This is an interesting year with which to kick off, because it's the first year of the single category (color/black and white combined), and also because it represents the beginning of a new set of standards for the category, somewhat related to that change.
What do I mean by this? Well, the color cinematography prize was essentially minted for Gone with the Wind, and, over the nearly three decades of the split category, virtually all color winners were in the Gone with the Wind sweeping vistas/epic scope vein -- Thief of Baghdad and Blood and Sand soon followed, and later came what amounted to a series of travelogue winners: Ireland (The Quiet Man), Rome (Three Coins in a Fountain), Monaco (To Catch a Thief), and ultimately the entire globe (Around the World in 80 Days). From the mid-50s to mid-60s, as the Academy fell in love with big epics and musicals, the choices were often best picture winners or at least contenders. Many of these films look impressive enough (it's hard to deny the glories of sand in Lawrence of Arabia or the snow in Doctor Zhivago), but there wasn't much of what we'd think of as the cinematographers' art on display. Black Narcissus is the only winner in the category that remains striking in pure visual/lighting terms (though She Wore a Yellow Ribbon is pretty close).
Meantime, in the seemingly secondary black-and-white division, films like Laura and Great Expectations were doing beautiful things with shadows, The Naked City was experimenting with on-location work, and The Third Man captured a texture of rot in its Vienna that deeply enhanced the film's storyline. I'm not saying every winner under black and white fell into the art niche -- there will always be The Longest Day. But, by and large, that category's winners hold up better as examples of the cinematographers' art than their color (too often Technicolor) brethren.
I'd argue, though, that the merging of the two, starting this year, soon weaned voters off their preference for galumphing white elephants. By the mid-70s, Academy choices had become far more impressive: winners like Bound for Glory and Days of Heaven strove for art effects well beyond what Ben-Hur and My Fair Lady ever attempted. While we can always still be disappointed -- and a clunker like Memoirs of a Geisha is possible even in this new century -- I think the category took a major turn for the positive once this merger took place here in 1967.
To the slate, about which people have already said much of what I would have:
Persona is the art omittee. You could probably argue it would have had a nomination under the old black and white tradition, but I'm not certain it would have made the cut. The movie was revered by the cooler critics -- winning the National Society prize -- but it got not a whiff of support from the traditionalists at NYFC. Its reputation today is stellar, but I think it's one of those movies, like Au Hasard Balthazar, that is far more widely esteemed now than in its time.
In the Heat of the Night is the missing mainstream movie, and it probably just came a little too early in the cycle for its particular achievement to be appreciated. In subsequent years, best picture nominees without epic sweep started getting nominated here (films like The French Connection or Network), but at this point much of the branch was still stuck in epic land, while the trail-blazers were wed to the more ground-breaking films that did get nominated here. In the Heat has incredible texture -- the heat of the environment just about comes off the screen at you -- but it just didn't have enough of either the old or the new to get on the ballot.
Of those that were nominated, Doctor Dolittle is the most quickly dismissed by us, and I imagine by voters, as well. These big turkeys kept getting nominated thanks to studio bloc-voting, but in the end they won very few awards, and none of consequence.
Camelot probably would have won a few years earlier; it was big and colorful, and just the sort of thing that often triumphed (remember: we were only four years past Cleopatra). It DID win for both sets and costumes, but happily fell short here.
The Graduate has lots of inventive work/impressive lighting during the earlier, Mrs. Robinson part of the film. I'm not sure I'm as taken by the more pastel Berkeley sections.
You can argue In Cold Blood was cheated by the new rules -- it almost surely would have won a black and white category, and managed a well-deserved nomination even in a unified field (the last until The Last Picture Show ostentatiously brought back black and white in 1971). But it was clearly the right decision for the Academy to eliminate the B&W prizes, as the number of qualifying films was ludicrously small (when Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? won for costumes a year earlier, the jig was clearly up). I am sorry, though, that In Cold Blood missed a chance at calling itself a Oscar winner. Also sorry that I can't quite bring myself to vote for it here.
I have to echo the Academy's choice of Bonnie and Clyde, partly for its achievement and partly because it broke the mold of winners for the category, blazing a trail for the Sven Nykvist and Vittorio Storaro wins that followed. Honestly, I still can't believe it won. Though the film had its checklist of notable visuals (the ones BJ cites), it didn't have any of the visual splendor that had dominated the decade preceding. Maybe those few big moments -- especially that honeyed last visit to Bonnie's mother -- were just enough to win voters over. Or maybe voting was so scattered in the category that a small plurality was enough to triumph. Whatever the reason, the Academy made a great, bold, forward-looking choice, and I'm happy to endorse it.