Best Cinematography 2012

For the films of 2012

Of the 2012 Oscar nominees for Best Cinematography, which was best?

Anna Karenina (Seamus McGarvey)
Django Unchained (Robert Richardson)
Life of Pi (Claudio Miranda)
Lincoln (Janusz Kaminski)
No votes
Skyfall (Roger Deakins)
Total votes: 19

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Re: Best Cinematography 2012

Postby Okri » Sat Aug 25, 2018 7:50 am

Django Unchained was not something I would have recognized, though it’s not a disgraceful nominee.

Lincoln is the type of nominee that could be read as rote but I actually think does a tonne right. They way they manage some gorgeously mythic images (Lincoln walking away near the end) while ensuring the whole piece feels vivid and lived in. The art direction does a lot of work here too, as does Williams’ fine score, but I don’t think we should underrate Kaminski either.

I’m a little surprised at how much support Life of Pi seems to be garnering, though. I spent all of that Oscar season underestimating it, of course, so this continues that trend. I went back to the review thread for it here and probably should revisit it before dismissing it, but not gonna lie, my memory isn’t as strong with this one as I’d like. I remember the fluorescent whale.

Swerving to Skyfall for a second, I tend to echo Tee and BJ in that I don’t think the film, as a whole, is that much stronger than Casino Royale. What it is, though, is clearly more effortful. For the 50th anniversary of Bond, tonnes of thought was clearly spent. And it was such a huge hit (after inflation, it was the third biggest Bond film ever). As a career tribute, Deakins is clearly worthy. Yes, the Shanghai/Macao sequences are gorgeous, but I think he does terrific work at the Scottish estate climax as well. But I’ve voted for him before and will again and he’s already gotten a couple of our alternates.

So I’m gonna stick up for Anna Karenina. If you don’t like what Wright is doing with this film, I get why it might be insufferable (I think it was dws that called in the worst prestige film ever made, or something like that). But right from the opening I was entranced. I thought the production elements worked superbly together but each had some stellar standout moments. For McGarvey, you have that stunning ballroom sequence, of course, but I thought he did gently lovely work on the outdoor rural scenes. His lighting of the ladies (MacDonald, Knightley, Vikander) is otherworldly. The passion and pace of his movements literally took my breath away at points (I vividly remember feeling like I had exercised after the movie, it was so pacey).

This was as solid a category as we were likely to get, so no real complaints about what missed out. My overall pick was probably Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. I also thought Rust and Bone had its tactile pleasures and the memory piece that was Tabu was aided a great deal by the camera. On the English side of things, Beasts of the Southern Wild is my big miss here. I will say I remember how enthusiastic everyone else was about The Master here, but I never really grocked it. Zero Dark Thirty was strong, but it was robbed more elsewhere.

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Re: Best Cinematography 2012

Postby The Original BJ » Tue Aug 21, 2018 5:57 pm

I wasn't expecting to be such a voice of dissent this year, though I'm glad to chime in and give Mister Tee some company.

I can't say I was too enthused about how this lineup shook out -- I would have easily included The Master and Zero Dark Thirty above most of the nominees. And it struck me as odd that Beasts of the Southern Wild could nab all of those on-the-bubble top-tier nominations, while failing in two categories (Score and Cinematography) that I thought were its strongest elements.

Anna Karenina is certainly shot with flash, though I'd probably say the photography is too tied up with my major reasons for disliking the film (i.e. the way the overall concept just strains for effect) to choose. No doubt it's a pretty-looking film, but I'm content to endorse its costume prize as recognition for its visual achievement and move on to choose something else in this category.

Though that choice isn't -- as it is for so many here -- Skyfall. I will agree that the Shanghai portion of the film has some striking lighting (and maybe we're collectively lumping in the Macau scenes too, but the lanterns on the water there are pretty eye-catching as well). But I just don't find the photography on the whole to be that much more special than surrounding Bond films -- I tend to think the film's sizable haul of Oscar nominations/wins/ASC/Guild noms had more to do with the fact that the movie was just considered better than a lot of its predecessors, not that its achievement here was so dramatically superior to, say, Casino Royale's. Obviously many disagree.

Django Unchained has some memorable night-time shots (illuminated by fire and/or sunset), and the entire Candieland segment of the film is lit with elegance. But I rate its visuals a step below the work in Inglourious Basterds (which I didn't vote for), and I don't think enough about the photography stands out as special to contend for my vote.

I'll stick up a bit for the photography in Lincoln. The quality that Magilla criticizes it for is what I liked best about it -- it looked like it was shot by the natural light of the period, and didn't come off too glossy. It also had some shots that I thought pretty clearly showed the John Ford influence on the film, in the way it used the memorably framed and lit image of the thin, tall president in his hat as iconography throughout the movie. I'd agree the work isn't, by comparison, as dynamic as Schindler's List or Saving Private Ryan, but I think it's a solid runner-up.

But I thought voters correctly awarded Life of Pi. I guess my response to the "Miranda just lit the green screen" argument would be that 1) plenty of films haven't created as seamless a look between real-world elements and CGI as this one does in the ocean-set sequences, 2) supervising the treatment of a film's look in post is still a key part of the DP's job, and not just something passed off to another department and 3) there's a pretty decent portion of the film that isn't as reliant on visual effects, and a lot of those shots (the opening menagerie, the hotel flashback, the island finale) are gorgeous in their own right. I found Life of Pi to be the most visually beautiful film of the year, and I have no problem giving it prizes for BOTH cinematography and visual effects in recognition of its triumph.

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Re: Best Cinematography 2012

Postby Mister Tee » Tue Aug 21, 2018 2:15 pm

This entire Oscar season took place during my annus horribilis, due to which I saw way more of the contenders at home than is my norm. This may explain why I see the competition differently from many here.

Two movies I did see in a theatre -- Zero Dark Thirty and The Master -- strike me as significantly more deserving than some nominees, as does Beasts of the Southern Wild, which I only saw in DVD.

I've voted for Robert Richardson on multiple occasions, and regarded him as worthy runner-up other times. But here I think his work, while perfectly fine, isn't such a standout as to merit placement over the films mentioned above.

Lincoln is the rare Spielberg movie whose greater virtues are literary/narrative than visual/kinetic. I suppose the overall grey-ish look is appropriate to the material -- evocative of Matthew Brady -- but it feels a bit drab at times.

Skyfall is one the films I only saw on my home TV, and I have to conclude that partly explains why so many here are so over the moon about work that didn't much impress me. Sabin notes the Shanghai sequence, and I'll agree to this extent: that was literally the only moment in the entire running time that gave me an inkling why the film was being touted for this award. My private suspicion regarding the film's success at critics' awards, and with the ASC was 1) people were starting to catch on about this Visual Effects/Cinematography synchronicity and wanted to stop it post-haste and 2) it constituted early recognition it was about damn time Roger Deakins won a prize. I'm very surprised so many here fall in this column.

Anna Karenina is, visually, Joe Wright's most impressive film, though, like Hugo and some other films we've dealt with this decade, the greater beautiful seems to flow from the design elements, not the cinematography.

I kind of don't care who was more responsible for the look of Life of Pi, the visual effects artists or Miranda. The bald fact is, the film achieves real beauty, on land and especially on sea, and it's my clear choice for this prize.

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Re: Best Cinematography 2012

Postby dws1982 » Sun Aug 19, 2018 7:33 pm

Skyfall, although I actually really liked Lincoln's cinematography too. Could be just because I really love that movie.

Anna Karenina is the one that i need to watch again. I hated it in real time, but I kind of wonder if I would like it more with some distance. Should honestly watch Life of Pi again too--the 3D presentation was truly appalling, so I definitely am not in the best position to evaluate the cinematography.

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Re: Best Cinematography 2012

Postby Precious Doll » Wed Aug 15, 2018 6:48 am

I had voted for Life of Pi but a win for Skyfall would also have been most welcome, the fact too that for a film with so many action set pieces you can actually see and follow what is happening. Anyway, I changed my vote to Skyfall when I discovered that it was in my top 5 of the year which Life of Pi didn't even make. Its so easy to remember how beautiful Life of Pi looked but I'd forgotten that to a large degree it was artificially created which makes me a bit reluctant to give it a win.

Django Unchained looked good, perhaps too good for its deliberately sleazy take on exploitation cinema. Beyond its gorgeous look Anna Karenina had little else to offer and I found Lincoln rather drab.

Omissions: Holy Motors, Lore, Dead Europe & Only Lovers Left Alive.
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Re: Best Cinematography 2012

Postby Big Magilla » Mon Aug 13, 2018 4:51 pm

I don't have a problem with any of these nominees.

I actually liked the cinematography of Les Miserables, though not enough to displace one of the actual nominees. There was more to it than those notorious close-ups. Lots of crowd scenes among other things.

I wasn't too enamored of Joe Wright's take on Anna Karenina, but the cinematography was not one of its problems.

Django Unchained was well photographed as we would expect from Robert Richardson, but was not one of his most outstanding efforts.

Lincoln was a yeoman job by Kamisnki but it looked like it was being shot in the light of the day in which it took place instead of what could have been a lot easier on the eyes had it been held to modern standards of lighting.

There was more to the cinematography on Life of Pi than lighting the blue screen, but Skyfall was probably the best and best photographed Bond movie since I can't remember when so it gets my vote.

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Best Cinematography 2012

Postby Sabin » Mon Aug 13, 2018 12:43 pm

The standout in this category is so apparent. Roger Deakins deserved to win his first Oscar for Skyfall. One of the things I admire about Roger Deakins is how good he is at serving at the behest of the story and the director. All of his films are reliably handsome. But when he is encouraged to show-off, the results are like no other. I don’t think Skyfall is quite his finest hour, but the Shanghai fight might be. But in a lineup without The Master, it’s a very clear choice.

Although for the critics, the choice was not unanimous. LA went for Skyfall, New York went for Greg Fraser for Zero Dark Thirty (a film I don’t care for, and whose cinematography is… fine?), and the National Society went for The Master. On Oscar night, there wasn't much doubt in my mind that it would go to Life of Pi. Ang Lee's film was, as expected, a gorgeous “Prestige 3D Film,” that unavoidable new genre that seems to be disappearing. I continue to have huge problems with only giving an Oscar to the person who lit the green-screen (a generalization, sure), but that has more to do with the name on the Oscar rather than the achievement. Life of Pi is one of the most visually playful films of Lee’s career. While I don’t endorse its victory here, it’s far from an atrocity, and would be my runner up.

All in all, this is not a terribly distinguished lineup. Anna Karenina, which has some of the most gorgeous imagery of Joe Wright’s career… but in the service of what exactly? Once again: Joe Wright should not be making period films, he should be making summer blockbusters. While Lincoln is mostly a good-looking affair, it features some of the worst shots of Spielberg and Kaminski’s collaboration, shots that felt underlit and desaturated during the color correction process. And Django Unchained is easily the weakest of the QT/Richardson collaborations, replete with some very janky slow motion if memory serves.

The biggest omission in this lineup isn't The Master. It's Les Miserables, which is tied for the most controversial cinematography of the year*. While the blame should fall squarely on Tom Hooper’s shoulders because it's entirely his choice. There’s no way he saw the dailies and said "What happened?" Why are you so close? I never told you to do that!" Les Miserables is an ungainly, unpleasant experience because of how it was staged and shot. There must have been a dearth of good contenders because the ASC nominated Cohen over Richardson. Either they found The Master detestable or the notion of Paul Thomas Anderson working with upstart Mihai Malaimare Jr. too much to handle. I’ve seen The Master at least five times and I find it an endlessly frustrating experience. However, it would be a gorgeous piece of filmmaking even if it wasn’t shot on 70mm, and it certainly deserved place in this mostly milquetoast lineup.

Other possibilities are a bit harder to find. I suppose Greg Fraser for Zero Dark Thirty was in the running. Considering the love for Argo, it’s kind of nuts to think that Rodrigo Prieto was never in the running. Ben Richardson was probably too fresh to the scene to break in for Beasts of the Southern Wild (this was his first feature), but it wouldn’t have been too shocking considering the fanfare for the film overall. An underdog I would have loved to see make it in would have been Masanobu Takayanagi for Silver Linings Playbook whose collaboration with David O. Russell represented an exciting leap forward in the filmmaker’s visual language.

*Like with Best Sound Editing, the co-winner for Most Controversial Cinematography of 2012 was also awarded to The Hobbit.
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