The Oscars have finally taken a big step into the 21st century by nominating not just its first superhero adventure, “Black Panther,” for Best Picture (along with six other bids) but also finding a place for the first streaming-service contender, Netflix’s “Roma,” which is tied with “The Favourite” for the most ballot spots with 10 total.
But the academy also seemingly turned back time by having two black-and-white films, “Roma” and “Cold War,” compete for Best Cinematography for the first time since the 1966 race. That was also the last time that the Oscars split the cinematography category into both black-and-white and color entries. The following year, the true-life murder saga, “In Cold Blood,” went up against four color films but lost to another reality-based crime tale, “Bonnie and Clyde.”
Since then, it’s rare that a non-color film makes its way into the cinematography category. They include “Lenny” (1974), which lost to “The Towering Inferno”; “Raging Bull” (1980, both color and black-and-white), which lost to “Tess”; and “The Artist” (2011), which lost to “Hugo.” But Steven Spielberg’s fact-based Holocaust drama, “Schindler’s List,” remains the only black-and-white film (save for a girl’s red coat) to win since the two separate cinematography categories collapsed into one.
“Roma,” which is set in Mexico City in ‘70s and “Cold War,” which spans from the late ‘40s to the ‘60s in France and Poland, are both personal looks back at the past, informed by their directors’ family memories. Both feel like a scrapbook of sorts, triggering emotions as if flipping through an album of black-and-white snapshots.
With “Roma” having tied for the lion’s share of nominations, it stands the best chance of winning the category. That its director, Alfonso Cuaron, did his own photography work is especially impressive. But don’t count out “Cold War,” whose creator, Pawel Pawlikowski, who seemingly bumped “Green Book’s” Peter Farrelly out of the directing category, earned a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar previously for 2013’s “Ida.” He and Cuaron will also go head to head in foreign-language line-up this year.