“A cinematographer is a visual psychiatrist — moving an audience through a movie […] making them think the way you want them to think, painting pictures in the dark,” said the late, great Gordon Willis. As we continue our year-end coverage, one aspect we must highlight is indeed cinematography, among the most vital to the medium. From talented newcomers to seasoned professionals, we’ve rounded up the 22 examples that have most impressed us this year. Check out our rundown below and, in the comments, let us know your favorite work.
Amour Fou (Martin Gschlacht)
As if Dreyer had been sprung into the 21st century, Amour Fou stands with feet in formally classical and aesthetically modern doors — as rigid in composition as it is lucid in palette. Writer-director Jessica Hausner and cinematographer Martin Gschlacht have created a world in which it seems nothing will escape, making those moments of visual discord — an object in the lower corner of a frame, the slight movements and expressions from secondary players — surprising, yet a recurring and consistent symbol of how its story will progress. If the comparison to one of the greatest filmmakers who’s ever lived is common among discussions of this new feature, consider that a sign of how strongly it can evoke works of such significance. – Nick N.
The Assassin (Ping Bin Lee)
Meticulous in its detail, Hou Hsiao-hsien’s mesmerizing martial arts masterpiece is undoubtedly one of the most visually striking films of the year. The meditative pacing in combination with impeccable mise-en-scène creates something more akin to viewing a painting or ornate ancient scroll than a traditional movie. And with each scene unfurling like a new tableau, the expert lensing of DP Mark Lee Ping Bing (shooting on 35mm film) elevates the artistry of every other element. Whether it’s allowing us to observe characters through layers of thinly veiled curtains or watch the fog slowly encroach a majestic mountain, The Assassin is a truly breathtaking experience. – Raffi A.
Blackhat (Stuart Dryburgh)
Michael Mann is the current reigning champion of digital cinematography, and working with Stuart Dryburgh on Blackhat makes the reasons why very clear. From the unparallelled nighttime photography, to the way that Mann captures the open expanses that his characters occupy, there is a quality to the lighting of this film that is unmatched. Similarly, Mann uses the freedom and versatility of digital to create a greater sense of immediacy and presence. In a thriller, these qualities combine to create a film in which the cinematography is just as important as the score. – Brian R.
By the Sea (Christian Berger)
Visually inspired by the work of Michelangelo Antonioni and crossed with a commercial for a luxury product, the bright spot of the occasionally sexy, ultimately quite dull By the Sea is Christian Berger’s cinematography. (Read our interview with him here.) When shooting in Malta, which fills in for a seaside community in Italy, writer-director Angelina Jolie Pitt turned to a frequent collaborator of Michael Haneke. Rich in its long takes, observing our couple as they observe, in search of inspiration in the community and through a sexy young couple next door – Berger has crafted a classically beautiful picture, even if the motivation for what he lenses isn’t always as confident or assured as his frames. – John F.
Carol (Edward Lachman)
From its very opening shot, which sees the camera pull away from the, literal, gutter (encompassing the film’s mission of giving “forbidden love” a voice), it becomes clear that everything in Carol has a purpose. There is not a single element within the frame that isn’t trying to say something, and the fact that this is captured with such subtlety and beauty is thanks to Edward Lachman’s miraculous camerawork. Shooting behind windowpanes on rainy days, or inside the perfume-and-whiskey-laden intimacy of a roadside motel, Lachman’s camera creates unique worlds were the heroines can live out their fantasies and sorrows. There are also multiple nods to division, doorframes and soft camera moves that resemble one of Carol’s caresses. Like Haynes, Lachman is a meticulous observer, who dissects without ever losing his ability to become awestruck. – Jose S.
The Duke of Burgundy (Nicholas D. Knowland)
Amongst the most evidently lavish cinematography of the year, The Duke of Burgundy is a sumptuous spectacle, proving just how varied one can shoot mostly a single location and the few players amongst it. While its ravishing homage to Daisies and Mothlight, in which a flurry of butterflies fill the screen, is indeed an impressive peak, there’s not a moment in which Nicholas D. Knowland‘s cinematography fails to captivate. As the relationship deepens on screen, we can sense its evolution thanks to the increased usage of reflections and refractions, causing an emotional swirl like no other film achieved this year. – Jordan R.
Far From the Madding Crowd (Charlotte Bruus Christensen)
Thomas Vinterberg’s Far from the Madding Crowd, an adaptation of Thomas Hardy‘s novel, is one of the most painterly films of the year. Shot by Charlotte Bruus Christensen, who previously collaborated with Vinterberg on The Hunt and My Good Enemy, it’s expectedly lush and pastoral, but its view of the weather and the land is also elemental without necessarily feeling poetic. There have been plenty of films that use the seasons to indicate a sea change in the mood of onscreen characters. Madding Crowd’s change of seasons is unique in that it feels oppressively matter-of-fact. Just as the story pushes forward, grinding against the idealistic visions of its characters, there is a parallel brutality to the weather. Winter doesn’t just arrive, but becomes a state of mind as the characters forge through their own frazzled lives in search of some type of personal peace. And the summer is a mere respite, a hint of an optimistic future that will soon be trampled. – Michael S.
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