I probably shouldn't point out that this is almost a full week late, but hey -- it's here, right?
Now we come to a difficult point of assessment: Cinematography. Many times, we grade it in terms of what looks prettiest, but this is not necessarily the best choice -- not all movies are made to be pretty. We also sometimes judge on technical wizardry or degree of difficulty -- better, perhaps, but I don't care how much of Gravity was a single take, it was a 3D film that looked flat. In the end, one must always consider what it does for the film.
And sometimes, I just go for the prettiest.
As with any category, there are certain looks, and certain genres, that tend to crop up come nomination time. If I may...
THE EARTHY ART PIECE
The film that people would describe as "painterly", yet not necessarily bold in color. It was meant quite literally for biopic Mr. Turner this year, a reflection of the titular painter's own very mustardy canvases, but also serves well for 1971's Fiddler on the Roof, which, despite its musical genre, has a quite natural, clay-like look to it. Both have phenomenal sunsets, too.
THE MONOCHROME MASTERPIECE
In the age of color film, going black-and-white seems to almost guarantee a nod (Nebraska, for God's sake). Artfully applied this year for Poland's Ida, a tale of identity, memory, morality, and the grey areas in all; also beautiful in 1971's The Last Picture Show.
THE SINGLE-TAKE WONDER
Nothing impresses like a beautifully-lit film with at least one single-take scene, one that makes our jaws drop and exclaim, "HOW?!?" This year, Birdman is getting the praise, as the entire film is comprised of several long-take scenes; in 1971, Summer of '42 the climax is filmed uninterrupted within a single room.
THE HISTORICAL EPIC FROM OL' RELIABLE
There are masters of the craft who are respected and beloved by their peers. Today, we have Roger Deakins, once again nominated (and, once again, probably unsuccessfully) for his reliably great work on the war film Unbroken. In 1971, there was Freddie Young, celebrating the last of his five nominations (three of which he won) for the Romanov bio Nicholas and Alexandra.
THE WINTRY WONDER
There is, I think, a special talent to making a frosty frame, to capturing the genuine chill of a setting. Certainly The Grand Budapest Hotel feels like winter, even indoors; so, too, does The French Connection. Neither really looks similar, and they certainly cover action differently, but at least I'm not alone in admiring icy cinematography.
Less muddle after the jump
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF
I'm bewitched by its colors -- bronze instead of gold, a clay-like grey, earthy, grounded in the very mud of Anatevka. Think, too, of the silhouetted dance in the "Chava Ballet Sequence", or of those candles flickering with both hope and the wispy sadness of passing time in the wedding scene.
THE FRENCH CONNECTION
Stunning what he does with natural lighting. Nails that grey, chilly look of dawn and dusk, of smoky alleys and dirty dealings. I'm thinking of one moment in particular -- the criminals enjoying a meal in a warmly-lit restaurant, the camera zooming in to the window, where we spot a grey Gene Hackman keeping tabs across the street. Beautiful.
THE LAST PICTURE SHOW
Black-and-white beauty, as stunning by day as it is at night. Consider, please, the swimming pool strip, which is dim and grey; the sudden stylization of the motel scene, with Cybill Shepherd suddenly channeling Constance Towers in The Naked Kiss; or even just an outdoor conversation between Jeff Bridges and Timothy Bottoms, one literally shaded by the other's presence.
NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA
The golds and reds are glorious to behold -- fascinating, too, to watch those colors dim as the Romanov Dynasty declines. Then, too, the way the light seems to empty out of the room when Rasputin enters, all focusing on him, with even the Tsarina only getting a glimmer of what he has...yes!
SUMMER OF '42
There is a subtle dreamy filter throughout the film, rendering some moments kind of soft -- at times, it seems like gauze or vaseline have been applied. Apropos for a story of memory. The Scene between Hermie and the Woman is the big stand-out -- shadows, long takes, and moonlight. Dreamy, lovely, yet also a touch of gloom and mystery. It's not as beautiful as you think.
I mean, goodness, I hate to be boring, but it appears I once again have to side with the Academy. I award my vote to the actual Oscar winner:
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF
Tomorrow (or whenever), I have in my sights the great category of Best Director:
From 1971: A Clockwork Orange, Fiddler on the Roof, The French Connection, The Last Picture Show, Sunday Bloody Sunday
From 2014: Birdman, Boyhood, Foxcatcher, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game