The race for best cinematography is among the most competitive races this year at the Oscars. Black-and-white dramas, sci-fi dazzlers and Hollywood blockbusters are among the contenders, and it’s not entirely sure where it all might land. The American Society of Cinematographers, which announces its nominees tomorrow, will set a tone leading up to the opening of Oscar nomination voting, which begins on Thursday.
From ASC’s theatrical releases category to the Oscars, the track record averages about four out of five matches every year. Past ASC selections like “First Man” (Linus Sandgren), “Ford v Ferrari” (Phedon Papamichael), and last year’s “Cherry” (Newton Thomas Sigel) failed to transition to the Academy in favor of “Never Look Away” (Caleb Deschanel), “The Lighthouse” (Jarin Blaschke) and “Judas and the Black Messiah” (Sean Bobbitt). The last time they perfectly aligned was in 2017.
Over 93 years of the Academy Awards, Rachel Morrison is the only woman nominated for cinematography, for her work on Dee Rees’ “Mudbound” (2017). Of the 21 non-gendered categories, the cinematographers’ branch has the worst track record for recognizing diverse and inclusive artists. With winners, there have been two Asians (James Wong Howe and Peter Pau), four Latinos (Guillermo Navarro, Claudio Miranda, Emmanuel Lubezki and Alfonso Cuarón), zero Black and zero Indigenous people to win the category. It should be noted that two Black cinematographers have been nominated — Remi Adefarasin for “Elizabeth” (1998) and Bradford Young for “Arrival” (2016). That poor track record has an opportunity to change this year.
In the precursor awards, a race has emerged between Greig Fraser’s diligent work on “Dune” and Ari Wegner’s passionately framed “The Power of the Dog.” In a close race that could go in any direction, both are the top two leading winners of the awards season so far.
While Wegner’s nomination seems assured, she’s not the only woman hoping to hear their name from the 103-year-old guild. Claire Mithon’s smooth color palettes on “Spencer” are beautifully executed, while Helene Louvart adds tension and mystery to each piece of “The Lost Daughter.” Personally, hearing Alice Brooks’ name called twice is on my wishlist as she captures the energy and musicality of each of her film’s actors in “Tick, Tick … Boom!” and “In the Heights,” but alas, she’s likely a longshot.
The monochrome entries are all angling for some attention, but it seems like “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” shot by Bruno Delbonnel, may be the leading contender in that department. He’s been previously nominated four times by ASC, winning for “A Very Long Engagement” (2004), but has an extra Oscar nod for “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” (2009) that surprised on the morning.
The chances for “C’mon C’mon,” shot by Robbie Ryan, a former nominee for “The Favourite” (2018), are contingent upon how many have given Mike Mills’ heartfelt story the viewing it deserves. Parts of “The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun” lensed by Robert Yeoman are in black-and-white, and he brings all the quintessential zeal that we’ve come to expect in a Wes Anderson comedy. After snagging his first nom for “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014), a surprisingly robust showing on the BAFTA longlist for the film, this could pop up with their selections. Even Eduard Grau’s camera work on “Passing” is possible, albeit less likely.
And then there’s the best picture frontrunner “Belfast” shot by Haris Zambarloukos, which has felt like a default selection for the branch and membership to make because of its status in the race. One thing to note is that neither the ASC, nor the Academy, tend to follow where the best picture heat is falling. Neither group gave love to “Parasite” (2019), “Green Book” (2018), or “Spotlight” (2015). The two also have been known to disagree, as seen with ASC completely snubbing “Glory” (1989), before it went on to be nominated and win the Oscar while the Academy has passed on best picture winners like “12 Years a Slave” (2013) and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003) after ASC recognized them both. So it may not be as locked as we think.
Then there are the established voices that the group hardly passes on. Janusz Kamiński, currently tied for the third most ASC nods in history alongside Emmanuel Lubezki, is likely to get that distinction all to himself, as he’s expected to nab his seventh nod for the musical “West Side Story.” Five of his six nominations have come when he’s teamed up with Steven Spielberg, except for “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (2007). However, he has yet to win with ASC, despite two Oscar wins for “Schindler’s List” (1993) and “Saving Private Ryan” (1998). Other veterans include Oscar-winner Robert Elswit for “King Richard” and two-time nominee Jeff Cronenweth for “Being the Ricardos.”
Keep a close eye also on Seamus McGarvey (“Cyrano”), Linus Sandgren (“Don’t Look Up” or “No Time to Die”), Dan Laustsen (“Nightmare Alley”), and one of the two doses of Dariusz Wolski (“House of Gucci” and “The Last Duel”). With Wolski in particular, “House of Gucci” could begin a guild run similar to what we saw with “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2012), which could raise its profile considerably, especially with Lady Gaga at the helm.
Aside from every woman competing this year, other first-time ASC hopefuls are looking for love, including Chung-hoon Chung for “Last Night in Soho” and José Luis Alcaine for “Parallel Mothers,” both exhibiting support within pockets of the industry.
The ASC predictions are below:
- “Dune” (Warner Bros) – Greig Fraser
- “The Power of the Dog” (Netflix) – Ari Wegner
- “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (Apple Original Films/A24) – Bruno Delbonnel
- “West Side Story” (20th Century Studios) – Janusz Kamiński
- “House of Gucci” (MGM/United Artists Releasing) – Dariusz Wolski
- “Belfast” (Focus Features) – Haris Zambarloukos
- “No Time to Die” (MGM/United Artists Releasing) – Linus Sandgren
- “Nightmare Alley” (Searchlight Pictures) – Dan Laustsen
- “The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun” (Searchlight Pictures) – Robert Yeoman
- “Last Night in Soho” (Focus Features) – Chung-hoon Chung