Since Slant started making awards predictions in 2002, we've made the mistake—though not as often as others—of calling this category for Roger Deakins, feeling that Oscar was finally ready to make amends. This year, for Blade Runner 2049, this titan of the medium was nominated for the 14th time, and if he loses, he will become the person most nominated in this category without winning. Deakins's lensing of Denis Villeneuve's sequel to Ridley Scott's Blade Runner earned the cinematographer awards from both the American Society of Cinematographers and BAFTA. The last time Deakins managed that feat was in 2002, for his work on the Coen brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There, and while we predicted that Deakins would complete the hat trick on Oscar night (we even thought he was due after five nominations), he lost to Andrew Lesnie's epic-scale lensing of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, which surely benefited that year from being the only film in this category that was also up for best picture.
It's bad enough that Blade Runner 2049 is competing here against Mudbound, for which Rachel Morrison became the first female Oscar-nominated DP and, arguably, the greater of two sentimental favorites, but he's also up against the cinematographers of three best picture nominees. If you believe, like we do, that Bruno Delbonnel (Darkest Hour) is lucky to have been invited to this party, that leaves the votes for Hoyte Van Hoytema (Dunkirk) and Dan Laustsen (The Shape of Water) to potentially cancel each other out and benefit Deakins or Morrison. We don't know what it means exactly that Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth won in this category back in 2007 against four other non-best picture-nominated films and Christopher Nolan's Inception was surprisingly victorious in 2011 against four other films up for the big prize, but we do know that this category has emerged as the one most likely to offend Film Twitter when its winner is announced, and the likelihood of enough voters going down the line and reflexively checking a box in this category for The Shape of Water, the nominee here with the greatest chance of claiming best picture, would certainly be on brand.
Will Win: The Shape of Water
Could Win: Dunkirk
Should Win: Blade Runner 2049