The feature-film nominees for the 2007 American Society of Cinematographers Award are critics’ fave Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men), plus Dick Pope (The Illusionist), Robert Richardson, (The Good Shepherd), Dean Semler (Apocalypto), and veteran Vilmos Zsigmond (The Black Dahlia), who has been shooting films — among them Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Deer Hunter — since the early 1960s.
The above list include the eighth ASC nomination for Richardson; the third for Zsigmond, who won in 1993 for the telefilm Stalin; the second for Lubezki and Semler; and the first for Pope.
Dean Semler’s nod marks the second time that the ASC members have recognized work performed on a violent and controversial Mel Gibson epic. In 2004, Caleb Deschanel received a nomination for Gibson’s blood-soaked The Passion of the Christ.
“Favorable reviews tend to mention beautiful images, but that’s a matter of taste,” says ASC President Daryn Okada. “Artful images can be distressing if that’s what it takes to properly affect the emotional flow of a film. Our members judge whether the cinematographer helped to create a sense of time and place that pulls the audience into the story. We ask how the visual language affects the emotional content of the film. Great cinematography is something you feel.”
That being the case, I found it surprising that Guillermo Navarro of Pan’s Labyrinth (above, top photo, with Ivana Baquero, Doug Jones) didn’t get a nomination. Though hardly "pretty," Navarro’s work certainly contributed to the feeling of foreboding found in Guillermo del Toro’s fairy tale for adults.
On a whole different level, the same can be said for José Luis Alcaine’s subtle camerawork in Volver (above, lower photo, with Penélope Cruz), which gives Pedro Almodóvar’s comedy-drama just the right amount of colorful hyper-realism.
Zsigmond’s cinematography, on the other hand, made The Black Dahlia look both pretty and phony — a grittier, noirish look would have been more appropriate for Brian De Palma’s (generally panned) murder mystery.
And once again, both Clint Eastwood World War II epics, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, were missing in action. And so were potential nominees Babel, Dreamgirls, The Departed, and The Queen.
According to the ASC website, the Society "traces its roots to the dawn of the motion picture industry in 1913, when the Cinema Club in New York and the Static Club in Los Angeles were organized by the first generation of cinematographers who were literally inventing a new language. Fifteen members of those two clubs organized the ASC in January 1919. They wrote a charter, which dedicated the organization to advancing the evolving art and craft of telling stories with moving images. There are some 290 ASC members from many nations today, and approximately 140 associate members from allied sectors of the industry."