The Dynamic 2017 Oscar-Nominated Films For Cinematography


Cinematography is defined as “the art of making motion pictures.”  The 2017 Oscar nominated films “Arrival,” “La La Land,””Lion,””Moonlight” and “Silence” are all unique in the fact that they bring a wave of emotion, diversity, authenticity and masterful detail. There is no doubt that these films are pure works of art. Here is a deeper look into the cinematography of the nominated films, the winner for which will be unveiled during the show airing February 26th, 2017.

2017 Oscar Nominations for Cinematography:

 1. “Arrival”

“When 12 alien spacecraft land on Earth, U.S. officials ask linguistics professor Louise Banks to team with theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly and learn how to communicate with the visitors. While Louise races to learn the aliens’ language, uneasy governments around the globe debate the advisability of military action..”  (via Oscars

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Since “Arrival” is a unique, 180 take on the classic alien thriller, the cinematography approach had to be just as unique. According to No Film School, Cinematographer Bradford Young had the immense task of deconstructing the sci-fi genre. One significant fact about this film is that it does not depend on visual effects as much as it relies on “heavily evocative lighting and camera work.” In regards to working with Director Denis Villeneuve, Young states that in order for the vision of the film to come to life, “directors and cinematographers have to be equally vulnerable.” In addition to this vulnerability, Young also believes that because he was able to be more imaginative with the use of all 360 degrees of the environment, it made for a more dynamic film experience.

ARRIVALfidm-digital-arts-arrival-oscars (1)All “Arrival” Images via Paramount Pictures 

 2. “La La Land”

“Aspiring actress Mia and jazz pianist Sebastian struggle to realize their dreams in Los Angeles despite the often soul-crushing commercial nature of show business. As they endure rejection and forge unexpected paths to stardom, the young couple also strives to sustain the love they were surprised to find.” (via Oscars

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Cinematographer Linus Sandgren drew inspiration from the Old Hollywood aesthetic to create a fairytale masterpiece shot entirely on 35 millimeter film. According to Where To Watch article, Sandgren says, “Digital video captures reality whereas the film medium just naturally captures the image in a heightened, magical way that looks more like an impression of reality, or maybe how you remember it.”

fidm-digital-media-blog-la-la-la-emma-stone-ryan-gosling-cinematography-visuals-81fidm-digital-media-blog-la-la-la-emma-stone-ryan-gosling-cinematography-visuals-9All “La La Land” Images via Lionsgate 

 3. “Lion”

After being separated from his family in India, five-year-old Saroo is adopted by an Australian couple who raise him with great love. As an adult, however, Saroo is troubled by resurfacing memories of his birth family and employs new worldwide technology to locate them.” (via Oscars)


According to Variety, to Cinematographer Greig Fraser, working on “Lion” was way more of a passion project than a job. Since the story of “Lion” is based on real events, it was easier for Fraser to have a more solidified vision. His main focus was to emphasize “the juxtaposition of India and Australia.” The main point of focus with this juxtaposition is the fact that during filming in India, the camera was focused on a small child (Sunny Pawar). In contrast, the Australian setting was focused on a six-foot tall man (Dev Patel). “With Dev, we used Steadicam,” Fraser says. “With Sunny, we were on a MoVI stabilized gimbal rig.” The difference is significant.

fidm-digital-arts-lion (3)fidm-digital-arts-lion (1)All “Lion” Images via The Weinstein Company

3. “Moonlight”

“As he grows from childhood to adulthood in Miami, a young black man grapples with surviving the poverty and drugs that pervade his neighborhood, establishing his own identity and accepting his sexuality. Under the influences of his drug-addicted mother, a kindly surrogate father and a conflicted best friend, the youth finds his way in life.” (via Oscars


With the story set in an impoverished part of Miami, conveying a certain color story and visual impact was imperative to showcase. From the beginning, Director Berry Jenkins and Cinematographer James Laxton wanted to stray away from the typical look and vibe of an indie film that takes on social issues.  According to IndieWire, “They wanted a dreamlike feel that immersed the audience in the world of the protagonist Chiron, but that was also rooted in the color and light of Miami.” This film does not play it safe when it comes to emphasizing dark skin tones. Laxton and the team made sure to “pull rich, beautiful color from the actors’ faces while still executing one of the boldest lighting designs of the year.”

fidm-digital-arts-moonlight (1)fidm-digital-arts-moonlight (2)All “Moonlight” Images via A24

 4. “Silence”

“In the 17th century, two Portuguese priests, Father Rodrigues and Father Garupe, travel to Japan to find their mentor, who disappeared and supposedly renounced his faith. The Japanese government, fearful of colonial powers, has outlawed Christianity, and the priests’ mission is a dangerous one that shakes the idealistic Rodrigues to his core. ” (via Oscars)


Iconic Director Martin Scorsese tried for 27 years to get this film made. With that said, he obviously had a very specific vision in mind in order to make it all come to fruition. According to No Film School, Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto says “there is never a random camera move for Martin Scorsese. Every shot stems from the emotional content of the story.” The “Silence” color palette was another major strategic factor. The progression of color throughout the film is significant. “We were inspired by baroque painters, starting off in cooler tones—blues and cyans—and going towards the green of nature, as it’s an important character to the story. Then we transitioned into a more Japanese feel, if I may. We went with more amber, yellow, and gold hues that would represent the same Japanese screen art during the Edo period.”

fidm-digital-arts-silence (1)SILENCEAll “Silence” Images via Paramount Pictures

All of these exceptional films are uniquely diserving of the Oscar for “Best Cinematography.” However, only one will win. We will be watching on February 28th…will you?

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Author: FIDM Staff

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