Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Best Cinematography - The Big Lebowski

I've been on a film odyssey for several years now - I'm wading my way through watching every Oscar-nominated film since the Oscars were first handed out in 1928. So far, I've worked my way up to 1945 (I'm watching all nominees in all categories). Needless to say, I'm gaining many skills in the process:

  • I'm a very discerning viewer now. I only have an appetite for really good movies and can only watch a bad or mediocre movie for a few minutes.
  • I'm learning to spot winners before the awards are handed out - the two movies I can specifically recall KNOWING would win in a category as I was watching them were Scent of a Woman (I knew Al Pacino would win for Best Actor) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (I knew it would win in at least one of several categories, especially Art Direction).
  • I'm gaining an appreciation for the many aspects of making a movie, beyond the acting, such as directing (I can often spot the work of a director without knowing who it is in advance) writing, editing (so crucial and so subjective), set design, etc.
  • I think this process should be a college course in American Anthropology. Watching this many movies in sequential order is allowing me to watch the evolution of our society over the decades, including concepts surrounding beauty, morality, racism, power, war, violence, sex, and so much more. Simply fascinating.

The incredibly awesome Jesus character
from The Big Lebowski. John Turturro
made a small part spectacular and
memorable. LOVE the jumpsuit...and
the purple pinky fingernail and purple
bowling ball.
I've come across many Directors during this film fetish of mine, including the Coen Brothers (Joel & Ethan). They have become one of my favorite directing duos, as their work is quirky, irreverent, and often beautiful. The Big Lebowski is one of theirs that I've watched many times over, and I've since learned that it has a cult following. While watching it, I can't help but admire the cinematography. It's beyond beautiful - it's sharp, glistening, unusual, and smart.

Some of the scenes that I relish are:

  • The many atmospheric shots inside the bowling alley, such as the backgrounds showing glowing vintage neon wall art, the smooth long wooden lanes, the bowlers letting balls go one after the other after the other in sequence, and close-up views of the bowling pin reset mechanisms (and I'm not a bowler!).
  • The clever aspect of a view from inside a bowling ball (the Dude has become stuck inside one of the ball's finger holes in his dream), as the ball rolls down the lane.
  • The unusual angles, such as when the thug is shoving Dude's head into the toilet - the camera angle is down below the toilet looking up, so we see the toilet, the Dude and the thug behind him, all in one shot. Great perspective.
  • The under-the-girls view as the Dude passes through the legs of the Busby Berkeley style showgirls with bowling pin headdresses. In fact, the entire dream sequence is well-lit and well-shot.
As I watch the movie (again) and my eyes linger on each of the beautiful shots, I can't help but wonder how Roger Deakins did not win Best Cinematography for this film. Insights welcomed!

I think Sam Elliott deserves a special mention here, but then, he deserves his own blog post! Time for an oat soda...

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