Best Cinematography, 1999

Conrad L. Hall
American Beauty


Legendary cinematographer receiving his ninth Oscar nomination, with only one win (for 1969's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). Widely credited with assisting rookie director Mendes in shaping American Beauty into the luscious, striking visual experience that it is. Won the annual citation from the Cinematographer's Society.

Voters in this category tend to want panoramic natural vistas (Legends of the Fall, Braveheart), gritty realism (Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan), or at least some visual razzle-dazzle (JFK). American Beauty has immense popularity but does not fit into any of these categories.
Roger Pratt
The End of the Affair

Like The Wings of the Dove in 1997, The End of the Affair appears here to represent period filmmaking that opts for precise shots and luminous ethereality over profligate displays of finery and chandelier kitsch.
Also like The Wings of the Dove in 1997, The End of the Affair was less widely seen than its competitors, and its understated elegance is likely not to register with voters who prefer conspicuous eye-candy. (As if Ralph and Julianne weren't that!)
Dante Spinotti
The Insider

Overlooked for his sole nomination (for 1997's L.A. Confidential) as well as for equally deserving but unnominated work (such as his previous Michael Mann collaborations, The Last of the Mohicans and Heat), Spinotti turned a corporate thriller into an unlikely but hypnotic visual artwork.
People who confuse Mann's work as being too slick, as they have done since his days on Miami Vice, may want to throw support to the more established Conral Hall and his more classically framed shots in American Beauty. Plus, some people think The Insider overdid it with the blues and grays. I'm serious.
Emmanuel Lubezki
Sleepy Hollow

The creepy fogs, silhouetted trees, and pale skins that dominate Sleepy Hollow not only represent the film's highest achievements but provide the only factor that redeem the film out of silly junk-culture indulgence. Lubezki won the bulk of critics prizes and lost on his previous Oscar bid with 1995's A Little Princess.
Technicians are not judged along the same lines of who's been passed over in earlier years that can help neglected actors and directors. Many voters may elect not to screen the unabashedly commercial and unabashedly weird Sleepy Hollow; those who do may honor it in the Art Direction and Costume Design categories, where it isn't competing against top-flight Best Picture contenders.
Robert Richardson
Snow Falling on Cedars

Previous Oscar winner (for JFK in 1991) lavishes adaptation of widely read novel with exactly the sort of beautiful natural tableaux and stark light/dark contrasts that many voters construe as the highest form of film photography. Anyone who saw Scorsese's Bringing Out the Dead knows that Richardson did Oscar-worthy work on more than one picture this year.
Fans of the book did not turn out for this picture, meaning that far fewer people will have seen it than American Beauty or The Insider; its considerable length and the tepid responses of its viewers suggest that even stay-at-home voters may not rush to watch the tape, where the visuals will not be as striking anyway.

WHO WILL WIN: In a year full of tight races, this may be the tightest. With only The End of the Affair out of the running, any of the other four pictures could score a victory, though I am putting my money (with a very shaky hand) on the exquisitely overexposed and adventurous Insider photography. Even as I write this, though, I'm wondering if Beauty's momentum can be stopped.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Snow Falling on Cedars is the only film nominated for a Picture, Director, Acting, Writing, or Cinematography Oscar which I haven't seen, but I can testify to the high level of accomplishment in each of the other nominated films. I'd love to see a four-way tie, but if pressed, I would probably opt for The Insider. Sometimes blue and gray are the way to go, man!

...AND WHO OUGHTA BEEN INVITED: So—who's tired of hearing me go on and on about Eyes Wide Shut and Bringing Out the Dead? The photography of each film was absolutely exquisite, and several images from both films survive indelibly in my mind. On the other end of the spectrum, the more subliminally effective and deceptive casual shots of Magnolia and even the truly ad-hoc camera work of The Blair Witch Project added considerably to those films' staggering power. Nonetheless, I compliment the cinemtographers on the finalists they selected for this race.

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