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Emmanuel Lubezki (#110 of 22)

Oscar 2016 Winner Predictions Cinematography

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Oscar 2016 Winner Predictions: Cinematography

20th Century Fox

Oscar 2016 Winner Predictions: Cinematography

Our contempt for The Revenant knows no limits, and it pains us to have to direct any of it at the preternaturally gifted Emmanuel Lubezki, as close to a lock to win this award as he was the last two years. And not because you’re reading this entry on a blog that garnered much of its popularity in its nascent days as an appreciation of The New World. If the Terrence Malick film carefully bolsters its humane embrace of otherness through its richly textured and specific sense of place and past, then The Revenant is content to prop otherness up—and sometimes literally so—as a caricature. And that sort of noxiousness cannot be achieved without the use of color and light, natural and otherwise. (The upcoming Knight of Cups is, among many things, a reminder of how Lubezki’s voluminous and fragmented camerawork functions in sublime lockstep with Malick’s propensity for speculative associations.) If anything is surprising about Lubezki’s work for The Revenant, it’s how it exists only as, per Richard Brody, “pictorial ornament[s] to [Alejandro González Iñárritu’s] bland theatrical stagings.” Which is to say that it’s the sort of ornamental imagery that, not unlike the Native American woman one never believes Leonardo DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass ever had a relationship to, simply floats on the surface and at a distance, signifying nothing so much as the look that $135 million can buy a director.

Berlinale 2015 Knight of Cups

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Berlinale 2015: Knight of Cups
Berlinale 2015: Knight of Cups

With Knight of Cups, Terrence Malick achieves the sense of stylistic ossification that many accused his last feature, To the Wonder, of embodying. The difference is that the earlier film was still, in its own rather elemental ways, tied to actual flesh-and-blood characters on screen. In Knights of Cups, by contrast, Malick seems to have finally decided to do away with humans altogether. In some ways, this is the filmmaker’s 8 ½: a feature-length riff on his own creative frustration, with Christian Bale as his directionless stand-in, a screenwriter suffering from spiritual ennui. But then, of course he’s bored and frustrated: He lives in Hollywood, after all, and if works like The Day of the Locust and The Player have shown us anything over the years, what else is Hollywood but a cesspool of decadence and empty hedonism? To this ostensibly mind-blowing insight, Malick adds a fascination with landscapes and architecture that recalls Michelangelo Antonioni’s similar obsessions in the unofficial trilogy of L’Avventura, La Notte, and L’Eclisse—though Emmanuel Lubezki’s roving camerawork and the poetically hushed voiceovers on the soundtrack scream Malick through and through.

Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Cinematography

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Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Cinematography
Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Cinematography

Daniel Mindel, cinematographer on J.J. Abrams’s upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens, said in a 2013 interview with The Village Voice’s Casey Burchby: “The beauty of cinematography was that it was an amalgamation of art and science: the science of photography, or the science of postproduction, or the science of photochemical reaction with light.” For practitioners of the form, like Mindel, who’s never shot a film digitally, the choice here will be between The Grand Budapest Hotel or Ida, for how their distinctly retrograde cinematographic sense so sensually mediates our imagination of the past. But for everyone else (read: the majority of AMPAS), it will come down, as is often the case, to the film with the most cinematography: Birdman. Emmanuel Lubezki continues to push the medium from a micro to macro level, and in ways that continue to raise questions about just how the technical virtuosity of the stunt being recognized here is aided by special effects and editing. That didn’t stop him from winning an Oscar last year for Gravity, and as Birdman keeps its head mostly beneath the clouds, this is even more of a done deal.

Telluride Film Review: Birdman

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Telluride Film Review: <em>Birdman</em>
Telluride Film Review: <em>Birdman</em>

Birdman may just prove that there are second acts in life, American or otherwise. Not only Michael Keaton’s best role in more than a decade, it also represents a surprisingly mellow Alejandro González Iñárritu, whose worldview, if not especially brighter, has at least been filtered through a comic lens. It may be wishful thinking, but the global nihilism of his earlier projects now seems mere prelude to a surprisingly poignant meditation on fame and its lingering aftereffects.

Which isn’t to say that the film could in any way be described as “feel good.” Starring Keaton as a past-his-prime superhero actor looking to regain credibility and relevance by adapting, directing, and starring in Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love on Broadway, it’s an exercise in a Murphy’s Law-level of absurd occurrences besieging its play-within-a-film. Birdman, né Riggan Thomson, has to be told of the importance of social media by his fresh-from-rehab daughter (Emma Stone) while also dealing with his manager (Zach Galifianakis), ex-wife (Amy Ryan), last-minute-replacement co-star (Edward Norton), co-star whom he’s sleeping with (Andrea Riseborough), and co-star whom he actually gets along with pretty well (Naomi Watts) on the eve of their first preview. Iñárritu manages to give each of these characters something interesting to do, the power dynamics between them constantly shifting.

Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Cinematography

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Cinematography
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Cinematography

As R. Kurt Osenlund pointed out yesterday, there are plenty of categories more flashily controversial this year, but none have become as big a flash point among cinephiles as the cinematography prize. No demographic is more certain that one of Oscar’s longest-running contemporary injustices is its failure to coronate Emmanuel Lubezki, whose lucidly expressive images have now earned him six nominations and a near-fanatic cult devotion. Having to cope with the losses he’s suffered his last three times at bat—with The New World, Children of Men, and The Tree of Life respectively falling to Memoirs of a Geisha, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Hugo—are, for acolytes, like living in an alternate universe where John Alcott’s work on Barry Lyndon lost to Robert L. Surtees’s The Hindenburg, or Sven Nykvist’s lensing of Cries & Whispers lost to Surtees’s The Sting, or Néstor Almendros’s Days of Heaven lost to Robert Surtees’s Same Time, Next Year. Adding insult to injury last time around was the fact that Lubezki’s richly textured analog work in The Tree of Life was chewed up and spit out by the Academy’s now-insatiable sweet tooth for CGI-heavy 3D toy boxes, a trend that’s held for the last four years running.

20 Great Shots from the Films of 2013

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20 Great Shots from the Films of 2013
20 Great Shots from the Films of 2013

I looked back on the year and thought about single cinematic images that knocked me flat. Or produced an actual “wow.” Or somehow encompassed a film in a strange way. Many of them rushed back immediately. Others sprung to mind when I skimmed through my list of films seen. In accordance with my favorite movies of 2013, many of which are featured here, I was surprised by what I responded to most. I noticed some trends. Evidently, I’m drawn to sunsets, running water (preferably colored), and, rather unoriginally, red. I also kinda like trash. Some of these shots speak for themselves, while others require the images that come before them, or after them, sometimes successively, to achieve their respective impacts. Presented in no particular order, each has a backstory, save the last, which is summed up with a heartbreaking, note-perfect line. This is a very personal list, and I could’ve easily bumped the total to 50 or more. Don’t see your favorite shots in the roster? Share your thoughts (or, ya know, a link to a screengrab) in the comments.

Oscar Prospects Gravity, Your Cinematography and Visual Effects Winner

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Oscar Prospects: Gravity, Your Cinematography and Visual Effects Winner
Oscar Prospects: Gravity, Your Cinematography and Visual Effects Winner

On September 12, when Mark Harris officially returned to Grantland to cover the Oscar race (he stepped aside last season due to the conflict of husband Tony Kushner’s Lincoln being in contention), he penned this dead-on and intentionally prickly piece, which took to task the festival-going, hastily-Tweeting types who hurried to declare 12 Years a Slave this year’s Best Picture winner. In true Harris style, the article used insider wisdom and everyman accessibility to comprehensively articulate the trouble with this particular behavior, and the folly of using “I’m first” tactics to simplify something that still has miles of nuanced ground to cover. It’s one thing to announce, with great certainty, one’s thoughts on a probable nominee, like the baity Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine, but it’s quite another to plant one’s feet so early, and firmly name a winner. 12 Years a Slave has a lot of promise, but it’s impossible to tell how it will fare amid the cavalcade of critics’ awards, additional precursors, shifting tastes, and campaign strengths, not to mention the mystery of whether or not Academy members will stomach the film’s violence enough to hand it their loftiest vote. That said, as another adored colleague, Nathaniel Rogers, recently acknowledged, Gravity simply isn’t walking away this year without statuettes for Cinematography and Visual Effects. Sorry, Mark, but this time, my feet are planted.

Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Cinematography

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Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Cinematography
Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Cinematography

Cinephiles everywhere (well, at least the ones who waste time and wishes on the Academy Awards) have been conjuring up the spirits of Sven Nyqvist, John Alcott, Gregg Toland, and James Wong Howe in an attempt to see to an alarmingly overdue Emmanuel Lubezki finally win this category. One would think they wouldn’t need to resort to such desperate measures, since not only do The Tree of Life’s detractors have to admit the film at its worst still acts as the world’s greatest sizzle reel for Lubezki’s talents, but there’s scarcely a precursor award that hasn’t gone his way this year. But so what? Lubezki, now on his fifth Oscar nomination, had every reason in the world to collect in 2006 for Children of Men, but the disappointing, if not unpredictable, win for Guillermo Navarro’s work on Pan’s Labyrinth made a clear statement: Overall momentum is all that matters in the tech categories.