Updated March 21: “Dune” cinematographer Greig Fraser won the feature film prize March 20 at the 36th annual ASC Awards (held at the organization’s clubhouse in Hollywood). He now has critical momentum going into Sunday’s Oscars, bolstered by his recent BAFTA prize and praise for his dark and gritty “The Batman.”
However, don’t be surprised if Wegner (winner of the Critics Choice Award) pulls off an upset over her fellow Australian and becomes the first woman to win the Oscar for cinematography. Her director, “Power of the Dog’s” Jane Campion, is expected to win the Oscar for Best Director. Previously, Rachel Morrison (“Mudbound”) was the only woman cinematographer ever nominated for both the ASC and Oscars.
Updated February 9: The frontrunning “Dune” (Warner Bros.) competes against “The Power of the Dog” (Netflix), “West Side Story” (20th Century/Disney) “Nightmare Alley” (Searchlight/Disney), and the black-and-white “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (Apple TV+). Significantly, cinematographer Ari Wegner (“The Power of the Dog”) became only the second female nominee, following DP Rachel Morrison (“Mudbound”) in 2018.
Also, in a departure from the ASC nominations, two-time Oscar winner Janusz Kamiński (“Saving Private Ryan” and “Schindler’s List”) made the Oscar cut for “West Side Story” over “Belfast’s” Haris Zambarloukos. This deprived the Oscar race of two black-and-white nominees since they merged color and black-and-white in the late ’60s.
Greig Fraser is the favorite for his first Oscar win for Denis Villeneuve’s expansive yet intimate “Dune,” with its dangerous mix of politics and religion, centered around Timothée Chalamet’s messianic Paul Atreides. It was photographed in large format by Fraser, who alternated between the digital Alexa LF and IMAX 65mm cameras (for Paul’s surreal dreams and visions on the harsh and desolate desert planet Arrakis, shot mainly in Jordan). Other environments include the autumnal-looking water planet Caladan and the goth-looking planet Giedi Prime, which makes for quite a diverse color palette. Fraser also took the unusual step of creating a Kodak 35mm negative and scanning it back digitally for a more analog experience in theaters.
With “The Power of the Dog,” Jane Campion’s western about toxic masculinity starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Wegner shot large-format with the Alexa LF (and vintage anamorphic Ultra Panatar lenses) to take advantage of the vast landscapes in New Zealand (filling in for Montana). The exteriors are bright and de-saturated, while the interiors of the ranch house, with its European-style wood design, have a dark, shadowy, foreboding.
Steven Spielberg and go-to DP Kamiński made their first musical together with the remake of “West Side Story.” Fittingly, Kaminski departed from his usual gritty, bleached out style for a more vibrant look in depicting the West Side of Manhattan of the late ’50s. He shot on 35mm film with the Panavision Panaflex Millennium with Panavision T-Series lenses to emphasize the beauty and romance of this tragic love story, overcome by racism and violence. The cinematographer embraced the inherent theatricality with a combination of classicism and dynamic camera work, following the shadows to find the best lighting situations. He also emphasized colorful motifs for characters in their surrounds on the streets or in the tenement apartment building in the Puerto Rican neighborhood.
For Guillermo del Toro’s noir reworking of “Nightmare Alley,” starring Bradley Cooper as a ruthless, social climbing grifter, cinematographer Dan Laustsen (“The Shape of Water”) shot a classical three-point style and the color palette had an intentional monochromatic tone. He used the Alexa 65 and Signature Prime Lenses for an exquisite but extremely sharp image. He also put filters inside the camera for highlights and to add a beautiful glow to faces.
Joel Coen’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” starring Denzel Washington and McDormand, relied on Bruno Delbonnel to convey a modern black-and-white look with the Alexa LF as part of an abstract, noirish adaptation of Shakespeare’s murder, mayhem, and madness. He used a combination of very hard shadows and soft light in the background, casting beams of light in hallways and up and down staircases.
Below are the nominees ranked in order of likelihood to win:
Greig Fraser (“Dune”)
Ari Wegner (“The Power of the Dog”)
Janusz Kamiński (“West Side Story”)
Dan Laustsen (“Nightmare Alley”)
Bruno Delbonnel (“The Tragedy of Macbeth”)