- Surprising Best Cinematography award winner: The American Society of Cinematographers’ choice in the feature film category was Bruno Delbonnel for his work on Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s French-language World War I-set drama A Very Long Engagement.
- Veterans Fred J. Koenekamp and Tonino Dell Colli finally honored.
ASC first: Best Cinematography Award goes to Bruno Delbonnel for French-language WWI-set drama A Very Long Engagement
One notable surprise this awards season was the American Society of Cinematographers’ top choice in their feature film category: The ASC’s Best Cinematography Award went to Bruno Delbonnel for his work on Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s big-budget (an estimated $50–$55 million) French-American co-production A Very Long Engagement / Un long dimanche de fiançailles, starring Audrey Tautou, Gaspard Ulliel, and featuring both French-language dialogue and U.S. actress Jodie Foster. (See further below the ASC’s list of winners.)
Delbonnel’s victory marked the first time the ASC Award – since its inception in 1986 – went to a non-English-language release, and the first time a nonmember of the American Society of Cinematographers came out on top.
A Very Long Engagement has also been shortlisted for the Best Cinematography Academy Award.
Bruno Delbonnel had been previously nominated for both the ASC Award and the Oscar for another French-language, Jeunet-directed effort, Amélie (2001), also starring Audrey Tautou.
More Best Cinematography award nominees
The other Best Cinematography award nominees in the ASC’s feature film category were the following:
- Robert Richardson for Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator.
- Caleb Deschanel for Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.
- Pawel Edelman for Taylor Hackford’s Ray.
- Dion Beebe & Paul Cameron for Michael Mann’s Collateral.
Robert Richardson’s previous ASC Award nominations were for the Oliver Stone hits Born on the Fourth of July (1989) and JFK (1991), plus A Few Good Men (1992), the Stone flop Heaven & Earth (1993), The Horse Whisperer (1998), and Snow Falling on Cedars (1999).
Richardson won an Oscar for JFK, and was nominated for Stone’s Platoon (1986) and Born on the Fourth of July, in addition to Snow Falling on Cedars.
Caleb Deschanel had previously won an ASC Best Cinematography Award for another Mel Gibson effort, The Patriot (2000). He was also shortlisted for Carroll Ballard’s Fly Away Home (1996).
Deschanel received Oscar nominations for both films and The Passion of the Christ, as well as for The Right Stuff (1983) and The Natural (1984). Strangely, he was bypassed for Ballard’s The Black Stallion (1979), hailed in some quarters as one of the most visually striking movies ever made.
Pawel Edelman was an ASC Award and Oscar nominee for Roman Polanski’s The Pianist (2002). Dion Beebe and Paul Cameron were first-time ASC contenders.
Honorary award recipients Fred J. Koenekamp & Tonino Delli Colli
A couple of other American Society of Cinematographers honorees were Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Fred J. Koenekamp, 82, and International Award recipient Tonino Delli Colli, 81.
In movies since the mid-1960s, the Los Angeles-born Koenekamp shared an Academy Award with Joseph F. Biroc for John Guillermin’s blockbuster The Towering Inferno (1974). His two other Oscar nominations were for Patton (1970) and Islands in the Stream (1977).
This year’s Lifetime Achievement Award is Koenekamp’s very first ASC honor.
His other big-screen credits include Billy Jack, Papillon, The Other Side of Midnight, The Champ, The Amityville Horror, and First Monday in October.
Never nominated for either the Academy Awards or the ASC Awards, Rome-born Tonino Delli Colli has worked on more than 130 movies since the mid-1940s.
His credits include Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Mamma Roma, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, The Decameron, The Canterbury Tales, and Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom; Sergio Leone’s The Good the Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West, and Once Upon a Time in America (which earned him a British Academy Award nomination); and Lina Wertmüller’s Seven Beauties and Blood Feud.
Delli Colli’s most recent film is Roberto Benigni’s Life Is Beautiful (1998), which earned him his fourth David di Donatello Award. The previous three were for Camera d’albergo (1981), The Name of the Rose (1986), and Marianna Ucrìa (1997).
Lastly, filmmaker Gilbert Cates, whose credits include I Never Sang for My Father, Summer Wishes Winter Dreams, and, as a producer, about a dozen Academy Award ceremonies, was the recipient of the ASC’s Board of the Governors Award.
Major awards season names not on ASC roster
Somewhat surprisingly, the American Society of Cinematographers bypassed two North American critics’ favorites: Christopher Doyle and Zhao Xiaoding for their work on, respectively, Hero and House of Flying Daggers. Both titles are Zhang Yimou-directed Chinese period epics.
Finding Neverland cinematographer Roberto Schaefer was another noteworthy Best Cinematography Award absentee.
For their part, ASC nominees Edelman and the Beebe/Cameron were bypassed at the Oscars. Taking their place were Zhao for House of Flying Daggers and John Mathieson for The Phantom of the Opera.
Last year, the ASC Best Cinematography Award (feature film) went to John Schwartzman for Gary Ross’ Seabiscuit.
The Best Cinematography Oscar, however, went to ASC nominee Russell Boyd for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.
Update: This year’s Best Cinematography Academy Award winner was Robert Richardson for The Aviator.
List of ASC winners
Film: A Very Long Engagement - Bruno Delbonnel.
Motion Picture, Miniseries, or Pilot for Broadcast TV: Homeland Security - Jonathan Freeman.
Motion Picture, Miniseries, or Pilot for Basic or Pay TV: Iron Jawed Angels - Robbie Greenberg.
Lifetime Achievement Award: Fred J. Koenekamp.
International Award: Tonino Delli Colli.
Board of the Governors Award: Gilbert Cates.
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“Cinematography Award” endnotes
American Society of Cinematographers website.
Bruno Delbonnel as the first non-member ASC Best Cinematography Award winner via Variety.
Image of Audrey Tautou in the ASC Best Cinematography Award winner A Very Long Engagement image: Warner Bros.
Tom Cruise Collateral image: DreamWorks | Paramount Pictures.
“Cinematography Award Unexpectedly Goes to French-Language WWI Drama” last updated in April 2021.