Best Cinematography, 2002
(Click on the linked film titles for reviews of the corresponding films.)

Dion Beebe


Lots of dramatic lighting effects—the sharp lines and black/white contrasts, the lustrous spotlights, the backlit "Cellblock Tango" silhouettes. Reviewers and journalists have griped plenty about Beebe's harsh light sources and about what he hasn't shot (much dancing, for example), but Oscar voters are easier to please, and conspicuous flair like this is right up their alley.

Chicago is not the only nominee with conspicuous flare: in fact, all five nominees are notably bold visual conceptions, and some of them will have a lot fewer chances to pick up an award elsewhere than Chicago inevitably will. It's not a bad bet, but hardly a sure thing.
Ed Lachman
Far from Heaven

Reaped in almost every critics' award in sight, at least until the Cinematographers Guild embraced Road to Perdition instead. Lachman shows an uncanny gift for matching the expressionistic technicolor visions of Sirkian melodrama: no less crucial an ingredient to Todd Haynes' heady voyage into melodrama than the actors' mannered performances or Bernstein's rhapsodic score.
The minute you hear "heady," it's over in this category. Critic types may get all hot and bothered by generic homages and careful compositions, but, as with last year's loss of The Man Who Wasn't There to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, arthouse experiments lose out to big spectacles and major nominees every time.
Michael Ballhaus
Gangs of New York

Scorsese's pictures are famous for their reeling camerawork and operatic grandeur, and Gangs doesn't disappoint, craning over crowds, zooming in on faces and weapons, amplifying the pageantry in everything from fireworks displays to slaughter in the streets. And the quieter scenes have their own indelible images, like that of Daniel Day-Lewis' sociopath wrapped like a wounded soldier in the American flag.
In a category full of dramatic effects, broad enthusiasm for the films as a whole will be all the more important. In that context, Chicago has the edge over Gangs, and the late Conrad Hall will draw loyal support that Ballhaus won't; Gangs' chances are probably stronger in the Art Direction and Costume races.
Pawel Edelman
The Pianist

Unimpeachable, tasteful camerawork that preserves the tense framings and deep-focus details that we expect from a Polanski picture. The emphasis on white/black contrasts throughout the film give it a pleasing coherence that Gangs lacks, without Chicago's sense of repeated tricks or Far from Heaven's emotional distance.
For all of these assets, the photography of The Pianist hasn't garnered a single award from anybody who matters, and the emotional understatement of the picture may work against it in a category that historically favors unbridled, even gratuitous, opulence: Chinatown, after all despite all the same Polanski signatures, lost this award to The Towering Inferno, which kept the camera running while a building burned, spectacularly.
Conrad L. Hall
Road to Perdition

Though the film's reception as a whole was uneven, few in Hollywood or in the mainstream media had anything but admiration for Conrad Hall's photography, as rococo in its art-deconess as an old Busby Berkeley musical, as forlorn in its use of space as an Edward Hopper painting, as robust in its color and light effects as American Beauty, Hall's previous collaboration with director Sam Mendes, for which he won his second Oscar. This is also Hall's last chance to win an Oscar, after he died in January: his passing, after four decades as a genuine institution within the industry, invites a public tribute. (The Cinematographer's Guild thought so, too.) Some found Hall's compositions too elaborate, and Road to Perdition in general did not score the top-level nominations that DreamWorks would have liked. Still, its six technical nods show that support is strong among craftspeople, which should allow the movie to hold its own, at least, within this field.

WHO WILL WIN: Conrad L. Hall, Road to Perdition
The Academy always loved him, and I think he would have been a front-runner without the added impetus of sentimentality. His particular brand of visual panache probably survives better on video, too, than Beebe's or Ballhaus', so those stay-at-home voters can get behind this nomination. Still, Chicago's the spoiler.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Ed Lachman, Far from Heaven
Last year's field was one of the strongest in memory; this year's entrants do not lack for eye-popping images, but the soulful weight of The Man Who Wasn't There, the textured materiality of The Fellowship of the Ring, and the jittery hyperrealism of Black Hawk Down all went deeper. The Pianist comes close, but occasionally feels too polished, too burnished for the story it tells. Only Far from Heaven, where photography is so tightly wedded to narrative and emotion, seems unquestionably deserving of the honor.

...AND WHO OUGHTA BEEN INVITED: I have plugged Morvern Callar elsewhere in these pages, but when that jaw-dropping film eventually reaches DVD, maybe more people will discover its many beauties. If, though, the Academy wanted to acknowledge a more known quantity, they could hardly have done better than Javier Aguirresarobe's tantalizing lenswork on Talk to Her—after being passed up for The Others last year, this guy is doubly deserving of some compensatory attention somewhere down the line.

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