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The Top 25: Best Cinematography Winners

It’s that time again! Yes folks, welcome back to another recurring series of mine. Which one is this? Well, the title of the piece is kind of self explanatory. However, I’ll reiterate what I’ve previously said before, in case you’re new to it: for this weekly series I’m going to be running down the top 25 Oscar winners in just about all of the categories. Aside from the shorts and possibly something like Best Sound Editing or Best Sound Mixing (though I might add those in this year), I’ll be hitting them all, including of course the big eight categories. For starters though, I figured I’d go with one of the most highly regarded of the technical categories…Best Cinematography. Depending on the category, I may discuss the individual winners I’m citing specifically or just sort of give a broad overview of the winners, but for now, I’ll keep it simple. Honestly though, you all mostly want to see the list anyway, so I have no problem obliging you there. Just be patient over the next few paragraphs…

As always, some history: There are few categories more overtly artistic than this one, though the category has undergone some major changes over the decades. Up until 1967, the category was mostly split between black and white and color (though before 1936 there was only one award, since almost every movie was in black and white), so there were two Oscars given out before then, which gives you more winners than usual to sift through. Also of late, the trend has moved to rewarding 3D productions. In fact, almost exclusively 3D works had won for a period of time. That’s slowed down a bit, but it’s still a definite factor. Time will tell if that’s something that continues in the years going forward.

Among the black and white winners, the best in my book include Boris Kaufman for On the Waterfront and Robert Krasker for The Third Man, to name just a few (plus a certain brand new winner, of course). As for the 3D winners, the best so far is probably our most recent winner Emmanuel Lubezki for Gravity, though that’s going to be an evolving group in the years to come, so we’ll see how that holds up in a decade or so. For now though, Lubezki is on top in that regard.

My personal favorite bit of Oscar winning cinematography to date has got to be Janusz Kamiński’s work on Schindler’s List, though I’d also put Kamiński’s work in Saving Private Ryan up pretty high to, so I think we can figure out who my favorite winner is here (though Conrad Hall gives him a run for his money with two top notch winners cited by yours truly on the list to come as well) . Honestly, a lot of my favorites are bits of cinematography that either were nominated and didn’t win or weren’t even nominated in the first place. That could be a whole separate list for another time, but among the winners, what Kamiński did with Schindler’s List is easily the best I’ve seen be rewarded by the Academy. Also ranking highly is now two time winner Roger Deakins, who finally took home an Oscar for his work shooting Blade Runner 2049 and did so once again most recently for 1917, which may well end up enduring as some of the best of all time, impacting the list quite a bit since last time.

Enough talk though, let’s get to the good stuff that you’ve all been patiently waiting for. Here now is my personal list of the 25 top winners of the Best Cinematography Oscar to date:

25. Vittorio Storaro – Apocalypse Now
24. Freddie Young – Doctor Zhivago
23. Conrad Hall – Road to Perdition
22. Daniel L. Fapp – West Side Story
21. Sven Nykvist – Fanny and Alexander
20. Alfonso Cuaron – Roma
19. Burnett Guffey – Bonnie and Clyde
18. Russell Metty – Spartacus
17. Emmanuel Lubezki – Gravity
16. Boris Kaufman – On the Waterfront
15. Ernest Haller and Ray Rennahan – Gone with the Wind
14. Robert Krasker – The Third Man
13. Linus Sandgren – La La Land
12. Conrad Hall – American Beauty
11. Geoffrey Unsworth – Cabaret
10. Vilmos Zsigmond – Close Encounters of the Third Kind
9. Roger Deakins – Blade Runner 2049
8. Néstor Almendros – Days of Heaven
7. Robert Surtees – Ben-Hur
6. Guillermo Navarro – Pan’s Labyrinth
5. Janusz Kamiński – Saving Private Ryan
4. Freddie Young – Lawrence of Arabia
3. John Alcott – Barry Lyndon
2. Roger Deakins – 1917
1. Janusz Kamiński – Schindler’s List

Honorable Mention: Mauro Fiore (Avatar), Loyal Griggs (Shane), Jack Hildyard (The Bridge on the River Kwai), and Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire)

Until next time ladies and gentleman, when I’ll probably be discussing one of the Screenplay categories…so stay tuned there!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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