Best Cinematography 1985

1927/28 through 1997

What film amongst the Osar nominees had the year's Best Cinematography?

The Color Purple (Allen Daviau)
Murphy's Romance (William A. Fraker)
No votes
Out of Africa (David Watkin)
Ran (Takao Sato, Shoji Ueda, Asakazu Nakai)
Witness (John Seale)
No votes
Total votes: 19

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Re: Best Cinematography 1985

Postby danfrank » Thu Oct 05, 2017 3:36 am

I don't have anything to say about Witness or Murphy's Romance that wasn't already said.

Spielberg unforgivably screwed up the tone of The Color Purple, and Daviau's cheery look ("Disney-fied," i think Tee accurately stated below) is one of the main culprits in this botch job. Daviau's work was very fitting and effective in films like ET and Bugsy, but not here. I sometimes wonder if Spielberg would have done better work had he helmed this after he hooked up with Jaminski, but on second thought I think this material is just a bad fit for him. What could the more poetic (not to mention more in tune with the African American experience) Barry Jenkins have done with this material? But I digress.

Out of Africa was very pretty, and that flight sequence stays in my mind all these decades later. Sometimes I think this film won its Best Picture Oscar on the strength of its visual images and memorable score, and perhaps because it had the pedigree of La Streep. Oh, and because it was in a particularly crappy lineup. Anyway, this is a perfectly respectable as well as a perfectly predictable winner.

But Ran is in this lineup. It came out when I was in my impressionable mid-twenties, and I thought it was among the most visually impressive films I had seen, perhaps save for Days of Heaven. This opinion from a guy who has low tolerance for long battle scenes. There was some kind of magic in the way that you felt as if you were right in the details of a scene and yet were able to simultaneously see wide vistas. The wide angle aided in this, of course, but I can't remember seeing that effect done so well before or since. How much of this is to the credit of Kurosawa or his DPs, I don't know, but I do know that as far as Best cinematography goes, this gets my easy vote for this year.

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Re: Best Cinematography 1985

Postby The Original BJ » Thu Oct 05, 2017 12:22 am

As in so many categories, Brazil was robbed -- the dream sequences alone merited inclusion on this slate.

Murphy's Romance is pretty good evidence that you can have a perfectly photogenic location -- the Arizona desert -- and still come up with thoroughly unimpressive cinematography. Possibly the most inexplicable of Fraker's mostly inexplicable nominations.

Witness isn't the kind of nominee that makes me balk -- there's enough pastoral beauty in those sequences at the Lapp farm that you can understand why it placed. But it's a pretty restrained piece of work visually, and I agree that John Seale has far more dynamic nominations up ahead.

While The Color Purple pretty much botches the book in the content department, I do think it's technically a well-crafted movie. And the cinematography is pretty consistently alive, allowing the titular color to pop in the lovely exterior shots of the fields, highlighting Shug's club scenes with pleasingly theatrical lighting, and pulling off some eye-catching tracking shots throughout. But I hear the critique that it might be too glossy a look for what the subject matter required.

Out of Africa isn't what you'd call a hip choice -- it's the kind of movie that can often win when voters simply make a knee-jerk selection and pick the film with the prettiest foreign locales. But at the same time, it's hard to deny that the film looks beautiful, beginning with that very early shot of the train arriving, and climaxing in the aforementioned flying sequences. I generally like to honor cinematography with a bit more personality, but from a craft standpoint, this is certainly ambitious and visually sumptuous work.

But I'm with Precious Doll in thinking Ran runs way ahead of the competition here. The exterior battle scenes are full of energy, color, and flair. The interior shots are lit and composed with striking precision. And visual elements like smoke, gunshots, and fire enhance the images in ways that feel so artfully rendered, you feel like you're looking at a Japanese tapestry come to life. Had this movie been in English, I genuinely think it could have won this Oscar outright.

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Re: Best Cinematography 1985

Postby Mister Tee » Wed Oct 04, 2017 2:49 pm

I don't like to waste much time re-living 1985, a.k.a. the movie nadir of my lifetime, so this'll probably be brief.

Among major films omitted, Brazil, of course, and Prizzi's Honor or The Purple Rose of Cairo would also have qualified. I'd also advocate for The Emerald Forest, though that may just be me falling for tropical rain forest bait.

Murphy's Romance was bland as cream of wheat, and this nod can only be attributed to Fraker-itis.

John Seale has done a ton of creditable work, and will likely get my vote at some point. But the appeal of Witness has eluded me for over 30 years, and how it accumulated all its nominations, including this one, is beyond me.

Allen Daviau is another guy may get my vote somewhere along the way, but The Color Purple's Disney-fied look was one of the film's key flaws.

I figured Ran would win here -- we do love our foreign-language films -- and it's a fine choice. A bit showier than it needs to be, for me, but I won't argue much.

But I'll be the one who lets Out of Africa keep its Oscar, even though I know it's more in the Freddie Young than Nestor Almendros tradition. Partly it's because I wanted David Watkin to have a win after the Chariots of Fire omission. But also because I think it's a pretty genuinely beautful-looking film. I remember sitting in the theatre during the flying sequence and thinking, well, that's score and cinematography accounted for. Three decades haven't changed my mind.

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Re: Best Cinematography 1985

Postby Precious Doll » Wed Oct 04, 2017 1:15 am

For me Ran is such an obvious and easy choice.

Whilst I can understand why Out of Africa won - part of a grand sweep if I recall, I don't think there really is anything that special about the film. Sure it looks 'nice' and feel 'safe' but overall the film is such an underwhelming achievement.

Omissions include: Gordon Willis for The Purple Rose of Cairo, Rodolfo Sanchez for Kiss of the Spider Woman and Chris Menges for Marie which has stunning shots widescreen shots for a very intensely focused chamber study of a woman's fight against corruption and for justice. It's the sort of film that generally isn't afforded such care with the manner it has be photographed and testimony to the talents of Menges.
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Best Cinematography 1985

Postby Big Magilla » Tue Oct 03, 2017 11:12 pm

We won't have to kick around poor William Fraker any more after this year. The least known, least remembered, six time Oscar nominee for Cinematography received his sixth and final Oscar nomination this year for Murphy's Romance, a cute May-to-December romantic comedy starring Sally Field and surprise Best Actor nominee James Garner. There is certainly nothing special about the photography in it.

Most conspicuous by his absence is Roger Pratt, who should have been nominated for Brazil. The veteran British cinematographer would have to wait another 14 years to receive his only nomination for The End of the Affair. Had he been nominated, he would have been an easy pick for me.

The remaining nominees were all worthy, although I do think that David Watkin's winning cinematography for Out of Africa draws too much attention to itself. I liked his work on Chariots of Fire much better.

John Seale would go on to earn four more Oscar nomination,s including a winning one for The English Patient. I do think that his non-intrusive but all the same interesting work on Witness is of the same high caliber.

Ran is the only film for which the three cinematographers who worked on the Kurosawa film were nominated after a lifetime of fine work. It's a much deserved nod.

For the win, though, I am going to go with Allen Daviau, previously nominated for E.T. and later nominated for Empire of the Sun, Avalon and Bugsy. His work on The Color Purple is a bit showy, but not as showy as Watkin's work on Out of Africa and the best thing in the film next to Whoopi Goldberg's performance.
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