Saturday, February 4, 2017

27 Days of Oscar, day 10: Best Cinematography

I’m sitting at my parents house for a much needed daycation. I’m the only person awake, as per usual, so I thought I would take the opportunity to write a little something. I probably have time to watch a movie before the crowd arises. I have “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” and I believe Dad has a copy of “Zootopia” as well. It was supposed to be a movie free day, but I’m the Michael Corleone of Oscar. If you don’t get that reference, stop reading and watch all 3 “The Godfather” movies right now. You heard me. All 3!

The first thing I saw on social media this morning was a video of all the Best Cinematography Oscar winners in “one gorgeous supercut.” There are so many incredibly shot films on that long list. “The Black Swan,” “From Here to Eternity,” “On the Waterfront,” “Around the World in 80 Days,” “Ben-Hur,” “West Side Story,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Ship of Fools,” “Apocalypse Now,” to name a few.  Check it out here:

I learned a lot watching that little video.
In the 2000s the only Best Picture winner to win Cinematography was “Slumdog Millionaire.” Heck, since 1999 only 2 films that won Best Picture also won the cinematography award. “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Birdman.” Looking at the most recent years, challenge seems to win the day over everything else.

This year we have:

“Arrival,” Bradford Young
“La La Land,” Linus Sandgren
“Lion,” Greg Faser
“Moonlight,” James Laxton
“Silence,” Rodrigo Prieto

If I was voting, I would have to take “Lion” out of the mix, first and foremost. I enjoyed the first hour of this film a great deal, but to take the prize, or any prize for that matter…no. Not from me.

“Arrival” is stunning in terms of shots. If you take almost any moment from the film and turn it into a still, you would have a beautiful piece of art.

The same could be said for “Silence” and  “Moonlight.” With “Silence,” I found myself in the midst of watching the film thinking about the cinematography. That’s not necessarily a good thing, remarkable or not.  Although, the shot below, deservedly so, made Kris Tapley's Top 10 Shots of 2016.

“Moonlight,” however, takes things to the next level. When I think of this film, I can’t help but see that incredible moment of Naomie Harris standing in the hallway, a shot used, tweaked, explored in several different ways not only by James Laxton, but also director Barry Jenkins and editors Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon.  

And of course there is the ending shot of the film, a throwback to another great moment of “baptism” with Mahershala Ali and Alex R. Hibbert. I can’t wait to see “Moonlight” again. Along with “La La Land” it really stands heads above the rest of the crop.

And speaking of “La La Land….”

There has been much conversation that this could be the first real sweep since 2008 and “Slumdog Millionaire.”   The last musical to win the cinematography award was “Cabaret.” That’s quite some time.  But if we look at Oscars most recent pattern, I am guessing that they are going to go with the film that shot a dance number on a Los Angeles freeway. That being said, for me, the star of “La La Land’s” cinematography is not only the obvious moments, but the simple. The long shot of Seb and Mia dancing, the walk through the studio lot and Mia’s audition scene. Those simpler moments, in addition to the big scale musical numbers really do give it the edge.

If I was voting today, I would have to vote for “Moonlight.” But I’m guessing “La La Land” and Linus Sandgren will get swept away.

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