Monday, 17 March 2014

Encore Awards (2013 in Review): Cinematography

Have I already said that, with the exception of the acting categories, cinematography is the category in my personal awards I'm most excited about each year. It took me longer to choose my favourites with this category than any other.

 The thing about cinematography, though, is that I always worry that I'm undiscerning in my choices and not really making the right choices vis-a-vis what stands for good photography in film. Case in point, in 2011 when fairly everyone seemed certain that the photography on The Tree of Life was without a doubt the best of the year I was more intrigued by the darkness of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Hugo (even with Richardson's love for those golden hues, but I love his work generally, anyhow). This preamble, in addition to being a weird case of me arguing against my choices, (and warning you that the consensus choice for this category is not mine) is just one in a long line of questions I encounter when making my year-end citations - to what degree is it all subjective, and to what degree are there elements which objectively comprise good photography (or anything). Is objectivity even possible?

Who knows?

Nonetheless, onward I go with my ballot for Cinematography. Like last year, I hate to whittle down so many great films to a ballot of five so a long, long list of my favourite shot films with a single shot to represent each ending up with my #1 at the end. (My favourite photography work in 2012)


(Apologies for the varying sizes of images. Unavoidable.)

And, yes, I'd recommend a ballot with five of any of these 22 films. Good work all throughout.

TIER #3 

#22 No (Sergio Armstrong)
Because the conceit of its filming makes the themes of what's real and what's created stand out even more. And for still ensuring that García Bernal is as well shot as he is. (But that might just be a García Bernal thing. He gives good face.)

#21 Upstream Color (Shane Carruth)
Because the way it evokes mood is undeniable.

#20 Side Effects (Steven Soderbergh)
Because it's just as cold and antiseptic as the film around it.

#19 The Bling Ring (Christopher Blauvelt, Harris Savides)
Because, even though I love the darkness, Savides and Blauvelt photograph the sun-kissed with aplomb.

#18 The Past (Mahmoud Kalari)
Because this shot of Marie made me more unnerved and moved than I expected and has stuck with me since I saw it.


#17 Her (Hoyte van Hoytema)
Because that is just a beautiful shot to look at.

#16 The Great Beauty (Luca Bigazzi)
It's all terribly immaculate and 

#15 Spring Breakers (Benoît Debie)
The film itself is not very wordy, so its the visuals which become essential to the "story" and Debie does it justice.

#14 12 Years a Slave (Sean Bobbitt)
I'm more enamoured with specific shots than the work holistically, but even when I think the film is too in love with Solomon's visage it makes sense considering the film itself is, too, very focused on Solomon at the expense of all else. (Also, night time photography!)

#13 Rush (Anthony Dod Mantle)
Easily the best example of cinematography which does not translate well to a single shot (a shot from a racing scene would work best, but everything is constantly in motion). The way he decides to shoot the film in such a way to make it pop does appeal to me, and does make for an energetic and fun experience where you might not have expected.


#12 World War Z (Ben Seresin)
Ostensibly this is a terrible image to represent the film because World War Z and its photography is so often about staunch orderliness even amidst chaos. But it makes sense that this is one of the scenes where the camera work is just jarring, and as far as enhancing mood goes Seresin (and an uncredit Robert Richardson) are doing A+ job at milking the thriller roots of the film.

#11 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Andrew Lesnie)
Lesnie comes into criticism for his playing-one-note type of cinematography, but it's a good note. If the work isn't as dynamic as it might be I'm more than satisfied with the sheer joy in photography which embraces the childish sense of magic in keeping with the slight naivete of its protagonist. Also, he shoots those visual effects setpieces excellently.

....the top ten after the jump....

#10 Prisoners (Roger Deakins)
He is as responsible as the score for encouraging the mood of tense unease with the way he isolates characters with his camera, challenging us to rethink our ideas of right and wrong with his shots.

#9 The Place Beyond the Pines (Sean Bobbitt)
Why, yes, I am resentful that in the Bobbitt love happening last year consideration for his work here was offensively low. Who says contemporary photography can't be great?  Of course my appreciation for The Place Beyond the Pines (which seems to have been forgotten since it landed early last year) makes me appreciate the way he's exemplifying the not subtle themes of the film even more. My initial choice was a choice of De Haan on his bike which was such an obvious call-back to Gosling on his bike earlier, but I settled on this one both because of ho lovely it is and because of the way it suggests that even amidst the film's "destiny+fate" themes that the world is really just random. That could be anyone silhouette there.

#8 The Great Gatsby (Simon Duggan)
Aaah, Gatsby garish and loud, they say. Which is not inaccurate. And I probably prove the point by choosing a shot from the past as representative, but no matter whether what Luhrman is doing with the text it's hard to say that Duggan isn't doing fine things with his camera.

#7 Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (Bradford Young)
I did a few versions of this list where it ended up at #5 and to be truthful from here onward to #3 it's a bit of a crapshoot deciding which is "better", there are even days where this is my favourite word from Young. Every frame makes the mundane picturesque while being suffused with melancholy. And, of course, I shall love this shot for reminding me of this.

#6 Gravity (Emmanuel Lubezki)
If I was lining up the five past films to consecutively win Visual Effects and Cinematography Oscar prizes it would be my #2 behind Hugo and just ahead Avatar (it would be third behind The Curious Case of Benjamin Button which alas did not see Miranda winning the Oscar when he ought to, but I digress). I mention this only because the correlation between visual effects editing and photography seems to be at an all-time high, and there's a part of me that's a bit uneasy that I'm not quite as beholden with Lubezki's work here as I ought to be. Especially when my favourite work from him may very well be this. Still, who really cares about the right way of loving something its goodness is fairly clear either way you spin it. And, goodness knows few things make me fall in love with cinematography as much as tricks with light and darkness.


#5 The Lone Ranger (Bojan Bazelli)
But, he does shoot a good Western, doesn't he? I'm kind of in love with the shot here. Not just because it reminds me of the Deakins shot above but a great deal of the film is about perspective what with that unreliable narrator and Bazelli's work might be most notable for how well he photographs the action scenes, but he's just as adept in the quiet moments. Moreover, The Lone Ranger is never just one type of movie, it can be buddy comedy, action extravaganza, throwback Western, contemporary-epic and even slight romance and Bazelli is balancing all those varying and sometimes conflicting elements with his camera. Also, extra points for some very fine landscape photography. Because, we know how much I love well-shot landscape, right?

#4 Mother of George (Bradford Young)
On one hand, I might prefer the illusion of spontaneity which comes with Young's work in Ain't Them Bodies Saints above because although I do love symmetry his work here is very, very deliberate. Which, of course, is the point. It's not just beautiful shots, but when the screenplay gets a little vague his work becomes the key facilitator of the story. And like Great Expectations below, there come a point where I'm not sure if he should get credit for the costume designer's work but the way colour plays a role in hi shots is exemplary.

#3 Great Expectations (John Mathieson)
Mathieson's work here is one of those classic examples where I'm not sure if I'm guided by ace work in production design (and, maybe, costumes) making me fall in love with the photography more than I should. I admit, the work itself is very conservative but how to photograph a Dickensian tale but with conservativeness? Great Expectations never rises to greatness but Mathieson's work is its strongest assets and even aside from excellent use of light at Miss Havisham's home or colour in the homes of the London rich it tips over into essential work for me with the deft way he shoots the flashbacks to Miss Havisham's young days, -pretty and beguiling but just slightly off in that way which marks everything about that woman. (But, it really is so pretty, too.)

#2 The Grandmaster (Philippe Le Sourd)
Consider this the second, or third, in a theme of films with very busy mise-en-scène which, to some extent, might make me wonder if it's the cinematography specifically that I'm thrilled with. But, I think it was Michael who said quality of the film aside, it is ridiculous to deny the visual splendour of this one, and he's right. Sure, the film has ace costume design, visual effects and production design but Le Sourd's camera is doing spectacular work making all those elements stand out. From the opening in the rain all the way through the years his camera is doing top-tier work.

#1 Inside Llewyn Davis (Bruno Delbonnel)
I suspect a great deal of affection I have for the not very kind Llewyn stems from the way the film looks, specifically regarding Delbonnel's photography. The best way to put it? There's a softness to the way everything is shot which is at odds with the harsher lights of humanity shown in the film. Instead of feeling as if it's a tool to misdirect us, though, it makes the entire mood of the film less people are assholes and more people are sad lending this hazy air of melancholy to the whole thing that charms me while it saddens because it's so gentle, and warm, and beautiful. Because, I am susceptible to pretty things above all else.

What was your favourite photography of 2013? Did it miss my long long-list?

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