Best Cinematography 1989

1927/28 through 1997

Which film among the 1989 Oscar nominees had the best cinematography?

The Abyss (Mikael Salomon)
Blaze (Haskell Wexler)
No votes
Born on the Fourth of July (Robert Richardson)
No votes
The Fabulous Baker Boys (Michael Ballhaus)
Glory (Freddie Francis)
Total votes: 17

Mister Tee
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Re: Best Cinematography 1989

Postby Mister Tee » Fri Nov 10, 2017 12:40 am

I'd echo all the alternates BJ cited -- Casualties of War in particular -- and also throw in Batman. Yes, it was mostly the set, but the film really created a Gothic look that was very new for comic strip films at the time.

Blaze is almost an exact replica of the previous year's Tequila Sunrise (and Searching for Bobby Fischer, to come): a nominee totally removed from the best film race, that was clearly cited for its cinematographer's name, but that was hardly undeserving. As BJ says, Wexler caught the real atmosphere of Louisiana, which is worthy of our praise, if not our vote.

I guess Robert Richardson is as Academy-honored as any cinematographer of modern times -- 9 nominations and 3 wins -- and I mostly think highly of his work, but there aren't many times I'd particularly want him to win. Here he has a film that touches all the bases of a category win -- the colored-by-memory hometown scenes, the stark and vivid battle scenes, the purposely ugly rehab sequences, and the vibrant protests that close out the film. Had he won here, no one would have especially complained. But I can't bring myself to cast a vote his way.

You've got to admit, MIchael Ballhaus' work showed a lot of range. His three nominations -- for Broadcast News, Gangs of New, and, here, The Fabulous Baker Boys -- couldn't be more different from one another. In Kloves' film, he really captures the depressingly two-bit lifestyle of the brothers, and then gives it a touch of glamour when Pfeffer's Susie Diamond happens upon the scene -- his visuals convey just how much lift her mere presence provide the act. I don't think the film is, overall, visually distinguished enough to merit the prize, but I respect what's on display.

I'm rather astonished so many of you have chosen The Abyss here. I suppose it's good enough looking, and it has its cool underwater shots. But t would never have occurred to me to vote for it.

I guess the rules at the time precluded Freddie Francis being nominated by ASC. I didn't know about those rules, so I thought the exclusion meant he was only a long-shot for the Oscar win. I was delighted to be proven wrong, because I think Glory is easily the most distinguished of the group. Glory is not, in toto, a particularly good film. It swims in Zwickian mediocrity, particularly when the characters open their mouths -- if you listened to the soundtrack without the visuals, you'd think you were watching a gung-ho John Wayne war movie. However, if you watched the visuals without the dialogue -- if it had been a silent movie -- you'd have thought you were watching a masterpiece. This film is gorgeously designed and shot, whether simple scenes of soldiers marching in formation, or the perfectly-lit battle scenes, culminating in that final epic encounter. Simply in terms of cinematography, this is the great achievement of 1989, and my clear choice.

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Re: Best Cinematography 1989

Postby The Original BJ » Tue Nov 07, 2017 6:54 pm

This is a fairly mid-range lineup for me -- nothing embarrassing, but nothing that leaps out as extraordinary either. Other worthy options for nominations would be Do the Right Thing, Henry V, and Casualties of War.

Blaze definitely doesn't get nominated without Haskell Wexler's name attached... but I'd also probably argue that this kind of movie probably wouldn't have looked as good without a talent like Wexler behind the camera. The exterior shots of the Louisiana environs are lovingly captured, and the interior performance scenes are lit with a decent amount of flair. Certainly not a winner, but not an inexplicable nominee either.

Like James Cameron's other water-bound disaster movie, The Abyss had to have been a brutal project to shoot, and it's definitely impressive on a technical level. The use of source lighting (particularly in and around water) is clearly eye-catching, and the way the camera maneuvers throughout the claustrophobic environment is nimble and assured. This is kind of a junky movie overall, but I'd rate the aesthetics of the cinematography well above stuff like Poseidon Adventure/Towering Inferno.

The club scenes in The Fabulous Baker Boys are lit and shot with real pizzazz -- I'm not sure Pfeiffer's star-is-born take on "Makin' Whoopee" would have had such impact had Ballhaus's photography not been as memorable. And some of the exterior cityscapes evocatively capture the kind of hazy, up-all-night world the film's down-on-their-luck characters inhabit. But on the whole, it wouldn't rate the win for me, as it isn't as visually splendid through and through as it is in its most notable scenes.

Born on the Fourth of July is my clear favorite film here, and the cinematography is definitely worth praising. The movie covers quite a bit of visual ground -- beatific images of small-town America, rigorously shot combat scenes where you can practically feel the heat of the sun scorching down, energetically filmed sequences of chaotic protests. Of course, with Robert Richardson you have so many good options for which you can choose him over the years, and I doubt many would rate this as his peak (even just among Oliver Stone films).

I cast my vote for Glory, though I'd say this is more of an old-fashioned choice than anything boundary pushing. Of course, at this point, Freddie Francis was an old-guard cinematographer, and his visuals are in the classical spirit of many Technicolor epics from the '60's. But I think just in terms of visual beauty, this film tops the field, with battle sequences that are genuinely sumptuous in their lighting, framing, and use of color. Glory is a mediocre historical epic overall, but I can't deny that it's a beautiful thing to look at, and in this field that's enough.

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Re: Best Cinematography 1989

Postby Precious Doll » Wed Nov 01, 2017 11:58 pm

What an underwhelming bunch of nominees. I voted for The Abyss which is the most dazzling looking film and it would want to be given it probably cost more than the other 4 films combined.

Notable omissions include: Billy Williams for Ken Russell's The Rainbow which is every bit as gorgeous to look at as Women in Love was, Bruno de Keyzer for Reunion, John Lindley for Field of Dreams and best of all Ernest R. Dickerson for Do the Right Thing whose work on this film was one of the many elements the captured a long hot summer's day so well.
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Re: Best Cinematography 1989

Postby mlrg » Wed Nov 01, 2017 11:34 am

Voted for Glory

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Best Cinematography 1989

Postby Big Magilla » Wed Nov 01, 2017 11:17 am

Why Haskell Wexler won the American Society of Cinematographers' award for the underwhelming Blaze, I'll never know. Granted non-ASC members, Oscar winner Freddie Francis (Glory), and Kenneth MacMillan (the overlooked Henry V), would have been ineligible, but Oscar nominees Mikael Salomon (The Abyss) and Robert Richardson (Born on the Fourth of July) were also among ASC's nominees. Either one would have been a better choice.

Wexler was the weakest of the Oscar nominees. Michael Ballhaus (The Fabulous Baker Boys) was certainly a better choice than ASC's selection of Stephen R. Borum for The War of the Roses, although MacMillan and John Lindley (Field of Dreams) may have been even better choices.

For me, though, it's no contest. Oscar winner Freddie Francis (Sons and Lovers, The Elephant Man) gets my vote.
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