The Extraordinary 2016 Oscar Nominated Films for Cinematography

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Cinematography is defined as “the art of making motion pictures.”  The 2016 Academy Award nominated films Mad Max:Fury Road, The Revenant, The Hateful Eight, Carol, and Sicario, are all unique in the fact that they bring a wave of emotion, authenticity, exquisite detail, and are as masterful as any work of art that exists on a wall of a museum. That all being said, here is a deeper look into the incredible cinematography of the nominated films, the winner for which will be unveiled during the show airing February 28th, 2016.

2016 Academy Award for Cinematography Nominations

 1. The Revenant 

“While on a danger-laden journey through the American wilderness in the early 1800s, frontiersman Hugh Glass is badly mauled by a grizzly and abandoned by his fellow trappers. Barely surviving his wounds, Glass is driven by thoughts of his family and a desire for revenge as he endures the frigid winter and pursues the men who left him for dead.” (via Oscars)

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Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and director Alejandro Iñárritu, collaborated together to turn The Revenant into a unique, cinematic masterpiece. According to Variety,  the film was shot over a long period of time in the snowy and unpredictable mountains of Canada and Argentina. According to Lubuzki, the conditions were necessary. “We wanted to make a movie that was immersive and visceral,” he notes. “The idea of using natural light came because we wanted the audience to feel, I hope, that this stuff is really happening.” Ninety percent of the movie was shot in natural light. That type of filming does not happen often in a large majority of motion pictures.

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Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy’s performances, (both Academy Award-nominated for Actor in a Leading Role and Actor in a Supporting Role, respectively) coupled with the beautifully shot scenes, really add to the viewer experience.  Lubuzki stated that he wanted the viewer to feel as if the audience was truly in the movie, and he definitely achieved that goal. The Revenant is a must-see, and with 12 nominations, is definitely slated to totally sweep the 2016 Oscars.

2. Carol  

“In the early 1950s, department store clerk Therese Belivet is entranced by Carol Aird, a self-assured suburban housewife. As their relationship intensifies, Therese and Carol find themselves subjected to vehement scrutiny, especially by Carol’s soon-to-be ex-husband, Harge, and Carol is pressured to abandon the affair in order to retain custody of her young daughter.” (via Oscars)

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According to Filmmaker Magazine, cinematographer Edward Lachman and director Todd Haynes, are getting wide accreditation for the decision to shoot Carol in 16mm. In doing so, this movie is reflective of  mid-century street photographers such as Ruth Orkin, Esther Bubley, Helen Levitt and Vivian Maier. In regards to why they made this decision, Lachman said, “We wanted to reference the photographic representation of a different era. They can recreate grain digitally now, but it’s pixel-fixated. It doesn’t have this anthropomorphic quality in which the grain structure in each frame is changing.” He believes that the movie would have been completely different, if not shot in 16mm. It is so interesting to consider how much of an impact the quality and  uniqueness of a film has on the overall aspect of it.

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Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett (both nominated for Academy Awards) are brilliant in this motion picture. Their unique abilities to bring the intense relationships of Carol and Therese to life, paired with the unique quality of the film itself, really make Carol an essential to everyone’s movie list.

3. Mad Max: Fury Road

“Years after an apocalypse has devastated the world, Australia has become a wasteland ruled by outlaws hoarding fuel, water, and other resources. Desperate to escape a tyrant called Immortan Joe, loner Max Rockatansky joins forces with Imperator Furiosa, who is fleeing from Joe and his fanatical followers with a precious cargo that she has smuggled from Joe’s stronghold.” (via Oscars)

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According to No Film School, cinematographer John Seale and director George Miller, meticulously planned out the entire process of Mad Max beforehand. This movie was in pre-production for over 10 years. Seale did not even receive a script before starting the shoot,  he just received over 3500 storyboards. According to The Hollywood Reporter,  Seale had this to say about the cinematography of Mad Max:   “George’s initial instinct was to not go with the standard look of a postapocalyptic film, i.e. very desaturated blues, grays, the ‘life of the planet is coming to an end and it’s miserable’ look. He didn’t want to follow that pattern, which I liked a lot,” Seale says. “He went for a scorched look, a dried-out look but with color. George wanted to increase the grain, which I loved. It had its own look.”  This dynamic duo ended up creating one of the most visually dazzling films of the year.

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This film is a complete work of art. Not only is it exquisitely shot and presented, but the eccentric characters and strong dialogue, played out by Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, is what really aids in making this movie as great as it is. If you have not yet seen Mad Max: Fury Road, hop in your monster truck (with your own personal electric guitar player) and get ahold of this nine-time Academy Award-nominated movie. You will not regret it.

4. The Hateful Eight 

“A few years after the Civil War, a bounty hunter is taking in a female outlaw in Wyoming when their stagecoach is stopped by a former Union officer and a Southerner. The quartet is then forced to seek shelter from a blizzard at a waystation, where four more travelers greet them, and as tensions rise, the eight realize that they may not all survive.” (via Oscars)

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Cinematographer Robert Richardson worked with iconic director Quentin Tarantino to complete his eighth movie, which is yet another remarkable film he has added to his repertoire. According to Variety, Quentin Tarantino wanted The Hateful Eight to be different. He ultimately knew that we wanted the film to be shot in 70mm, but when Robert Richardson stumbled onto a few near-antique Ultra Panavision lenses, a whole new world was discovered. These antique lenses, which had not been used since the 1960s, were used on movies like Ben-Hur and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.  This lens has the widest possible cinematic frame. Despite that type of lens being best suited for wide landscape shots, Tarantino believed that, “it could be really cool in this claustrophobic situation. It makes the close-ups very, very intimate.”

Regardless of having to overcome the inevitable difficulties of the filming technology, this motion picture turned out to be one of the most exceptional cinematic masterpieces of the year.

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One must acknowledge the idiosyncratic tendencies that are portrayed in every Tarantino film. He has a way creating films unlike anything else in the industry. He always seems to bring on the best actors as well. Kurt Russel, Samuel L. Jackson, and Academy Award-nominated Jennifer Jason Leigh, all bring a defining quality to this intense, bloody, and eccentric film. Grab popcorn, put on your pajamas, and enjoy the cinematic journey that The Hateful Eight takes you on.

5. Sicario

“FBI Agent Kate Macer is recruited by a shadowy government official to join an inter-agency task force to apprehend a Mexican cartel leader. Guided by a consultant with a suspicious agenda and a tendency to use brutal tactics, Kate embarks on a mission that forces her to question her idealism and leaves her unsure who she can trust.” (via Oscars)

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According to No Film School, Sicario cinematographer Roger Deakins, emphasizes how important it is to remember that the filming job isn’t necessarily about creating beautiful images, as much as it is about creating an image that will serve a better overall purpose. He believes that if an image is so too visually dynamic, it could hinder the audience from seeing the true, defining purpose of the film. That being said,  the same applies for images of poor quality. If they don’t serve the story and they distract the audience, the cinematographer has failed. Deakins believes that filmmaking is “all about striking a balance between aesthetics and function.” Deakins managed to keep the perfect balance, while simultaneously filming complex shots that included aerial and night-vision footage, and highly choreographed action sequences.

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Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, and Josh Brolin, all come together to make this heavily intense subject matter, intriguing and beautiful to see. The visual aspects of this film are the perfect balance of aesthetics and function. Both the director and cinematographer of Sicario, were meticulous in ensuring that the subject matter was properly relayed, while still being visually dynamic to watch.

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Author: Whitney Sutherland

Whitney Sutherland recently graduated from FIDM's Merchandising & Marketing program. She’s an adventurer, a movie lover, a social media enthusiast, a health nut, a passionate writer, and a lover of life.

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