Is Emmanuel Lubezki the best DP of all time?

After carefully reviewing ‘The Revenant’ (directed by Academy Award winner Alejandro González Iñárritu) I find myself wondering if Emmanuel Lubezki is the best director of photography (DP) of all time.

THE REVENANT Copyright © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved. THE REVENANT Motion Picture Copyright © 2015 Regency Entertainment (USA), Inc. and Monarchy Enterprises S.a.r.l. All rights reserved.Not for sale or duplication.
THE REVENANT
Copyright © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved. THE REVENANT Motion Picture Copyright © 2015 Regency Entertainment (USA), Inc. and Monarchy Enterprises S.a.r.l. All rights reserved.Not for sale.

Directors of photography (also called cinematographers) are not always acknowledged by the pivotal role they play in a film, in fact, most of the time their work goes unnoticed by general audiences. Only a handful of movies of the Hollywood industry are lauded because of the good work of a DP and since the last few years, most of those motion pictures have the name Lubezki among their credits.

His skills with natural light to create surreal environments, as well as his capacity to dazzle with breath-taking action sequences have made him a household name. Robert Hardy has praised this DP’s work in the following manner:

First and foremost is his absolutely stunning command of natural light. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the past three Terrence Malick films (there are more in the works). When you add the improvisatory and oftentimes playful camera work of these films to the complex, beautiful natural lighting, you get some of the most visually arresting images in contemporary film. Robert Hardy.

LUBEZKI Great Expectations 1998

For me one of his most interesting yet underrated achievements, can be found in the 1998 film ‘Great Expectations’ in which he worked for the now celebrated Alfonso Cuarón. They later worked in ‘Childen of Men’ (2006) a film where they effectively portrayed a pre-apocalyptic world and delivered innovative battle scenes. His participation in ‘The Tree of Life’ is always acclaimed by critics but the film itself is complicated so maybe it is not the best piece of his work to assess. One could try it with ‘Birdman’ though!

About ‘The Revenant’… well I would not go into too much detail right now in order to keep spoilers down to a minimum, but I can safely say it is a film with some of the best work he has shown so far, with outdoor complex scenes and superb camera work.

However, an answer for the question in the title of this piece cannot be easily provided, not even with all the considerations made so far. Perhaps awards can be used to quantify Lubeski’s success but then again, even if he gets the Oscar next month he will not have been the most awarded DP in history. That accolade remains with Leon Shamroy (‘Planet of the Apes’) and Joseph Ruttenberg (‘The Oscar’) because each of them have won the statuette four times! And were nominated in 18 and 10 different occasions (respectively). Of course, none of them had to struggle with an industry eager to film digitally, leaving the analog film behind.

Anyway, as I’ve stated before in other pieces, I am no critic, no expert but do want to let the record show I admire Lubezki’s cinematography and feel delighted with his professional achievements so far.  I don’t think he’s got serious competition for the Academy Award this year so in all fairness he ought to win it and become the first DP to win in three years in a row!

 

January 24th, 2015.

 

TRC

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