Official Nominations: Apocalypse Now. 1941. All That Jazz. The Black Hole. Kramer Vs Kramer.
While there are notable films here, it’s not even close – the winner is Apocalypse Now. Even disregarding the conditions and hardships which went hand in hand with the shoot, the film stands alone as maybe the most stunning looking war film of its era. From the hyper-real napalm flames against the ghastly greens, to Kurtz and Willard’s shadow encased scenes at the other end, Vittorio Storaro vision perfectly encapsulates the madness and horror of that particular war. 1941 is an altogether different war movie, a forgotten ensemble comedy directed by Steven Spielberg. It’s memorable for certain action and effects sequences and feels like a worthy nomination for Fraker who continued his late 70s run of nominations. All That Jazz looks authentic, The Black Hole throws a lot of tricks into a fancy 2001 esque ending, while Kramer Versus Kramer probably doesn’t warrant a nomination alongside the more uniquely shot films here.
Official Winner: Apocalypse Now
My Nominations: Apocalypse Now. Alien. All That Jazz. Dracula. Mad Max. Nosferatu. Star Trek. The Warriors.
Two of the official picks make it over to my list where I add a few brazen oversights. Alien is one of the most visually stunning films of the year, and of the decade. Derek Vanlint didn’t work on many movies in his career, but his work on Alien has stood the test of time, offering a tasteful impression of true isolation and the terror which can creep from such. Gilbert Taylor’s work on Dracula serves to highlight the enticing and seductive nature of the character with brighter splashes of decadent colour stepping away from the more Gothic or bleak visuals of past adaptations.
As I’ve mentioned on other posts regarding Mad Max, the film holds a unique place in my mind as being this bizarre assault on the senses and an unnerving, crazed look at a potential future. David Eggby’s work is one of the central forces behind the atmosphere this film instils and exudes, with the film existing in this strange place between epic and low budget grime. Nosferatu does more than ape the original, with long-term Herzog collaborator Jorg Schmidt-Reinwein heightening the contrast between darkness and shadow and the misty, dying light. Star Trek repeats the trick Star Wars pulled a couple of years earlier, while The Warriors elevates a B movie action story to cult status thanks in part to Andrew Laszlo’s filming notable for the subway lighting and haunted street imagery which for years made me think that’s exactly what New York looked like.
My Winner: Apocalypse Now
Official Nominations: Days Of Heaven. The Deer Hunter. Heaven Can Wait. Same Time, Next Year. The Wiz.
Two major front runners this year, with Nestor Almendros coming out on top for his glorious work on Days Of Heaven. Famed for his work with Truffaut his collaboration with Terence Malick recalls the natural beauty of Barry Lyndon with a preference for natural light over studio artificial and electronic lighting. I’ve mentioned it elsewhere, but I love films which frequently are set during or show heavy usage of sunrise/sunsets, and Days Of Heaven is maybe the finest example of this with many key scenes filmed under those conditions. The legendary Vilmos Zsigmond followed up his 1977 win with another nomination, this time for The Deer Hunter, a film which finely balances the grotesque nature of war against the beauty of nature and the futility of the players who exist in both. From the dew and mist covered hills and sullen industry of the US, to the heightened colours and overcrowded chaos of Vietnam it drifts between sensory assault and introspective calm.
William A Fraker got his second nomination in a row – something which often happens in this category – for Heaven Can Wait. I’ve always found the Heaven scenes in this to be little different from all those standard tropes you’ve seen before in everything from Tom And Jerry to A Matter Of Life And Death and there isn’t anything out of the ordinary back on terra firma. Same Time Next Year gets nominated purely because it was nominated in other categories and as a veteran nomination for Robert Surtees, while The Wiz is notable for its staged musical numbers and transposing the world of Oz into our world but still feels like a veteran nod. It’s a tough call between the top two, and either is a worthy winner.
My Winner: Days Of Heaven
My Nominations: Days Of Heaven. The Deer Hunter. Big Wednesday. Death On The Nile. Halloween. Superman.
Two make it over to my list, joining four personal choices. Of my personal choices, Death On The Nile seems like the most plausible possible nominee. The legendary Jack Cardiff was already a veteran and Oscar winner by this point, and with Death On The Nile he helped give the film a more authentic period feel while exploiting the usual Egyptian landmarks with typical flair. Big Wednesday is a frequently gorgeous film – most notably in the surfing and beach shots – with Bruce Surtees using his experience working with Leone and Eastwood to provide many memorable long shots. Frequent Carpenter collaborator got his first chance to work with John on Halloween – a film with a look so iconic that it remains to me what the Halloween season should look like – wide Autumnal streets which seem tame and ideal during the day, becoming a looming ominous maze under the cover of darkness. Finally, Superman saw Geoffrey Unsworth receive a posthumous BAFTA nom, but his work which laid the foundations for every Superhero movie which has followed, was overlooked by The Academy.
My Winner: Days Of Heaven
Let us know your winner in the comments!
Official Nominations: Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Islands In The Stream. Julia. Looking For Mr. Goodbar. The Turning Point.
Movies about dance, or Musicals and Costume Dramas in general historically tend to do well in this category but I find them often too stage driven rather than using the camera in innovate ways or truly capturing a landscape or a scene – for that reason The Turning Point is out, even it was shot by a guy who knew his stuff, also shooting Ben Hur and The Sting. Julia fares better, shot by the great Douglas Slocombe who worked on everything from The Lavender Hill Mob to Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Looking For Mr Goodbar seems like an odd choice in this category and more of an apology to Fraker for missing out on Bullitt and Rosemary’s Baby. Islands In The Stream (that is what we are) is more in line with what I think of when discussing cinematography, what with it and its protagonist’s obsession with the sea. My winner of course has to be the legendary Vilmos Zsigmond who reunites with Spielberg for Close Encounters Of The Third Kind – that rare sci-fi movie which is both set on Earth yet features stunning visuals and iconic shots.
My Winner: Close Encounters Of The Third Kind
My Nominations: Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Star Wars. A Bridge Too Far. Cross Of Iron. The Duellists. Saturday Night Fever. Sorcerer. Suspiria.
Only my winner makes it over to the list and would be a good pick for winner here too, but I think I’ll change it up and spread the love. Star Wars, beyond the scenes in space and on ships, showcases a number of planets and places portraying a varied and vibrant universe. Scenes on Tattooine and beyond have become iconic and often mimicked. A Bridge To Far is a war epic in every sense and Geoffrey Unsworth uses his vast experience of battle work and innovation here. Cross Of Iron takes a more violent approach with John Coquillon’s exterior work being particularly notable. The Duellists is often, justifiably, compared to Barry Lyndon in terms of story and filming look and tone and much of that is due to Frank Tidy’s contribution while Saturday Night Fever paints an accurate depiction of the neon sleaze and pumped up momentary glory of the late 70s Disco scene.
Sorceror relies heavily on its taught direction and tight performances but also on its depiction of overbearing cities, rain and sweat drenched forests, and a camera that never wants to rest. Finally, Dario Argento and Luciano Tovoli create a horror film like no other with his dreamlike Suspiria, a film with a visual palette of extremes which never fails to startle newcomers and continually impress critics.
My Winner: Suspiria
Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
Official Nominations: Barry Lyndon. The Day Of The Locust. Funny Lady. The Hindenburg. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
One of these is not like the others. The Academy just had to nominate a Streisand movie for something so Funny Lady gets five nominations, this the least deserved. I don’t know if One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest really needs to be here either, but The Hindenburg is worthy even if it isn’t all that great a film. The Day Of The Locust is the only real competition here – while the set design is the highlight, the overall look of the film is strong enough to stand out. Barry Lyndon is the only choice here, with John Alcott and Kubrick working in tandem to create one of the most beautiful looking films of all time – from gorgeous interior lighting to the wide exteriors of various locations it’s of the easiest wins in this category.
My Winner: Barry Lyndon
My Nominations: Bite The Bullet. The Passenger. Barry Lyndon. Jaws. Picnic At Hanging Rock. Deep Red.
There are a number of notable snubs this year – Jaws being the most obvious omission. When I was young, the visions of Amity, the visions of the beach and the ocean were my first glimpses of what North America Summers really looked like – in Northern Ireland it’s grey 90% of the year, so those hazy visuals were like dream. Where the look truly excels from a technical standpoint is the variety of shots – not only the famous zoom to Brody, but the underwater creeping shots, the on the surface bobbing, the longer shots conveying the isolation of the three men in the ocean, and more. From a purely visual point of view, The Passenger may be the only film this year to rival Barry Lyndon, with long shots which are never less than stunning and make you wonder how they were achieved.
Bite The Bullet is all but forgotten now, a shame given it was directed by Richard Brooks and features Gene Hackman, James Coburn, Jan Michael Vincent, and Candice Bergen. It’s basically a bunch of different characters involved in a cross country horse race – think Cannonball Run but without the comedy and cars, but it looks great and showcases plenty of stunning locations. Deep Red, while not as visually stunning is certain later work, features Dario Argento honing his style alongside Luigi Kuveiller. Finally, Picnic At Hanging Rock dazzles not only because of its uncertain ending and chilling tone, but because of the way the cinematography complements the ambiguity, everything looking idyllic and dreamlike.
My Winner: Barry Lyndon
Let us know your winner in the comments!
Official Nominations: The Towering Inferno. Earthquake. Chinatown. Lenny. Murder On The Orient Express
Three period pieces and two disaster movies make up the list this year, with Joseph Biroc and Fred J Koenekamp picking up a deserved win for The Towering Inferno. Earthquake is a fun, effects filled movie but pales to the winner in most aspects, while Lenny is the least interesting looking of the period films. Murder On The Orient Express uses all of the landscape and sets inherent in the story well, while Chinatown has an almost sepia touch throughout giving a subtle sense of age.
My Winner: The Towering Inferno
My Nominations: The Towering Inferno. Chinatown. Murder On The Orient Express. The Godfather II. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Blazing Saddles.
Three make it to my list, and joining them is The Godfather Part 2 – lets face it, it’s probably going to be nominated for every applicable category. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is another unsurprising inclusion by me, a film with a look which has been mimicked countless times, but never matched – not even when Daniel Pearl returned for the remake decades later. Blazing Saddles gets on because it’s always nice to nominate when a comedy has a more or less unique look, while The Conversation has a moody, claustrophobic feel glimpsed through the narrowed lens of long distance shots. Finally, The Sugarland Express sees Spielberg make his first outing with the renowned Vilmos Zsigmond – a partnership which would eventually lead to an official win.
My Winner: The Godfather Part II
Let us know in the comments which film you pick as winner!
Official Nominations: Cries And Whispers. The Exorcist. Jonathan Livingston Seagull. The Sting. The Way We Were.
The official winner this year was Sven Nykvist for Cries And Whispers – arguably a career award for his overall work with Bergman, though there is no doubting that the transition to colour use is stunning here. The Exorcist isn’t a film I typically think of when I think of award-winning cinematography, though once again there are a range of shots which encapsulate claustrophobia and heighten tension. Jonathan Livingston Seagull is not good, but again no getting away from how good it looks at times, while The Sting is at least notable for looking good, even if I attribute this more to the authenticity of costumes, sets, and music. Finally, The Way We Were seems like an unnecessary inclusion to drum up support for Streisand, Pollack, and Redford.
My Winner: Cries And Whispers
My Nominations: Cries And Whispers. The Exorcist. Enter The Dragon. Badlands. Don’t Look Now. High Plains Drifter. The Wicker Man.
Only two migrate to my list. Joining them is Bruce Lee’s biggest film Enter The Dragon, a film which still looks superb today with wonderful shots tracking the progress of the tournament from high above, interspersed with the close up work for the central fights. Malick’s debut Badlands is beautiful at regular intervals along with both Don’t Look Now and The Wicker Man which showcase optimal usage of location. Finally, another film whose power is derived in a great part from location is High Plains Drifter. I’d be happy with any of those last four films picking up the win.
My Winner: Badlands
Let us know in the comments which film of 1973 you think deserves the Best Cinematography award!
Official Nominations: Cabaret. 1776. Butterflies Are Free. The Poseidon Adventure. Travels With My Aunt.
Cabaret gets the expected nomination and win but there’s only one winner in this category for me. 1776 is not a film many will remember or know, a musical overshadowed by Minnelli, Fosse and co. It’s based around George Washington and all that stuff, but it’s a bit crap. I’ve no idea why Butterflies Are Free is nominated here and I could say the same for Travels With My Aunt.
My Winner: The Poseidon Adventure.
My Nominations: Cabaret. The Poseidon Adventure. Aguirre, The Wrath Of God. Cries And Whispers. Deliverance. The Way Of The Dragon. The Godfather. Images. The Last House On The Left.
Only the big two make it onto my list. Cries And Whispers would get the official win next year, but as it’s a 1972 film it makes my list here. The Godfather bizarrely was not nominated so we fix that mishap, The Way Of The Dragon deserves at least a nomination for Cinematography – maybe the only realistic category it deserved to get a shot in, and Aguirre is a gorgeous film underrepresented by The Academy. Images is a very interesting piece with an interesting look. The Last House On The Left is stark in imagery and tone but is a perfect example of making beauty out of something ugly. My win goes to Vilmos Zsignmond for Deliverance – he would get an official win later but his work here deserved attention.
My Winner: Deliverance
Let us know in the comments which film you pick as winner of the Best Cinematography of 1972!
Official Nominations: Fiddler On The Roof. The French Connection. The Last Picture Show. Nicholas And Alexandra. Summer of ’42.
A decent bunch to choose from this year, with Oswold Morris picking up the official win for Fiddler On The Roof. It’s okay, with a few particular shots which stand out but it isn’t something I feel should get the win, especially given the competition. The French Connection is a much better choice, the gritty style perfected and peppered with some scenes made more iconic by the camera work. The Last Picture Show with it’s gorgeous black and white’s giving a feel of both nostalgia and a sense of an era fading away is another fine choice, while Nicholas And Alexandra is the expected epic nomination of the year. Summer Of ’42 falls into a similar bracket with The Last Picture Show, except offering heated colour and shots which spread into the distance like a summer’s day which never wants to end.
My Winner: The French Connection
My Nominations: The French Connection. Summer of ’42. The Last Picture Show. A Clockwork Orange. Dirty Harry. Duel. A Fistful Of Dynamite. Vanishing Point. Walkabout.
I have to add a bunch of classics to my list – A Clockwork Orange being iconic for a variety of reasons, including John Alcott’s cinematography. Cinematography isn’t the first thing to pop into the mind when you think of Dirty Harry but it features consistently strong work throughout, while Duel is a film which relies heavily on how the camera moves and what it allows us to see. A Fisftul Of Dynamite is Leone and Western, this time with Giuseppe Ruzzolini helping out while Vanishing Point allows for free-flowing shots of cars and the stripped away highways of America. Finally, my winner is Walkabout with Nicholas Roeg showcasing the outback as equally dangerous, haunting, hypnotic, beautiful – a freedom which could swallow you whole.
My Winner: Walkabout
Let us know in the comments which film of 1971 you would pick as the winner of Best Cinematography!
Official Nominations: Ryan’s Daughter. Patton. Airport. Tora! Tora! Tora! Women In Love
Some good picks this year, but Lean’s film is really the only choice with Freddie Young picking up the official win for giving Americans false ideals of what Ireland looks like on an average day. The other movies are each fine efforts and each look great, but they don’t stand a chance here.
My Winner: Ryan’s Daughter
My Nominations: Ryan’s Daughter. Patton. Tora! Tora! Tora! The Conformist. Little Big Man. MASH. Zabriskie Point.
It’s a close one between Freddie Young and Vittorio Storaro. In the end, Ryan’s Daughter simply isn’t unique enough – while it looks great, it doesn’t do anything new – The Conformist takes its visuals to the next level making them an indelible part of the story and is unique. Storaro also did The Spider Stratagem and The Bird With The Crystal Plumage this year – the man is a beast. I add MASH and Little Big Man, but they have no hope of winning – the only other possibility being Zabriskie Point with Alfio Contini’s stunning work deserving of praise.
My Winner: The Conformist
Let us know in the comments which film of 1970 you think has the Best Cinematography!
Official Nominations: Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. Anne of The Thousand Days. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. Hello Dolly. Marooned.
A clear winner this year, with Anne Of The Thousand Days, Hello Dolly, and Marooned more notable for their interior scenes. I’ve no idea what Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is doing here.
My Winner: Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid
My Nominations: Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. Battle Of Britain. The Gypsy Moths. The Italian Job. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The Wild Bunch. Downhill Racer.
I’ve only brought over one film from the official list and I’ve added a few which seem much more deserving than those who did get a nod. The Italian Job speaks for itself, with all those exterior car scenes looking wonderful – the same goes for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Battle Of Britain’s features stunning flying scenes photographed by Freddie Young, while in Downhill Racer Brian Probyn compares and contrasts the vast emptiness of the outdoors with the torment and void of its characters. The Wild Bunch of course gets a vote, while The Gypsy Moths does for skydiving photography what Battle of Britain did for aircraft.
My Winner: Downhill Racer.
Let us know in the comments which movie of 1969 is your winner for Best Cinematography!