overseas Filipinos

[Only IN Hollywood] Will his 3rd Oscars nomination be the charm for Fil-Am Matthew Libatique?

Ruben V. Nepales

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[Only IN Hollywood] Will his 3rd Oscars nomination be the charm for Fil-Am Matthew Libatique?

MATTY. Matthew Libatique at the Oscar Nominee Luncheon held in the International Ballroom at the Beverly Hilton on Monday, February 12, 2024. The 96th Oscars will air on Sunday, March 10, 2024 live on ABC.

Mike Baker

Matty is gunning for his next shot at that gold man trophy with his terrific work in 'Maestro'

LOS ANGELES, USA – Will his third Oscars nomination be the charm for Filipino American cinematographer Matthew “Matty” Libatique?

After earning two previous Academy best cinematography nods for Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan and Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born, Matty is gunning for his next shot at that gold man trophy with his terrific work in Maestro, also with Bradley.

“This is an honor that will never get old,” said Matty, whose family roots are from Dagupan, Pangasinan and Lucena, Quezon, about his latest Oscar nod.

“Thank you to all my fellow cinematographers in the Academy for bestowing this high honor. Thank you to the intrepid crew of Maestro and most of all, thank you to Bradley Cooper for bringing me aboard this beautiful journey.”

Matty stood out in the recent 96th Academy nominees luncheon in Beverly Hills when he posed on the red carpet with arms folded on his chest, palms spread out – note his opaque charcoal gray manicured nails.

Body Part, Finger, Hand
STRIKE A POSE. Matthew Libatique at the Oscar Nominee Luncheon held in the International Ballroom at the Beverly Hilton on Monday, February 12, 2024. AMPAS

The Pinoy DP also made it easy for me to spot him in the sea of faces in the traditional class photo. In that class of 2024 pic, amid the hundreds of the world’s best talents in film – from Steven Spielberg, Celine Song, Yorgos Lanthimos, Martin Scorsese, to Colman Domingo – you can’t miss Matty striking the same pose, on the fourth row from the front, right.

Groupshot, Person, Face
CLASS PHOTO. Nominees for the 96th Oscars® were celebrated at a luncheon held at the Beverly Hilton, Monday, February 12, 2024. The 96th Oscars will air on Sunday, March 10, live on ABC. AMPAS

Matty’s achievement in Maestro is dramatically capturing, in black and white and then color, the life and times of iconic composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein (Bradley) and his wife Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan) from the 1940s to the 1980s.

In the Academy race, he is up against Edward Lachman for El Conde; Rodrigo Prieto, Killers of the Flower Moon; Robbie Ryan, Poor Things; and Hoyte van Hoytema, Oppenheimer. It’s the first time since 2017 that the Oscars cinematography nominees match the list of finalists of the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), which gives its awards on March 3. The Academy honors will be announced on March 10.

Each year, ASC honors the best in feature film, documentary, and television cinematography. Like in the Oscars, it is also Matty’s third ASC nomination.

Win or lose, Matty will receive the American Film Institute’s (AFI) Franklin J. Schaffner Alumni Medal in a gala that will also honor Nicole Kidman in Hollywood on April 27. The DP is a member of AFI’s class of 1992.

[Only IN Hollywood] Will his 3rd Oscars nomination be the charm for Fil-Am Matthew Libatique?

“Matthew Libatique is one of our generation’s defining voices in the art of visual storytelling,” said Bob Gazzale, AFI President and CEO, in a statement. “Now, AFI is honored to shine the light upon on him – celebrating his impact on the art form and the pride he brings us as a graduate of the AFI Conservatory.”

AFI describes the Schaffner Alumni Medal as recognizing “the extraordinary creative talents of AFI Conservatory Alumni who embody the qualities of filmmaker Franklin J. Schaffner: talent, taste, dedication, and commitment to quality storytelling in film and television. Past recipients include Darren Aronofsky, Lesli Linka Glatter, Siân Heder, Patty Jenkins, Janusz Kamiński, Mimi Leder, David Lynch, Terrence Malick, Melina Matsoukas, and Rachel Morrison.”

Quite excellent company that Matty will soon join.

Both Matty and Darren, who met on their third day attending the AFI Conservatory, have said in previous interviews that right away, they instinctively felt that they wanted to work with each other.

And true enough, the duo went on to make eight films together and probably more in their future: Pi (1998); Requiem for a Dream (2000), for which Matty bagged the Film Spirit Award for best cinematography; The Fountain (2006); Black Swan (2010); Noah (2014); Mother! (2017); The Whale (2022); and Postcard from Earth (2023), the documentary now showing at the Sphere in Las Vegas, Nevada.

In a 2021 IndieWire interview, Darren talked about his collaboration with Matty in Black Swan, which earned the latter his first Academy DP citation: “I think he completely reads performance like a director, and reacts to it emotionally.”

“I think because he has that empathy, and also he has this incredible technical skill set, he can feel what’s going on in front of him and then he can apply his great experience to figuring out the best way to capture it.”

Matty indeed effectively captured Natalie Portman’s performance in Black Swan – she won the Oscar and Golden Globe best actress honors in 2011.

Jennifer Lawrence, who starred in Mother!, is credited for the recent collaborations of Matty and Bradley.

Matty told Collider’s Nate Richard: “We met for the first time in the job interview for A Star Is Born. I was actually shooting the film Mother! with Darren Aronofsky and Jennifer Lawrence. I guess Bradley, who had worked with Jennifer Lawrence, asked Jennifer for a DP recommendation, and thankfully for me, Jennifer said me. So when I wrapped and got back to LA, I met with Bradley, and we hit it off right away.”

A Star Is Born,starring Lady Gaga and Bradley (in addition to his directing duties) was a critical and commercial success, earning multiple Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, including best picture and Matty’s second Academy cinematography nod.

On their second team-up, Maestro, Bradley cited his “synchronicity” with Matty in a Vanity Fair interview: “I’ve been as an actor on movie sets for so many years, and if there’s not that synchronicity between the director and the DP, and if there’s not that ability to pivot, which is always really based on an insecurity about what somebody wants, that’s when things start to get murky.”

BLISS. Carey Mulligan in a scene in ‘Maestro.’ Netflix

“The thing that I love is that we’ve developed a trust and an unspoken language of how we create, which is prepping is everything. Prepping is everything but on the day we have to keep asking ourselves the question, ‘Is this the best?’ And if it isn’t, we fucking pivot and we execute.”

“…The other thing I have to say about Matty is all he cares about is story too. When that’s the case and your cinematographer cares about story, then it’s just kind of joyous as opposed to, ‘No, I have this shot in my head I want to do.’”

As early as October and November last year, awards prognosticators, film critics, and journalists predicted the likelihood of another Oscar DP citation for Matty for his sophomore collaboration with Bradley in Maestro.

One of these writers, The Film Experience’s Eric Blume, explained why Matty will likely get cited by the Academy again: “Matthew Libatique’s work on Maestro is one of the film’s finest elements. Much like Florian Hoffmeister with TÁR last year, Libatique feels firmly in control of the classical music sequences, working in huge spaces to keep things intimate until there’s a need for larger grandeur.”

“And he and Cooper pull off one of the most ravishing shots of the year: that absurdly high camera with Carey Mulligan’s Felicia offstage, slowly engulfed by Bernstein’s shadow as he conducts. The shot is so on-the-nose metaphorically that it should be clumsy and obvious but Libatique executes it with such artistry that it soars.”

Last January 23, in the early morning Academy nominations ceremonies in Beverly Hills, actors Jack Quaid and Zazie Beetz did announce Matty as one of the cinematography nominees.

He is in the company of outstanding directors of photography:

Rodrigo Prieto, cited for Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, was nominated by the Academy three other times: Ang Lee’s unforgettable Brokeback Mountain (2005), Martin’s Silence (2016), and The Irishman (2019).

Edward Lachman, like Matty, is a three-time nominee, for Todd Haynes’ Far from Heaven (2002) and Carol (2015) and Pablo Larrain’s El Conde (2023). The latter, a comedy-fantasy-history that imagines the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet as a 250-year-old vampire, was shot by Edward in striking black and white. No surprise, the former Philippine president, the late Ferdinand Marcos, was mentioned in the film.

Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things (2024) marks Ryan Robbie’s second nod since The Favourite (2018), also by Yorgos.

Hoyte van Hoytema is also on his second citation, courtesy of his work with Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk (2018) and Oppenheimer (2024).

Who among these five cinematographers will take home his first Oscars cinematography trophy? Matty, Hoyte, and Rodrigo are mentioned by awards forecasters as among the top three contenders.

The other nagging question is, will Matty wear again a tuxedo by Filipino designer Oliver Tolentino? Matty proudly wore Oliver’s tux creations on the Oscars red carpet in his previous two nominations. On his first DP nod in 2011, Matty wore an abaca vest and tie for the Filipino pride touch.

In the meantime, Matty is quietly working on a new project on the East Coast. – Rappler.com

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Ruben V. Nepales

Based in Los Angeles, Ruben V. Nepales is an award-winning journalist whose honors include prizes from the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards, a US-wide competition, and the Southern California Journalism Awards, presented by the Los Angeles Press Club.