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Watch this year's Oscar-nominated cinematography

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django unchained screengrab
django unchained screengrab

With no runaway favorite in the running, this year's Academy Awards is shaping up to be among the most intriguing in recent memory. Sunday's event has already sparked plenty of debate over marquee categories like Best Picture and Best Director, but somewhat lost amid the buzz is an equally tight contest for Best Cinematography.

Film critic Kevin B. Lee took a closer look at this category this week, in a video essay for Fandor. The nearly nine-minute clip is composed of two, 90-second scenes from each of the five nominees: Anna Karenina, Django Unchained, Life of Pi, Lincoln, and Skyfall. Lee says he chose these "standout" clips based on feedback he received on Twitter, noting that both Lincoln and Skyfall seemed to have the most enthusiastic support.

"Sole emphasis on the images and camerawork."

He also decided to completely strip the compilation of all audio — a rather brilliant move that forces the viewer to consider the films within a purely visual framework. Granted, every film's cinematography is informed by its narrative context, and it may be unfair to judge an entire movie based on two silent excerpts, but Lee does a superb job of distilling some of the year's most beautiful scenes to their most fundamental elements.

"It may be a bit jarring to watch these scenes without a soundtrack, but it’s for the sake of placing sole emphasis on the images and camerawork," Lee writes. "I hope you’ll agree with me that, by and large, the visual artistry on display speaks quite well for itself."