Thanks to an unexpected selection of Oscar nominees for Best Cinematography on Tuesday — particularly, preliminary frontrunner Claudio Miranda missing the cut for “Top Gun: Maverick” — “Elvis” cinematographer Mandy Walker is suddenly the one beat, and now is the likeliest woman yet to break the category’s glass ceiling. She follows Ari Wegner (“The Power of the Dog”) last year and Rachel Morrison (“Mudbound”) in 2018, as only the third woman to be nominated by her branch. But neither Wegner nor Morrison were poised for a win like Walker is.
Who’s the competition? Two other first-time nominees: James Friend for the late-surging German World War I film that once seemed like a long shot — “All Quiet on the Western Front” — and Florian Hoffmeister, the Camerimage winner for the Best Picture nominee, “TÁR,” who was snubbed by the ASC. They’re joined by a couple of Mount Rushmore DPs with films otherwise ignored by the Academy: two-time winner and 16-time nominee Roger Deakins for “Empire of Light,” and two-time nominee Darius Khondji for “Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths.”
Because of this unusual mix of cinematographers, films, and timing, Walker has been thrust into the spotlight with the best opportunity to win the prize for Baz Luhrmann’s delirious Elvis Presley musical biopic. As one Oscar winner said, “She did a fabulous job, it would be well deserved. I think everyone would agree as well.”
At the same time, Walker is now the ASC frontrunner, too, leading a field that contains Deakins, Khondji, “Dune” Oscar winner Greig Fraser (“The Batman”), and Miranda. Similarly, if she wins, Walker would become the first woman ASC winner. She also leads the field of BAFTA nominees, and, likewise, could break the glass ceiling in the British organization’s cinematography category.
Meanwhile, Walker’s superlative work on “Elvis” has already garnered the Audience Award and Festival Director’s Award at Camerimage (with Luhrmann), and she became the first woman to win Best Cinematography honors from the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts.
This road to Oscar has been a long time coming for the Australian Walker, who has Disney’s live-action “Snow White” in the works for director Marc Webb in 2024. Her previous credits include another Mouse House remake, “Mulan,” as well as “Hidden Figures,” “Jane Got a Gun,” “Red Riding Hood,” and Luhrmann’s “Australia.” Her collaboration with the director began with a Chanel No. 5 campaign starring their fellow Aussie and future “Australia” headliner Nicole Kidman.
“Elvis,” though, achieves a greater level of artistry for Walker. It’s a non-stop roller coaster ride that captures the King of Rock’s rebellious career and his enduring cultural impact, which Walker chose to represent through just the right combination of historical reproduction (which she calls “trainspotting”) and surreal hysteria. Shooting on the large format Alexa 65mm with an assortment of specialized lenses and LUT for the look of each era in Presley’s career, Walker studied and replicated the camera angles, lenses, and lighting from archival footage — paying close attention to the transitions between scenes and the camera movements in various locations during the concert sequences. Speaking to IndieWire in June, Walker keyed in on the fateful Ferris wheel ride between Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks) and Elvis (Austin Butler) as the cue for her roving camerawork: “‘This is the start,'” she recalled. “‘We’re going to fly in this movie.’”
With “Elvis,” it seems that everything is aligned for Walker, armed with a Best Picture nomination, a Best Actor nomination for the charismatic Butler, and Hollywood blockbuster success. Who’s her biggest threat? Friend, since he’s riding a wave of momentum with Edward Berger’s “All Quiet on the Western Front,” which garnered nine nominations (including Best Picture and Best International Feature, which it is favored to win for Germany). Ironically, the immersive POV film, shot like a horror film with long tracking shots, tied “Elvis” as crafts leader with six nominations each.
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