Academy Award for Best Cinematography: Ranked 10 Winners
“And the Academy Award for Best Cinematography goes to…”
It’s not just the directors who are responsible for all the pretty pictures on the silver screen.
There’s an entirely different artist in charge of getting the right light through the right lens to make the images pop!
And they are one of the most influential and artistic people behind the camera that add another level of atmosphere to every movie they shoot.
For this list, we’ll be ranking our top picks for the best cinematographers of all time to receive the famed Golden Statuette.
Let us quickly take a look at the list of best cinematographers and their works that have been acknowledged by the Academy.
|10.||James Wong Howe||Hud (B&W)
The Rose Tattoo (B&W)
|9.||Charles Rosher||Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
|8.||Vittorio Storaro||The Last Emperor
|6.||Sven Nykvist||Fanny and Alexander
Cries and Whispers
|5.||Gregg Toland||Wuthering Heights|
|4.||Freddie Young||Ryan’s Daughter
Lawrence of Arabia
|3.||Janus Kamiński||Saving Private Ryan
|2.||Emmanuel Lubezki||The Revenant
Blade Runner 2049
10. James Wong Howe
At a young age, Wong Howe avidly tinkered with cameras and photography techniques.
This tinkering eventually led him to make technical innovations in cinema that earned him a spot in film history.
Contributing to over 130 films, Mr. Howe became a much sought-after cinematographer for his ability to shoot beautiful images.
Similarly, the way he manipulated light and shadow to create images was revolutionary at the time.
He took home two Academy Awards for Best Cinematography for his work in the ‘Rose Tattoo’ and ‘Hud.’
But the mesmerizing ‘Seconds’ is his crowning achievement.
9. Charles Rosher
In the early days of cinema, crazy camera tricks and special effects were a thing of science fiction, and you had to use the tools available.
Rosher was an artist who used light and shadow to capture beautiful images, and his mastery made him a vital part of the movie industry.
Through 1927s ‘Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans’, Rosher distinguished himself as an indispensable cinematographer with his use of long tracking shots and forced perspectives.
As a matter of fact, the movie made him the first-ever recipient of the Academy Award for Best Cinematography.
It’s hard to think of a more stunning film from the silent era, largely thanks to this visionary.
His second Oscar win came in 1946 for the family drama film ‘The Yearling.’
8. Vittorio Storaro
There was nothing quite like the work of Vittorio Storaro in the 70s and 80s.
You will know Storaros’s work for his overwhelming single sources that shape the tone of an entire scene, for his always Smokey beams of light and his emblematic use of colors.
His best collaborations were those with “Francis Ford Copella” and “Bernardo Bertolucci.”
With them, he produced films such as ‘Apocalypse Now,’ ‘The Last Emperor,’ and ‘The Conformist.’
Moreover, he strikes us as the cinematographer of the era who has most clearly been inspired by those before him.
The depth of “Toland,” the color of “Burke,” the frames of “Young,” Vittorio synthesized all their brilliance and pushed it on to the next generation.
Creating a new modern language of images that are bold, beautiful, and full of meaning that persists to this day.
Likewise, he’s one of the three individuals who’ve won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography three times.
7. Robert Richardson
Robert Richardson has made an indelible mark on cinema, working with such titans as ‘Oliver Stone,’ ‘Martin Scorsese,’ and ‘Quentin Tarantino.’
He knows many ways to portray violence on screen, from the gritty realism of Platoon to the all-out cartoon mayhem of Kill Bill.
Uniquely, he also helped construct one of the most engaging 3D experiences ever in Hugo.
Mr. Richardson is also one of the three individuals who’ve won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography on three different occasions.
Recently, Richardson was nominated for his work on ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’, which was preceded by ‘Django Unchained’ and ‘The Hateful Eight.’
6. Sven Nykvist
For number #6 on our list, we’re looking to Sweden for the timeless work of Sven Nykvist.
Sven Nykvist is a Cinematography God!
Best known for his work with ‘Ingmar Bergman in the prime of both of their careers, they pushed each other to new aesthetic heights.
After all, his look evolved from high essential TV-style fluff to high contrast, moody and graphical to soft, simple, and naturalistic.
His naturally sourced lighting achingly reveals the truth in the eyes.
Where ‘Storaro’ brilliantly lit sets like no other, there’s nobody who can light the face like ‘Sven Nykvist,’ lighting it in a million different ways.
Boldly or softly or harshly or sweetly or romantically or severely.
One needs to look no further than “Persona” for the ultimate cinematographic statement on the human visage.
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5. Gregg Toland
Cinematographers like ‘Lee Garmes,’ ‘Charles Lang,’ and especially ‘James Wong Howe’ shaped the black and white films of the 20s, 30s, and early 40s.
But none had quite so dramatic an effect as our number #5 pick Gregg Toland.
Toland’s legacy is one of not just embracing technological change but of wielding it as a weapon at the razor’s edge of the Hollywood aesthetic.
Cinematographer on such stunning films as ‘Les Miserables,’ ‘Wuthering Heights, and ‘The Grapes of Wrath, Toland axed soft fill lights favor deep black shadows.
He arranged complex frames and dramatic tableaus.
Surprisingly, in 1941 he teamed up with an utter novice, declaring that the only way to learn anything is from somebody who doesn’t know a damn thing.
And together, he and “Orson Wells” made ‘Citizen Kane.’
While his aesthetic revolution was almost immediately rejected for its over-severity and complexity, within a decade, it had become the new normal.
4. Freddie Young
Best known for his immense collaboration with directors “David Lean,” no one has used cinema’s frame quite so incredibly as Freddie Young.
Together the duo has worked on ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ ‘Doctor Zhivago,’ and ‘Ryans Daughter.’
The images that he has created are some of the most memorable in all of film history.
Similarly, he is a master of 70mm format in the harshest of environments.
There is such a devastating sense of natural spectacle in his work.
Being there in Freddie Young’s imagery that is of very little controversy that he is often and aptly referred to as the greatest cameraman of all time.
3. Janusz Kamiński
You know Janusz Kamiński’s work from his decades-long relationship with “Steven Spielberg,” and together, their images have practically defined this era!
Working with Spielberg to orchestrate long take masters that perfectly cover an entire scene.
To emphasize, his lighting is massive, and he’s famous for throwing entire trucks’ worth of kits at a set to get the look right.
Backlight heavy, glamorous, and it screaming Hollywood in such a way that it is his touch that most of us think of when we think of blockbuster cinematography.
From ‘Schindler’s List’ to ‘Lincoln,’ Janusz Kamiński has shot a lot of the big Hollywood blockbusters that have become classics.
His career began with the ill-fated ‘Cool as Ice’ but has moved up a few notches with such films as ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and ‘Catch Me If You Can.’
2. Emmanuel Lubezki
With his remarkable control of natural lighting and things like long takes, this cinematographer took home the Academy Award for Best Cinematography three years in a row.
At the 2016 ceremony, he won the golden statuette for the western survival thriller “The Revenant.”
Leonardo Di Caprio also won his first Oscar for the same film.
The year before that, the Oscar he was awarded was for the surreal ‘Birdman,’ in which he tricks the audience into believing that they are watching a 119-minute long uncut shot.
The year before that, Lubezki won for Gravity, a movie directed by his frequent collaborator Alfonso Cuarón.
In the movie, he provides a beautiful yet terrifying first-hand look at the vastness of space.
Even with those accolades, though, the sequence he’ll likely go down in history for is the continuous uninterrupted car ambush from “Children of Men.”
1. Roger Deakins
No one has been in the front line of the cinematic revolutions while producing one of the most consistently incredible bodies of work quite like the inimitable “Roger Deakins.”
Whether you like the tranquil scenery of a Coen Brothers movie or the all-out action-packed spectacle of a film like ‘Skyfall,’ Deakins was there, camera in hand.
And that’s mostly because he seems to be medically allergic to only ordinarily beautiful shots.
Deakins’s widescreen frames are evocative of the stunning tableaus of “Freddie Young,”
His bold colors of “Storaro.”
His naturalistic lighting of “Nykvist.”
And his patient but methodical camera movement of “Toland.”
His style is easily the most emulated of today, which will no doubt have an immense effect on the look of the era.
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