Gordon Willis & Caleb Deschanel: Biggest Oscar Snubs #10a

Diane Keaton, Woody Allen in Manhattan
Diane Keaton, Woody Allen in Manhattan

  • Gordon Willis for Klute (1971), The Godfather (1972), The Paper Chase (1973), The Godfather: Part II (1974), All the President's Men (1976), Annie Hall (1977), Manhattan (1979), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
  • Caleb Deschanel for The Black Stallion (1979), Being There (1979)

Those nominated – or not nominated – in the “technical” categories tend to be ignored by most of the media and Oscarwatchers in general. So, it's not like there was widespread screaming, eye-rolling, and gnashing of teeth over the fact that Michael Nyman's haunting scores, Lee Smith's splashy film editing, and Caleb Deschanel's and Gordon Willis' masterful camerawork failed to receive Academy Award nominations. Even so, many were outraged.

“I have no idea why they don't nominate me,” the New York-based Willis remarked at the time of his Manhattan snub. “Maybe if I bought a house in Hollywood I'd have a better chance.” Conrad L. Hall felt differently, asserting that the Academy's Cinematographers Branch failed to recognize Willis' darkly lit, grainy work because “the veterans want to see the eyes, always the eyes. They said they would have been fired if they'd shot that way.”

Also in 1979, Willis' fellow non-nominee Caleb Deschanel (for Being There and/or The Black Stallion) admitted: “I'm disappointed. The fact that so many people told me I was sure to get the nomination has made it harder to take. On the other hand, who am I? I'm just a young punk making his name in this business. [Deschanel began his feature-film career that year.] But to ignore Gordon Willis is a crime.”

I'm sure there are some who wonder to this day if in early 1980 the members of the Cinematographers Branch voted for The Black Hole – which was shortlisted – thinking they were voting for The Black Stallion.

Since then, Gordon Willis has been nominated for two Academy Awards: Zelig (1983) and The Godfather: Part III (1990). Along with Lauren Bacall and Roger Corman, Willis received an Honorary Oscar at the Academy's first Governors Awards ceremony in November 2009.

Caleb Deschanel has been nominated for five Oscars: The Right Stuff (1983), The Natural (1984), Fly Away Home (1996), The Patriot (2000), and The Passion of the Christ (2004). Deschanel will probably be getting his own Honorary Oscar sometime in the not-too-distant future. (Note that both Willis and Deschanel received their first Oscar nomination in 1983, four years after the Academy's Manhattan/The Black Stallion debacle.)

Gordon Willis, Conrad L. Hall, and Caleb Deschanel quotes: Inside Oscar by Mason Wiley and Damien Bona.

Gordon Willis & Caleb Deschanel: Biggest Oscar Snubs #10a © 2004–2018 Alt Film Guide and/or author(s).
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2 Comments to Gordon Willis & Caleb Deschanel: Biggest Oscar Snubs #10a

  1. Bill B.

    Don't laugh, but I think the first half of The Black Stallion is just about as perfect a piece of filmmaking as I have ever seen. The second half is fine to, but the first half is very, very special to me. The primary reason I remember reading why he was not nominated for his then jawdropping work in this film was that Deschanel refused to join the cinematographers' union and those union members did not vote for him. I'm not sure about this, but that is what I remember reading from some source. I was an advid reader of Variety for many years back when it was an amazing newspaper, so I would imagine it came from there, but that's just a guess.

  2. Marcus Tucker

    The BLACK STALLION is a film that a lot of critics and people who write about film do not mention very often. So much of the story had to be told without dialogue that less skillful people would have failed. I wish the film were better remembered.