Cinematography has traditionally been one of the easier categories for the average person to grasp (after all, we all have opinions about what “good” photography is), but people’s opinions on the subject can vary greatly. Photography can be smooth or gritty depending on what a film needs, and opinions about what makes an individual film beautiful can differ.
- 12 Years a Slave: Much of 12 Years a Slave is set outdoors, and during these scenes the film effectively captures and harnesses sunlight in interesting ways. It doesn’t look super filtered or corrected, but it does have a distinctively strong look just the same. Things really become impressive during the interiors, which are mainly lit by candles and lanterns and other period specific lighting implements.
- Blancanieves: Between Nebraska, Frances Ha, Much Ado About Nothing, and Computer Chess, this has been a pretty good year for black and white in cinema. Out of all of them, I think the one that is the best photographed is this Spanish film that was made using silent film techniques. The film does look authentically vintage, but beyond that it employs some really cool lighting and classy framing in order to make it look like it was actually made by one of the old masters.
- Man of Steel: Most super hero movies these days are content to have a functional, almost televisual look that doesn’t get in the way of the visual effects. For Man of Steel Zack Snyder and DP Amir Mokri opted for something grander and more memorable. The film was shot using the Anamorphic process rather than the more common Super 35 format, which generally looks slick while also giving a classical filmic look, which fits perfectly with the Americana and grandeur of the character.
- Oblivion: Though it occasionally falls into the trap of using an orange and teal color scheme, when it’s at its best Oblivion can be one of the sharpest looking films of the year. It’s the only of these five nominees to have been shot on digital and this gives it a very detailed look that picks up on a lot of little things while also giving it a lot of deep blacks during the darker scenes. The best looking shots though, are of course the landscapes, which are calendar quality good for the most part.
- To the Wonder: Emmanuel Lubezki has been getting a lot of press for his photography in Gravity, but much of the lighting in that film exists only in a computer. Lubezki’s real masterclass was in this Terrence Malick film, which looks every bit as good as what he gave us in The Tree of Life. It might not have been quite as revelatory as the work in that film, but it still looks great and makes that film a real wonder (no pun intended) to behold.