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Oscar Noms in Cinematography for Best Picture


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#1 Joe Taylor

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Posted 01 February 2008 - 11:13 AM

I've finally seen at the Best Picture nominations and I am actually concerned about how the winners are sometimes decided. This also holds true for the Golden Globes.

"There Will Be Blood" is a very good movie and I appreciate the stark realism in the cinematography but I recently screened "Assassination of Jesse James" for the third time and truly feel this movie will go on to be a classic because of gorgeous lighting and compositions.

I am sometimes troubled that many Winners in Cinematography win by default because of Best Picture Wins. This certainly seems to be the case when a film is simply nominated-- Best Picture is usually given a nod for Best Cinematography.
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#2 Vincent Sweeney

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Posted 01 February 2008 - 05:55 PM

It seems there are a lot of unfair aspects to the Oscars and other awards venues out there. The most recent and prominent example for me was when The New World didn't win for cinematography. Confusing to say the least.

I really appreciate the time lapse work you've done in the links you provide. Do you know how you might distribute it yet? Also, do you have certain frame rates you like to stick to?
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 01 February 2008 - 06:19 PM

It seems there are a lot of unfair aspects to the Oscars and other awards venues out there. The most recent and prominent example for me was when The New World didn't win for cinematography. Confusing to say the least.


I don't know if "unfair" is the correct word. The entire academy membership votes on the winner, that's it. It's not complicated.

Now you may disagree with how the votes tally, or the general opinion of the membership, that's fine, but it's not necessarily "unfair", just that you're seeing the collective opinions of the memberships, which include actors, screenwriters, producers, etc. represented in the vote, not all of whom are necessarily well-qualified to judge one piece of cinematography against the other. But that may suggest that the winner is not necessarily the "best" objectively (if that is even possible), but it does represent a majority opinion of Academy voters.

What would make it "fair"? That only the cinematographers who nominated the films also voted for the winners?

If that were the case, are you absolutely sure that "The New World" would have won instead of "Memoirs of a Geisha"? Afterall, that also won the ASC Awards, which are voted on by cinematographers. So how can it be an issue of "fairness" and not simply one of personal taste?

I'm pretty sure I voted for "Memoirs of a Geisha" over "The New World" for the ASC Awards. Was I being "unfair" or simply had a different opinion than you?
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#4 Vincent Sweeney

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Posted 01 February 2008 - 08:12 PM

I can better explain my use of the word unfair by adding that it is clear that the better marketed films are the ones voted for more. In the example The New World had release timing issues and was a more unconventional film overall thus it wasn't received as well or as widely. Because of this it was less likely to be seen by voters and/or discussed by their peers and so on.

For me it's simple that this kind of situation was unfair to Lubezki and his team specifically.

Can you deny that voters will still vote for something because they liked it even though they haven't seen the other options? I know for a fact this happens a lot for the SAG awards. I think it would also be hard to argue that if The New World had been edited more conventionally with more of a "Disney" style it would have been a different story, at least in terms of viewer volume and likely, votes.

And I think Lubezki had a much more complex challenge which was masterfully carried out without all of the control and ease of schedule and environment the other productions being voted on seemingly had in comparison. I liked his work a lot more than the others, for other reasons as well, but that is just my opinion.

We've all seen some great camera work in small indie films where resources and time were maybe non-exsitent but no one will ever vote for them because their marketing budgets and/or distributors can't take out big ads in AC or open or screen the films in any volume or at the best times. The reality, yes, but still unfair in my book.
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 01 February 2008 - 08:34 PM

Again, I point out that the ASC membership also gave their award to "Memoirs of a Geisha" instead of "The New World".

Look, the year "E.T." was nominated for Best Cinematography, "Gandhi" won the award instead -- are you telling me that it was because "E.T." wasn't seen by enough Academy members? The year "Days of Heaven" won Best Cinematography, was it the most heavily promoted movie that year? The most seen?

Whether or not they actually do follow them, the rules for voting (I know, because I just got my ballot) say to not vote in any category that you haven't seen all the movies nominated in, and you don't have to vote in a category where you feel unqualified to pass judgement.

Sure, there are politics involved, and favoritism, but I think you're barking up the wrong tree in the case of "The New World" -- I can tell you that more cinematographers at ASC meetings and whatnot were gushing over "Memoirs of a Geisha". I wasn't surprised it won at all.

The general membership votes for the Best Cinematography winner, and who knows what goes through their minds. Many like pretty sunsets and rich colors. Some dislike a movie enough that it taints their view on the other merits, or conversely, love a movie so much that it biases their view on its other merits -- it's just human nature. This is not some panel of experts voting. Some movies just fit a large number of Academy members' idea of what good acting or good cinematography is, and often that idea is a cliche. Ever notice how often the loudest movie wins the sound awards?

Here is the real problem with your line of thinking: you are actually taking who wins the award WAY too seriously, like it actually signifies something important, i.e. objective worth. The nominations mean a lot more, objectively, because only people who work in that category can nominate.

But since the general membership votes on the winner, how can you expect it to be "fair" or match your own aesthetic judgments? It's basically a popularity contest, which movies or people the voters feel "good" about. Sure, many members feel they are making valid judgments of worth, but honestly, when I vote for Best Actor or Actress this year, what does my opinion on acting really mean? Am I a decent judge of acting? Or screenwriting? Or sound editing? Just how "accurate" could such a system be in terms of evaluating true worthiness rather than popularity?
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#6 Vincent Sweeney

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Posted 01 February 2008 - 11:47 PM

Here is the real problem with your line of thinking: you are actually taking who wins the award WAY too seriously, like it actually signifies something important, i.e. objective worth. The nominations mean a lot more, objectively, because only people who work in that category can nominate.


I don't think I said anything to indicate the above 'problem'. It's just something to point out that has some merit though is rarely talked about truthfully. Winning signifies something to the general public, affects a person's career and the film's long term audience size. Getting a Sundance stamp is the same sort of process. So many great and better films open at other big festivals but what does that mean to a producer's rep. or someone looking at a DVD shelf?

So in a way you do agree with what I was saying about film awards shows being sometimes unfair in some way or another. If it's all a popularity contest and moves forward mostly based on films that make a voter, who is often not an expert, feel good that day, then the word unfair could definately apply.

I know two SAG actors that live in the heart of LA that rarely see anything that isn't a huge marketing fiasco. They vote for whomever is making the most money that year it seems to me. The same thinking sometimes applies to cinematography, like your sound award example.

Another recent example to illuminate my point: Gangs of New York actor Daniel Day Lewis would likely have won best actor that year but since his character "offended" certain people, who mostly live in an area of the country where that is very easy to do, he'd never have the same chance as the other generally appealing roles. Isn't that unfair to him? And no I'm not saying he would have won for sure, but it'd be interesting to see another take on the voting (via magic).

Would you say that all of these people at the ASC meeting who liked Geisha so much, also saw The New World?

Maybe these awards events could be seen as the best of what is possible given the resources and time available to them? I actually pay very little, if any, attention to them.

By the way I think the nominations also apply to what I said before about marketing. It is a contributing factor that is unfair to the guy that might have done some great work.
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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 02 February 2008 - 01:22 AM

The problem I have with the word "unfair" is that it implies that an award could be "fair". I'm not sure those concepts even apply. This isn't a foot race or something where the person can do something concrete like pass a finish line first or lift the heaviest weight. You're judging one piece of art against another and making some sort of claim that one is possibly "better" than the other? How could a process like that be "fair"?

The awards represent the voting tastes of the Academy members. How could it be otherwise? That's ALL it can be. How can you insure that the vote is "fair"?

As for "The New World", many ASC members DID see it. I saw both -- and I voted for "Memoirs of a Geisha". I can't understand why it's so hard to accept that someone might vote for that film over "The New World." It's like saying you can't understand why someone would eat lobster when they could have eaten a steak.

And it's not like I believe that "Memoirs" was somehow objectively superior to "The New World", but given a chance to give an award to one over the other, I picked the one that I responded to more in terms of my enjoyment of the photography, because I liked the range of lighting represented in that work.

"The New World" is a great work of cinematography, but as a whole, it got a little monotonous visually for me. It's not the fault of Lubezky either, it's just the nature of that movie. I have the same problem with "Children of Men" -- it looks great, but it drags for me visually. All that overcast weather, all those long handheld takes, etc. It's done flawlessly and it's completely appropriate for the movie, but I have yet to watch the movie twice. This is why it just comes down to personal taste, not "fairness". I don't believe I was being "unfair" when I voted for "Memoirs of a Geisha", I believe I was exercising my personal taste in what I respond to emotionally when I watch a work of cinematography. I can't claim my taste is better than someone else's taste.

I just have a real problem with anyone complaining too much about something as arbitrary as an award as being "unfair" as if it could be fair, as if there was a right or wrong choice possible. You didn't like who won, so what? There are lots of awards given out differently than if I had given them out. What difference does that make?

What bugs me the most is your inability to accept that many people may have simply preferred the cinematography of one movie over another. There's no reason to dive into conspiracy theories.

For some reason you believe that since their choice is different than yours, it couldn't possibly just be a difference of opinion -- no, some sort of unfairness had to have taken place, that's the only possible explanation for your choice not winning. I mean, you are basically accusing me of being part of this unfairness since I didn't vote the way you wanted me to.

You can't be sure that if every Academy member watched "Memoirs" once and "The New World" once, they would have given the award to "The New World". As I said, the ASC didn't vote this way and they are much more likely to have really seen both movies. It's not like "Memoirs" was a runaway box office hit either, so you can't make claims that the mass popularity of the movie is what drove it to win the cinematography award.

I mean, look at the awards in general -- does the most financially successful movie nominated always win the cinematography award? Last year, the winner was "Pan's Labyrinth" -- had more people seen it compared to "Children of Men", also nominated? The year before that, the winner was "Memoirs of a Geisha" -- why didn't "Batman Begins" win? Or "Brokeback Mountain"? The year before that, the winner was "The Aviator" -- why didn't "The Passion" win? That was a huge box office success.

I could go on and on through the Oscar list, year by year. There's no real pattern that the more successful or heavily promoted movie always wins the cinematography award. Like I said, what tends to win is what the average Oscar voter tends to think "looks pretty" or matches their notions of what "artistic" cinematography should look like. It's a gut response half the time, by people who don't always think much about cinematography.

So how could a system like that be "fair"? What would you do, create a panel of cinematography "experts" to hand out the award each year? And what if this panel of experts had given it to "Memoirs of a Geisha" instead of "The New World"???

You just have to come to grips with the fact that a lot of people out there can have different tastes than you, and those people may hand out awards to people that you wouldn't have handed out an award to. Your only recourse is to create your own award and hand it out yourself.

Sure, the Oscar means a lot in this industry. But there is no way to make sure that the award always goes to whoever you think deserves it each year. There is no way to guarantee that it goes to the "best" work, because the very concept is flawed and inherently ridiculous. This year's nominees are all incredibly strong and I can't say that one is really "better" than the other, yet only one can win, and whoever wins it will be very happy. But the winner will probably not be dumb enough to think the award is proof of some sort of superiority of his work over the other nominees.
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#8 Tom Lowe

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Posted 02 February 2008 - 12:53 PM

I'm pretty sure I voted for "Memoirs of a Geisha" over "The New World" for the ASC Awards. Was I being "unfair" or simply had a different opinion than you?


So it aint so, Mullen!! :lol:

I suspect that Sweeny might be correct in saying that many ASC and Oscar folks might not have had a chance to see The New World before voting. The picture did not even hit theaters until late January/early Feb, and I believe that the DVD screeners went out very late as well.

This will probably join the ranks of Private Ryan vs TTRL as one of the unending debates between fans of cinematography. It's impossible for New World fans to say for sure that voting was influenced by release dates, but it's possible.

Even last year, you got a taste of the Working Cinematographer vs Full Oscar Membership voting thing. Pan's, which was a lush picture with beautiful sets and costumes, beat out the grittier CoM, but among cinematographers at the ASC, CoM won the prize.

My suspicion has always been that costumes and set design have an undue influence on full Academy membership in the cinematography category, and not so among ASC voters. This year I would not be surprised if There Will Be Blood benefits from its amazing art direction and set design. Same thing with Atonement.

The least "beautiful" picture this year is No Country, so my guess is that it could win the ASC, and lose at the Oscars. :)

Edited by Tom Lowe, 02 February 2008 - 12:55 PM.

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#9 Vincent Sweeney

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Posted 02 February 2008 - 03:38 PM

Backing up from this I can see that we both made valid points. Though it's interesting that you read what I'm saying as some insistence that so and so film should have won something. I just wanted to explore the ins and outs of fairness a little. To look at how it is possible that with a slight shift in circumstances surrounding a film, it can be seen in a different way.


It's clear that on some small level we both personally have issues with this. Maybe because you are inside the process and don't like for someone to say something negative about it. On the other hand I recently entered one of the larger costume contests on Halloween. Not something I do normally but I decided to build a costume from a great idea I had. It involved a power supply system, LED's, a 7" LCD screen with video of a face, in place of a head, etc. I had at least 100 people come up to me before the awards started to say things like "well it's clear who is winning this... I've never seen anything like that, holly poop, etc.". I easily got in the final 4 (out of 100's) up on a stage with cameras everywhere and people pointing at me... and then some guy that was drunk, that put on a "Mr. T" mohawk, a few gold chains and held up a beer and yelled to the crowd (who were drunk too) got on stage and guess who won the $1000 prize? Is that fair to me? I spent endless hours soldering, cutting, building an original piece of art and this guy got drunk and flirted his way to winning somehow. Does that make him the better costumer, even close? To have an award event to begin with must imply some level of fair control underneath it all. Yes the film awards are certainly better with that, it was just an example. Anyway I was jaded enough before that event and needless to say I won't bother giving them the privilege to see what I can do again.

I would say almost the same thing as you did, but about Geisha. It got repetitive to me. Overly controlled, overly slick where as TNW was raw and more interesting. Maybe it was because I had a steak to eat instead of lobster before seeing the film that day.
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#10 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 02 February 2008 - 03:58 PM

The least "beautiful" picture this year is No Country, so my guess is that it could win the ASC, and lose at the Oscars. :)


Well, "There Will Be Blood" already won the ASC award. This year is a little unique in that the ASC and Academy nominees for cinematography match exactly. I have no idea who will win the Oscar. Yes, it may be possible that many Academy voters won't give it to "Jesse James" because they missed in a theater (where I think all the cinematography nominations should be viewed, not on a DVD screener) and shouldn't vote on the category if they haven't seen all the nominees, but will anyway. Or they simply might prefer one of the other nominees over "Jesse James" (which is still my pick.)

Like I said, this is an unusually strong year for cinematography nominations, and it's a bit silly to pit some of these movies against each other, like "Atonement" vs. "No Country for Old Men". But that's true every year, which is why I can't get too worked up over who wins these things (unless I'm nominated some day!)

When I was in college, I used to care more -- I can still tell you who most of the cinematography nominees were in the late 1970's to mid 1980's period, from memory. 1981 Oscars: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Reds (winner), Ragtime, Excalibur, and... I forget. I think the more you work as a cinematographer, the more you simply concentrate on your own work and think less about the politics of who wins awards, until you're up for one.
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#11 Tom Lowe

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Posted 02 February 2008 - 06:10 PM

Oh, lol, I missed the ACSs. I'm surprised to see Blood win. I'm not entirely sure what people liked so much about it.
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#12 Gavin Greenwalt

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Posted 02 February 2008 - 11:15 PM

How about a compromise? When movies all move to 3D all academy voters will be tied to a chair and forced to watch all entries on the same screen under exacting lighting and projection conditions. Also instead of watching the movie itself they'll be presented with the lighting rigs applied to the scenes with just a plain gray material so that the set design and costumes' colorfulness don't influence the vote.

There'll be no sound or music too to ensure that the voter doesn't let their views on the quality of the sound or story influence their technical judgements.

Also there will be a bonus round where all of the nominated cinematographers will be presented with a new set which they have 3 hours to light so that apples to apples can be compared. Each of these scenes will have a set of rules to provide unique challenges such that the cinematographer really has to get creative with is resources.

Now I understand the system is still imperfect, after all even with gray materials, the shape and form of the sets might adversely influence the judgement of the lighting and composition. But I sincerely believe with enough time we should be able to develop a means of transferring the work of an entire film's lighting to a generic set of sets and actor forms to ensure it's purely the talent of the cinematographer.

Edited by Gavin Greenwalt, 02 February 2008 - 11:15 PM.

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#13 Edgar Dubrovskiy

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Posted 03 February 2008 - 04:39 PM

Great discussion.
Just a question. Can a non-ASC member win the ASC award?
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#14 John Brawley

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Posted 03 February 2008 - 05:10 PM

Winning signifies something to the general public, affects a person's career and the film's long term audience size.



Does it ?

I've never seen on a poster...

Cinematography by Academy award winner....

Do the public really care ? You're mixing what you think your worth is too. Just because something was more tricky to photograph (in your opinion) compared to a more conventional studio picture that it should win ?

I realised early on that nobody cares what you(the dp) went through to get a shot. They only see the end result on screen and that's what they (the audience) judge the film on. They don't care that it was 4AM, started raining and your loader fogged your half your film, your power went down and you improvised with a 200w battery HMI. They just see a guy walking in the bush at night.

I had a brief chat with Andrew Lesnie about 18 months after he won for LOTR and he said it had made no difference to his career, other than getting even more offers to shoot scripts he would never do.

When ever I enter ACS awards here, the films that are rewarded are never the films I think I've done the best photography on.

Getting nominated is a blast. Winning is completely and totally random.

jb
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#15 Vincent Sweeney

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Posted 04 February 2008 - 01:56 AM

The public and distributors do care about that award mark. An award designation on a DVD box or poster, which is common too, is a marketing boost. And often it's not a mention of what award exactly, only that it got one.

Lesnie can now approach a producer of a $100mil. film with a lot more backing him than if he had not won for LOTR. "I Am Legend" comes to mind. Affect was the key word there. And I wondered the same thing that year. I bet The Man Who Wasn't There wasn't seen or talked about that much while LOTR sure was. Regardless, it must be difficult to clearly consider your vote when one of the best shot films is saturated with CGI and DI work.

The current marketing campaign in the US for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly has "Academy award winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski" in it's TV trailers as text and is mentioned by the voice over guy.

When professionals vote for other professionals, I would hope that at least some small part of a vote would be influenced by the difficulty of the job.
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