Eye on the Oscars: The Cinematographer

As a cinematographer, two films in particular have caught my eye this year, not only for their qualities as narrative but in particular the cinematographer’s ability to create a naturalistic beauty that invisibly inhabits the story and avoids pretty like the plague: “Margin Call” and “The Off Hours.”

Shot by d.p. Frank DeMarco virtually entirely on one floor of a Manhattan skyscraper, the $3.5 million “Margin Call” has the formidable challenge to not only record the downfall of a financial empire but to accomplish what great cinematography does best: convey place, time and emotion.

The ordinary becomes memorable from the first time-lapse titles to the long lens interiors and then, as the catastrophe unfolds at night, to the scenes lit seemingly by the data monitors themselves.

The film and its photography is tense and analytical. It uses traditional celluloid and two flavors of digital, seamlessly integrated.

“The Off Hours” was made on a budget so low, $35,000, as to qualify as no budget at all. Set in and around an all-night diner somewhere in Nowhereville, it is often very beautiful in contrast to the characters whose lives surround the restaurant.

Relying entirely on the lowly Canon 5Dmk11, d.p. Benjamin Kasulke balances the night interiors to the coming dawn with a fine control. His shots are simple and eloquent, and the camera brings extraordinary performances to life.

Often inhabiting the nether world between night and day, the “ordinary” is a character in itself and is more captivating than the more exotic locales of many other productions.

The twice Oscar-nominated Stephen Goldblatt, who was honored with Camerimage’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007, is the d.p. behind “The Help.”

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