The Original BJ wrote:An interesting race, with some very good nominees, but a conundrum in terms of making a prediction. The two nomination leaders don't have the kind of traditionally beautiful visuals that usually win, the most superficially obvious candidate was a critically disliked Oscar bust, and the other more classically gorgeous pictures were low-grossing artier efforts.
Ida was a terrific nomination morning surprise. I think the images are startlingly beautiful -- gorgeously lit, immaculately framed, and full of emotional resonance even when quietly still. (The shot of the open window after the movie's most dramatic moment sticks in the memory quite powerfully.) Of course, the movie has some major hurdles to overcome to win, which dws pointed out -- it's black-and-white AND foreign. If The White Ribbon, with the most acclaimed cinematography of its year and an ASC award, couldn't do it...if Good Night, and Good Luck, a Best Picture nominee in English couldn't do it...I have a hard time seeing Ida being anything other than a cool niche nominee.
As I said in the ASC thread, the nomination for The Grand Budapest Hotel is a great reward for a kind of cinematography we don't see in this category very much, one where the framing and camera movement are the key elements in making the photography so unique. This isn't to say the movie doesn't pop with a dazzling display of cinematographic color -- in a way, it's almost like the inverse of Ida -- but I rate both Costume Design and (especially) Production Design far more likely places for the Academy to reward Budapest for its visual panache. The movie's overall popularity, and the fact that it IS visually exciting, certainly keep it in the running, though.
Strictly in terms of visuals, Unbroken would seem on the surface like the most typical winner in this category. I depart a bit from dws in admiring the cinematography as much -- obviously there's a level of visual beauty here that's undeniable, but it feels pretty generic to me, like standard prestige movie gloss, rather than anything unique. I do think, though, that there are a handful of shots that make one think "Cinematography prize" while watching the movie, so I'd argue it's definitely in the running for the award. But, of course, it has some key drawbacks as well, mainly the fact that the movie just doesn't seem that well liked with Oscar branches, not even getting the decent below-the-line haul many thought it would. Also, I assumed there might be more chatter about the fact that Roger Deakins is monumentally overdue for this prize, but it's been pretty quiet on that front too. A while back I suggested Legends of the Fall might be an apt precedent for failed Oscar bait triumphing here, and that movie actually won over a not dissimilar slate -- two Best Pic nominees that weren't classically beautiful, an eye-catching but foreign nominee, and a low-grosser from outside the main races.
Of course, there's a world of difference between '94's low-grosser, which was a big flop, and this year's, a highly acclaimed effort with a stronger-than-anticipated showing in nominations. I hadn't really thought of Mr. Turner as a possible win candidate until Mister Tee implied it yesterday, but it certainly could be a kind of compromise choice. It's a gorgeously shot movie, with landscapes designed to look like works of art, and beautifully lit interiors that somehow don't manage to feel self-consciously arty, but down-to-earth and lived-in. And it seems like the kind of movie that could appeal to a wide range of Academy voters -- I imagine the more conservative crowd will find it a tasteful period piece, with the auteurists admiring it for its stylistic and narrative invention. Plus, as I said in the Costume Design thread, I think a majority of voters will make a point to check it out. In really examining the race, I have to rate it a higher candidate than I initially thought.
I agree with what Mister Tee wrote a while back, that Birdman could win the ASC prize and still lose the Oscar -- there's precedent for Lubezki's highly acclaimed work to appeal to Cinematographers (Children of Men, The Tree of Life) but to fall short with the Academy membership as a whole. But despite the fact that the visual innovation of the movie's seemingly one-take wonder isn't the kind of thing that usually wins here, it's not often that such singular work is attached to a movie as Oscar-popular as Birdman, and though there are some major categories where the movie will compete very strongly, this does feel like a category around which the movie's partisans will want to coalesce. And in terms of finding a recent precedent for a winner, this might be an odd comparison, but I wonder if American Beauty might be something of a forerunner. It, too, was a movie widely praised for its cinematography, but it didn't feature the kinds of epic shots and natural landscapes typically associated with the victor in this category. But, at the end of the day, the combo of visual panache, legendary cinematographer status (which by this point Lubezki has achieved), and Best Picture pull was enough to get the movie the win here.
I'm not making a prediction quite yet -- I'm very interested to see where the ASC goes first. That said, if Birdman keeps up its winning streak, I could still see it losing the Oscar. And if Unbroken or Mr. Turner prevail, I wouldn't necessarily bet the farm on either of them winning with Oscar either.
It's such a hard choice. What would you pick as best of the year? It's a tough decision between the beautiful black and white of Ida, the painting-like compositions of Mr Turner, and the glorious one-take of Birdman.