If we learned anything last year, it’s that the more independent-minded the nominations, the more disappointing and reactionary the likely winner. We were thrilled when the Academy’s cinematography branch filled their slate last year with movies well outside of the best picture race. (To be fair, how could they not with Little Miss Sunshine and The Queen in contention?) We were especially thrilled that a couple of the nominations represented fine work in otherwise denigrated movies. Then, of course, the Academy en masse had to go and screw it up by giving it to the least impressive work simply by virtue of the fact that it had the most nominations in other technical categories. This year’s nominees are nowhere near as satisfyingly autonomous, with no less than three Best Picture contenders extending their influence here, but as we’ve said before, this is one of those years the Best Picture ripple effect isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Nor does it make this year’s contest any easier to call. (Only Atonement, whose attempt to one-up Children of Men’s one-take wondershots unfortunately downplays some of its outré lensing choices elsewhere, seems out of the running, but just barely.) Robert Elswit, whose richly textured experiment with desaturated DV for Good Night, and Good Luck. was one of the nominees who unjustly sat on the side while Dion Beebe’s Memoirs of a Geisha meekly bowed and accepted the Oscar, has won the approval of the American Society of Cinematographers. While their record is roughly half-and-half, they do tend to recognize superior work in riskier movies more often than Oscar does. (Previously, for instance, they went for Children of Men, The Man Who Wasn’t There, and The Thin Red Line.) Still, in a race as tight as this, it probably won’t take much to tip the race. We’d be even more likely to put Elswit out in front if we thought Roger Deakins’s votes would be split between No Country for Old Men (which has the same momentum that carried Pan’s Labyrinth to its win here last year) and The Assassination of Jesse James, et al (which has the passionate fan base tickled by all those precious, gauzy doll-house shots serving as scene bumpers). But, according to Oscar expert Damien Bona, the nomination ballots apparently don’t list cinematographers’ names, only the films nominated. That could also keep two-time winner Janusz Kamiński’s work on The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (practically an entire film made up of trick shots, and certainly an easy choice for those who vote “most cinematography,” a la “most sound” and “most film editing”) in the race as well. We’ll stick with There Will Be Blood by a straw’s length, if only because eight nominations has to translate to something more than one predestined acting award, right?
Will Win: There Will Be Blood
Should Win: There Will Be Blood