The Oscar Project
1. Blade Runner 2049
Once I saw this film, I knew that it would be my top pick for Best Cinematography, in clear agreement with the voters of The Academy. The film is visually stunning and there is an incredible array of techniques used throughout the film to convey movement and mystery.
From the outset, the camera is allowed to take in scenes from afar before moving in for a closer look. Even when there is action or movement taking place, it is often seen from a distance, allowing the viewer to appreciate the landscape the characters exist in. When it comes to movement, there are often long shots that exist in a still camera or a very slowly moving camera, yet things exist in the frame that are in motion, giving the viewer a sense of unsteadiness and unease.
Then there are the shadows. I can't remember the last film I saw where so much of the action takes place on the screen, yet is invisible to the eye simply because it is cast in a shadow. This seems counter intuitive for a visual medium such as film, but it is used to excellent effect in Blade Runner 2049 that I applaud the choices.
I would be interested to see the voting breakdown for this category because if Blade Runner 2049 wasn't a runaway winner, I'm not sure what people were looking at.
For me, the cinematography of a war movie should make me feel like I'm there in the trenches (or on the docks in this case) with the soldiers and Dunkirk achieved this incredibly.
The film is told through the eyes of several key players in the evacuation of Dunkirk during World War II, and regardless of the shifting points of view, I always immediately identified with the characters in the scene. The camera gets right in the crowds when the action moves to the docks overrun with soldiers and it confines itself to the cockpit of the fighters overhead trying to protect the men on the beach.
Throughout, there is a sense of confinement in the film, even when the images on screen show wide open space and I can't help feeling like that is the way the men who experienced this event felt when they were trapped there waiting rescue. The ability to capture that feeling with camera movement and placement over the course of the film speak to the abilities of Hoyte van Hotema as a cinematographer.
3. The Shape of Water
I can't imagine having to deal with the excessive amounts of rain and water throughout the creation of this film. Obviously with a film called The Shape of Water, water is bound to be an integral part of the story and as such, requires action to be shot in rain, underwater, on top of the water, etc. For that alone, I give tremendous credit to Dan Laustsen for filming things in a way that even when dealing with underwater scenes, it's hard to tell if it's truly shot underwater or done using camera and digital tricks.
Beyond this, the film is beautiful, despite the dingy quality of the locations where it takes place. The camera picks up on the rundown nature of the town along with the 1950s vibe of the laboratory where the government is experimenting on the fish man. I think in another year, this film could have won the price for Best Cinematography, but was up against some other very strong contenders in this year's field.
4. Darkest Hour
The second ward movie in the group, and this one lands a little flatter in terms of the cinematography overall. The sequences that come to mind in terms of camera movement and vantage points are those that take place in the underground bunkers in London.
This film was so overwhelmingly about Gary Oldman's portrayal of Churchill (which was fantastic) that I feel the rest of the film lacks a bit, or at least hides in his shadow.
This was one that was on the radar as the first time a woman (Rachel Morrison) was nominated in the Best Cinematography category. I'm not trying to be anti-female here, but I honestly cannot recall anything special about the cinematography in this film. I'm not against women being nominated and definitely feel we need more women performing these roles in film, but for this one specifically, I didn't get any special feelings about it.
Don't get me wrong, this is an excellent film and one that everyone needs to see. It shines a light on a period in American history that we don't like to look at and that many people in today's society probably don't even know exists. It is well shot throughout and does a great job telling the story of these intertwined families and how their relationships change and develop over time.
I'm just a film buff who wants to watch great movies. Where else to find the best, than the list of those nominated by the Academy each year?