Monday, February 15, 2016


When I first started this project a few years ago, I had no single clue what cinematography meant, much less what made for a good cinematographer. I still don't. You're still reading, though, so I gather that you don't care.

  • Ed Lachman for Carol
  • Robert Richardson for The Hateful Eight
  • John Seale for Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Emmanuel Lubezki for The Revenant
  • Roger Deakins for Sicario

Ed Lachman employs a lot of beautiful flowing camera work in Carol, particularly the travel scenes, imbuing them with a very earnest sense of departure. Too, he often uses the set as obfuscation to great effect, blocking principal characters and information from the viewer or cramming them in the corner reigning in your eye and forcing your focus. He'll leave them just in the frame enough to remind you they are still there, but by mostly cutting them out and using heavy amounts of negative space, he allows the narrative to develop in a very directed way.

I'm always squeal with joy when I look into an artist's history and find that they worked on BMW's short film series The Hire. Robert Richardson worked on perhaps the greatest short film from that series. It should be noted that Alejandro Iñárritu and actor Stellan Skarsgård, both forces of their own, helped made that as amazing as it was. There as in here, Richardson uses particularly beautiful pans and zooms as he plays the story. Slow and monotonous, he drifts the audiences eye through the landscape, enhancing the score in creating a sense of dread. Too, he opens up the very tight cabin that is the film's primary set, and his use of light gives a great dramatism to scenes. I wish I could go on about his use of Panavision 70mm here, but I was a fool and didn't make time for it. His filming was so gorgeous, though, I have a feeling I am going to regret for quite a while that I did not make time for it.

Yesterday, I delved into Fury Road's penchant for center-framing its material to which John Seale certainly gets to take much credit. Too, one of the notable things he did was in shooting his night scenes. Here he shot during the day which is nothing new by any means, but contrary to standard practice, he overexposed the film which was then dropped back down in post-processing. In so doing, the night scenes have a very deep texture with deep, rich darks and creamy gradations of light. Combined with colorist Eric Whipp's work, Fury Road takes on a tone that's rare in cinema, and certainly more-so for modern action blockbusters.

I have followed Emmanuel Lubezki's work since Children of Men, and he's enough of a talent to sell me on a film more than any actor. Known often for extremely long takes (Children of Men, Gravity, Birdman), Lubezki works here instead with a lot of very intimate shots, close up to actors and plot pieces. He is so tight, he rarely gives the audience's eye anything to wander to. From the get-go The Revenant opens with a luxurious, silky scene of water trickling past the camera. These slowly paced pans drift through the film like a dream. Too, he repeats over and over and over and over a just-obscured sun. Most cinematographers would avoid allowing the sun in their frames at all, but Lubezki revels in it. It allows for visual and tonal constancy throughout the film. Also, he shoots from low to the ground often, angling up into the action both to show DiCaprio's vantage point, and to enhance the ominous tone of the film giving characters and nature an almost supernatural power over the often prone protagonist. The Revenant is far from my favorite film of the year (spoiler!), but Lubezki might make it the most beautiful.

Roger Deakins might be best known for his work with the Coen brothers, but he's been a force on a number of movies and has a string of nominations to show for them. In Sicario, he employs a number of long, dreamy, aerial looks that breathe enormity. As above, he intentionally keeps the shadow of the plane in sight to push this. He reduces suburbs to patterns, transforming them from homes to conceptual battlegrounds. He uses a lot of framing in thirds, treating most of the screen as gutter. There's a brief flicker where we bounce between scenes across the screen in a beautiful progression over just a few seconds. Too, he makes beautiful use of sunsets and sunrises as well as nightvision and, particularly, infrared camera work. Deakins works diversely throughout.

There is an immense amount of talent on display with these cinematographers, each of them providing masterpieces to treasure. I don't think I can rightfully pick any one, but my guess is that it comes down to Richardson and Lubezki. I'll give the nod to Richardson sight unseen for the work on Panavision 70mm, but my hunch is that Lubezki takes home his third straight statuette.

Should win: Robert Richardson for The Hateful Eight
Will win: Emmanuel Lubezki for The Revenant

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