Saturday, February 14, 2009

Drooling On Brad. Or Why Benjamin Button Might Win the Cinematography Oscar

The Oscars are but one week and a day away. My final predictions will be up tomorrow... and then the Oscar Symposium begins. Remember that? But until then let's talk Cinematography. The nominees are Slumdog Millionaire, Changeling, The Dark Knight, The Reader and Benjamin Button. In January it looked like the legendary Roger Deakins might pull two nods for Revolutionary Road and The Reader, but no Kate Winslet double feature emerged in the nominations. And Deakins is at a disadvantage yet again in terms of securing his first win. The frontrunner for this category, the frontrunner for most categories [sigh], is Slumdog Millionaire. But if there's a place outside of makeup and visual effects for Button to improve its trophy haul, it's right here.

Silly trivia alert!

You see... Button's DP Claudio Miranda was filming Brad Pitt. It's time you knew: Lighting golden god Brad to perfection trumps nearly all in this category, including the lighting of our English Rose (Kate). Consider...

Pitt & the Cinematography Oscar:
Adrian Biddle for Thelma & Louise (91)
Phillipe Rousselot for A River Runs Through It (92)
John Toll for Legends of the Fall (94)
Roger Deakins for The Assassination of Jesse James... (07)

Most of the technical branches within the Oscars (with the exception of rogue creatives in the MakeUp and Costume Design fields) tend to limit their selections to Best Picture candidates so it says something when a film can get nominated in a category without being in play for the big prize. No cinematographer who has ever caressed Brad's cheekbones with a golden filter or outlined his musculature with a back light needed Best Picture momentum to be nominated (Benjamin Button is only Brad Pitt's second appearance in a Best Picture nominee -- Babel was the first but strangely missed a cinematography nod).

Lighting Kate Winslet will bring you more typical results. You're in the running only if your film also has best picture heat

Winslet & the Cinematography Oscar:
Michael Coulter for Sense & Sensibility (95)
Russell Carpenter for Titanic (97)
Roger Deakins and Chris Menges for The Reader (08)

The snub for Revolutionary Road and the nomination for The Reader underline this theory yet again.

Now, I'm not trying to say that the cinematographer's branch is queer for Brad Pitt in the way that, say, David Fincher is. But they definitely have a mancrush.

Do you think Slumdog's color explosions take this one with ease or does Button win on its ample sensuality?

Anthony Dod Mantle for Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Claudio Miranda for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

Or maybe you're throwing caution to the wind and predicting career honors for Roger Deakins (in tandem with double Oscar winner Chris Menges) for the Reader ? Where do you think this particular statue is going? And what's your choice -- you can vote on your favorite at the site.


Alex Constantin said...

hmmm. I don't even think Benjamin is the runner-up in this category. The problem? Too many visual effects. River Runs Through It, Legends..., Jesse James... all had "clean" cinematographies, especially the first two.

And the visual effects are obvious in Benjamin (unlike the ones from The Dark Knight, at least for me).

I think The Dark Knight is the runner-up to Slumdog, and it would deserve the win. But Slumdog will make cause, cause they just LOVE lots of colors (aka Pan's).

Anonymous said...

Interesting category. I think if it wins, it'll win because of the glorious lighting of Cate Blanchett - remember her by the fountain? Or dancing, with that dramatically theatrical lighting?

But I think one thing we need to remember is that voters in technical categories often go with the film they liked more, outside of the technical achievement. Only when the achievement is dramatic enough to overcome that (say, the costumes in Marie Antoinette) do they notice it - The Bourne Ultimatum and The Golden Compass were more liked than Transformers, for example. I can see voters just voting a straight Slumdog ticket (nine victories). I can see them giving the sound categories to The Dark Knight and the rest to Slumdog (7 victories).

I can see The Reader slipping in best adapted screenplay (see 2002). At worst, I see Slumdog taking home four oscars: editing, song, director and picture. The rest range from good bets to a fighting race to longshots.

Oh, you don't think Benjamin Button is winning art direction, Nate? I think it's a near lock simply for the amount of sets.

Back to cinematography, either or would be a fine winner. No one was egreiously snubbed.

Anonymous said...

The last post was from me.

Anonymous said...

I might be wrong, but I think that Wally Pfister has a good shot. None of his three nominations came from a best picture nominee and cinematography is crucial to "The Dark Knight"'s success - not as much as Ledger, but still. I'm not courageous enough to say it'll win, but I can easily see it happening.
I somehow think that "best score" is more probable, though I'm not sure, because they snubbed Desplat for much better work ("Syriana", "The Painted Veil", "Lust, Caution").

Anonymous said...

Anthony Dod Mantle is a SUPERB cinematographer. Watch DOGVILLE.

Jorge Rodrigues said...

Humm yeah Slumdog has everything to win this one as well...

But I believe the Tech branch is sometimes harsh so I could see Deakins or Pfister taking it. For me, it should be Pfister's.

But... Claudio Miranda IS the best asset of this movie... The one thing I really remember from B. Button is the beauty of it all...

Same in Original Score... The best score from this year, the one that really complements the movie (Zimmer/Newton Howard for TDK) was put aside... In score I still think it's Desplat's to lose... He is going to win eventually... And from the 5 there he's easily the best...

God! I'll throw up if Slumdog wins everything (imagine, a CLEAN SWEEP from a movie that seems to have inebriated everyone... I always expected it to win all but Original Song but yet AMPAS decided to clear the path for a clean sweep...)

OMG! Just picture it: when it comes to DVD... It'll say in the cover: SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, 9-time Academy Award Winner (even 7-time makes me sick!)

Anonymous said...

This is one category that I wouldn't mind a Slumdog win. Anthony Dod Mantle has done some great work in the past. He has been working here in Denmark for many years and seems like an all around nice guy.

But I would really like to see Deakins finally get that damn Oscar. So I hope for The Reader.

RobUK said...

It's still too painful for me to consider this category without Revolutionary Road. I need more time.

I say Slumdog takes this. Did you see how they successfully followed the kids when they ran away? And that other time they successfully followed the kids when they ran away? And that other time they successfully the followed the kids when the ran away? And...

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'd agree with everyone in that I'd put money on Pfister over Miranda, especially as I curently believe Button is going to easily beat Batman in both Makeup and Visual Effects. Still, it's hard to imagine anyone other than ADM as the frontrunner.

Deakins' win would be for me just as huge a surprise as Stern's. If he had been nominated for Revolutionary Road (which would be not only way more deserved, but also a chance to acknowledge him alone rather than in a collaboration with an already Oscar-ed DP) then maybe, but not for The Reader. Then again, I've never seen all those noms for The Reader coming at all, so what do I know?

So, my prediction is, from the most probable to the least:
1. Slumdog Millionaire
- long gap -
2. The Dark Knight
3. Curious Case of Benjamin Button
- very long gap -
4. The Reader
5. Changeling
...which is, incidentally - with the exception of unseen-by-me Slumdog - the exact order of my preference. :)

Anonymous said...

And the gorgeous lighting of the theatrical scenes? Or the damn near hallucinatory use of color in the riot scene? Or the sequence at the train station?

My god, is the backlash as mindless as the overwhelming enthusiasm? I'm remembering why I took a break from reading the comments here.

Jorge Rodrigues said...

Each film has its moments...

Slumdog with the running children, the riot scene, the train scene...

Benjamin in the boat after the attack, Daisy dancing (in the moonlight and on stage), the first moments of the film (the story of Mr. Gateau)...

The Dark Knight: scene with the Joker chasing Harvey Dent, Batman jumping from the rooftop in Hong Kong, the Joker escaping in a police car (almost every night scene in TDK was good)...

I believe any of these 3 is a worthy winner...

Anonymous said...

Oh, I agree - and I'd be tempted to vote for any of them. Or the gorgeous, sensual, tactile lensing of Before the Rains. Or the dear god beauty of Silent Light. Or Mark Ping Lee's work, saving Flight of hte Red Balloon from deep boredom. I'm just reacting to the irrational Slumdog backlash and the tortured rationalizations of those behind it.

Karen said...

Brad Pitt does look great on camera.

Glenn said...

Claudio Miranda has the most "ethnic" and "exotic" and "foreign" sounding name so, hence, he wins.


Colin Low said...

"No cinematographer who has ever caressed Brad's cheekbones with a golden filter or outlined his musculature with a back light needed Best Picture momentum to be nominated"

Uh, I don't buy this hypothesis. Consider Troy (2004), which was all about framing Brad's man-meat. No Cinematography nomination.

Jack said...

To be honest, I'm definately not a fan of "Slumdog", but I think it deserves a win here. Reasons:

Cinematography is not just about the colour palette (which the production designer has almost an equal hand in), it is also about the composition and the handling of the camera. You can sneer all you want about "the camera following the children as they ran away!" but consider how hard it must have been in those cramped, teeming, busy slums to get such striking (okay, almost garish) lighting compositions.

I read an interview with Danny Boyle that said the main problem they had was not attracting attention to themselves, lest the shoot be interrupted or ruined by all the people around them (remember, they couldn't just shut down a slum like film crews can shut down a New York street), and the fact that they were able to keep the camera relatively inconspicuous while also following the action that was going on is due in huge part to the cinematographer.

The over-action is the fault of the script, the garishness is the fault of Boyle's directing choice, don't blame Anthony Dodd Mantle for those things.

Anonymous said...

You're right, Jack, I think a lot of commenters around here believe that cinematography=colour+lightning, completely omitting both more technical and more conceptual aspect. That's the only reason I can imagine for people surprised at the recognition for Slumdog Millionaire and The Dark Knight (as well as Le Scaphandre et le Papillon last year).

In fact, I hope SM or TDK wins not just because of my personal preference, but also because the Academy seems prone to the same mistake. It's been three consecutive years aready a film with excellent art direction but "only" serviceable cinematography wins this category. (Last time the DP did indeed deserve full credit for his Oscar was Aviator, IMO.)


jack and notluke... yes, but those things are tricky to discern so lighting is the most obvious and singular of the cinematographers duties. a lot of composition is also the director's choice and not the DPs and color as you say has a lot of the production design in it. Everything is so collaborative. there are days when i question anyone's ability --including mine and the academy's ;) -- to properly discern these things for awards.

who knows who did what really on any film. Outside of the people on that film I suppose.

But i agree that the cinematography is one of SM's strengths.

Colin. point goes to Colin. But it still doesnt' negate that the cinematography noms his films have received have always (up until now) not needed the BP to help them get nominated here. So point: me. TOO :)

Pablete said...

I love Kate Winslet as a brunette, blonde or redhead, but it is the latter the color that showcases her features and beautiful skin the best.

Anonymous said...

Slumdog won the Cinema Audio Society award.

Yeah, I'm sorry. Hollywood certainly isn't making it easy on the Slumdog fan.


arkaan -- isn't it the opposite. Isn't Hollywood giving the Slumdog fan thousands of reasons to celebrate?

Anonymous said...

Eh, I enjoy your website more than I enjoy most of the Hollywood awards, which means I'm gonna come here and see you getting all angry at Slumdog and Hollywood for it's domination. Trust me, that's not fun.

I even told myself that I was gonna take a break from TFE until after the oscars and the backlash subsides, but TFE remains an integral part of the oscar season for me, so I'm just gonna have to take the whips and scorns.

But realistically, I agree with you on sweeps largely so to feel there was no competition in some of these categories where there should be is irksome, even if I love the conclusion.

RobUK said...

Arkaan, I'm sorry you've taken offense at what I meant to be read as a voter parody.

You're right to pick up on the fact that I'm not a huge Slumdog supporter in the Oscar race, and I hold my hands up to that.

I do, however, appreciate the components of the category on which I comment (hence my Revolutionary love; to my mind the best-lit film of the year), but I question the Academy's judgement at judging this as a cinematography category in it's own right, and I was parodying what I suspect many of the voters will think when they mark their ballots for a Slumdog technical sweep.

Anonymous said...

Entirely fair. For the film's sake, I hope categories that should be competitive end up as such - cinematography, score, and sound.

RobUK said...

I'm actually fine with it picking up kudos for its music and editing, as I think those are the components which best sell the energy that the movie's fans are responding to.

Though I do worry it'll get original score votes for its songs. Reflected glow from that glorious use of Paper Planes.

Anonymous said...

You know, I was a little surprised it wasn't ruled ineligible thanks to the use of songs - there's very little incidental music in the movie (I can think of the Millionaire theme and Latika's theme. Most of the rest has some sort of lyrical component.)