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Oscar Buzz: Can Roger Deakins Finally Win A Best Cinematography Oscar With ‘Unbroken’?

Oscar Buzz: Can Roger Deakins Finally Win A Best Cinematography Oscar With 'Unbroken'?

Roger Deakins is about as close to being a household name as you can get for a cinematographer. That’s a relative term, obviously: the man or woman on the street probably can’t pick him from a line-up. But anyone with even a little bit of cinephile DNA will know that Deakins is one of the top Directors of Photography in the world, a man who’s collaborated with the Coens (most regularly), Martin Scorsese and Andrew Dominik, who’s lensed Bond movies and Oscar winners, and who’s seemingly incapable of making  an unattractive movie.

He’s also an eleven-time Oscar nominee, and a zero-time Oscar winner, marking him among the most prominent permanent awards bridesmaids around. Deakins was nominated for “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Fargo,” “Kundun,” “O Brother Where Art Thou,” “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” “No Country For Old Men,” “The Assassination Of Jesse James,” “The Reader,” “True Grit,” “Skyfall” and “Prisoners,” but has been beaten every time. Could 2014 finally be his year? Deakins teamed up with Angelina Jolie for WWII biopic “Unbroken,” which looks to be an Oscar frontrunner (though it’s still unseen, and will be one of the last awards seasons contenders to be unveiled), and is certainly one of the hottest prospects to take the Cinematography award this year.

But it’s not going to be plain sailing: there’s plenty of stiff competition, including last year’s winner, another long-time nominee who finally took the trophy, and could well end up with a second this time around. So, having looked at the acting and directing races in recent weeks, we wanted to spotlight who’s in the mix for the Cinematography Oscar award. Take a look below, and let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Front-Runners:
Right at the front of the pack right now is last year’s winner, Emmanuel Lubezki. It took the great Mexican DP six attempts, with nominations for “A Little Princess,” “Sleepy Hollow,” “A New World,” “Children Of Men” and “The Tree Of Life” preceding last year’s victory for “Gravity,” but “Birdman,” his first team-up with Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, is a strong candidate for another trophy this year. “Gravity” earned attention for its seamless opening twenty-minute take, among other things, but Lubezki outdid himself here with a film digitally stitched together to look like one continuous shot (while being as beautifully framed and lit as ever). It’s the kind of technical accomplishment that always does well with the cinematographers branch. It’s probably the deadest of the certs for a nod right now, and we suspect only Deakins could end up defeating it.

Whether or not he can challenge for the win is one thing, but we’re pretty confident that Dick Pope will be a nominee this time around for “Mr. Turner.” Mike Leigh‘s long-time collaborator (who was nominated a few years back for “The Illusionist“) has outdone himself with a gorgeous, painterly picture that echoes the work of his subject, and with the film apparently playing well with Academy members, this should certainly be among the final five, short of some shocks among the films yet to be unveiled.

Still To Come:
There are still several potential heavyweights yet to be unveiled. The most prominent, obviously, is “Unbroken,” from Roger Deakins. With a few weeks until the movie starts screening, all we have to go on right now is trailers, and from those, it doesn’t look like Deakins’ most distinctive work, but 1) it’s obviously impossible to judge from that, and 2) even if he’s done better elsewhere, it may not matter, partly because Deakins is so due, and partly because the film is potentially such a multiple-nominee juggernaut. Whether he can beat out Lubezki remains to be seen, but not having an Oscar in the trophy cabinet already might well turn out to be a boon.

Beyond that, the big awards movies yet to be unveiled are “Into The Woods,” “Big Eyes” and “Exodus: Gods And Kings,” shot by Dion Beebe, Bruno Delbonnel and Dariusz Wolski respectively. None immediately feel like big Oscar prospects, but all three DPs are hugely talented, so it’s always possible that they might end up breaking into the race if the films connect with voters, or if the work is good enough.

Looking Strong:
If ever there was proof that digital filmmaking is becoming the norm, this year sees only three movies in serious contention that were shot on film. “Interstellar” has the best chance of them: though “The Dark Knight Rises” missed out, all four of Nolan’s films before that were nominees in the category. Hoyte Van Hoytema, in his first collaboration with Nolan, would be a first time nominee, but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem: the imagery is striking enough that even those who find fault with the film at large can probably get on board, and the film ticks the “grand event movie” box that paid off in recent years for “Avatar,” “Hugo” and “Life Of Pi,” as well as “Gravity.” 

That said, there’s plenty of other possibilities bubbling. The two other film-shot movies are “Fury,” lensed by Roman Vasyanov, and “Inherent Vice,” by previous winner Robert Elswit. Vasyanov is a rising star, and does solid work in the film, so it shouldn’t be counted out, while Elswit is always worth watching (see below), this might end up missing out too.

Of the two Brit-biopics, Benoit Delhomme‘s “The Theory Of Everything” probably has the edge over Oscar Faura‘s work on “The Imitation Game,” although neither DP is particularly well known to Academy voters. Jeff Cronenweth‘s team-ups with David Fincher have led to nods in the past, so it’s possible that he’ll return for “Gone Girl,” but while the work is very strong (like several other films, playing with darkness to an almost Gordon Willis-esque level), it may feel like diminishing returns to Academy members who nominated him for “The Social Network” and “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.”

Speaking of Gordon Willis-like, Greig Fraser’s chilly work on “Foxcatcher” is certainly worthy, and will hopefully remain in the conversation, but with a question mark as to how well the film’s connecting with voters, it could struggle to make the final five (his work on “The Gambler” is also apparently strong, but less likely to figure in). Like Fraser, the great Bradford Young‘s waiting for his first nomination, and his similarly Willis-like work on “A Most Violent Year” may not be showy enough to make it.

But Young might have a better chance with “Selma“: the film just screened at AFI Fest last night, everyone’s singing their praises for Young’s work, and Ava DuVernay‘s film looks like it might be the late-breaking contender we’ve been waiting for all year. Assuming the film connects with voters the way it did in the theater last night, Young should be heading for his first nod. Clint Eastwood‘s “American Sniper” also premiered last night: the film’s more of a question mark in terms of awards in general right now, but either way, Tom Stern‘s photography is likely to be a longer shot than Young’s.

Finally, it’s almost shocking, given the level of influence he’s had on independent film in the last couple of decades, that Wes Anderson‘s regular DP Robert Yeoman has never picked up a nomination. Fox Searchlight are kicking off their “Grand Budapest Hotel” campaign this week, so we’ll see if they’re able to get the film back in the conversation. If so, and if it builds up enough steam, Yeoman could be a dark horse to watch.

Deserve Consideration:
As ever, there’s a ton of awards-worthy work that likely isn’t really on voters’ radars, but it damn well should be, and we want to highlight some of it. Top of the list has to be Robert Elswit and “Nightcrawler” — the great filmmaker’s work here is some of the best LA nighttime photography since Michael Mann‘s “Collateral,” and is certainly among the best-looking movies of the year. Elswit is an awards-veteran, but the film mostly seems like it’s going to be too scuzzy (we mean that absolutely as a compliment) to figure in, particularly as he has “Inherent Vice” in the race too.

From the genre side of things, Seamus McGarvey did some sterling, often awe-inspiring work on “Godzilla,” the vibrant framing of “The Raid 2” by Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono makes the movie, and Hong Kyung-pyo did a superb, atmospheric job on ‘Snowpiercer,” while Robby Baumgartner certainly marked himself as one to watch with “The Guest,” as did Natasha Braier with “The Rover” and Jeremy Saulnier on “Blue Ruin.” 

As far as festival and indie fare goes, the stunning soft-focus photography by the great Darius Khondji on “The Immigrant” undoubtedly deserves to be in the discussion (even if there’s little intention of pushing it), while Erik Wilson did a remarkable job on “The Double,” and Daniel Landin made his name in a major way with “Under The Skin.” Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal came up with some of the year’s most indelible images with “Ida,” Sean Price Williams did some killer 16mm work with “Listen Up Philip,” and though we weren’t crazy about the movie itself, the drone photography in the second half of “Bird People” in particular is stunning.

Also worth mentioning, though unlikely to make much of an awards impact, are the work of Nicolas Bolduc (“Enemy“), Yorick Le Saux (“Only Lovers Left Alive“), Manuel Alberto Claro (“Nymphomaniac“), Haris Zambarloukos (“Locke“), Autumn Durald (“Palo Alto“), Christopher Blauvelt (“Night Moves‘), Andrew Reed (“Land Ho“) and Rob Hardy (“Tracks“).

Also In Contention:
There’s a few other movies kicking around that have even longer odds, but could yet end up surprising. “Boyhood” is arguably the Best Picture front-runner, but the photography is relatively unlikely to figure into the category, partly because it’s not that attention-grabbing, and partly because it was split between two DPs, Lee Daniel and Shane F. Kelly. “Whiplash” is also likely to be a Best Picture nominee, but while Sharone Meir‘s work in the film is very strong, it probably won’t be in serious consideration either .

Beyond that, there’s a slight sense of also-ran around Stephen Goldblatt and “Get On Up,” Rodrigo Prieto and “The Homesman,” Janusz Kaminski and “The Judge,” Dean Semler and “Maleficent,” Matthew Libatique and “Noah,” Michael Seresin and “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes.” Fine work all, but in movies without much awards buzz, and unlikely to be seriously considered by the majority.

Predictions:

Roger Deakins – “Unbroken”
Hoyte Van Hoytema – “Interstellar”
Emmanuel Lubezki – “Birdman”
Dick Pope – “Mr. Turner”
Bradford Young – “Selma”

Next week, we’ll have a look at some of the remaining categories, and take a look at the Best Picture race now that most of the field has been revealed.

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