The Illusionist

The Nominations:

  • Cinematography

The Black-and-White:

Review by GKS, Feb. 12, 2007:

For me, Cinematography is a tough category. Even though all of the categories are subjective, this one seems even more so to me. I try to ignore the questions which, I think, are irrelevant to cinematography, such as: Is it a good movie? How were the performances? Did I believe the story? Did I care?

And that leaves me with my own definition of how I rate films in this category: Was it pretty?

OK, look – I’m a scientist, and I need to quantify and classify things in order to rate them. For some reason I can do that in the (honestly) equally subjective categories like Best Picture, but for some reason Cinematography presents me with a special challenge…

So I’m left with a definition that I can — don’t ask how — convince my quasi-logical brain is quantitative: Was this movie “pretty”?

For The Illusionist the answer is … hell, yes!!!

It was gorgeous.

I’ll admit that I’m biased because, unlike so many other nominated movies this year, I actually think this movie worked on many levels.

Performances? Check — 9/10, v. good. I’m a big fan of Paul Giamatti and he was nuanced, and superb, in this movie. Before seeing this film, I would admit I was … dubious of Edward Norton, but he was perfect in this role. There was also some girl, and some other guys in the movie, but they didn’t stand out. They didn’t need to — it was Paul and Edward’s movie.

Story? Check. 9/10, v. good. I’ll admit I watched the last half-hour again this morning over breakfast (and hence was later getting into work than I like — bad dog, no biscuit), after watching the full movie last night, just because I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything. And there were twists and turns, ups and downs, hints and whispers. It was a good story.

Here’s how IMDB summarized the plot:

“Director Neil Burger’s screen adaptation of Steven Millhauser’s short story ‘Eisenheim the Illusionist’. Eisenheim (Edward Norton) is a magician in early 1900’s Vienna, who falls in love with a woman well above his social standing. When she becomes engaged to a Crown Prince, Eisenheim uses his powers to free her and undermine the stability of the royal house of Vienna.”

Hmmm. That doesn’t really capture the story at all, but since it wasn’t nominated in any screenplay or picture categories, I’m not going to try to delve deeper. Go see the movie; I heartily endorse it.

Back to cinematography, my bottom line is: damn, it was pretty. The full frame was always used. The effects (yeah, I know, separate category) were cool. I was convinced and fooled in every single illusion. The shots were rich, and full of the appropriate amount of detail. I believed, I was there, and I loved being there ’cause it was just such a beautiful place.

With the caveats that I really don’t understand this category, and having seen, so far, only one other movie in it (The Black Dahlia — blech), this film deserves the Academy Award for Cinematography.

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