That’s how long it took for a woman to be nominated for Best Cinematography at the Academy Awards. And since Rachel Morrison’s historic nod in 2018 (for Dee Rees’ Mudbound), no other women have been nominated yet, despite several promising contenders cropping up in the years since (Claire Mathon for Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Natasha Braier for Honey Boy, Anna Franquesca Solano for The Farewell, and Hélène Louvart for Never Rarely Sometimes Always, just to name a few).
However, with such a stacked field of female cinematographers in contention for awards recognition this season, it would surely be a shame for the Academy to neglect to nominate the second woman in the category’s history. Ari Wegner (The Power of the Dog) and Claire Mathon (Spencer) have received the lion’s share of pundits’ attention thus far, but they’re far from the only female cinematographers worthy of mentions at awards ceremonies this year, with long-working legends like Maryse Alberti (A Journal for Jordan) and compelling up-and-comers like Alice Brooks (In the Heights, tick, tick… BOOM!) aiming for attention as well.
Maryse Alberti – A Journal for Jordan
Maryse Alberti has been working as a cinematographer since 1984, and over the past three decades, she’s racked up quite a commendable number of film credits and received two Independent Spirit Awards for Best Cinematography, for her work on Todd Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine and Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler – the former of which earned her a spot on the cover of American Cinematographer, making her the first woman to receive such an honor.
She’s briefly been mentioned in the Best Cinematography conversation these last few years for both her work in Ryan Coogler’s Creed and Ron Howard’s Hillbilly Elegy, but when those films failed to become major awards contenders outside of one key supporting performance each (Sylvester Stallone for the former and Glenn Close for the latter), so too did her prospects dissipate. This year though, she’s back with Denzel Washington’s A Journal for Jordan. While the film may be more instantly notable for its stirring script or poignant performances from Michael B. Jordan and newcomer Chanté Adams, an icon like Alberti is inching towards her inevitable Oscar nom with every passing project, and you never know which one could be “it.”
Alice Brooks – In the Heights / tick, tick… BOOM!
After making herself known as a cinematographer via her work on films like Queen Bees and Jem and the Holograms, Alice Brooks broke out in a big way this year with Jon M. Chu’s In the Heights and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tick, tick… BOOM!, two major movie musicals that benefitted by her handsome handling of their bombastic musical sequences, announcing her as a new name to be on the lookout for.
Though In the Heights’ status as a strong awards contender was diminished even before the summer came to a close – potentially hurting her own chances at recognition – it can surely stage a comeback if SAG throws their ensemble cast a bone or if the Golden Globes do happen and the picture has a significant presence. However, at the same time, she also has the terrific tick, tick… BOOM! on the horizon, which could be a player in a number of categories if voters really respond to the Netflix musical drama. And if this isn’t her year, she’s already got Jon M. Chu’s Wicked lined up for the future.
Caroline Champetier – Annette
Since 1979, the prolific French cinematographer Caroline Champetier has contributed to over 100 films, winning the César Award for Best Cinematography in 2011 for her work on Xavier Beauvois’ Of Gods and Men and serving as the president of the French Society of Cinematographers between 2009 and 2012. Most cinephiles will recognize her for her work on Leos Carax’s 2012 film Holy Motors, and, this year, they collaborated once again on Annette.
While Annette’s story is probably a bit too surrealist for major awards bodies to bite (even the Golden Globes, where there’s a specific category to honor musicals), the performances, the direction, and the creative cinematography have justly received profuse praise from most critics. Though many pundits believe Annette’s best Oscar chances are in the Best Original Song category, it’s clear from her work here and throughout her career that Champetier is a cinematographic talent who warrants recognition from the Academy – and soon.
Daria D’Antonio – The Hand of God
Daria D’Antonio may have only just got her start in cinematography in 2007 with the documentary Crossing the Line, but she’s had a steady ascent into success ever since, even becoming the first woman to have won the Globo D’Oro for Best Cinematography twice (for La pelle dell’orso and Ricordi).
However, with Paolo Sorrentino’s The Hand of God, D’Antonio has launched into the big leagues, with her consuming cinematography serving as a standout in Netflix’s significant Best International Feature Film push at the 94th Academy Awards. Given that Sorrentino himself is being floated as a potential “surprise” Best Director pick, should the film take off, it wouldn’t be a shock to see D’Antonio’s winsome work singled out either.
Paula Huidobro – CODA
After shooting a slew of indies including Paul Bettany’s directorial debut Shelter and Sian Heder’s Tallulah (starring Elliot Page and Allison Janney), Paula Huidobro reteamed with Heder for 2021’s CODA – the biggest film she’s worked on to date. The film went on to sweep the Sundance jury awards and has cemented itself as a possible underdog in this year’s Best Picture race.
Though CODA has been commended most for its acting (particularly from Troy Kotsur and Marlee Matlin) and writing, it’s also sincerely well shot, especially in its moving musical scenes. Furthermore, Huidobro is a rising star in the cinematography world, having already earned an Emmy nomination in 2018 for her work on Bill Hader’s HBO comedy Barry, indicating that additional acclaim is in her future.
Jeanne Lapoirie – Benedetta
Beginning her career in the 1980s, French cinematographer Jeanne Lapoirie has worked with a number of distinguished directors, such as Luc Besson, Agnès Varda, and François Ozon. She’s also received two nominations for the César Award for Best Cinematography (one for 2003’s 8 femmes and one for 2014’s Michael Kohlhaas).
This year, she shot Paul Verhoeven’s Benedetta, the “controversial” chronicle of a novice nun who joins an Italian convent and has a lesbian love affair with another. Thus far, its scathing adapted screenplay has received the most accolades, and it remains to be seen if Benedetta will be a factor in the awards race at all, but it’s high time Lapoirie is acknowledged by the Academy too.
Hélène Louvart – The Lost Daughter
Yet another French cinematographer on our list, Hélène Louvart has come considerably closer than her peers to an Oscar nomination in recent years. The Indie Spirit Awards have already recognized her not once but twice (with a nomination for Best Cinematography in 2018 for Eliza Hittman’s Beach Rats and another in 2021 for Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always), while her work in 2018’s Happy as Lazzaro was similarly singled out by critics groups.
This year, Louvart teamed up with Maggie Gyllenhaal in her directorial debut The Lost Daughter, and the crispness she brings to her cinematography – and firm framing – complements Gyllenhaal’s striking style splendidly, enhancing the emotions of leads Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley. It’s as integral to the film’s overall ferocity as the powerful performances or Gyllenhaal’s distinctive direction, and she should be remembered when the film receives its inevitable awards recognition.
Claire Mathon – Spencer
Like Louvart, Claire Mathon is another French cinematographer who has been on the cusp of landing her first Oscar nod for a few years now, coming quite close in 2019 with the much-praised one-two punch of Atlantics and Portrait of a Lady on Fire (and even winning the Los Angeles Film Critics Association for Best Cinematography). Additionally, she was nominated for the César Award for Best Cinematography in 2014 for her work on Stranger by the Lake and won the award for Portrait.
When her involvement in Spencer was announced, many were instantly anticipating the synthesis of her and director Pablo Larraín’s styles, and the final product was as fantastic as hoped, with her cinematography being a major source of praise, right alongside Kristen Stewart’s powerhouse lead performance. And, with the film itself set to potentially be a major contender even outside the Best Actress category, there’s a chance Mathon could be swept up in that success too.
Ari Wegner – The Power of the Dog
Though she’s been working since the start of the century, cinematographer Ari Wegner truly made a name for herself just in these last five years, with films like Lady Macbeth, In Fabric, The True History of the Kelly Gang, and Zola (winning the British Independent Film Award for Best Cinematography for Macbeth and receiving a nomination for Fabric).
This year, she’s teamed up with Jane Campion to shoot The Power of the Dog, already earning the Artisan Award at the Toronto International Film Festival for her cinematographic achievement. Wegner and Campion work in tandem to curate the chilling atmosphere of the film, and it feels impossible to recognize one but not the other. Moreover, with Power set to be a big player in many categories – including Best Picture – it’s very likely that Wegner can crack the final five in Best Cinematography and follow in Rachel Morrison’s footsteps as the second woman to be nominated ever.
Kim White – Luca
After working in visual effects for a number of Pixar films (Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, Ratatouille) and in the camera and electrical department for a few others (Inside Out, Cars 3), Kim White made the transition to cinematography with this year’s Luca. Should she be nominated for an Oscar, she’d not only be the second female nominee in the Best Cinematography category’s history, but she’d also be the first nominee to receive recognition for work on an animated film.
On paper, it seems like a considerable hurdle to climb – it’s very rare that animated films get nominated in categories other than Best Animated Feature (only two have ever even been nominated for Best Visual Effects, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Kubo and the Two Strings), but Luca was hailed for its innovative and imaginative artfulness upon release this past June, so if prominent precursors show White some respect, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
Photo credits: Kirsty Griffin/Netflix; Warner Bros.; IMDb; NEON