Oscars 2019 Category Breakdown: Best Cinematography

Here’s how this works: every day leading up to the Oscars, I break down each of the 24 categories. The goal is to both familiarize everyone with the category itself (how it works, what its history is and how you go about figuring out what’s gonna win) while also making it easier to reference when I write my giant article with picks and everything. A lot of the leg work is already here. But really, the goal is to see if there’s anything to look for leading into Oscar night that could be a shortcut to me picking the category.

What we do is — I give you all the winners of the category throughout history, go over all the recent trends if there are any, discuss the precursors and whether or not they matter, and then we talk about this year’s category and how we got to it, and then just look at where we are and rank the nominees in terms of their likelihood of winning (at the current moment in time. Of course, things can and will change going into the ceremony). It’s all pretty simple. I’ve done this every year. Everyone should know the drill.

Today is Best Cinematography, which is now officially the ‘Oh, wait, we’re actually giving these to Deakins now?’ award.

Year Best Cinematography Winners Other Nominees
1927-1928 Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans The Devil Dancer

The Magic Flame

Sadie Thompson

1928-1929 White Shadows in the South Seas The Divine Lady

4 Devils

In Old Arizona

Our Dancing Daughters

Street Angel

1929-1930 With Byrd at the South Pole All Quiet on the Western Front

Anna Christie

Hell’s Angels

The Love Parade

1930-1931 Tabu: A Story of the South Seas Cimarron


The Right to Love


1931-1932 Shanghai Express Arrowsmith

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

1932-1933 A Farewell to Arms Reunion in Vienna

The Sign of the Cross

1934 Cleopatra The Affairs of Cellini

Operator 13

1935 A Midsummer Night’s Dream Barbary Coast

The Crusades

Les Misérables

1936 Anthony Adverse The General Died at Dawn

The Gorgeous Hussy

1937 The Good Earth Dead End

Wings Over Honolulu

1938 The Great Waltz Algiers

Army Girl

The Buccaneer


Mad About Music


Vivacious Lady

You Can’t Take It With You

The Young in Heart

1939 Black and White: Wuthering Heights

Color: Gone With the Wind

Black and White: First Love

The Great Victor Herbert

Gunga Din

Intermezzo: A Love Story


Lady of the Tropics

Only Angels Have Wings


The Rains Came

Color: Drums Along the Mohawk

The Four Feathers

The Mikado

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex

The Wizard of Oz

1940 Black and White: Rebecca

Color: The Thief of Bagdad

Black and White: Abe Lincoln in Illinois

All This, and Heaven Too

Arise, My Love

Boom Town

Foreign Correspondent

The Letter

The Long Voyage Home

Spring Parade

Waterloo Bridge

Color: Bitter Sweet

The Blue Bird

Down Argentine Way

North West Mounted Police

Northwest Passage

1941 Black and White: How Green Was My Valley

Color: Blood and Sand

Black and White: The Chocolate Soldier

Citizen Kane

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Hold Back the Dawn

Sergeant York

Sun Valley Serenade


That Hamilton Woman

Color: Aloma of the South Seas

Billy the Kid

Blossoms in the Dust

Dive Bomber

Louisiana Purchase

1942 Black and White: Mrs. Miniver

Color: The Black Swan

Black and White: Kings Row

The Magnificent Ambersons


The Pied Piper

The Pride of the Yankees

Take a Letter, Darling

The Talk of the Town

Ten Gentlemen from West Point

This Above All

Color: Arabian Nights

Captains of the Clouds

Jungle Book

Reap the Wild Wind

To the Shores of Tripoli

1943 Black and White: The Song of Bernadette

Color: Phantom of the Opera

Black and White: Air Force


Corvette K-225

Five Graves to Cairo

The Human Comedy

Madame Curie

The North Star


So Proudly We Hail!

Color: For Whom the Bell Tolls

Heaven Can Wait

Hello, Frisco, Hello

Lassie Come Home

Thousands Cheer

1944 Black and White: Laura

Color: Wilson

Black and White: Double Indemnity

Dragon Seed


Going My Way


Since You Went Away

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo

The Uninvited

The White Cliffs of Dover

Color: Cover Girl

Home in Indiana


Lady in the Dark

Meet Me in St. Louis

1945 Black and White: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Color: Leave Her to Heaven

Black and White: The Keys of the Kingdom

The Lost Weekend

Mildred Pierce


Color: Anchors Aweigh

National Velvet

A Song to Remember

The Spanish Main

1946 Black and White: Anna and the King of Siam

Color: The Yearling

Black and White: The Green Years

Color: The Jolson Story

1947 Black and White: Great Expectations

Color: Black Narcissus

Black and White: Green Dolphin Street

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

Color: Life with Father

Mother Wore Tights

1948 Black and White: The Naked City

Color: Joan of Arc

Black and White: A Foreign Affair

I Remember Mama

Johnny Belinda

Portrait of Jennie

Color: Green Grass of Wyoming

The Loves of Carmen

The Three Musketeers

1949 Black and White: Battleground

Color: She Wore a Yellow Ribbon

Black and White: Champion

Come to the Stable

The Heiress

Prince of Foxes

Color: The Barkleys of Broadway

Jolson Sings Again

Little Women


1950 Black and White: The Third Man

Color: King Solomon’s Mines

Black and White: All About Eve

The Asphalt Jungle

The Furies

Sunset Boulevard

Color: Annie Get Your Gun

Broken Arrow

The Flame and the Arrow

Samson and Delilah

1951 Black and White: A Place in the Sun

Color: An American in Paris

Black and White: Death of a Salesman

The Frogmen

Strangers on a Train

A Streetcar Named Desire

Color: David and Bathsheba

Quo Vadis

Show Boat

When Worlds Collide

1952 Black and White: The Bad and the Beautiful

Color: The Quiet Man

Black and White: The Big Sky

My Cousin Rachel


Sudden Fear

Color: Hans Christian Anderson


Million Dollar Mermaid

The Snows of Kilimanjaro

1953 Black and White: From Here to Eternity

Color: Shane

Black and White: The Four Poster

Julius Caesar

Martin Luther

Roman Holiday

Color: All the Brothers Were Valiant

Beneath the 12 Mile Reef


The Robe

1954 Black and White: On the Waterfront

Color: Three Coins in the Fountain

Black and White: The Country Girl

Executive Suite

Rogue Cop


Color: The Egyptian

Rear Window

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

The Silver Chalice

1955 Black and White: The Rose Tattoo

Color: To Catch a Thief

Black and White: Blackboard Jungle

I’ll Cry Tomorrow


Queen Bee

Color: Guys and Dolls

Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing

A Man Called Peter


1956 Black and White: Somebody Up There Likes Me

Color: Around the World in 80 Days

Black and White: Baby Doll

The Bad Seed

The Harder They Fall

Stagecoach to Fury

Color: The Eddy Duchin Story

The King and I

The Ten Commandments

War and Peace

1957 The Bridge on the River Kwai An Affair to Remember

Funny Face

Peyton Place


1958 Black and White: The Defiant Ones

Color: Gigi

Black and White: Desire Under the Elms

I Want to Live!

Separate Tables

The Young Lions

Color: Auntie Mame

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

The Old Man and the Sea

South Pacific

1959 Black and White: The Diary of Anne Frank

Color: Ben-Hur

Black and White: Anatomy of a Murder


Some Like It Hot

The Young Philadelphians

Color: The Big Fisherman

The Five Pennies

A Nun’s Story

Porgy and Bess

1960 Black and White: Sons and Lovers

Color: Spartacus

Black and White: The Apartment

The Facts of Life

Inherit the Wind


Color: The Alamo

BUtterfield 8



1961 Black and White: The Hustler

Color: West Side Story

Black and White: The Absent-Minded Professor

The Children’s Hour

Judgment at Nuremberg

One, Two, Three

Color: Fanny

Flower Drum Song

A Majority of One

One-Eyed Jacks

1962 Black and White: The Longest Day

Color: Lawrence of Arabia

Black and White: Birdman of Alcatraz

To Kill a Mockingbird

Two for the Seesaw

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Color: Gypsy


Mutiny on the Bounty

The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm

1963 Black and White: Hud

Color: Cleopatra

Black and White: The Balcony

The Caretakers

Lilies of the Field

Love with the Proper Stranger

Color: The Cardinal

How the West Was Won

Irma la Douce

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

1964 Black and White: Zorba the Greek

Color: My Fair Lady

Black and White: The Americanization of Emily

Fate is the Hunter

Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte

The Night of the Iguana

Color: Becket

Cheyenne Autumn

Mary Poppins

The Unsinkable Molly Brown

1965 Black and White: Ship of Fools

Color: Doctor Zhivago

Black and White: In Harm’s Way

King Rat


A Patch of Blue

Color: The Agony and the Ecstasy

The Great Race

The Greatest Story Ever Told

The Sound of Music

1966 Black and White: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Color: A Man for All Seasons

Black and White: The Fortune Cookie

Georgy Girl

Is Paris Burning?


Color: Fantastic Voyage


The Professionals

The Sand Pebbles

1967 Bonnie and Clyde Camelot

Doctor Dolittle

The Graduate

In Cold Blood

1968 Romeo and Juliet Funny Girl

Ice Station Zebra



1969 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Anne of the Thousand Days

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice

Hello, Dolly!


1970 Ryan’s Daughter Patton


Tora! Tora! Tora!

Women in Love

1971 Fiddler on the Roof The French Connection

The Last Picture Show

Nicholas and Alexandra

Summer of ‘42

1972 Cabaret 1776

Butterflies are Free

The Poseidon Adventure

Travels with my Aunt

1973 Cries and Whispers The Exorcist

Jonathan Livingston Seagull

The Sting

The Way We Were

1974 The Towering Inferno Chinatown



Murder on the Orient Express

1975 Barry Lyndon The Day of the Locust

Funny Lady

The Hindenburg

One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest

1976 Bound for Glory King Kong

Logan’s Run


A Star is Born

1977 Close Encounters of the Third Kind Islands in the Stream


Looking for Mr. Goodbar

The Turning Point

1978 Days of Heaven The Deer Hunter

Heaven Can Wait

Same Time, Next Year

The Wiz

1979 Apocalypse Now 1941

All That Jazz

The Black Hole

Kramer vs. Kramer

1980 Tess The Blue Lagoon

Coal Miner’s Daughter

The Formula

Raging Bull

1981 Reds Excalibur

On Golden Pond


Raiders of the Lost Ark

1982 Gandhi Das Boot

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Sophie’s Choice


1983 Fanny and Alexander Flashdance

The Right Stuff



1984 The Killing Fields Amadeus

The Natural

A Passage to India

The River

1985 Out of Africa The Color Purple

Murphy’s Romance



1986 The Mission Peggy Sue Got Married


A Room with a View

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

1987 The Last Emperor Broadcast News

Empire of the Sun

Hope and Glory


1988 Mississippi Burning Rain Man

Tequila Sunrise

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

1989 Glory The Abyss


Born on the Fourth of July

The Fabulous Baker Boys

1990 Dances with Wolves Avalon

Dick Tracy

The Godfather Part III

Henry & June

1991 JFK Bugsy

The Prince of Tides

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Thelma & Louise

1992 A River Runs Through It Hoffa

Howards End

The Lover


1993 Schindler’s List Farewell My Concubine

The Fugitive

The Piano

Searching for Bobby Fisher

1994 Legends of the Fall Forrest Gump

The Shawshank Redemption

Three Colors: Red

Wyatt Earp

1995 Braveheart Batman Forever

A Little Princess

Sense and Sensibility

Shanghai Triad

1996 The English Patient Evita


Fly Away Home

Michael Collins

1997 Titanic Amistad


L.A. Confidential

The Wings of the Dove

1998 Saving Private Ryan A Civil Action


Shakespeare in Love

The Thin Red Line

1999 American Beauty The End of the Affair

The Insider

Sleepy Hollow

Snow Falling on Cedars

2000 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Gladiator


O Brother Where Art Thou?

The Patriot

2001 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Amélie

Black Hawk Down

The Man Who Wasn’t There

Moulin Rouge!

2002 Road to Perdition Chicago

Far from Heaven

Gangs of New York

The Pianist

2003 Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World City of God

Cold Mountain

Girl with a Pearl Earring


2004 The Aviator House of Flying Daggers

The Passion of the Christ

The Phantom of the Opera

A Very Long Engagement

2005 Memoirs of a Geisha Batman Begins

Brokeback Mountain

Good Night, and Good Luck

The New World

2006 Pan’s Labyrinth The Black Dahlia

Children of Men

The Illusionist

The Prestige

2007 There Will Be Blood The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford


The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

No Country for Old Men

2008 Slumdog Millionaire Changeling

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Dark Knight

The Reader

2009 Avatar Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

The Hurt Locker

Inglourious Basterds

The White Ribbon

2010 Inception Black Swan

The King’s Speech

The Social Network

True Grit

2011 Hugo The Artist

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Tree of Life

War Horse

2012 Life of Pi Anna Karenina

Django Unchained



2013 Gravity The Grandmaster

Inside Llewyn Davis



2014 Birdman The Grand Budapest Hotel


Mr. Turner


2015 The Revenant Carol

The Hateful Eight

Mad Max: Fury Road


2016 La La Land Arrival




2017 Blade Runner 2049 Darkest Hour



The Shape of Water

2018 Roma Cold War

The Favourite

Never Look Away

A Star Is Born

Being a tech category, the way you figure this out is, you look at the corresponding guild (which is ASC here), and then cross-list it with BAFTA and BFCA.

ASC’s been handing out awards since 1986, so we have a lot of data on how accurate they are. Here’s a list of their winners and how they did at the Oscars:

  • 1986, Peggy Sue Got Married (lost to The Mission, which it beat for ASC)
  • 1987, Empire of the Sun (lost to The Last Emperor, which it beat for ASC)
  • 1988, Tequila Sunrise (lost to Mississippi Burning, which it beat for ASC)
  • 1989, Blaze (lost to Glory, which wasn’t nominated for ASC)
  • 1990, Dances with Wolves (won both)
  • 1991, Bugsy (lost to JFK, which it beat for ASC)
  • 1992, Hoffa (lost to A River Runs Through It, which it beat for ASC)
  • 1993, Searching for Bobby Fischer (lost to Schindler’s List, which it beat for ASC)
  • 1994, The Shawshank Redemption (Deakins’ first win. Lost to Legends of the Fall, which it beat for ASC)
  • 1995, Braveheart (won both)
  • 1996, The English Patient (won both)
  • 1997, Titanic (won both)
  • 1998, The Thin Red Line (lost to Saving Private Ryan, which it beat for ASC)
  • 1999, American Beauty (won both)
  • 2000, The Patriot (lost to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which it beat for ASC)
  • 2001, The Man Who Wasn’t There (Deakins #2. Lost to Fellowship, which it beat for ASC)
  • 2002, Road to Perdition (won both)
  • 2003, Seabiscuit (lost to Master and Commander, which it beat for ASC. That was a weird year)
  • 2004, A Very Long Engagement (lost to The Aviator, which it beat for ASC)
  • 2005, Memoirs of a Geisha (won both)
  • 2006, Children of Men (fuck yeah! But it lost to Pan’s Labyrinth, which wasn’t even nominated for ASC. That’s a first. Maybe because Navarro wasn’t in the guild?)
  • 2007, There Will Be Blood (won both)
  • 2008, Slumdog Millionaire (won both)
  • 2009, The White Ribbon (lost to Avatar, which it beat for ASC)
  • 2010, Inception (won both)
  • 2011, The Tree of Life (lost to Hugo, which it beat for ASC)
  • 2012, Skyfall (Deakins #3. Lost to Life of Pi, which it beat for ASC)
  • 2013, Gravity (won both)
  • 2014, Birdman (won both)
  • 2015, The Revenant (won both)
  • 2016, Lion (lost to La La Land, which it beat for ASC)
  • 2017, Blade Runner 2049 (won both)
  • 2018, Cold War (lost to Roma, which it beat for ASC)

All-time, they’re 14/33, which is only 42%. They’re 50/50 the past decade, which isn’t great, though honestly, most of the time you can just sort of tell what’s gonna win the category without a precursor. But they do guide you, even if they are different.

BAFTA’s pretty much exactly the same. 15/33 going back to 1986, though one of their winners did win the year after it won the Oscar. Which… not exactly helpful. Though they are 7 for their last 10 and the last time they missed was 2011.

And BFCA, who only started handing out a Cinematography award in 2009, is 9/10 overall, with their only miss being in 2011, where they had a tie between War Horse and Tree of Life and Hugo won the Oscar.

Generally, though, you can tell just by looking at it, just like we can do this year.

Best Cinematography


The Irishman


The Lighthouse

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

The same six movies hit every precursor. These five and Ford v Ferrari. And even when The Lighthouse missed at ASC, they gave it a ‘Spotlight’ Award, which was basically the same as nominating it. So you kinda knew what the choices were and just had to guess what they were gonna leave out. Which, given the status of four of these films and The Lighthouse being crisp black and white, which the cinematographers can never pass up, the obvious cast away was Ford v Ferrari and in the end we got the expected category. I kinda wish Little Women was nominated (and Ford v Ferrari, but I can live without that one) instead of The Irishman, but overall, we got a really good category.

In terms of this year’s precursors, Roger Deakins just won the guild and won BFCA and has already won four BAFTAs for Cinematography and is clearly gonna get his fifth. So I think we know how to figure this one out.


5. The Irishman — I’m assuming people vote for this category by looking at the titles and then going, “Okay, what looked the best?” Maybe they consider who the cinematographer was that worked on it, but I assume it goes a lot like that. I don’t think anyone will look at this category and say, “The Irishman’s gotta be the choice.” Not enough for it to matter. And on top of that, Rodrigo Prieto’s not a person where you go, “I’m voting for him.” He’s not Deakins, he’s not Chivo, and he’s not Bob Richardson. Richardson won for Hugo with Marty, but that was a big 3D kinda deal. This doesn’t really have cinematography where you’re blown away. Marty can sneak an Editing win because it’s Thelma. Here… I don’t see it happening. Feels like a fifth choice, fourth at best.

4. The Lighthouse — You could make the case that this is fifth choice because it’s the least nominated, least ‘known/seen’ film in the category. And that’s fine. Make it fifth if you want. I think enough people saw this to at least go, “Oh yeah, that looked amazing,” and throw it a vote. I don’t think that’ll be nearly enough to put it in major contention, but I think it’s enough to make it the fourth choice. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe it’s fifth. Okay. We still know who’s winning this, so it doesn’t really matter, does it?

3. Joker — It gets third by default. Lawrence Sher is a first time nominee, so he’s not gonna have a block of people voting for him on name alone. The film looked nice, but I’m not sure how much of the old guard is gonna run to vote for it. Or if most people are gonna vote for it given the other choices here. I thought the look of the film was the best thing about it and still would only have it fourth on my list for a vote. Can’t see it being the choice. And without a precursor, I can’t put it any higher than this.

2. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — It’s Bob Richardson. He’s won three times. He’s been nominated for every Quentin movie since Basterds. He gorgeously recreates 1969 Los Angeles and has those unforgettable long takes of Brad Pitt driving up Hollywood Boulevard at night past the marquees. People remember that, and people will vote for that. But will it be enough to win? Doubt it. But if it’s gonna be anyone who can do it, it’ll be him.

1. 1917 — He won the guild, he won BFCA, BAFTA is his backyard, and he shot a war movie that looks like it was filmed entirely in one take. He’s the favorite, he’s gonna win, we don’t need to waste time on this. Honestly, it’s more surprising that he is such a lock. That’s really the only talking point here. Ten years ago we were begging the Academy to give him one of these. And now it’s like, “Oh yeah, he’s winning. That’s obvious.” Crazy what can happen in a decade.

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