Saturday, February 9, 2008

ASC Awards Top Cinematography Honors to 'There Will Be Blood'

On Saturday, January 26th, The American Society of Cinematographers awarded their 22nd feature film honor to Robert Elswit for his superb photography of There Will Be Blood. This is the first win for Elswit from this guild and even though the ASC doesn't have as consistent a track record as the Directors Guild of America for predicting Oscar winners (only seven of the guild's past 21 winners have gone on to win the Best Cinematography Oscar), I'm inking the slot next to Elswit's name on my Oscar ballot in advance.

For the record, the Academy Award nominees for Best Achievement in Cinematography for the Year 2007 are:

Roger Deakins, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Roger Deakins, No Country for Old Men
Robert Elswit, There Will Be Blood
Janusz Kaminski, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Seamus McGarvey, Atonement

You may notice that Roger Deakins' name appears twice. This is within the bounds of Oscar voting rules (just as actors may be nominated for more than one performance in a single year; witness Cate Blanchett for Elizabeth: The Golden Age and I'm Not There) and with regard to the cinematography category, this is the first time this has happened in 36 years, when the late, great Robert Surtees was nominated for The Last Picture Show and Summer of '42. Surtees lost that Oscar to Oswald Morris for Fiddler on the Roof. This year, I believe Elswit will win the Best Cinematography Oscar for a number of reasons: 1) he already has one nomination -- for Good Night, and Good Luck two years ago -- under his belt and that gives him a competitive edge; 2) by virtue of the fact that Deakins is nominated twice, that's going to split the vote on him; 3) Janusz Kaminski already has two Oscars -- for Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan -- and at this point, the decision to award a third Oscar to a cinematographer in 15 years may strike the Academy as too much, too soon; 4) this is Seamus McGarvey's first nomination and even though he is a gifted cinematographer -- I still say he should have been nominated for The Hours five years ago -- he'll have to bust his hump with at least one more nomination before he takes home the gold. That leaves the field wide open for Elswit.

Besides, let's not forget about the name of the category. Even though I have not yet seen James/Ford, Atonement, or Bell/Butterfly, I can say for certain that Blood is responsible for some of the most stunning camerawork I have ever seen in a theater. The compositions, the angles, the movement, the lighting, and the colors were all brilliant. I would even go so far to say that the cinematography of 'Blood' is so great that, like Freddie Young's Oscar-winning efforts on Lawrence of Arabia, there is not shot in the entire movie that cannot be frozen and crafted into a painting. Now that I think of it, that rule also applies to Saving Private Ryan.

Lest you wonder, here is the breakdown between the ASC winners and Oscar winners for best cinematography from 1987 to 2007.

1987 ASC winner: Jordan Cronenweth, Peggy Sue Got Married
1987 Oscar winner: Chris Menges, The Mission

1988 ASC winner: Allen Daviau, Empire of the Sun
1988 Oscar winner: Vittorio Storaro, The Last Emperor

1989 ASC winner: Conrad L. Hall, Tequila Sunrise
1989 Oscar winner: Peter Biziou, Mississippi Burning

1990 ASC winner: Haskell Wexler, Blaze
1990 Oscar winner: Freddie Francis, Glory

1991 ASC winner: Dean Semler, Dances with Wolves
1991 Oscar winner: Dean Semler, Dances with Wolves

1992 ASC winner: Allen Daviau, Bugsy
1992 Oscar winner: Robert Richardson, JFK

1993 ASC winner: Stephen H. Burum, Hoffa
1993 Oscar winner: Philippe Rousselot, A River Runs Through It

1994 ASC winner: Conrad L. Hall, Searching for Bobby Fischer
1994 Oscar winner: Janusz Kaminski, Schindler's List

1995 ASC winner: Roger Deakins, The Shawshank Redemption
1995 Oscar winner: John Toll, Legends of the Fall

1996 ASC winner: John Toll, Braveheart
1996 Oscar winner: John Toll, Braveheart

1997 ASC winner: John Seale, The English Patient
1997 Oscar winner: John Seale, The English Patient

1998 ASC winner: Russell Carpenter, Titanic
1998 Oscar winner: Russell Carpenter, Titanic

1999 ASC winner: John Toll, The Thin Red Line
1999 Oscar winner: Janusz Kaminski, Saving Private Ryan

2000 ASC winner: Conrad L. Hall, American Beauty
2000 Oscar winner: Conrad L. Hall, American Beauty

2001 ASC winner: Caleb Deschanel, The Patriot
2001 Oscar winner: Peter Pau, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

2002 ASC winner: Roger Deakins, The Man Who Wasn't There
2002 Oscar winner: Andrew Lesnie, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

2003 ASC winner: Conrad L. Hall, Road to Perdition (posthumous)
2003 Oscar winner: Conrad L. Hall, Road to Perdition (posthumous)

2004 ASC winner: John Schwartzman, Seabiscuit
2004 Oscar winner: Russell Boyd, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

2005 ASC winner: Bruno Delbonnel, A Very Long Engagement
2005 Oscar winner: Robert Richardson, The Aviator

2006 ASC winner: Dion Beebe, Memoirs of a Geisha
2006 Oscar winner: Dion Beebe, Memoirs of a Geisha

2007 ASC winner: Emmanuel Lubezki, Children of Men
2007 Oscar winner: Guillermo Navarro, Pan's Labyrinth

Look sharp for the winners of the 9th annual Writers Guild of America awards, to be announced on this blog no later than tomorrow.

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