Oscars 2016

I generally feel that the Academy Awards are an overrated event, but I would be professionally remiss not to share my thoughts on this year’s nominees:

The Revenant, shot by Chivo Lubezki, was the Oscar darling of the year (12 nominations), and much has been said about its photography. I found two things interesting about this project: the first is that no electric lighting instruments were used to make this film, except during one firelight scene. This approach appeals to my documentary roots and reminds me very much of my favorite cinematographer, Nestor Almendros, particularly his work on Days of Heaven. I trained under DoPs for ten years in Hollywood on productions large and small, and I felt the great majority of the shows I worked on were horrifically overlit, often by design. This is less of a problem in independent cinema. To be fair, Lubezki had the advantage of shooting on an Alexa 65—perhaps the best digital camera ever made for natural light work—and of working with some of the industry’s most talented colorists at Technicolor. But these things alone don’t make great cinematography, and I can’t dispute his talent for and contributions to the craft.

Another interesting element of The Revenant was that it was filmed exclusively on wide-angle lenses (12 – 21mm), which positions the cameraman much closer to the action. This combined with a handheld style shifts many decisions about coverage from the Director to the Director of Photography, which requires a close creative relationship to make work. But when it works, the results are phenomenal. As a side note, I enjoyed the film’s accompanying documentary, A World Unseen, directed by Eliot Rausch, perhaps more than I did the film itself. Worth a viewing.

In all truthfulness, I felt that Roger Deakins’ work on Sicario (also nominated for Best Cinematography) was perhaps stronger than The Revenant, but its photographic style draws less attention to the project’s camerawork. I just happen to appreciate patient, understated cinematography, so I’m drawn to films like this.

I also loved Mátyás Erdély’s photography in Son of Saul, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film but was somehow overlooked for the Best Cinematography category.

Despite all the pomp and pageantry of the Academy Awards, I must admit that the cinematography of almost all the Oscar-nominated films inspired me in some way, even when it wasn’t a style I am drawn to. I looking forward to seeing a very different batch of work at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

The view from Kostava Street: cloudy days, warmer winds, and the unstoppable progression of time. How does one not think about this?

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