Best Cinematography 1999

1998 through 2007

Best Cinematography of 1999

American Beauty (Conrad L. Hall)
10
63%
The End of the Affair (Roger Pratt)
0
No votes
The Insider (Dante Spinotti)
3
19%
Sleepy Hollow (Emmanuel Lubezki)
0
No votes
Snow Falling on Cedars (Robert Richardson)
3
19%
 
Total votes: 16

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Re: Best Cinematography 1999

Postby Mister Tee » Wed May 23, 2018 2:44 pm

I've been sluggish about getting to this group, partly because I couldn't remember what my own choice that year was. I finally dug up the old notebook, and found I'd gone for Three Kings, which BJ finally mentioned. I'd also highlighted already-noted efforts like The Straight Story, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Eyes Wide Shut.

My take on the Academy group is, even if few of my choices turn up, I can't knock any of the ones that did. The category is, in fact, somewhat analogous to best picture that year -- there were so many strong candidates that good efforts were omitted, and somehow this all led to victory for American Beauty, despite its not being a typical pick.

I'm not even sure in what order I should discuss the actual nominees (picking a winner is pretty random, as well). But let's start with The End of the Affair -- one of the best film versions of any Graham Greene novel, and one definitely enhanced by a gorgeous period look. Certain images, like the house after the bombing, remain vivid in my mind almost two decades later. A fully worthy nominee.

I just voted for Dante Spinotti a few years back, so I feel no need to choose him again. But The Insider has a fully distinctive look: the various boardrooms feel like star chambers, with threats seemingly looming over every moment. In plenty of years, I could vote for it.

I guess I like Sleepy Hollow as a movie more than most here. Like most Burton movies, it stages a bit of a footrace -- can the design elements hold your interest longer than it takes the narrative to collapse? But I don't think the narrative ever fully collapses here. I'm not saying it's a work of genius -- in the end, it's just a semi-decent mystery plot. But to me that's plenty enough to support an overall stunning-looking movie. The town of Sleepy Hollow seems to exist in a halfway house between fantasy and pre-Revolutionary era history, and I never got tired of looking at it. The real star of the film is Rick Heinrichs' production design, for which I'd vote hands down. But Lubezki, unsurprisingly, makes a solid contribution as well, and well deserves his nod.

Other than the immortal William A. Fraker, I don't know any cinematographer got more nominations for atypical branch choices than Conrad Hall. American Beauty, as BJ notes, has no broad vistas like those in such disparate winners as Braveheart and The English Patient. But Hall does some remarkable work here: making the dull suburb into a place of vivid, striking colors and images. I probably wouldn't have voted for him, but he's a worthy and even interesting choice.

Snow Falling on Cedars may have been failed Oscar bait -- like The Kite Runner, it was a publishing phenomenon that never achieved the same prominence as a film -- but there was universal feeling when it opened that the one area in which it clearly excelled was Richardson's cinematography. This was, for me, the most beautiful-looking of the five nominees, and sometimes that can be enough. Particularly because I've not found other years in which to choose Richardson, I'm opting to go with him this year.

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Re: Best Cinematography 1999

Postby Reza » Sun May 20, 2018 4:26 am

The Original BJ wrote:I find Snow Falling Cedars to be basically the epitome of failed Oscar-bait (and I just revisited it a few weeks ago, so my reaction is fresh). I think it suffers severely from a protagonist who is more of an observer rather than a participant in the central story, as well as a mystery plot that isn't especially compelling. But there is one element of the movie that is unquestionably impressive, and that's the photography, with its hauntingly beautiful, picturesque winterscapes. From a distance, this nomination could seem like one of those random throw-ins for glossy period pictures (like The Lover), but on actual merit, Richardson's gracefully lit images stand out as the one thing rescuing this film from utter dullness.


Actually this argument you give for Cedars also perfectly applies to The Lover and its nod which is far from a random throw-in. A lot of folks here run down the film. While no masterpiece it has dazzling cinematography along with its erotic soft porn plot of course.

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Re: Best Cinematography 1999

Postby The Original BJ » Sat May 19, 2018 8:56 pm

I think 1999 is one of the greatest years for cinematography ever. I can come up with so many top-tier alts that could have easily been in the discussion -- Eyes Wide Shut, The Straight Story, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Bringing Out the Dead, Fight Club, The Sixth Sense, Three Kings, Magnolia. You could have had two or three full lineups and still left off good work.

And the five actually chosen by the Academy make for a very high-quality lineup as it is.

I remember being surprised by the nomination for The End of the Affair, but not because it's unworthy -- there's a lovely elegance to the images, from the swoony romanticism of the beach scenes to the war-torn gloom of the central bombing sequence. It's certainly a more traditional nominee, with a classical look similar to that of many period lit adaptations (and even within that genre, I'd rank Ripley's achievement higher), but it's strong work.

I find Snow Falling Cedars to be basically the epitome of failed Oscar-bait (and I just revisited it a few weeks ago, so my reaction is fresh). I think it suffers severely from a protagonist who is more of an observer rather than a participant in the central story, as well as a mystery plot that isn't especially compelling. But there is one element of the movie that is unquestionably impressive, and that's the photography, with its hauntingly beautiful, picturesque winterscapes. From a distance, this nomination could seem like one of those random throw-ins for glossy period pictures (like The Lover), but on actual merit, Richardson's gracefully lit images stand out as the one thing rescuing this film from utter dullness.

Sleepy Hollow is a visually dazzling work in all three of its nominated categories, with Lubezki's photography giving the film a gleefully spooky kick through the use of fog, shadows, and lightning. The movie it's attached to is certainly trivial -- though I'd admit I thought it had a decently clever plot, that was at least engaging on popcorn movie terms -- but the visual imagination certainly elevates it. And while I'd agree it's an example of Burton's typical fantasy look, I think it's one of the best-looking efforts in his filmography. But of course, there are substantially more notable opportunities to pick Lubezki up ahead.

The sleek blues and grays of The Insider are thoroughly memorable -- I think the cinematography is one of that film's key elements. This easily could have been a more performance/script-driven film, but Spinotti gives the images a cold beauty that only enhances the film's detailed portrait of its corporate, legal, and media environs. And I think the electric energy of the camera movements really helps buoy the movie's dense storyline along. Another strong nominee, though I did just give Spinotti the prize two years prior, for work I admire even more.

I'm a bit surprised American Beauty has run away with this poll -- this is one of the first years in a while where I wasn't sure what winner we'd select, and I thought votes might have been more split. Because Beauty isn't the kind of movie that screams cinematography prizes, like The Thin Red Line or The English Patient. And yet, that's also what I admire most about it -- while films with gorgeous vistas often cannot be denied here, it's also worth acknowledging work in this category that takes fairly mundane, mostly indoor environments, and finds the visual beauty in them. (Not surprisingly, a theme of the movie.) And American Beauty has all kinds of memorable images -- the rose-infused fantasies are the most obvious, but moments like the Burnhams sitting down to dinner, the red door in the rain, and Spacey's final shot have an elegant but effective simplicity to them that exemplifies the achievement of Hall's work. (Even the low-fi quality of the film's most lasting image -- the bag in the wind -- probably has to be cited too, just because it's so perfectly captured). I'll vote to keep the Oscar with American Beauty.

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Re: Best Cinematography 1999

Postby Reza » Fri May 18, 2018 12:25 am

Sabin wrote:Watching the film years later, there’s nothing mysterious or enticing about Moore. She’s a blank slate. She doesn’t have anything that would haunt this complicated man’s mind like Kristen Scott Thomas in The English Patient. On paper, she seems like a good choice but I think she holds the film back from greatness.


On the contrary she is the soul of the film. One of Moore's best performances.

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Re: Best Cinematography 1999

Postby Sabin » Tue May 15, 2018 1:31 pm

Watching the film years later, there’s nothing mysterious or enticing about Moore. She’s a blank slate. She doesn’t have anything that would haunt this complicated man’s mind like Kristen Scott Thomas in The English Patient. On paper, she seems like a good choice but I think she holds the film back from greatness.
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Re: Best Cinematography 1999

Postby Precious Doll » Tue May 15, 2018 6:44 am

Big Magilla wrote:On the other hand, I don't get this sudden rejection of Julianne Moore. She was perfect in the role of Sarah Miles in The End of the Affair. The film was perfectly cast all around with Ralph Fiennes, Stephen Rea and Ian Hart also turning in superb performances.



I haven't seen The End of the Affair since it was first released but Julianne Moore, Ralph Fiennes, Stephen Rea & Ian Hart all deserved Oscar nominations. Moore, not a favourite of mine, was pitch perfect in the film and though I've never read the novel I found it far most satisfying than the 1950s version.
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Re: Best Cinematography 1999

Postby Big Magilla » Tue May 15, 2018 4:31 am

Well, yes, American Beauty was the best of the year, but The End of the Affair was a close second for me among the nominees, with The Talented Mr. Ripley and The Straight Story the most egregiously overlooked. The Insider would be my fifth choice.

On the other hand, I don't get this sudden rejection of Julianne Moore. She was perfect in the role of Sarah Miles in The End of the Affair. The film was perfectly cast all around with Ralph Fiennes, Stephen Rea and Ian Hart also turning in superb performances.

There was another version of The End of the Affair made by Edward Dmytryk in 1955. Deborah Kerr, the definitive English rose, was also perfect in her BAFTA nominated portrayal of Sarah, but the film suffered from constraints imposed by the Production Code. Peter Cushing and John Mills were also exemplary in the roles later played by Stephen Rea and Ian Hart. Only Van Johnson in Fiennes' later role, even though he was less bland than usual, was miscast. William Holden would have been a better choice. He and Kerr later did The Proud and Profane which also suffered from Production Code constraints so his casting alone probably wouldn't have helped the film, but Neil Jordan's version was just about perfect in every way.
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Re: Best Cinematography 1999

Postby Precious Doll » Tue May 15, 2018 3:29 am

This would be a more acceptable line up of nominees if far more distinguished work had not been overlooked. I voted for The Insider which was an easy choice for me and it was a pleasure to vote for Dante Spinotti as the only really deserving nominee. The End of the Affair & Sleepy Hollow both look good and capture the respective periods well but really don't deserve nominations. Snow Falling I recall as looking great but I'm simply never going to vote for anything directed by Scott Hicks. Gorgeous cinematography is a waste on such a bad film.

I don't recall what American Beauty even looked like, given that it found the whole undertaking an abrasive affair that I have no desire to ever revisit. I've always taken the win as a mixture of an American Beauty sweep and the well earned respect of Conrad Hall.

So onto the omissions, some of which Sabin has already mentioned and some of which were probably not eligible until 2000. The best of the year was Freddie Francis' work on The Straight Story. Strange that he never got nominated for his two greatest works, this & Lynch's The Elephant Man. If I recall Francis one the New York Film Critics award of TSS; Alwin Kuchler for Ratcatcher, John Seale for The Talented Mr. Ripley, Affonso Beato for All About My Mother, Agnes Goddard for Beau Travail & Jeff Cronenweth for Fight Club were my best of the year.
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Re: Best Cinematography 1999

Postby dws1982 » Mon May 14, 2018 8:41 pm

I had a post that I was working on, and then my computer restarted and I lost it.

1999 wasn't my first year watching the Oscars, but it was one of those years I followed, almost obsessively, from the fall festivals through to the bitter end. Also the time where I expected the Academy to more-or-less get it right.

Which is a way of saying, I absolutely was on the American Beauty train, full stop. And then, when I went through my reflexive stage of hating at least one or two critical favorites, I really hated this one. Watched it again about a year ago, didn't hate it, but didn't like it, just didn't think much works about it. The cinematography isn't bad, but I think it's a bit too self-conscious in its ironic slickness. No vote.

I remember being shocked when Sleepy Hollow started figuring prominently into critics voting. I liked it well enough, but even at the time, young movie fan that I was, I thought it had a bit of a standard Tim Burton look. Lubezki has two more nominations where he will definitely get my vote and two more where he might, so I'm going to pass this time.

The End of the Affair is as good an adaptation of Graham Greene's novel as you can expect--like Damien, I'd put the book in my all-time top five--although I agree that Moore is miscast. I guess Kristin Scott Thomas would've been English Patient redux, but she would've been excellent, along with several other actresses--Miranda Richardson, Emily Watson, Natasha Richardson, Helena Bonham Carter. Very good cinematography, but if we're doing tech nominations, this isn't where I would cite it.

The Insider would get my votes in a lot of years, but I'm going with Snow Falling On Cedars. And I'll even disagree with what many felt--that it's a good-looking but dull movie. I think it's a really good movie, well-acted, and old-fashioned (in a good way), and very well-shot. I kind of hate that it's faded into obscurity to the degree that it has. It must look like one of those random name-recognition nominees that this branch is so fond of. Haven't seen the movie in 15+ years, but there are still shots that I remember like I saw them yesterday.

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Best Cinematography 1999

Postby Sabin » Mon May 14, 2018 12:26 pm

I wonder: is there any film that went from being on more solid ground at the start of the precursor race to dead in the water by the middle of precursor season? After the Golden Globe nominations, The Talented Mr. Ripley was a sure thing. Despite challenging subject matter, it was a moderate box office hit, it had five golden globe nominations, it had Miramax behind it, its director helmed their last Best Picture juggernaut. And then it was completely shut out by the Screen Actors’ Guild, the Director’s Guild, the Producer’s Guild, and most damning of all…the American Society of Cinematographers. There are very few films that look as tailor-made for a Best Cinematography nomination as The Talented Mr. Ripley. Everything about this film (including its cast) is gorgeous! And it didn’t get a nomination. This has to be the most surprising omission of the lineup.

Not far behind, is Tak Fujimoto’s cinematography for The Sixth Sense, who did get an ASC nomination. Remember the golden days of DVD nerdom? The cinematography for The Sixth Sense was endlessly dissected for its visual clues as to the secret of the film. Tak Fujimoto is almost eighty years old and hasn’t had a credit since 2013’s Gods Behaving Badly (whatever that is). At this point, it’s unlikely that he will end up with an Oscar nomination for his incredible career. Shame.

How crowded was this field? I’m not sure Freddie Francis got much consideration for The Straight Story. Nor Newton Thomas Sigel, for what must be the most visually influential film of the year. If not him, Bill Pope for The Matrix. Instead, we got Emmanuel Lubezki for Sleepy Hollow, a film I (like many) was desperately looking forward to… and then found myself faintly bored. It’s a good-looking film but easily the least memorable of Emmanuel Lubezki’s eight nominations. There are plenty of opportunities coming up

I’m not sure I have much of a favorite this year. American Beauty, The End of the Affair, The Insider, and Snow Falling on Cedars are all exemplary works. I guess unfairly I should dismiss Robert Richardson’s first nomination uncoupled from Oliver Stone solely on the basis of barely being able to remember this thing. For me, Snow Falling on Cedars is largely remembered for being a movie that looks like a Best Picture sure thing when the Entertainment Weekly Fall Preview shows up and then completely flops. I remember it being beautiful… and dull.

Roger Pratt was the surprise nominee for The End of the Affair, although he did pick up a BAFTA nod. The End of the Affair is a beautiful film. Almost to a fault. I rewatched the film not too long ago and actually found Julianne Moore slightly miscast. Like Carol, there’s an important chemistry missing from the two stars (although Ralph Fiennes is excellent). Also like Carol, it almost doesn’t matter because the images are so captivating. But it's a bit remote and there's more exciting cinematography elsewhere in this category.

For me, it’s a flip of a coin between American Beauty and The Insider. I don’t think there was any doubt that American Beauty would win this category on Oscar night. I always like it when comedies (and American Beauty is most successful as a comedy) win in this category. I think it's pretty underrated these days. Without veering too far into tangent, the strongest films of 1999 had an anti-establishment angst to them but today many of them play poorly because we’re in an age of rebuilding pillars rather than tearing them down with puckish glee. American Beauty probably has more going against it today than your routine Best Picture winner, but I still like it quite a bit. And Conrad Hall’s cinematography has an interesting expressionistic quality to it that veers between voyeuristic and theatrical.

For a minute, the collaboration between Mendes and Hall felt instantly legendary but it was nothing compared to the collaboration between Mann and Spinotti. Some of the visual flourishes stand out like a sore thumb (like the 360 panorama around the hotel room while Crowe sits in the chair) but there’s no denying that The Insider is the rare bird that is the “auteurist biopic." It's not just that Russell Crowe gives a fantastic performance in the film but he's a fantastic subject for the camera. Michael Mann knows exactly how to take Crowe's doughy face and make every second crackle with anticipation, like the world is conspiring to make this unstable man snap. My biggest knock on the film is that the second half of the film has so much less of Crowe to study.

There’s no denying that from this vantage point, the Mann/Spinotte collaboration is clearly the most historically meaningful one… but if I’m being honest, it’s never been as meaningful to me as so many other cinephiles. Not nearly as much as his work with Curtis Hanson, which I just voted for two years ago. So, I say Conrad Hall can keep Oscar for American Beauty.
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