himself with No Country for Old Men and The Assasination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Sicario‘s photography is terrific all the way through, and I noticed two or three shots that I thought were subtly brilliant.
Will Win: The Revenant.
Should Win: Probably still The Revenant, but I’m rooting so hard for Sicario here.
Upset Special: Mad Max: Fury Road.
Adam McKay, The Big Short – To my untrained eye, it seems a lot of Adam McKay’s genius is in what he gets out of his actors. I’ve talked already quite a bit about his love of improvisation, and here he’s used it to bring conversations about mortgages, bonds, and CDOs vibrantly and chaotically to life.
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road – George Miller spent 25 years making the absolute perfect action movie. It would be criminal not to give him this award, not even because of the effort he put in, but because the finished product is so incredible and so unlike anything else.
Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Revenant – But Miller will have stiff competition from Iñárritu, who went to frankly stupid lengths to get his own movie made. I said in my first Oscar posts that I’m not inclined to give him extra credit for making his own job more difficult, and I’m still not. But even if you ignore the ongoing myth-making about the challenge of filming this movie, his work really is extraordinary.
Lenny Abrahamson, Room – I’d never seen an Abrahamson movie before Room, though I do remember seeing some promotion for his last movie, Frank. I was most impressed by his evident sense of timing; the movie has a lot of abrupt cuts, especially early on, but they all feel exactly right somehow.
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight – I’ve said once or twice now, I think, that Spotlight‘s pacing is one of the best things it has going for it; it’s spellbinding from start to finish. McCarthy’s the guy who ultimately deserves the credit for that.
Will Win/Should Win: George Miller.
Not Really An Upset Special: Alejandro González Iñárritu, as disappointed as I’d be.