Best Cinematography, 2000
(Click on the linked film titles for reviews of those movies.)

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,
Peter Pau


Without the stunning images—the waterfall plunge, the rooftop leaps, the bamboo fight in particular—this picture would never have been on the road to a $100 million gross in the United States. Even in the desert sequence, where the film's pace flags considerably, the photography never does. An easy place to reward the spectacle of Crouching Tiger even for voters who sell out to Gladiator in bigger categories, and a near-sweep of the critics' awards doesn't hurt (though might not help).

The ravishing work that has landed other Asian films in this category, such as 1993's Farewell My Concubine and 1995's Shanghai Triad, has always yielded the trophy to Hollywood fare. Triad's loss to Braveheart is particularly ominous, since Gladiator approximates that film's look of panoramic pandemonium. Then again, Concubine and Triad weren't nearly as high-profile among the general voting body as Tiger is.
John Mathieson

A contender that has gripped the imaginations of voters for many months now, even when Best Picture seemed out of Gladiator's reach. The combat scenes, battlefield vistas, and torchlit conspiracy sequences comprise a sort of triple crown of the kind of work that tends to elicit attention, and Mathieson's flair in the current Hannibal leaves little doubt that he knows his way around a camera. Doubtless the film that the most voters will have seen.
Even though the fault lies primarily with the effects team, that flimsy aerial shot of the Colosseum may hurt, since it punctures Gladiator's you-are-there visual illusion. Also, the editors' choppy job with the opening military stand-off in particular may diminish the impact of the cinematography. I suspect, too, that the grandnesses of Gladiator will suffer more in translation to TV than will the colors and compositions of Crouching Tiger.
Lajos Koltai

A feature-length indulgence in nostalgia means that photographer Koltai has plenty of chances to bust out the burnished glows and Sicilian colors that must have warmed the hearts of the d.p.'s who nominated this thing. The essential emptiness and borderline offensiveness of the picture doesn't mean the images don't look good.
Thankfully, for several reasons, not a whole lot of people have seen this film; even the musicians who nominated its Original Score have likely only heard the tape. Chocolat notwithstanding, this Italian "romance" is one film that Miramax won't hustle enough voters to see in time for a gigantic upset.
O Brother, Where Art Thou?,
Roger Deakins

A real cinematographer's pleasure, from a craftsman who's done everything from Fargo's claustrophobic permafrost to Kundun's Himalayan majesty—and hasn't won yet for anything. O Brother is a strange picture, but like most of the Coens' work, the images are surprising and offbeatly charming. This film will certainly separate itself from the pack, potentially enough for an upset.
All the same, the technical awards—where actors, musicians, and writers start pretending that they understand the work of the geeks with all the equipment—tend to be exercises in anointing widely loved films. Thus, Saving Private Ryan beats The Thin Red Line not because the images are better but because people like it more. And most people like Crouching Tiger or Gladiator more. Deakins' appeal is too limited to his colleagues.
The Patriot,
Caleb Deschanel

Like Roger Deakins, a well-known and well-liked lensman who gets nominated even when the films he brings alive are of limited appeal (1996's Fly Away Home) or of inexplicable appeal, as in the case of this retrograde, grossly revisionist screed. The Patriot did recently pull home the Cinematographers' Guild award, and we've seen that Mel Gibson in rabble-rousing period get-up can be a lightning rod for success in this race.
Again, while the Guild award is chosen by fellow practitioners of the craft, the Oscar is voted on by people in all the filmmaking disciplines. From the moment The Patriot opened, it was commercially overshadowed by The Perfect Storm and artistically outpaced by, well, almost everything. There's no reason for people who missed it initially to catch up now, and it doesn't have enough strong advocates to make it a likely possibility.

WHO WILL WIN: Almost certainly a race between the year's leading nominees, with the fresher, more dazzling sighs of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon likely claiming the trophy from the latest foray into sandal-and-potato-sack territory.

WHO SHOULD WIN: None of these films are without their merits, at least in terms of the images, but Crouching Tiger is leagues ahead in both its cinematography and by virtually any other standard one can imagine. (Well, okay, O Brother is funnier.) For those reasons, it will be a pleasure to see it win a deserved statue.

...AND WHO OUGHTA BEEN INVITED: It is not clear to me what Robby Müller, the wizard behind both Dancer in the Dark's revolutionary use of video and Ghost Dog's hypnotic urban trance, will have to do to score a nomination. (He was similarly Robb(y)ed in 1996 for the double triumph of Breaking the Waves and Dead Man.) Speaking of hypnotism, Remi Adefarasin struck a perfect blend of magnificence and claustrophobia in his House of Mirth compositions, while the joint efforts of Xavier Pérez Grobet and Guillermo Rosas on Julian Schnabel's Before Night Falls draws us directly into the urgencies, lusts, and deteriorations that drive the story and its hero. Finally, though both John Toll and Dante Spinotti have earned some nods and trophies for their flashier work in Braveheart, Legends of the Fall, and L.A. Confidential, their equally accomplished work in the subtler, more intimate Almost Famous and Wonder Boys outclassed, at least, the tired sun-glazed routine of Malèna.

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