In a rare change of pace for Oscar discussion, a technical award is one of the most talked about races this year. When the Oscar nominations were announced last month, people were ecstatic when cinematographer Rachel Morrison became the first woman ever nominated for Best Cinematography. Morrison has some very strong competition, as nearly every nominee has an honest chance of winning. Let’s dive into each nominee by discussing their chances this year, their past work, and how Oscar politics could play a part in who wins.
Roger Deakins is a legend. He’s one of the best cinematographers in the game, and has been for decades. Shockingly, Deakins has yet to win an Oscar, despite being nominated for this award 14 times. He should have a few Oscars already (his work on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford reinvented what cinematography can do), but if there’s one thing I loathe about the Oscars, it is awarding someone simply because it is their time. I firmly believe that Oscars should be awarded for the current work, not a career of work. And, thankfully, with that noted, if Deakins wins this year, it will absolutely be justified, as Blade Runner 2049 looks astounding. Blade Runner 2049 was as audacious a studio film that was released in 2017, and Deakins helped create (and maintain) the film’s massive scope. If I voted, Deakins would get my vote.
I love Bruno Delbonnel, but he’s the one nominee that I wouldn’t have nominated here. Regardless, he is nominated, and he has an underdog’s shot at winning. Similar to Deakins, the Academy loves to nominate Delbonnel, but not award him. Delbonnel has five career nominations, including one for Amélie, which is one of the best looking films ever lensed. Gary Oldman is presumably a lock for Best Actor for Darkest Hour, but I’m not sure that helps Delbonnel’s chances much. Unfortunately for Delbonnel, I think he’ll have to accept his nomination as his award.
Hoyte Van Hoytema is relatively new to lensing major movies, beginning with Let the Right One In in 2008. But since then, his career has excelled, shooting films like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Her, Spectre and more. Surprisingly, this is Hoytema’s first Oscar nomination (he should’ve been nominated in 2014 for shooting Interstellar), and, moreover, he is some of Deakins’ biggest competition. Say what you will about Dunkirk, but the movie looked great. Shot largely on IMAX 65mm film, the cinematography of Dunkirk was a character itself. But I’m not sure Christopher Nolan’s film has the overall award’s buzz to take home any major prizes, if any at all.
This is the nominee everyone is talking about, and that, in today’s culture, is enough to get you a major award. Best to be clear here: Morrison deserves to be nominated in this category, but I do not think Mudbound is a better shot film than Blade Runner 2049, Dunkirk, or The Shape of Water. Still, if Morrison were to win, you wouldn’t hear me complaining. The Oscars are heavily influenced by culture politics. This is fact. And it has became more apparent in the last decade. It is baffling that it took the Academy this long to nominate a woman in this category, but her nomination is well earned, and is being buzzed about constantly. Beyond that, Netflix is going to campaign very hard for Morrison here, as they should. Ultimately, I don’t believe Morrison will win, but if she did, it should surprise no one.
This is veteran cinematographer, Dan Laustsen’s first Oscar nomination, and he has the benefit of potentially riding the Shape of Water train all the way to the winner’s podium. We see this all the time at the Oscars: a technically brilliant film racks up the most nominations, and instead of spreading the wealth, Oscar voters simply vote for that film in most every category. Basically, I could easily see The Shape of Water winning all the technical awards, cinematography included, if for no other reason than voter laziness. That isn’t to say Laustsen shouldn’t be here. His work in the film is gorgeous, and his win would be justified.
For my money, Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread), Thimios Bakatakis (The Killing of a Sacred Deer), Darius Khondji (The Lost City of Z), Matthew Libatique (mother!), Philippe Le Sourd (The Beguiled), Sean Price Williams (Good Time), and Alexis Zabe (The Florida Project) all deserve to be here over Delbonnel. And that’s just naming a few. If I handpicked the Best Cinematography category, I would’ve nominated Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread), Thimios Bakatakis (The Killing of a Sacred Deer), Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049), Hoyte Van Hoytema (Dunkrik), and Matthew Libatique (mother!), with Deakins winning out. But that’s just me.
Any year where Roger Deakins is nominated makes for a very difficult year to call. My instinct is that Oscar voters will wise up and finally award Deakins, but I’m fully aware that is wishful thinking on my part. Roger Deakins won the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) award on February 17, but that winner doesn’t always help predict the eventual Oscar winner (Greig Fraser won the ASC award last year for Lion, but lost the Oscar to Linus Sandgren for La La Land).
Last year, sound mixer Kevin O’Connell finally won an Oscar (for mixing Hacksaw Ridge) after 21 nominations and zero previous wins. The amount of times O’Connell lost helped him gain a sort of Oscar infamy, and voters finally paid attention. I’m wondering, hopefully, if that is Deakins’ fate this year. Sadly, my gut tells me Dan Laustsen has a very good chance of winning for The Shape of Water. I’ll give the edge to Deakins. He needs all the positive reinforcement he can get.
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