Should’ve Been a Contender: Reed Morano

For this Awards Season we’re looking back at the films, the actors and the directors who should have been a contender for the Oscars. Here’s Morgan Roberts piece on how Reed Morano has been overlooked for her cinematography for films such as “Kill Your Darlings” and “The Skeleton Twins”.

By Morgan Roberts

According to the website ‘Women and Hollywood’, only two per cent of the top 100 films of 2019 had female cinematographers. Two whole films. Cinematography is my favourite part of film. While the director is setting the course and vision, it is the cinematographer that does the main steering. Directors and cinematographers work hand-in-hand. The director has a vision, and the cinematographer finds the best way to make it happen. Adjust the lighting, shoot from a specific angle, use steady cams, work with filters and colour adjustment. Cinematography is beautiful and so necessary to film. Which is why I think it is a shame that Reed Morano has never been recognized for her work.

Morano has a particular view of the world she brings to her films. Her film, “Kill Your Darlings” (2013), was the first work of hers I watched. There is something captivating about the way she was able to use cinematography, the hue of the film and the lighting, to capture both grittiness and elegance to the time. It was the perfect dramatic device for the film’s subjects: 1940s literary icons. Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac’s works have a rawness coupled with an air of pretentiousness. The way she was able to fill each frame with not just the characters but the way they existed in space is truly remarkable.

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Reed Morano on set (IMDB)

According to the website ‘Women and Hollywood’ only two percent of the top 100 films of 2019 had female cinematographers. Two whole films…Cinematography is beautiful and so necessary to film. Which is why I think it is a shame that Reed Morano has never been recognized for her work.

However, it is her work in “The Skeleton Twins” (2014) that made me fall in love with cinematography all over again.  The film is about mental health and the chronic nature of depression, isolation, hopelessness. It is a heavy subject. And while Morano’s work does not shy away from the darkness, she does use bleakness and blue hues especially after Milo’s (Bill Hader) unsuccessful suicide attempt. His reunion with his sister Maggie (Kristen Wiig) is not dilapidated and dark, but rather blue and moody. You do not feel bogged down by his depression but it is a feeling that is there thanks to Morano’s work.

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Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig in The Skeleton Twins (2014) © Courtesy of Sundance Institute

That theme follows throughout the movie, but my favourite scene is later. Maggie is not in a pleasant mood, so, to make her feel better, Milo tries to start an impromptu dance party to Starship’s, “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” At first, it’s a solo dance party, before Maggie gives in and joins him. Morano shoots this scene with a lightness and airiness.  It is a drastic difference from the bleakness earlier. It is bright and fun and the camera dances with them.

Her work in “The Skeleton Twins” (2014) that made me fall in love with cinematography all over again…You do not feel bogged down by his depression but it is a feeling that is there thanks to Morano’s work. 

It is all subtle. But when pulling away at the bits and pieces that comprise “The Skeleton Twins,” you see how crucial Morano’s work and eye are for the film. She is a pioneer in cinematography (and directing) and it is her work on “The Skeleton Twins” that should have garnered her an Oscar nomination. Maybe one day she will rightfully be recognized. But in the meantime, I’ll keep watching in awe.

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