ASC Awards bring cinematographers into focus for Oscars

Wednesday’s announcement of the five contenders for the American Society of Cinematographers prize in the feature film category is topped by Emmanuel Lubezki for “The Tree of Life.” He has already won top honors with both the Gotham and L.A. film critics for his lensing of this Terrence Malick movie.

He won this award in 2006 for “Children of Men” and contended in 1999 for “Sleepy Hollow.” He reaped Oscar bids for those two films, as well as “A Little Princess” (1995) and “A New World,” his last collaboration with Malick, but has yet to prevail at the Academy Awards.

Lubezki’s strongest competiton may well be Robert Richardson who reaped his 10th bid for the 3D filming of “Hugo.” While Richardson has won two of his six Oscar races — “JFK” (1991) and “The Aviator” (2005) — he has yet to win over his guild.

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Jeff Cronenweth contends for the second year in a row for lensing a David Fincher film. Last year, he picked up his first career nod with “The Social Network” and returns with “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Rounding out the list are a pair of first-time nominees: Hoyte van Hoytema (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy“) and Guillaume Shiffman (“The Artist“).

The biggest surprise was the absence of four-time nominee Janusz Kaminski for his shooting of “War Horse.” He won his Oscars for lensing two other Steven Spielberg pictures — “Schindler’s List” (1993) and “Saving Private Ryan” (1998).

Over the quarter century of these awards, the ASC choice for the best in the business has presaged the eventual winner at the Academy Awards only 13 times. However, the ASC has predicted 97 of the 125 Oscar nominees. The ASC winner will be named on Feb. 12 during the awards celebration at the Grand Ballroom of Hollywood & Highland.

Last year, Wally Pfister won with the ASC for “Inception” before repeating at the Oscars. Among those he defeated in both races was Roger Deakins (“True Grit”). While Deakins prevailed with two of his 10 ASC bids, he remains without an Oscar despite nine nods. The other contenders at the ASC were first-time nominees Danny Cohen (“The King’s Speech), Cronenweth (“The Social Network”) and Matthew Libatique (“Black Swan”).

In 2010, first-time ASC contender Christian Berger, who filmed “The White Ribbon,” edged out nine-time nominee Richardson for “Inglourious Basterds,” past ASC champ Dion Beebe (“Memoirs of a Geisha”) who picked up his third nod for “Nine,” and two other first-time ASC nominees —  Barry Ackroyd, who shot “The Hurt Locker,” and Mauro Fiore, who lensed “Avatar.” Fiore went on to win the Oscar.

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