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Will 'Skyfall' Finally Win Cinematography Legend Roger Deakins An Oscar?

Awards
by Oliver Lyttelton
November 9, 2012 11:01 AM
12 Comments
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If there's one thing that even "Skyfall" naysayers agree on, it's that the film's cinematography looks absolutely stunning. More than anything else, Sam Mendes' master-stroke may have been bringing his "Jarhead" and "Revolutionary Road" DoP (and Coen Brothers veteran) Roger Deakins along on the adventure. And the result is an action film where every frame could hang in a gallery (the Shanghai sequence and the final set-piece in particular). It's certainly one of the best looking films of 2012.

Deakins has been nominated for Best Cinematography nine times (for "The Shawshank Redemption," "Fargo," "Kundun," "O Brother Where Art Thou," "The Man Who Wasn't There," "No Country For Old Men," "The Assassination of Jesse James" -- the latter two in the same year, no less -- "The Reader" and "True Grit"), but never won. So, it seems a pretty good starting point for this week's Oscar category breakdown to examine if 007 will be the film to finally win Deakins his Oscar, and what competition he has to overcome.

Deakins is certainly due, and he's taken to the digital revolution in an impressive manner since switching over with last year's otherwise forgettable "In Time." But will the action-adventure nature of the work count against him? For instance, we'd floated Robert Elswit's impressive IMAX work in "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" last year as a possibility, but it never materialized. That said, the cinematographers, more than any other branch, refuse to be swayed by anything but the work, hence nominations in recent years for films like "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," "Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince," "The Dark Knight" and even "The Black Dahlia." In a strong year for the category, there's always a chance that Deakins could miss out -- or make the final five, only to lose out for a tenth time. But we reckon he'll make the cut, and could finally be rewarded.

That said, there's some very stiff competition, not least from some fellow legends of the lenses. Last year's winner, Robert Richardson, one of only two men with three Oscars in the category, is once again teaming up with Quentin Tarantino for "Django Unchained." That said, with a statue for "Hugo" last year, we're not sure he'll be getting a fourth so soon, and probably remains on the line for a nomination, although we're sure the film looks glorious. Also on the threshold is two-time winner Janusz Kaminski, who again works with Steven Spielberg on "Lincoln." Their collaborations have resulted in four nods since "Schindler's List," but some have pointed to the film as the same ol' platinum-tinted look for the DoP. Then again, "War Horse" won a nod last year, so he should never be counted out.

Those two pictures are also notable for being shot on film, which increasingly few nominees and winners are (only "Inception" of the last four winners wasn't shot on digital). But if the cinematography branches really want to cast a vote for film, they could go for 2010 winner Wally Pfister's work on "The Dark Knight Rises," or, much more likely, relative newcomer Mihai Malaimare Jr.'s stunning 70mm lensing on Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master." He might not be a well-known name, and the film itself might have its Oscar chances fading for the most part, but this category is virtually a lock, and despite Deakins, the Romanian DoP might be the front-runner.

There's also a few other films hanging around as the most likely nominees. Bearing in mind that two of the last four winners were for 3D movies, one should certainly pay attention to Claudio Miranda for "Life of Pi." He picked up a nomination for his work on "The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button," and with Ang Lee's seabound adventure proving such a visual spectacle, we can't foresee a scenario where Miranda doesn't get another nod here. Meanwhile, there's no denying the quality of Seamus McGarvey's work on "Anna Karenina," and he's got a very good chance at making it inside the five too, but we think a win is unlikely.

Given its likely awards behemoth status, "Les Miserables" should certainly be a consideration, and Danny Cohen did pick up a nod (and won the BAFTA) for "The King's Speech." That said, Hooper's use of close ups and fish-eye lenses seems even more overbearing than it was on the previous film, and we wonder if there might end up being a pushback against it. Still, we suspect if the film's a phenomenon, a nomination will follow. Australian DoP Greig Fraser ("Bright Star," "Let Me In") is a fast-rising star in the field, and had three nomination-worthy pictures this year, but even sight unseen, "Zero Dark Thirty" probably provides a better shot than "Snow White & The Huntsman" or "Killing Them Softly." But as a would-be first-time nominee in a field of veterans, he may struggle to get the support from his peers for a nod this time around.

In a thinner year, Ben Richardson's lensing of "Beasts Of The Southern Wild" would have a good chance, but it's likely on the outside looking in this time around, while even Rodrigo Prieto's superb work on "Argo" is likely to get overlooked, even with the film looking so promising elsewhere. It's also worth keeping an eye on Oscar Faura for "The Impossible," but the film would need to gain a lot more traction than it has thus far, while Darius Khondji's excellent work on "Amour" is likely to be overlooked because of the film's modest visual style.

Hanging around outside the fringes are possibilities like Andrew Lesnie for "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," Ron Fricke for "Samsara" and Robert Yeoman for "Moonrise Kingdom," but they're all the kind of things that would need a surprise ASC nomination to get traction, and with nominations announced after Oscar ballots have closed this year, they're unlikely. Still, a very strong field, and if we had to pick the five most likely right now, it'd look like....

Danny Cohen - "Les Miserables"
Roger Deakins - "Skyfall"
Mihai Malaimare Jr - "The Master"
Claudio Miranda - "Life Of Pi"
Seamus McGarvey - "Anna Karenina"

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12 Comments

  • Kevin | November 20, 2012 7:00 PMReply

    Can't believe all the love for this movie, another one (like CR) where Bond fails in his mission (didn't get the money back at the end of CR, didn't save soMebody here), making this guy Loser - James Loser. Also plotted as moronically as possible (again like CR), with totally arbitrary justifications for act 3 lunacies. As a devotee of Fleming (and Pearson) as well as Connery and Dalton, this movie actually offended me.

    But Deakins scored some points this time (as usual.) Still don't think the low-light approach fits with Bond's universe, but since I don't even consider this a Bond movie, it works very well (especially Shanghai.) Piece goes into detail on his end plus the film's miniature effects at:
    http://www.hdvideopro.com/display/features/secret-agent-man.html

  • Jiri Bakala | November 9, 2012 6:21 PMReply

    If we are listing cinematography jewels, we should not forget Ron Fricke's Samsara. Shot in Super 70mm film, it maybe one of the last "big format" films ever. Regardless, Fricke deserves a nod at the very least for this film.

  • Real | November 9, 2012 3:30 PMReply

    I hope so. It's downright ridiculous he hasn't won yet. His work is ALWAYS phenomenal.

  • Callumq | November 9, 2012 2:31 PMReply

    More of this kind of article please! Deakins is such a gentlemen, he is long overdue. Jesse James should have won in 2008, but damn, 2008 had some beautiful films!

  • tristan eldritch | November 9, 2012 1:31 PMReply

    What's the deal with Skyfall anyway? I ain't seen it yet, and I've read a very ecstatic response from US press/bloggers, but everybody I ask (whose judgement I respect) says it's a pretty hefty step-down from Casino Royal. Is it worth the ten bucks, or what?

  • Fred | November 14, 2012 4:01 PM

    If "backlash has begun on the imdb boards" then it surely must rank among the best 007 adventures of all time.

  • Andy | November 13, 2012 6:31 PM

    Don't listen to him! It is very much worth the ten bucks, I can speak because I spent my $10 and I might spend it again to see it twice. It's just a tad below Casino and much, much better than Quantum; there is no comparison between the two. Skyfall was one of my favorite films of the year behind Argo and Moonrise Kingdom, see it for sure. And for someone to say that Deakins shouldn't get a win just because it's a 007 movie is crazy; one of the most beautiful looking films of the year if not the best looking.

  • cirkusfolk | November 9, 2012 4:58 PM

    Don't believe the hype. It's def a step down. I'd say equal to Quantum. The backlash has begun on the imdb boards. Critics may have liked it but most people don't. Deakins, though overdue, should not get his win for this.

  • Dan | November 9, 2012 11:37 AMReply

    Your critiscm of Hooper's choices is absurd. Do you actually think the average academy member cares about 'close ups and fish lens?' No. They just want a pretty picture.

  • Liz | November 9, 2012 1:39 PM

    You're missing the point: what if the movie ends up looking not-pretty because of the close ups and fish-eye lenses? If the trailer is representative at all, it looks like pretty much the opposite of "a feast for the eyes." More like something shot for television.

  • Dan | November 9, 2012 12:36 PM

    True, but I think the key is determined by the pretty picture theory. Brian DePalma's adaptation of The Black Dahlia was horrible, but Vilmos Z's images were a feast for the eyes-Hence the nomination.

  • Oliver Lyttelton | November 9, 2012 12:02 PM

    Maybe not, but nominations are done purely by the cinematographers branch, i.e. people who actually know their shit. And given the rest of the Academy have all worked in the movies at some point, I'm pretty sure they know what a close up is.

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