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Talking Cinematography with Oscar Nominees Lubezki, Deakins, Delbonnel, Le Sourd and Papamichael

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood February 13, 2014 at 2:13PM

The Oscar nominees for best cinematography are not only filled with indelible images but they're all constructed around the common theme of survival, disconnect, and rebirth. I discuss the works with all five Oscar nominees: Philippe Le Sourd ("The Grandmaster"), Emmanuel (Chivo) Lubezki ("Gravity"), Bruno Delbonnel ("Inside Llewyn Davis"), Phedon Papamichael ("Nebraska"), and Roger Deakins ("Prisoners").
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Bruno Delbonnel, Oscar Isaac and Joel Coen on the set of 'Inside Llewyn Davis'
Bruno Delbonnel, Oscar Isaac and Joel Coen on the set of 'Inside Llewyn Davis'

The Oscar nominees for best cinematography are not only filled with indelible images but they're all constructed around the common theme of survival, disconnect and rebirth. I discuss the works with all five Oscar nominees: Philippe Le Sourd ("The Grandmaster"), Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki ("Gravity"), Bruno Delbonnel ("Inside Llewyn Davis"), Phedon Papamichael ("Nebraska"), and 11-time nominee Roger Deakins ("Prisoners").

What a visually diverse feast: Sandra Bullock's terrifying detachment in outer space in "Gravity"; the surreal train platform fight in the falling snow in "The Grandmaster"; the ghost-like, black-and-white rendering of Bruce Dern in "Nebraska"; the melancholy Oscar Isaac fighting failure as well as the bitter cold in "Inside Llewyn Davis"; and Hugh Jackman succumbing to his weaknesses in the gray skies of "Prisoners."

Alfonso Cuaron and Emmanuel Lubezki
Alfonso Cuaron and Emmanuel Lubezki

Of course, Lubezki is the clear frontrunner for his stunningly immersive work in "Gravity," pushing the boundaries of what it's like to be lost in space, detached from home and humanity, and yet in awe at the beauty of the universe. There's no question that the popular cinematographer was the master of his light, even though most of it was virtual in collaboration with director Alfonso Cuaron and the meticulous animation team at Framestore, which is expected to take the VFX Oscar as well.

"I think Alfonso made a great choice in having a cinematographer, me or whoever, go through this entire journey with him and figure out the movie and build the virtual cinematography and the virtual world before and then do the light capture," Lubezki offers. "In that sense it was reverse-engineered, but it could not have happened the other way around: it would have been catastrophic and too expensive. We made a lot of mistakes but in general we were successful. And we're going to see more and more of  the virtual world and CG because more and more directors are going to want to make their dreams come to life. And it's something we couldn't do five years ago.

"I think they are all extraordinary movies and all completely different. How can you judge this work? You need to line up all of the cinematographers and have us all shoot the same scene. Guillermo del Toro has this theory about beauty. He separates it into two categories: calories and protein. Calories are not essential but protein beauty is essential for the existence of the movie, and I think all these movies have lots of protein beauty."

This article is related to: Crafts Round-up, Interviews, Interviews , Awards, Awards Season Roundup, Awards, Emmanuel Lubezki, Roger Deakins


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.