Every experienced awards watcher knows what a good awards season looks like, and what a bad one looks like too. Whether it’s the quality of the films bagging nominations, the competitiveness of the race or the quality of the discussion, seasons range from the tremendous to the terrible, and themselves can switch from one to the other in the opening of envelope. But within even the worst ones, there’s always a few bright spots, and over the past few tumultuous years, one trustworthy space to seek that brightness out has been the Best Cinematography Oscar.
Put plainly, the Cinematographers branch of the Academy might just have the best damn taste among all of them. They’ve embraced all styles of cinematography, from the innovative to the traditional, from black-and-white to colour, from expensive studio product to low-budget indie marvels. Theirs is the only branch to have nominated a majority of non-English language films in a main category in a given year – something they’ve done not once but twice (2004 and 2018).
Yet still, such is the consistently extraordinary wealth of fabulous cinematographic talent around the world that not even their yearly slate of five visual highlights can fully represent it. It was in the spirit of supplementing all the deserved praise and plaudits heaped upon cinematographers who’ve been privileged with Oscar nominations in recent years that I decided, last month, to spark up a few bright spots of my own and shine a light on some of the many fabulous cinematographers who have yet to make the grade of Academy Award nominees.
I put together 31 CineTributes, one for each day of July, with the vast expanse of downtime afforded to me by the lockdown – hell, if I’m gonna get to keep my life during this pandemic, I might as well do something with it! I picked the cinematographers, selected the films I wanted to use, sourced and downloaded the copies, trawled through them for the footage, edited the clips together, found music to fit the images, uploaded the videos to Vimeo, trolled some of my Twitter “friends”, solicited un-Christian levels of sympathy and patience from my long-suffering boyfriend, and sent these CineTributes out onto the cloud, into the ether, blazing an invisible trail through a dark, grimy little niche of cyberspace.
The cinematographers I picked were diverse both in identity and in artistic output, but were always picked based on merit. There were the obvious, those whose non-Oscar nominated status is a common source of dismay among cinephiles: Wong Kar Wai’s erstwhile collaborator Christopher Doyle (Hero), Hou Hsiao Hsien’s go-to guy Lee Ping Bin (The Assassin), and David Cronenberg’s regular DP Peter Suschitzky (Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back). Many of the cinematographers are also frequent colleagues of specific directors: Benoît Debie (Enter the Void) hasn’t missed a chance to work with Gaspar Noé for 20 years, Gökhan Tiryaki (Winter Sleep) works on all Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s films, Yu Lik Wai (A Touch of Sin) is Jia Zhang Ke’s preferred DP, Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives) has established fine partnerships with Apichatpong Weerasethakul and, more recently, Luca Guadagnino, Liao Pen Jung (The Wayward Cloud) has several Tsai Ming Liang credits to his name, and the maverick Agnès Godard (Beau Travail) is responsible for the cinematography on almost all Claire Denis’ films.
Unlike at the Academy where, shamefully, only one woman has to date been nominated for their Best Cinematography prize (Mudbound’s brilliant Rachel Morrison), Godard’s not the lone female presence among my group. Female directors of photography are absurdly few and far between, but they’re much higher in number than Oscar stats would have us believe. Women like Maryse Alberti (The Wrestler), Natasha Braier (The Neon Demon), Charlotte Bruus Christensen (Fences), Josée Deshaies (Saint Laurent), Ellen Kuras (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Hélène Louvart (Never Rarely Sometimes Always) and Mandy Walker (Australia) have shaped the look and style of modern cinema as much as any of their male contemporaries, and some, such as Claire Mathon (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) have lately come tantalizingly close to joining Morrison on the roster of female DPs with Academy recognition to their name. And then there are the French legends – Caroline Champetier (The Innocents) and feminist film touchstone Babette Mangolte (Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles).
Like Mangolte, many of the best contemporary cinematographers are also directors – Alfonso Cuarón was far from the first! My boy Lav Diaz (From What Is Before), Nikolaus Geyrhalter (Homo Sapiens), Fred Kelemen (The Turin Horse) and Viktor Kosakovskiy (Aquarela) serve as their own DPs on most or all of their projects, with such stunning results you wonder why there aren’t even more director-cinematographers around. There’s also Bruno Nuytten (India Song), one of the greatest French cinematographers of the 1970s and ‘80s, who retired from that role to take up the position of director on films such as 1988’s Oscar-nominated Camille Claudel.
Rounding out the list of CineTributes are Manu Dacosse (Evolution), Rodrigo García (Neon Bull), Jimmy Gimferrer (Born), Yorick le Saux (Little Women), Leonardo Simões (Horse Money), Wolfgang Thaler (Workingman’s Death) and Reinier van Brummelen (Eisenstein in Guanajuato).
Head on over to my blog (screenonscreen.co.uk) and check out the posts I put together for each of these cinematographers, and find all the CineTribute videos on my Vimeo page!