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Crafts Roundup: The Year of Cinematographers Capturing Turmoil On Screen

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood November 26, 2013 at 2:15PM

It's been a great year for cinematography, with such an emphasis on survival, turmoil and trying to find beauty or redemption within the suffering. The cinematographers of "Gravity," "12 Years a Slave," "Captain Phillips," "Nebraska," "Inside Llewyn Davis," "The Grandmaster," and "Rush" talk striking that cruel-beautiful visual balance, below.

It's been a great year for cinematography, with such an emphasis on survival, turmoil and trying to find beauty or redemption within the suffering. "Gravity," "12 Years a Slave," "Captain Phillips," "Nebraska," "Inside Llewyn Davis," "The Grandmaster," and "Rush" are among the standouts. Whether they used digital or film, the results are organic to theme and design.

Will Emmanuel ("Chivo") Lubezki finally get his Oscar for "Gravity"? Maybe so, if you look at the recent digital trend that saw Claudio Miranda ("Life of Pi"), Bob Richardson ("Hugo"), and Mauro Fiore ("Avatar") take the award for three out of the last four years. 

For Lubezki's first foray into virtual production, he achieved a breathtaking photo-realism that approximates the NASA photos and IMAX films that he benchmarked, while delivering the long, continuous takes in CG that are a hallmark of director Alfonso Cuaron's visual style. But he needed the Light Box to help solve a very complicated lighting situation with the zero-g simulation in outer space. However, Lubezki made sure to illuminate the dark and infinite with the gorgeous light from mother Earth.

'12 Years a Slave'
'12 Years a Slave'

Still, there's nothing more awe-inspiring than going from an objective, wide-angle view of Sandra Bullock's terrified face to an extreme close-up and then into her helmet for a subjective POV before pulling out again for an objective panorama.

For Sean Bobbitt, "12 Years a Slave" represents the culmination of his three-film collaboration with director Steve McQueen. Only this one is a Goya-esque exploration of horror and beauty. For Bobbitt, the hanging scene stimulated his imagination and served as the embodiment of slavery. 

"Northup's hanging for the better part of the day is inconceivable. And yet nobody can touch him because he belongs to another man. And to see everyone else moving around behind him is such a powerful statement," Bobbitt explains.

The key to the hanging was finding the right composition, which was a matter of simplicity and authenticity. "Because your first thought is that no one can stand hanging for the whole day. The idea was to make it believable but also for the audience to viscerally become a party to that physical torture. But at the same time to be oddly beautiful so that it resonated and it wasn't an image that you could just throw away."

This article is related to: Crafts Round-up, Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, Captain Phillips, Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davis, Rush, Interviews, Interviews

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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.