*With Oscar voting in full swing and the ceremony less than two weeks away, I'm taking this week to spotlight a handful of nominees in the technical categories. These are not frontrunners in their category, but they are worthy of our consideration. Welcome to FYC Week.*
There are plenty of great working cinematographers out there, and they are worthy of their merits, so I mean no disrespect to the other three nominees in Best Cinematography this year - Philippe Le Sourd (The Grandmaster), Bruno Delbonnel (Inside Llewyn Davis), and Phedon Papamichael (Nebraska) - when I say that this race is between the two greatest working cinematographers today, Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity) and Roger A. Deakins (Prisoners). Both men are best known for the auteurs they often collaborate with: Lubezki has lensed a number of films by Alfonso Cuaron and Terrence Malick, while Deakins has been a longtime collaborator with the Coen Brothers. And this year, on their sixth and eleventh nominations, respectively, they go head-to-head for the first time in the pursuit of either of their first win.
Lubezki is an undeniable talent, and he is most likely going to win this year for his mind-shatteringly great work on Gravity. But Deakins' work on Prisoners is not to be overlooked, and it may even be the superior work. There's a precision to the way Deakins frames each shot in the film, using faded colors and subdued lighting to create a monotonous, this-could-be-anywhere feel. For a film about kidnapping and the extremes that people can go to in the name of "justice," Deakins appropriately shows us the shadows slinking around this sleepy burg, the sinister hiding in plain sight and bubbling just under the surface. More than anything, he makes this film visually beautiful, despite the wretched darkness in its heart. Every frame of the film is a little masterpiece, and each one tells a complete story in and of itself. The flair of Deakins' work isn't nearly as in-your-face as Lubezki's, but it adds so much more to the film, an essential component in the way the film transcends it's pot-boiler narrative and becomes a film about the darker corners of human nature. The characters in the film can only begin to fathom the degradation of their souls, but Deakins' camera understands it all too well, presenting it to the audience in ways that are both beautiful and haunting.
I'm not an expert on cinematography, so I have to recommend Matthew Scott's brilliant and informative breakdown of Deakins' work in Prisoners for those interested in the technical aspects. As I stated above, there's probably no beating Lubezki this year, and after so much brilliant work in his career he deserves to finally win an Oscar. But Deakins deserves it too, and Prisoners will likely end up being referred to as one of the finest works of his career. Ties are extremely rare at the Academy Awards; last year's in Best Sound Editing was the first since 1994, and only the sixth overall. But if any category desperately needed one this year, it's Cinematography, with Lubezki and Deakins both accepting.