“Cinematography is infinite in its possibilities… much more so than music or language,” the great Conrad Hall once said. As we wind down on our year-end coverage, one aspect of the year in film we must highlight is among the most vital to the craft: the cinematography. From talented newcomers to seasoned professionals, we’ve rounded up the 20 cinematographers (well, 19, thanks to one overachiever) that have impressed us most this year. Check out our rundown below and let us know your favorite work in the field this year in the comments.
12 Years a Slave (Sean Bobbitt)
Working with Steve McQueen on all of his films thus far (and a few art installations), Sean Bobbitt and the director have formed one of the finest collaborations in recent cinema (one that extends another few layers, if you add Michael Fassbender and editor Joe Walker). As all involved have evolved in different ways over the last half-a-decade, 12 Years a Slave marks a harrowing, gorgeous culmination. Including some of the best shots of the year, bar none — exemplified in Northrup’s hope disappearing both physically (as he desperately hangs from a tree) and emotionally (the degrading embers of a destroyed letter) — Bobbitt’s contribution is a large part of why McQueen’s latest is a gut-wrenching journey. – Jordan R.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (Bradford Young)
Texas has never looked this lovely outside of a Terrence Malick film; every screen door casts a long shadow and every sunset radiates as if it’s the very last. As stunning as David Lowery’s film was on an performance level, the star player was really cinematographer Bradford Young, who made each frame of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints stand out with the kind of mythic, delicate beauty deserving of the star-crossed lovers at its center. – Nathan B.
Bastards (Agnès Godard)
For her first foray into digital filmmaking, Claire Denis continued her relationship with Agnès Godard, crafting an intimate nocturnal thriller. With a fittingly claustrophobic approach, the camera captures only the necessary details, including the weathered face of our protagonist (Vincent Lindon) and the locked-in, tension-filled POV of a roaming car. Up until (and particularly) the last frame, Bastards transports one world not easily forgettably, thanks to the efforts of Godard and her crew. – Jordan R.
The Bling Ring (Harris Savides and Christopher Blauvelt)
Largely dismissed on its release, one thing even its detractors could agree upon is the cinematography of The Bling Ring. Tied with Sofia Coppola‘s storytelling, cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt — bumped up from camera operator after Harris Savides had to deal with medical issues midway through production, sadly passing soon after the shoot — keeps things at an almost sterile distance. Yes, the one, extended shot of our thieves stealing from a Beverly Hills home is stunning, but the frequent use of handheld keenly captures the satirical black comedy unfolding before our eyes. – Jordan R.
Blue Caprice (Brian O’Carroll)
The real world never looks quite like the movies, and that’s probably a very good thing for both parties. Living in proximity to the Beltway Sniper events of 2002, I recall the pervasive sense of fear and anxiety that was permeating the community. What cinematographer Brian O’Carroll has done in Blue Caprice is take that mental headspace and configure it onto the events themselves, illuminating our relationship to the situation by letting us see our fears unveiled. The nighttime shots of the Caprice gliding along the Beltway are quiet harbingers of impending doom, and yet, in their way, simultaneously cathartic. – Nathan B.
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