The Envelope: ‘The Revenant’ could mean repeat Oscar wins for its ‘Birdman’ director-cinematographer team

Alejandro G. Inarritu could win his second straight directing Oscar for “The Revenant”

“The Revenant,” directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, left, and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, could earn the former an Oscar for the second year in a row. He won for directing 2014’s “Birdman.”

(Kimberley French / 20th Century Fox)

Nineteen directors have won at least two Oscars. Only two of those directors took home Oscars in back-to-back years — John Ford for “The Grapes of Wrath” and “How Green Was My Valley” in 1941-42 and Joseph L. Mankiewicz for “A Letter to Three Wives” and “All About Eve” in 1950-51.

In the ensuing 64 years, no director, not Billy Wilder or Frank Capra, not Steven Spielberg or Clint Eastwood (to name four who have been nominated in consecutive years), have pulled off that feat.

Which brings us to Alejandro G. Iñárritu, the sometimes charming, always demanding Mexican filmmaker who took the Oscar last year for “Birdman” and who may very well join Mankiewicz and Ford this year as a repeat for his upcoming revenge western “The Revenant.”

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But if Iñárritu is trying to join a select group, his cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, is looking to do something no director of photography has ever done — win three Oscars in a row.

And it’s hard to begrudge him the honor. Lubezki had been nominated five times for his work with Alfonso Cuarón, Terrence Malick and Tim Burton before winning his first Oscar in 2014 for executing the breathtaking visuals seen in Cuarón’s “Gravity.” This year, Lubezki won again for pulling off the intricately choreographed, continuous-take illusion at the heart of “Birdman.” And now, this masterful innovator is at it again, shooting “The Revenant” using only natural light. As Iñárritu told The Times last year, “He loves to live on the edge. If failure is not a possibility, he doesn’t seem interested.”

Will the “Revenant” team make history? An early look at the races for directing and cinematography:



Ridley Scott, “The Martian”

Alejandro G. Iñárritu, “The Revenant”

Tom McCarthy, “Spotlight”

David O. Russell, “Joy”

Steven Spielberg, “Bridge of Spies”

Prime contenders: Todd Haynes, “Carol”; Lenny Abrahamson, “Room”; George Miller, “Mad Max: Fury Road”; Danny Boyle, “Steve Jobs”; Quentin Tarantino, “The Hateful Eight”

Bubbling under: Cary Fukunaga, “Beasts of No Nation”; László Nemes, “Son of Saul”; Ryan Coogler, “Creed”; Scott Cooper, “Black Mass”; John Crowley, “Brooklyn”; Tom Hooper, “The Danish Girl”


For your consideration: Haynes has mined mid-20th century mores and milieus before with “Far From Heaven” and “Mildred Pierce,” so his latest examination of women in distress and unspoken desire, the lesbian romance “Carol,” isn’t a radical departure — just his very best movie in a celebrated career. Haynes frames “Carol” in a shadowy, veiled world, stacking the odds against his lovers, showing us the courage needed to push past society’s parameters and be true to themselves. It’s a gorgeous movie, superbly crafted and thoroughly modern in its message.

Analysis: Unless relative newcomer Abrahamson can break through (a real possibility), this shapes up to be a veteran group with previous nominees Scott, Russell, Spielberg and Iñárritu joined by 49-year-old McCarthy, who has a writing nomination for co-authoring “Up.” Even the biggest challengers in this competitive race figure to be filmmakers with an Oscar history — Tarantino, Boyle and Miller, all of whom own Oscars for writing, directing or producing — or Haynes, a Spirit Awards powerhouse who also has a screenwriting Oscar nomination for “Far From Heaven.” Sentiment and respect figure to play a part, bolstering the chances of Miller and, particularly, Scott, revered filmmakers who have never quite received their due from the academy.

Emily Blunt in “Sicario”

“Sicario,” starring Emily Blunt, is expected to earn cinematographer Roger Deakins, whose naturalistic work gives the film a soulful bent, his 13th Oscar nod, and his 13th loss.

(Richard Foreman Jr. / Lionsgate)


Emmanuel Lubezki, “The Revenant”

Roger Deakins, “Sicario”

John Seale, “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Janusz Kaminski, “Bridge of Spies”


Robert Richardson, “The Hateful Eight”

Prime contenders: Dariusz Wolski, “The Martian”; Edward Lachman, “Carol”

Bubbling under: Cary Fukunaga, “Beasts of No Nation”; Danny Cohen, “The Danish Girl”; Yves Belanger, “Brooklyn”; Mátyás Erdély, “Son of Saul”; Masanobu Takayanagi, “Black Mass”; Maryse Alberti, “Creed”

For your consideration: In “Son of Saul,” Erdély and director László Nemes find a new way to bear witness to the Holocaust, the camera focusing tightly on its title character, a Jewish prisoner working in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. By controlling the visual information, the audience is forced to experience the hell through Saul’s eyes, providing a deeply immersive experience that leaves you shaken.

Analysis: One other streak besides Lubezki’s run worth mentioning: Deakins has been nominated 12 times, for movies as varied as “Skyfall” and “Fargo,” without a win. He’ll likely run his nomination count up to 13 for the soulful bent he brings to his naturalistic work on “Sicario,” but the absence of a best picture nomination for that film probably sinks his chances yet again. The other likely nominees — Seale, Kaminski, Richardson and, of course, Lubezki — all have Oscars, making them the favorites over worthy challengers Wolski and Lachman.

Twitter: @GlennWhipp

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