"Oscar giveth. Oscar taketh away."
I've said it often and each year the phrase reasserts its truthfulness. One might also substitute this with "Be careful what you wish for." Oscar maniacs know this warning well. They beg for a first Oscar for Winslet or a third for Streep, for example, and then those things come true and no one is really satisifed with the way it came to pass. And that's just two recent examples. I don't much believe in "locks" in Oscar races in the way most pundits and Oscar fans do -- especially pre-Christmas locks. Upsets do happen, fates don't align, narratives don't take hold and so on. But if there's one or two Oscars this year that I feel are most probable at this juncture, yea even unto lock-dom, it's not Best Actress Cate Blanchett (though she's in third place for "most likely"), but the visual effects and cinematography of Gravity.
Famed DP Emmanuel Lubezki is a true genius not just a "genius" in the overindulgent fandom sense. His work is exquisitely lit and beautifully composed but never in quite the same way, each time his light beautifully enveloping and serving the film at hand. If you think of it like vocal range he's a Mariah Carey/Cyndi Lauper 4 octave diva while most other DPs, even the really fine ones, are closer to the standard 2 octave pop stars. I've wanted him to win the Oscar so many times and I still consider it insane that he lost for both Children of Men (2006) and The Tree of Life (2011).
Oscar Trivia, Computer Trouble, and more after the jump
For a good long while he held quite a unique record that showed how much his peers understood his gift. Cinematography is a category that favors Best Picture nominees but for most of Lubezki's career he was winning nominations for films that did not receive that sort of attention. It wasn't until the Best Picture category began to allow more than five nominees that he managed to be nominated for a film in the running for Best Picture.
His Oscar Beauties
The Little Princess (1995), Sleepy Hollow (1999), The New World (2005), Children of Men (2006), The Tree of Life (2011) and soon... Gravity (2013)
So I'm thrilled, just thrilled, that he seems certain to win his first golden man for his magnificent work on Gravity. I am not crazy about the film (my take is not meant to be contrarian and I wish so much that it wasn't since I love or like Cuarón, Lubezki, Bullock, Clooney, adult sci-fi, and female-driven narratives on principle if not always in execution) but his work is beyond and the best reason to see the film.
So Oscar is giving but, get to the point Nathaniel, what is Oscar taking away?
The Cinematography category is in deep jeopardy. Should Lubezki win his first statue on Oscar night it will yet again reveal the collapse of this category no matter how deserving he is. Should Gravity win this prize in March 2014 it will be the FIFTH CONSECUTIVE YEAR when a film took both the Visual Effects and the Cinematography statues in tandem following Avatar (2009), Inception (2010), Hugo (2011) and Life of Pi (2012). It would also mean that in four out of five years a 3-D picture won. If you ask me none of those previous four were deserving of the win, considering their strong competition, though in all cases the nomination was fully justifiable or at least made a kind of sense. In this way it doesn't matter that Lubezki will probably fully deserve that Oscar in March. What matters is that five consecutive years is no coincidence. It means that Oscar voters no longer appreciate the difference or care to separate the art of cinematography from what happens inside computers. I don't know how to fix this problem but I worry for the craft that it's come to this, that your film has to push the visual effects envelope and you have to be 3D for your DP to be considered Oscar-worthy.