This year thankfully doesn't have a mind-boggling exclusion -- though I guess next year would make up for it with two -- but given its success elsewhere, it's still surprising Midnight Express couldn't carry its moody prison environs to a nomination.
I had the same thought Mister Tee did -- it's hard to figure out which nominee is the worst. Same Time, Next Year is probably more inexplicable -- it hails from the Butterflies Are Free school of nominations, for stagey play adaptations set almost entirely in one locale that have virtually zero visual elements of distinction.
But The Wiz might be even more incompetent. I've never been a fan of any of my experiences with The Wiz, but this filmed version just about caused me to break out in hives. The whole thing just looks ugly, from the cheesy lighting to the lackadaisical camerawork. There are moments, like Ross and Jackson singing "Ease on Down the Road," in a wide shot, with their BACKS TO THE CAMERA, that make you question if anyone even bothered to think about where to place the camera to tell this story, or if they just plopped it down randomly some place.
I'd actually forgotten Heaven Can Wait scored this nomination until I came to this thread -- this past week, I somehow had it in my head that another sunny California-set Best Picture nominee I'd seen years ago (Coming Home) had received this coattails nom instead. That probably sums up how memorable the cinematography is here -- pleasant enough for a pleasant enough movie, but nothing that stands out as exceptional.
It's quite nice that Vilmos Zsigmond had just won the previous year, because otherwise you might have felt bad for him losing here. The Deer Hunter is a movie that in many years would have been an easy victor -- a Best Picture winner, full of breathtaking images from beginning to end, from the early deer hunt in the Pennsylvania mountains, to the epic sweep of the Vietnam battle sequences. Even smaller moments are beautifully composed -- the final "God Bless America" tableau, for instance, is shattering in its simplicity.
But The Deer Hunter had to compete with Days of Heaven, and there's just no denying that Malick's film is one of the most beautifully shot in the history of movies. The early train sequence -- from crossing the trestle, to the migrants riding up top, to the train's arrival -- sets up a film of almost heavenly beauty. And the gorgeous images never let up, with shots impressive simply for their visual splendor (the farm house set against the open landscape at sunset) as well as sequences dazzling for their rigorous display of craft (the locust swarm, the fire, the final river journey). It's rare that one could describe a film's cinematography as moving, but that's how I rate Days of Heaven's -- there's such an overwhelming emotional power to the images, and how delicately rendered they all are, that it becomes impossible to separate the humanity of the story from the visuals used to convey it. Best Cinematography Ever, probably.