“Nebraska,” director Alexander Payne and d.p. Phedon Papamichael jumped at the chance to shoot in widescreen black and white, both for its iconographic qualities and the harmony it created between the film’s desolate Midwestern landscapes and the lonely isolation of Bruce Dern’s character, Woody Grant. “Without the cacophony of colors, you’re not fighting to make an elegant frame,” Papamichael told Variety. “There’s definitely a poetic power in black and white.”
Since the Academy stopped separating black and white from color in 1966, nine monochromatic films have been nominated, yet only one, “Schindler’s List” (1993), has won. Many say “Gravity” is the Oscar front-runner in cinematography, but if there’s one film that can upset the apple cart, that pic would be “Nebraska” (which, like the Cuaron space drama, shot on Arri Alexa cameras). Payne’s film is a throwback to the work of James Wong Howe and early Jim Jarmusch, down to the grain added in post. “Every filmmaker worth his or her salt aspires to make a black-and-white film at some point in their career,” says the director.
— Steve Chagollan