Best Cinematography 1987

1927/28 through 1997

Which film had the best cinematography among the Oscar nominees?

Broadcast News (Michael Ballhaus)
1
6%
Empire of the Sun (Allen Daviau)
3
17%
Hope and Glory (Philippe Rousselot)
0
No votes
The Last Emperor (Vittorio Storaro)
14
78%
Matewan (Haskell Wexler)
0
No votes
 
Total votes: 18

Mister Tee
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Re: Best Cinematography 1987

Postby Mister Tee » Sat Oct 21, 2017 1:32 pm

I've been slow to post here because I don't have much to say beyond what everyone else has been saying. Like most of you, I think The Untouchables is the most obvious omission, but even it doesn't demand inclusion in a slate that's quite strong, and totally free of the clunkers we've had to deal with of late.

Not to say they're all visual knockouts. Broadcast News is, as BJ notes, generally perfunctory work -- solidly shot, looking like a movie and not a glorified TV show, but not to be grouped with the rest for visual spark.

I like Hope and Glory maybe best of the rest of the films, and it's perfectly well shot as well. But I don't find it most memorable for its images.

Matewan was a good-looking, atmospheric film that probably wouldn't have been nominated without Haskell Wexler's name attached. The cinematographers' branch was just as clannish in these years as it had been in the William A. Fraker era, giving out some nominations more by reputation than singular achievement, but at least their choice of favored sons -- Wexler and Conrad Hall among them -- displayed more ambition, and came up with more interesting work even in their more obscure films. This is a solid nomination.

Since it wasn't cited in the major categories, I guess I've not commented on Empire of the Sun prior to this. I think the film's opening sections are quite impressive, and even once young Bale gets to the internment camp, the relationship between him and the Malkovich character is intriguing. But I feel like the film's last half hour goes splat. Spielberg in that era seemed addicted to big climaxes (the whole last half-hours of Jaws, Close Encounters or E.T.); this story didn't really build to that sort of crescendo, in a narrative sense, but it seemed like Spielberg was trying to impose one by staging big set pieces. Some of this was impressive visually, and I don't question the film's inclusion here. But it felt to me like this big-ness worked against the material, and made the film less than the success it might have been. (I'll add that all this is based on 30-year-old recollection, and I'd be interested in looking at the film again sometime.)

The Last Emperor's sweep through this night's Oscars -- 9 awards, the most to that date I'd personally witnessed -- seemed phenomenal overkill to me. However, a few of its prizes were incontestable, this maybe above all. It gave the film a leg up to be shot in surroundings both gorgeous and exotic (especially exotic for never having been seen in a color movie before), but it's hard to question Storaro's ability to capture all that beauty and enhance it. This is a great-looking film, the work of an artist, and I'll not do anything to take its Oscar away.

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Re: Best Cinematography 1987

Postby The Original BJ » Wed Oct 18, 2017 3:07 pm

I agree that The Untouchables would have been a perfectly stylish substitution, though this is a pretty strong slate regardless.

Broadcast News is easily my favorite of these movies...and easily my least favorite of these cinematography nominees. For me, it's right there in the Tootsie category of being a film that's simply more rewarding for its writing and performances than for any visual splendor. It's not bad looking, but I don't consider it alongside alternatives this strong.

Matewan isn't quite up to the level of Wexler's winning work -- like a lot of Sayles's films, this one has a relaxed quality to it that lets style take a bit of a back seat -- but I'm glad the cinematographers plucked it out for this sole nomination. The film captures the dusty, earthy quality of rural West Virginia quite well, and some of the underground mine shots are clearly artfully lit. The remaining nominees cover a bit more visual ground, though.

Hope and Glory and Empire of the Sun actually have a lot in common -- both are WWII films told from the point of view of children, who understand the immediacy of the situations they're dealing with, without really comprehending the scope of the history they're living through. What I think the cinematography in both films excels at is giving us, the audience, a sense of that scope. Hope and Glory has memorable shots of the bombing of London, the candlelit intimacy of bomb shelters, the jazzy nightclubs where life still goes on; Empire of the Sun is even more impressive, with its epic plane battles and explosions, crowd scenes shot with an energy and vividness befitting the chaos of wartime, and of course, those shots of the characters placed below the titular sun, as if the Japanese flag were being brought to life in the sky above them. I could absolutely understand casting a vote for these films.

The Last Emperor was certainly over-rewarded on Oscar night, but it's hard to dispute its prizes in the visual categories, because the whole thing is such a feast for the eyes. The cinematography -- through its use of sunlight, lantern, and open candles -- gives the early scenes a ravishing golden glow, which of course gives way to the much grayer, chillier look in the film's bleaker second half. And the movie overflows with beautiful shots that capture its environment -- the glimmer of rain, the warmth of sunlight, the ethereal beauty of the bluish night sky. This is certainly a competitive field, but I see no reason to take away Vittorio Storaro's Oscar for such gorgeous images on a genuinely epic scale.

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Re: Best Cinematography 1987

Postby Precious Doll » Wed Oct 18, 2017 1:05 am

Five rather impressive nominees in what was a very strong year for cinematography.

I voted for Empire of the Sun.

The Academy has really neglected Brian De Palma's films in a swag of categories over the years and Stephen H. Burum work on The Untouchables was the best of the year. Other notable omissions include:

Jost Vacano for Robocop, Renato Berta for Au Revoir les Enfants, Pierre Lhomme for Maurice, Carlo Di Palma for Radio Days & Adam Greenberg for Near Dark.
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Best Cinematography 1987

Postby Big Magilla » Wed Oct 18, 2017 12:48 am

I guess the one big omission here is Stephen H. Burum for The Untouchables, but I don't find fault with any of these nominees.

Haskell Wexler's work on Matewan is probably the least known and seen among them, but his cinematography was the high point of John Sayles' intense labor drama.

Michael Ballhaus, getting his first nomination for Broadcast News would go to his death without a major award to his name, but he did go on to more impressive work, mostly for Martin Scorsese.

Philippe Rousselot would go on to a win for A River Runs Through It, but his best work to date was probably on 1985's The Emerald Forest, two years before the more successful Hope and Glory. He's still working, though, so more nominations could conceivably come his way. He's currently filming the sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Allen Daviau has never won an Oscar despite five nominations, of which Empire of the Sun, for which he won the ASC and BAFTA, remains his most accomplished work.

Once again, however, I have to go with the Academy's choice of Vittorio Storaro, previous winner for Apocalypse Now and Reds, who here picked up his third for The Last Emperor, his best work since Apocalypse Now. The 77-year-old legend is in the discussion for another nomination for this year's Wonder Wheel.
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