Last Sunday, Roger Deakins won the American Society of Cinematographers award for his work on “Skyfall.” That marked his third victory in 11 nominations. He picked up the prize with his first bid in 1994 for “The Shawshank Redemption” and won again on nod number five in 2001 for “The Man Who Wasn’t There.” And last year, he was feted with the lifetime achievement award from the ASC.
Yet, all this love from his brethren hasn’t done Deakins any good at the Oscars. He has contended for Best Cinematography nine times, never winning. Will his luck change this year?
As Deakins knows all too well, the ASC awards are not the most reliable precursor prize. In the 26-year history of these kudos, only 10 winners have gone on to repeat at the Oscars:
Dean Semler, “Dances with Wolves” (1990)
John Toll, “Braveheart” (1995)
John Seale, “The English Patient” (1996)
Russell Carpenter, “Titanic” (1997)
Conrad L. Hall, “American Beauty” (1999)
Conrad L. Hall, “Road to Perdition” (2002)
Dion Beebe, “Memoirs of a Geisha” (2005)
Robert Elswit, “There Will Be Blood” (2007)
Anthony Dod Mantle, “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008)
Wally Pfister, “Inception” (2010)
While the ASC previewed just 37% of the Oscar winners, they have foreseen 78% (105/135) of the nominees for Best Cinematography over the past 27 years. This success rate is not surprising given the overlap in membership between the two groups.
At the ASC, Deakins beat Oscar rivals Seamus McGarvey (“Anna Karenina”), Claudio Miranda (“Life of Pi”) and Janusz Kaminski (“Lincoln”), as well as Danny Cohen (“Les Miserables”). At the Oscars, three-time winner Robert Richardson (“Django Unchained”) replaces Cohen.
Why is it that the top choice among cinematographers rarely makes the grade with the academy as a whole?
The Oscar ballot does not include the names of the nominees, just the films for which they contend. In recent years, academy voters have opted for films that appear both technically challenging and visually stunning. Look at “Avatar” (2009), “Inception” (2010) and “Hugo” (2011) — all three are massive, effects-driven productions. For both “Hugo” and “Avatar,” 3-D was an added hurdle.
-ADDPREDICTION:85:15:Click to predict Cinematography Oscar:ADDPREDICTION-
This is why “Life of Pi” lenser Claudio Miranda is so far out in front to win the Oscar. Having already already won the Critics’ Choice and BAFTA, he is the choice of 17 of our 21 experts predicting this race as well as 7 of our 8 editors and 81% of our users. With all that support, he has odds of 3/2 to win an Oscar with just his second bid. Deakins has the backing of just four experts, one editor and 11% of users. That translates to odds of 10/3 to finally win as his nomination tally hits double digits.
Let’s take a closer look at the five men in contention for Best Cinematgoraphy.
Seamus McGarvey, “Anna Karenina”
When McGarvey and director Joe Wright work together on period films, Oscar nominations follow. McGarvey contended for “Atonement” (2007) and is now nominated for “Anna Karenina.” The film found love throughout the creative categories, scoring nods as well for Production Design, Costume Design and Original Score. While the film was gorgeously shot, its praise derives more from its innovative set design (which won the Art Directors Guild award) and impeccable costuming. If “Anna Karenina” wins any Oscars, it will be in those categories.
Robert Richardson, “Django Unchained”
Richardson enters this race as one of the most rewarded cinematographers in Academy history. With three wins — for “JFK” (1991), “The Aviator” (2004), and “Hugo” (2011) — from seven nominations, he is tied with Conrad L. Hall and Vittorio Storaro and just one Oscar away from matching the record of Joseph Ruttenberg and Leon Shamroy. His losing bids were for “Platoon” (1986), “Born on the Fourth of July” (1989), “Snow Falling on Cedars” (1999), and “Inglourious Basterds” (2009).
Richardson was snubbed by the ASC this year and has yet to win over the guild despite 10 nominations to date. Only twice has a DP won the Oscar without at least a nod from the guild: Freddie Francis for “Glory” (1989) and Guillermo Navarro for “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006).
Claudio Miranda, “Life of Pi”
In 2008, Miranda contended for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the first entirely digital movie to be nominated for Best Cinematography. He’s back with another effects-heavy piece that has been praised for its stunning visuals.“Life of Pi” could be this year’s “Hugo,” sweeping the tech awards but missing out on Best Picture and Director. The film fits the mold of the last three cinematography winners: effects-heavy, technically challenging works that nevertheless retain a painterly image.
Janusz Kaminski, “Lincoln”
The collaboration between Kaminski and Steven Spielberg has been one of the most fruitful in Oscar history. Kaminski has won two Oscars for films directed by Spielberg — “Schindler’s List” (1993) and “Saving Private Ryan” (1998) — both of which also won Best Director. He was nominated for Spielberg’s “Amistad” (1997) and “War Horse” (2011), as well as “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (2007). As Spielberg is predicted to win Best Director, shouldn’t Kaminski be ahead as well? Yet Kaminski, like Richardson, has been amply rewarded in the past.
Roger Deakins, “Skyfall”
Deakins’ nine Oscar losses were for “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994), “Fargo” (1996), “Kundun” (1997), “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (2000), “The Man Who Wasn’t There” (2001), “No Country for Old Men” (2007), “The Assasination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” (2007), “The Reader” (2008), and “True Grit” (2010).
“Skyfall” represents some of his best work. Could that, combined with the sympathy vote and his third ASC win, be enough to win him this prize?