Saturday, February 7, 2015

Awards-Nazi Award Nominations: Best Cinematography

This was a great year for this category. Many DPs exhibited rich and varied work that was not only visually dazzling, but saturated with thematic subtext. Whittling it down to ten was tough enough, but then choosing five after that was even more painful (Bradford Young, I'm so sorry!).

Here are my Best Cinematography nominees for 2014, each accompanied as usual with a frame that stood out to me as especially memorable:

Birdman (Emmanuel Lubezki)
Lubezki's magic with light, colour and kineticism elevates this camera stunt above the gimmick into which it could have deteriorated.
How do you pick a single shot from a movie designed to look like a single shot? You can't really, but this particular moment manages to fill the entire screen with significant visual tokens: The reflected movie poster boring into Riggan's soul, the mantra "A thing is a thing, not what is said of the thing" taped to the corner of the mirror, that perpetually ticking clock adding a sense of urgency to his crisis, and Riggan at the centre of it all.

Ida (Łukasz Źal, Ryszard Lenczewski)
Źal and Lenczewski's brilliant framing communicate the meekness of our heroine by dwarfing her with the space she inhabits.
Many of the most striking compositions involve the central character Anna and how she is framed in the lower corner of every shot, but those who have seen the film (don't worry, I won't spoil anything) know why this shot of Anna's worldly cousin, Wanda, is such an gut-wrenching one.

The Immigrant (Darius Khondji)
Khondji's honey-dipped lensing makes every single shot look like a sepia photograph come to life. Simply gorgeous from start to finish.
I was tempted to single out one of Khondji's more thematically informed shots from the film (and there are a number of them that reveal narrative in visually alert ways), but the sheer aesthetic beauty of this gobsmacker could not be topped.

Mr. Turner (Dick Pope)
Pope's sumptuous photography is a lesson in still life composition. Many shots look like they could have been painted by Turner himself.
The striking figure of a windmill back-lit by a pastille sunset is an impressive enough way to begin this movie on its own. But then the static landscape comes to life as two maids walk along the river, the camera tracking with them, before eventually panning left to reveal Turner standing erect in the distance.
What character could have asked for a finer cinematic introduction?

Nightcrawler (Robert Elswit)
Elswit shoots L.A. after dark as a unique vision of Hell where police lights flicker in lieu of flames, overseen by sinister video screens.
Monitors and video screens play a meaningful thematic role in Elswit's visual language. In this instance, we -- the horrified observer -- see the crime happening in sharp focus, but we know that what Lou Bloom sees (blurred from our vantage point) is the footage he's capturing.

Just missed:
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Robert Yeoman)
The Homesman (Rodrigo Prieto)
Inherent Vice (Robert Elswit)
A Most Violent Year (Bradford Young)
Wild (Yves Belanger)

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