A Look at the Contenders for Best Cinematography

A Look at the Contenders for Best Cinematography

Only “The Trial of the Chicago 7’s” Phedon Papamichael has been in this race before — for 2013’s “Nebraska.” But watch this award closely, as whoever wins here could signal the director win. The cinematography Oscar has matched director six times in recent years, the last time when Alfonso Cuarón won for 2018’s “Roma.”

Still this is probably one below-the-line race where “Nomadland” is locked to win. DP Joshua James Richards has picked up wins along the way — from fests and critics.

“Judas and the Black Messiah”
Sean Bobbitt

Director Shaka King and Bobbitt spent a lot of their prep watching other films, looking at what they wanted to avoid.

The Cleveland location proved a perfect stand-in for the film’s Chicago of the 1960s action. Bobbitt’s camera and lenses of choice were the Arri Alexa LF with Arri DNA LF prime lenses. He alternated between handheld to capture shootouts, and the demonstrations, while
using cranes and dolly shots for conversational scenes.

Bobbitt says, “As bespoke hand-made lenses constructed from lens elements of classic lenses they a unique vintage look which helped to subtly enhance the period feel we were trying to achieve.” He adds, “The Arri Alexa LF camera was chosen for its great look and contrast ratio. Having shot on it in the past I was confident that it would be able to accurately handle the wide range of flesh tones without having to resort to special lighting for the lightest and the darkest.”

“Mank”
Erik Messerschmidt

Messerschmidt chose the Red Helium Monochrome with Leica Summilux-C lenses for his feature-length debut.

“We think about the timing of the dolly move, the speed of the pan, the speed of the tilt-up relative to the actor standing up,” he says. “There are times when the speed of that actor rising with the tilt affects the audience’s experience differently from the actor’s experience.”

Despite its visual beauty, Messerschmidt says many of the conversations he had with helmer David Fincher were not about the film’s aesthetics. “They’re about storytelling. And breaking the scene apart into the dramatic beats and figuring out what is it that we’re trying to communicate emotionally, if it’s the exposition or if it’s an emotional beat.”

“News of the World”
Dariusz Wolski

This is the first Oscar nomination for Ridley Scott’s go-to DP. For Paul Greengrass’ sweeping Western, he chose Arri Alexa LF and Mini LF cameras, Angénieux Optimo EZ1 and EZ2 zoom lenses, a Panavision Primo 11:1 zoom, and Panavision System 65s.

His influences were the Ken Burns documentary “The West” and old-fashioned Westerns, as well as Roger Deakins’ work on “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” “You go and see what lights they have and what they used,” Wolski says.

Lighting was important to him, making use of the environment as much as possible, relying on natural lighting for day exterior shots, and enhanced night exteriors with enhanced kerosene lamps for night.
As the film’s protagonists move across the Texas frontier, he says, “it was about playing with color, just to distinguish the dusky sunrise from those other moments.”

“Nomadland”

Joshua James Richards

Landing his first nomination, Richards picked the Arri Alexa LF with Arri DNA LF prime lenses and Arri Amira. Comfort was key to Richards as he and helmer Chloé Zhao traveled across five states including Nebraska, Arizona and South Dakota following Fern (Frances McDormand), a modern-day nomad.

Richards says he chose the camera for the “ergonomics of the Amira camera coupled with a small mini body meant we were equipped for different situations. We could move quickly and nimbly.”

“The Trial of the Chicago 7”
Phedon Papamichael

Papamichael’s signature style has always been to use older glass from the ’70s and early ’80s. For Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Panavision Anamorphic lenses — C-Series and T-Series with his set of spherical Canon K-35s — were paired with the Arri Alexa LF Mini.

“Our objective was to get the right glass that could cover the large format sensor of the Alexa LF, but also that could give us a vintage quality to the era we were trying to re-create,” he says.

While he opted for a lot of close-ups in the courtroom scenes, Papamichael was conscious of the group dynamic. “I wanted to capture their looks and reactions to each other’s actions. Having the camera up close on our defendants and witnesses without isolating them from their surroundings by maintaining the wider field of view, was made possible by shooting on a large format with wider focal lengths (40mm and 50mm).”

Winner prediction: “Nomadland”

Look out for: “Mank”

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