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Thursday, February 27, 2014
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Visual Effects Films and Cinematography: A Match Made on a Computer?

By Terence Johnson
Managing Editor

It’s common knowledge that while the Oscar often tout rewarding the best in film, that the notion of what’s best is entirely subjective, depending on the voter. So when trying to make informed Oscar decisions, one has to look past subjective thoughts and search for the trends. One of the major trends that has been appearing has been the success of films with heavy visual effects or 3D in the cinematography category. With Emmanuel Lubezki all but on stage to accept the Oscar in cinematography, it was worth taking a look at the category’s evolution.

There have always been epic films or movies that have had some visual effects that have competed in, and won cinematography Oscars. Yet after Titanic won 11 Oscars, including Cinematography, there seems to have been a wave of films that have relied on visual effects to tell their tale succeeding in this category. Just take a look at the list below:

Winners Nominated for Best Picture
2012 – Claudio Miranda, Life of Pi
2011 – Robert Richardson, Hugo
2010 – Wally Pfister, Inception
2009 – Mauro Fiore, Avatar
2003 – Russell Boyd, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
2001 – Andrew Lesnie, Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
2000 – Peter Pau, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
1997 – Russell Carpenter, Titanic

Winners Not Nominated for Best Picture
2006 – Guillermo Navarro, Pan’s Labyrinth

Nominees from Best Picture Nominees
2013 – Lubezki, Gravity
2008 – Claudio Miranda, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
2000 – John Mathieson, Gladiator

Nominees Not Nominated for Best Picture
2011 – Bruno Delbonnel, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
2008 – Wally Pfister, The Dark Knight
2006 – Wally Pfister, Batman Begins
2005 – Zhao Xiaoding, House of Flying Daggers
1999 – Emmanuel Lubezki, Sleepy Hollow

This is quite an array of films that have competed for the cinematography award and any one of them would have been a worthy winner in their year. What’s perhaps most interesting about this slate of films is how successful the visual effects driven films that were nominated for Best Picture have been, with the last four winners of Best Cinematography contributing to the success. In fact since Titanic, 8 of the 13 winners in this category have been effects driven films.

The success of these movies has of course created a backlash, with many voters wondering exactly how much the DP did vs. what was created via computer. Surprisingly, these complaints have been really loud for the past two years, with even Academy members calling for the creation of a new category. Despite this, these movies keep winning and people keep voting for them. It’s hard to see a scenario where Gravity doesn’t win this award but I do think that the conversation surrounding visual effects driven movies succeeding in this category is going to come to a head at some point. However, I don’t see that happening if these films are getting Best Picture nominations, which all but assures a win in this category.

Do you think heavily visual effects driven films should win Cinematography?

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