Cinematographer wins feature honor

Robert Elswit staved off a tough field Saturday night at the American Society of Cinematographers awards ceremony when he topped the feature competition for his work on Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood.”

“I just think it’s impossible to pick these five films apart from one another,” said Elswit, who has shot all of Anderson’s movies dating back to the filmmaker’s 1996 feature debut “Hard Eight.” “I’m really lucky that Janusz (Kaminki) did extraordinary work a year after he resigned from the ASC, and that Roger (Deakins) is competing with himself. To avoid this (from happening again) there should probably be a category called ‘best cinematography in a movie by Roger Deakins.”

As Elswit suggested, it’s anybody’s guess as to whether Deakins’ two noms, for “No Country for Old Men” and “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” might have split the vote in Deakins’ disfavor. With the ASC’s nominees in perfect alignment with those of the Academy for only the second time in the ASC’s 22 years of bestowing awards, one might view Elswit’s ASC win as an Oscar bellwether. But given that the ASC’s 298 members only represent a fraction of the Acad’s 6,500-plus strong who are eligible to vote for Oscar’s winning cinematographer, it’s more like comparing apples and oranges.

The last time the two organizations matched noms, John Seale won both contests for “The English Patient,” a film with which this year’s “Atonement” — shot by ASC and Oscar nominee Seamus McGarvey — has been often compared.

Like that of Deakins, Elswit’s skill is evident in more than one film released this year; he also shot “Michael Clayton,” whose star, George Clooney, worked with Elswit on “Good Night, and Good Luck.”

Others taking home awards from the Hollywood and Highland Grand Ballroom included Aussie d.p. Ben Nott, who won in the movie/miniseries/pilot category for TNT’s “The Company”; and Glen Winter, who aced the episodic TV award for “Noir,” an episode of CW’s “Smallville.”

As is the case every year, honorary awards dominated the evening, with Annette Bening being given the Board of Governors Award; Stephen Burum, a frequent collaborator with Brian De Palma, accepting the org’s Lifetime Achievement Award; Brit lenser Walter Lassally (“Tom Jones,” “A Taste of Honey”) being honored with the International Award; George Spiro Dibie awarded the Career Achievement in Television kudo; and visual effects wizard Richard Edlund accepting the Presidents Award.

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