Cinematographers love black-and-white movies. You can tell that by how often they’re nominated and win at the American Society of Cinematographers Awards, and by how often the cinematographers branch of the motion picture academy nominates black-and-white films. But when Oscar voters across all branches of the academy pick the winners they usually steer clear of monochromatic films and look for a splash of color. Will this year be an exception? “Roma” has been acclaimed for its black-and-white visuals by director and cinematographer Alfonso Cuaron, and the Expert journalists we’ve polled think it will prevail.
So just how cursed are black-and-white movies? Well, none have won Best Cinematography at the Oscars since “Schindler’s List” (1993) — that was a quarter century ago. You might argue that that’s just how it is since there are simply far more color movies produced these days, so you’re bound to have more color winners. And you’d be right about that. But when a film stands out for its black-and-white visuals and seems to have the support of the industry, Oscar voters have still turned away.
That’s what they did with “The Man Who Wasn’t There” (2001), the Coen Brothers’ homage to classic film noir. It won the ASC Award, but then lost the Oscar to “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.” Then in 2009 the ASC awarded the black-and-white German film “The White Ribbon,” while the Oscars went with “Avatar” instead. Even when the Oscars picked a black-and-white silent film as their Best Picture, “The Artist” (2011), they still gave Best Cinematography to “Hugo.” And after that “Nebraska” (2013) and “Ida” (2014) were nominated for Oscars but lost to “Gravity” and “Birdman,” respectively.
If there’s a pattern there, it’s that Oscar voters often like their visuals big and expensive. Blockbuster extravaganzas win frequently, as if the Oscars want to get the most cinematography for their buck. Other winners in the past 25 years bear that out, like “Titanic” (1997), “Master and Commander” (2003), “Inception” (2010), “Life of Pi” (2012), “The Revenant” (2015) and “Blade Runner 2049” (2017).
But this time will be different, according to our Experts: 28 out of 30 think “Roma” will win the Oscar for its cinematography. The only dissenters are Tim Gray (Variety), who currently predicts “The Favourite” will upset, and Bonnie Fuller (Hollywood Life), who’s backing “First Man.” The latter film is a visually bold astronaut movie, like recent winner “Gravity,” and it’s lensed by Linus Sandgren, who just won two years ago for “La La Land.” So Cuaron will need to keep an eye out.
Be sure to check out how our experts rank this year’s Oscar contenders. Then take a look at the most up-to-date combined odds before you make your own Oscar predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominations are announced on January 22.