Evaluating the Top Cinematography Contenders

Vengeance, hate, survival, redemption and forbidden love are explored in this year’s top six Best Cinematography contenders, in which nature very much determines character.

1. “The Revenant”: Emmanuel (Chivo) Lubezki has a great shot at three Oscars in a row for what’s turned out be a survival trilogy in space (“Gravity”), in a theater and in the mind (“Birdman”), and in the wilderness (“The Revenant”). But “The Revenant” carries even greater metaphysical weight for director Alejandro González Iñárritu. It’s about learning to co-exist with brutality and beauty, inspired by the life of frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonard DiCaprio), who’s mauled by a bear and left for dead by a member of his hunting team (Tom Hardy). But he miraculously tracks him down in the bitter cold like a corpse rising from the dead. Lubezki shot exteriors in the Canadian Rockies and the tip of Argentina with natural light, Steadicam and the untested Alexa 65, the first large-format digital camera, for 360-degree, high dynamic range compositions with very wide lenses that wrap around the actors only inches away. Visceral and immersive, he once again made extensive use of the tracking-shot technique and preferred shooting at “magic hour,” so seamlessly stitching the footage together was difficult to match. The only other light available from the period was fire, candles and torches. But he darkened the backgrounds so the actors would stand out like in a Caravaggio painting.

2. “The Hateful Eight”: The race looks to be a large-format wilderness shootout because three-time Oscar winner Robert Richardson literally stumbled upon Ultra Panavision 70 anamorphic lenses that hadn’t been used in 50 years. This allowed Quentin Tarantino to recreate the roadshow experience, reminding us of the unparalleled scope, resolution and beauty of film in the widest possible aspect ratio (2.76:1). Panavision reconfigured and applied new coatings for focus pulling, made a 2,000-foot magazine to accommodate his penchant for long takes and provided anamorphic lenses for 70mm projectors. There were challenges because of weather and low-lighting conditions. And it also meant learning how to choreograph action on set to create a dynamic interior landscape for eight actors. The result is a warmth and softness and bronze look that we have not witnessed in quite a while. Close-ups are particularly revealing. It’s a visual feast and the ultimate cinephile Christmas present.

3. “Sicario”: Roger Deakins, who will surely get his 13th Oscar nomination, crosses new aesthetic borders with Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners”). Interiors were often yellow-orange to complement the landscape, but unlike the bleached look of “No Country for Old Men,” Deakins embraced a more colorful landscape for “Sicario,” set on the Mexican border and shot in Albuquerque and Mexico City. The use of silhouette is powerful. However, the most nerve-racking challenge for Deakins was figuring out how to shoot the nighttime raid in the tunnels where the drugs were transported across the border. It was too dark to believably shoot the objective shots with only the Alexa, so Deakins successfully tested a thermal imaging camera from FLIR used for scientific research. The result is one of the most fascinating night vision sequences in a movie, with two different looks achieved through separate vision systems (infrared for Benicio Del Toro’s POV and green image-enhancer for everyone else’s).

Read the rest at TOH/Indiewire.

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Cinematography, Clips, Crafts, Tech

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