You know what really sucked about the last few Oscars? Noted photo-man Emmanuel Lubezki has been sweeping the damn cinematography prize for the last three years in a row, nabbing the top prize for his work on The Reverent (2015), Birdman (2014) and Gravity (2013). OscarsSoLubezki, amirite?

Well, the curse is over because the last movie Lubezki's had his glassily naturalistic hands on was Terrance Malick's Knight of Cups, which pretty much blowed. (somebody tried to convince me it was the real movie of the year: "It opens with a quote from Pilgrim's Progress and it's all about sex, man.")

But here at Popdust, we're all about the people.

And we feel like you should have a chance to decide who should take the crown. Because democracy matters. Plus the shots are pretty.

Arrival: Bradford Young

In Denis Villeneuve's first science-fiction movie, the director known for his gritty-realist depictions of the drug trade (2015's Sicario) and Amber alert headhunts (2013's Prisoners) ditched the convention demanding special-effects heavy aliens that were already jokes in 2010. For the task he chose Bradford Young, whose last movie was a biopic about chess (2015's Pawn Sacrifice). He also shot Selma, which should have won many Oscars.

His shots in Arrival cannily meld the mundane with grandiose: in the movie's most iconic shot, Amy Adams holds a whiteboard with the word "Human" plumb on it. Young draws our eyes to absurdity of the device, which occupies almost half of the frame and which will remind many a viewer of their time in elementary school, learning the basics of human language just like the movie's aliens. Young even shoots the spaceships like weird hot-air balloons, just chillin' in the clouds.

La La Land: Linus Sandgren

It should surprise no one but Linus Sandgren is among the heavy favorites to take this crown, among very many other for La La Land. Creating the aesthetic nod to Damien Chazelle's nostalgic nod, Sandgren shot Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone's singing around Los Angeles in a classic CinemaScope aspect ratio, which is to say, giving the movie the literal feel of watching an old musical comedy like A Star Is Born (1956) or an Irving Berlin turn in White Christmas (1954).

More compellingly, IMO, is how Sandgren uses light: his LA is a dark place but he handily uses it to make sure that it shines on our two heroes, shrouding the rest of the city in an impenetrable darkness. Just look how easy it would be to turn La La Land into a David Lynch movie. Its iconic opening shot is one of the few that bathes all in a sort of universalizing light, figuring it as complimentary to Chazelle's use of song.

Moonlight: James Laxton

Barry Jenkin's longtime cameraman since their college days, Laxton has also curiously shot Kevin Smith's last two movies, in addition to Jenkins's low-budget debut Medicine for Melancholy (2008). Not that Moonlight was an incredibly big-budget affair, shot on a spare $5 million, it's the lowest budget movie to have a fighting chance against big hearted sci-fis and movies about Hollywood that are going to win anyway.

With that limited budget, Laxton makes a movie that glimmers with the hardscabble sets: how often do you see a movie, come Oscar-time, with so much actually-yellow lighting? And when the natural light comes in, compare Laxton's work to Greig Fraser's on Lion, which cost over double the money. Laxton allows the light to burn through the background because that's mostly the point, isn't it?

Silence: Rodrigo Prieto

The latest from Martin Scorsese, whose movies have won like twenty Oscars, isn't quite the underdog of the Academy Award but it also kinda is. Wolf of Wall Street got, like, five nods back in 2013 and Prieto's single nomination for best cinemoitgoghy is pretty much all the love Silence has been getting from the Oscars. You could almost say they've been driven to…nevermind.

And Prieto's work on Silence doesn't recall Wolf of Wall Street (his first movie with Scorsese) so much as Babel, the third movie he made with Alejandro González Iñárritu, who wouldn't stat winning serious Oscars until he made movies about Americans. Capturing a mulchy medieval Japan (but filmed in Taiwan), Prieto's work, at times, almost feels straight out of a National Geographic, if Nat Geo had some weird religious thing behind it. The people, namely Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, look like straight baroque paintings.

Lion: Greig Fraser

Fraser is another favorite to nab the prize, if not overtly for his work on Garth Davis' latest rip-roaring heartbreaking whatever but for the astounding work he did on this year's addition to the Star Wars franchise, a little thing called Rogue One. Like Rogue One, Lion is also framed as a search for one's lost parents and Fraser does all he can to put every human soul he can in the center of each shot.

But where Rogue One allowed Fraser to apply some of that naturalistic warmth toward cool space shit, on Lion it's all blown on people, doing people things like looking into the camera mournfully or looking away from the camera in pain.


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