Oscar predictions: Claudio Miranda (‘Top Gun: Maverick’) poised to fly away with second win for Best Cinematography

Before critics groups began weighing in, starting with the New York Film Critics Circle on December 2, Janusz Kamiński (“The Fabelmans”) was Gold Derby’s projected frontrunner to win the Best Cinematography Oscar. The slew of awards that followed NYFCC, however, formed a consensus—one of the season’s most enduring—in favor of Claudio Miranda (“Top Gun: Maverick”). According to Metacritic’s year-end scorecard, which has coincided with the Academy Award winner nine of the past 11 times, Miranda’s received the lion’s share of 2022’s cinematography prizes.

The DP was previously nominated for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” at the 2009 Academy Awards and won for “Life of Pi” in 2013. Now Miranda not only looks well-positioned to clinch his third bid for “Top Gun: Maverick,” but he’s the front-runner to take home his second statuette.

SEE Claudio Miranda (‘Top Gun: Maverick’ cinematographer) on the breathtaking in-camera flight sequences: ‘I didn’t want to be on a volume or on a blue screen’ [Exclusive Video Interview]

Plenty has been written about the challenges of shooting high-octane action scenes from within cramped cockpits—Miranda had to work with Sony to scale IMAX-quality cameras down to sizes that would make them manageable inside military aircraft, which were also re-engineered—but the film’s visual splendor isn’t solely owed to death-defying stunts in the sky. In fact, some of the legacy sequel’s most stunning images are on the ground and without an F-18 in sight. Perpetual golden-hour lighting makes a wide shot of a crowded bar as pleasing to the eye as any number of the movie’s more logistically complex sequences. The balance between boundary-pushing innovation and old-school Hollywood magic produces a sort of neoclassical blockbuster that is simultaneously nostalgic and forward-looking—a description that encapsulates “Top Gun: Maverick’s” aesthetic sensibilities and narrative themes.

SEE 2023 Oscars guild awards scorecard: ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ is 10 for 11

Buying into the film’s ethos, many have called Tom Cruise one of the last “true” remaining movie stars and asked whether “Top Gun: Maverick” signifies the death knell of a bygone era. But if the movie’s rip-roaring critical and popular success proves anything, it’s that audiences are hungry for verisimilitude. Will Tizzard of Variety writes, “Using natural light with real skies and landscapes flying by, Miranda was able to put audiences in the pilot’s seat in ways that have significantly raised the bar. And almost always in glorious sun-halo lighting.” Rather than bidding farewell to the nuts-and-bolts action blockbusters of the ’80s and ’90s, the “Top Gun” team’s proof-of-concept is clearing a path for other filmmakers to undertake similar challenges.

Miranda’s accolades so far include wins from the National Board of Review and Critics Choice Awards, nominations from BAFTA and the American Society of Cinematographers, as well as a slew of critics prizes. There may come a time when digital effects replace practical filmmaking, but, as Mav himself would put it, “not today.”

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