Circuit Tech: Cinematography Contenders for the Remainder of 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Several weeks back, I discussed some of the potential cinematography contenders on tap for Academy recognition from the first half of 2016. This week, I look ahead to the second half of 2016 where there’s bound to be a plethora of Oscar hopefuls given the encroaching awards season. With the Venice Film Festival and Telluride wrapping up – and TIFF right around the corner — the stage is set for fierce competition. Let’s do our best to sniff out the wildfire before it spreads.

Among the most crowd-pleasing blockbusters this summer, David Lowery’s Pete’s Dragon features epic aerial shots and intimate close-ups that enraptured both heart and adventurous spirit. These gorgeous visuals are attributed to cinematographer Bojan Bazelli’s masterclass work behind the camera. Although his last collaboration with Disney was the reviled The Lone Ranger, Bazelli’s cinematography was among the very few highlights. The only hiccup in Bazelli’s race to Oscar glory is the studio’s more critically beloved and commercially successful The Jungle Book from earlier in the year. The praise surrounding Bill Pope’s monumental achievement in 3D digital photography has yet to die down, making it a lot more difficult for Bazelli to emerge as Disney’s cinematography frontrunner.

arrival film

Up next is Derek Cianfrance’s weepy The Light Between Oceans, starring real-life couple Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander. Grand oceanic vistas and gorgeous rolling countryside await moviegoers thanks to Adam Arkapaw. The Australian DP is best known for his searing portrayal of rural Louisiana in HBO’s acclaimed first season of True Detective. If anyone knows how to conjure darkness from beauty, it’s Arkapaw.

Hoping to put Warner Brothers on the map is Clint Eastwood’s awards vehicle Sully, starring Tom Hanks as the titular real-life commercial pilot hero. The gunslinger director rarely misses with the Academy, but oddly enough longtime DP collaborator Tom Stern can’t say the same. Of their twelve joint efforts, Stern has only been nominated for 2008’s Changeling. However, Sully’s use of digital IMAX cameras could make some of the aerial sequences a feast for the eyes. As we know, the Academy is easily swayed by CGI cinematography due to its immersive quality. Thus, Stern is a bona fide candidate for accolades this time around.

la la land film

Other September contenders include Snowden, Blair Witch, Deepwater Horizon, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Queen of Katwe, Morgan and The Magnificent Seven. If any film is making a dent here, it’s The Magnificent Seven, shot by Avatar’s Academy Award-winning Mauro Fiore. Large-scale Western shootouts are a major undertaking, and the film is deep enough in the year to make a mark.

The biggest threats emerging from October are Tate Taylor’s The Girl on the Train and Ewan McGregor’s American Pastoral. The former could ensure a historical feat for female cinematographers if DP Charlotte Bruus Christensen snags a nod for her work on the anticipated thriller. American Pastoral’s Martin Ruhe falls into the same category as Sean Bobbitt and Bradford Young in that his talent is so recognizably profound, yet he can’t seem to fully garner the branch’s respect.

November is where the competition is going to feel like a crowded mob charging towards a celebrity for an autograph. World War II films already have considerable sway over the Academy from the get-go, so perhaps a nod in this category for Hacksaw Ridge will be a step towards forgiving its director, Mel Gibson.

Arrival and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk are considered two major heavy-hitters in both above and below-the-line categories. Bradford Young was unfairly snubbed for his astounding work in A24’s underrated A Most Violent Year, and thus the wunderkind is hoping to finally land on Oscar’s radar with Villeneuve’s sci-fi stunner. Billy Lynn’s John Toll is on the hunt for his third Oscar after winning for war-based films Braveheart and Legends of the Fall. My gut tells me this film is more intimately drawn than Toll’s usual bombastic war films, so he might be a relegated fifth in the lineup.


Never underestimate the cinematic allure of a blockbuster during the holiday season. Both Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them could certainly find themselves in the running. For Fantastic Beasts, this would be cinematographer Philippe Rousselot’s first appearance as a nominee in almost twenty-five years. For Rogue One’s Greig Fraser, he’ll have a tougher battle since he’s competing with himself in The Weinstein Company’s awards pony, Lion.

Speaking of science fiction, what to make of Passengers? The former has Jennifer Lawrence’s AMPAS goodwill to ride on, not to mention DP Rodrigo Prieto (also in contention for Scorsese’s Silence) is the best in the business when romance is at the narrative center. His work in Brokeback Mountain is the stuff of legends, and we can only hope Passengers is just as poignantly rendered.

Finally, how can we not discuss La La Land, Damien Chazelle’s crowd-pleasing musical that turned the crowd in Telluride into giddy schoolchildren? Cinematographer Linus Sandgren is seeking his first nomination after barely missing a nod for American Hustle. Surely Sandgren is largely to credit for the new Oscar frontrunner’s reportedly magnificent sequences.

If I were personally ranking the top five contenders, I’d go:

  1. Arrival
  2. La La Land
  3. Passengers
  4. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
  5. Sully

Check out the official Oscar Predictions for Cinematography and see where everything ranks!

What does everyone think? In the comments, be sure to include your potential candidates for the coveted five slots of this esteemed technical category. 


  • Ryan

    1. Passengers – Assuming that this is the sole visual effects driven genre flick to make it into a Picture lineup (which I still think it could pull off), then its going to have no problem dominating the Best Visual Effects conversation. And we all know what that means for a film’s Best Cinematography chances. Given a choice between Passengers and Silence (which I’m not wholly convinced will come out this year), Prieto could split votes, but if so, then Silence would likely suffer from it far more than Passengers would.

    2. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk – For this one, a lot depends on whether the new frame rate gimmick is a massive success, or a huge disaster. I mean, its and Ang Lee film so the camerawork is guaranteed to look wonderful no matter the DP. And though this war epic certainly does look to be lighter fare for heavyweight John Toll, its still a war epic, and if the frame rate gimmick blows everyone away to the point that Lee is is locked for Director, than Toll has to be right with him.

    3. La La Land – If I hadn’t already seen the trailer, I would be skeptical that an original musical of all things could make a splash here. I’m pretty sure the last musical to get a Cinematography nod was The Phantom of the Opera all the way back in 2004. But then it occurred to me that this is more because there hasn’t been an Oscar-friendly musical besides Les Miserables since then, so if La La Land is the musical that finally makes a threat to win Picture again, then judging off of the brilliance of what was glimpsed in the trailer this should be a no-brainer for voters.

    4. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – With the recent Star Wars film receiving five tech nods, its clear that the individual branches haven’t lost any love for the franchise if the material is worthy. I wouldn’t call The Force Awakens’ camerawork to be particularly memorable, but judging by one of the most visually interesting trailers of the year, Greig Fraser seems more than ready to tackle the blockbuster arena. He arguably came close twice with Zero Dark Thirty and Foxcatcher, but since the branch does love CGI immersion, this could very well be his time to shine with voters.

    5. Arrival – I wanted to pick The Magnificent Seven for my fifth slot solely because the above article made such an interesting yet brief case for it. Fiore doesn’t have any other nominations outside of Fiore, and the action does look sharp. Its just that at the moment, I don’t really know how well it will be received. As for Arrival, Bradford Young has been a steadily growing force for a few years now. It seems inevitable that he will get multiple nominations throughout his career, so why not start with being Villenueve’s stand-in for the great Roger Deakins.