How ‘Joker’ stands a strong chance at a Best Cinematography Oscar nomination

The Oscars have traditionally been skittish about rewarding “comic book” movies in the past, to the point that “Black Panther’s” eight-nomination haul last year was seen as a major breakthrough. One category that has been less stubborn about such youth-friendly films is Best Cinematography, particularly when it comes to the property of Batman. Films centering on the Caped Crusader have been acknowledged three times in the cinematography category, with nominations for “Batman Forever” (1995), “Batman Begins” (2005) and “The Dark Knight” (2008). This year, there is another film set in Gotham City hoping to make a big splash at the Oscars, albeit one with Batman / Bruce Wayne relegated to supporting player: “Joker.” Could the divisive supervillain origin story become the latest Gotham film to earn that Best Cinematography kudos at the Oscars?

Members of the Academy’s cinematographers’ branch have clearly shown themselves to be open-minded about strong camera work in the past regardless of subject matter, and even those who weren’t a fan of “Joker” on the whole took special note of Lawrence Sher‘s cinematography. In “Joker,” Sher utilizes closeups to lure viewers into the mind of the damaged Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), tracking his transformation into the iconic villain by highlighting his isolation.

With the film drawing inspiration from Martin Scorsese‘s gritty New York-set dramas “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy,” there is no superhero sheen to be found. The streets are grimy, the buildings are dilapidated and even the interiors have a sickly fluorescent green appearance. Sher captured all of this in great detail thanks to large format cameras, the kind used in last year’s Best Cinematography winner, “Roma.” Such cameras give the audience a more intimate feeling with the foreground subject, with sharper imagery and a wider view of what surrounds them.

This kind of striking camerawork will likely be noticed by the cinematographers’ branch, and their lack of bias against films set in the world of superheroes could be enough to get “Joker” that nomination in Best Cinematography. Gold Derby experts, editors and users currently have Sher predicted to earn his first Oscar nom, placing at no. 5 in odds. “Joker” will face tough competition in this category between “1917,” “The Irishman,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “The Lighthouse,” with films like “Ad Astra,” “Parasite” and “Ford v Ferrari” right on its tail.

It will certainly help that “Joker” is and will be the most seen of these films, with a worldwide box office of $1 billion and counting. In a shortened Oscar season that will feature many studios scrambling to get their movies seen by Oscar voters at the end of the year, the popularity of “Joker” should put Warner Bros. in a good spot to secure some nominations not only for Phoenix but for Sher and other craftspeople who worked on the film.

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