Just as we'd expect from the Academy, there's no shortage of lushness on display in this year's nominees for Best Cinematography, ranging from Seamus McGarvey's dense visual palette for Joe Wright's Anna Karenina to Roger Deakins's colorful shadow plays for Skyfall. Both films boast stunning cinematographic depth and are brashly expressive enough to make them contenders, but Skyfall has the added benefit of Deakins's Randy Newman-like winless streak as a potential story for voters to latch onto. On the other hand, Robert Richardson's impeccable melding of naturalistic tones and the warmer oranges and reds of spaghetti westerns' past for Django Unchained might not play as well with voters who lean toward less subtle visions.
On the opposite side of the color spectrum is Lincoln, which has been praised by critics and audiences alike for its smoky contrasts between the open, bright expanses of the House of Representatives and the dark, confined spaces of the White House. Janusz Kaminski has twice won the cinematography Oscar for similarly color-drained historical films directed by Steven Spielberg, and while Lincoln's virtuoso interplay between gray and blue tones would appear to make it a heavy favorite, it's overmatched by Claudio Miranda's robust display of color for Life of Pi. Academy voters gravitate toward the most sumptuous-looking candidate in this category, and Ang Lee's film boasts both an epic canvas and a rich aesthetic that recalls last year's winner, Hugo. And if that's not enough to mark its pedigree, then certainly an Avatar-like mid-film night sequence—complete with neon fish and blue surfaces reflected back on the protagonist's face—will dazzle voters enough to push Life of Pi to victory.
Will Win: Life of Pi
Could Win: Lincoln
Should Win: Django Unchained