2020 Oscar Predictions: Best Cinematography
Updated: Feb 8
Nominees: Roger Deakins (1917), Rodrigo Prieto (The Irishman), Lawrence Sher (Joker), Jarin Blaschke (The Lighthouse), Robert Richardson (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)
Will Win: Roger Deakins (1917)
Should Win: Jarin Blaschke (The Lighthouse)
Runners-up: Rodrigo Prieto (The Irishman)
My Choice: Claire Mathon (Portrait of a Lady on Fire)
My Nominees: Jarin Blaschke (The Lighthouse), Jörg Widmer (A Hidden Life), Rodrigo Prieto (The Irishman), Adam Newport-Berra (The Last Black Man in San Francisco)
Runners-up: Samir Ljuma and Fejmi Daut (Honeyland); Jasper Wolf (Monos); David Chizallet, Hung-i Yao, and Song Dong Jin (Long Day’s Journey into Night); Hong Gyeong-Pyo (Parasite); David Gallego (Birds of Passage); Roger Deakins (1917); Lawrence Sher (Joker); Pawel Pogorzelski (Midsommar)
I am so sorry to have to say this about one of my favorite cinematographers—Blade Runner 2049 (2017) was one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen—but Roger Deakins’ work in 1917 is a clumsy gimmick built on a cinematic lie. Much of the credit given to Deakins’ cinematography here involves his careful and repeated emphasis on the “single shot” style, even as the film includes multiple shots, edited together subtly and secretly in a method that creates the appearance of seamlessness to untrained viewers: when the camera pans over a full-screen shot of dirt, for example, or when the camera spins around in a blurred effect that disorients the audience to the shift in scene, or when the lighting is too dark to distinguish a dramatic change to the next act, etc. Such reliance on hidden shot transitions and the emphasis on concealing these changes signifies a style that is more obsessed with presenting experimentation of the artform over the content of its depiction. This stylistic choice is not only detrimental to the delivery of the veteran-focused story, but downright insulting to the film’s anti-war subject matter where the lives and emotions of soldiers are meant to be highlighted over the emotionless automation in technological forces of war. Deakins style instead celebrates automation, flaunts technological prowess, and leaves the heart of the solder’s experience bleeding out helplessly in the mud. I would like to highlight the much-discussed and admired one shot that is certainly the winning moment for Deakins: the flare shadows over the town scene. Indeed, the artistry in Deakins’ use of lighting, shadows, and camera angle here is awe-inspiring. I feel, however, that a film should not win Best Cinematography for a single shot, no matter how impressive, especially when much of the rest of the film felt like a video game in its floating-head camera angle, which gave the feeling that a literal camera man and crew were there all along beside our two protagonists on their solo journey through the warzone. There were also several moments of shakiness and significant blur, which were not only disorienting but caused literal irritation for the eyes. I feel that Deakins is receiving credit for cinematography that is more accurately the result of Sam Menes’ directing and the achievements of the visual effects team. Deakins will win for this work, unfortunately, and it will be a win based on false perception from viewers rather than for the film's ability to truly render the beauty in personal resilience through the trauma of war.
A more fitting win would be for Jarin Blaschke's ability to inspire haunting dread in The Lighthouse. The choice to shoot in black and white creates a significant allusion to Gothic-era literature, especially in the masterful resonance of mist and shadow throughout the film. Blaschke also demonstrates an acute understanding of light balanced in the frame in a picturesque style reminiscent of silent German Expressionist films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and Nosferatu (1922), which allow the viewer to be simultaneously steeped in reality and a nightmare realm. The resulting viewing experience is one of being cast into the terrifying nebulous of the sea where the viewer is unable to break their gaze for fear of drowning in mysterious shadowy depths.
Few films today have the ability to reflect their protagonist's perspective so profoundly in its cinematography as Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Clare Mathon reflects the gaze of a romantic artist by invigorating every frame with a profound, painterly beauty. The setting of each shot feels as though it has been infused with acrylic, providing viewers with a remarkable sense of period tradition as well as the inner monologue of a painter viewing her subject. The cinematography is also one of the best examples of work that defies the male gaze and represents the passions and desires of a woman in love with what is means to be woman in a society that deems her as accessory to man.