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The Best Cinematography of 2017

Written by on December 21, 2017 


“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. From talented newcomers to seasoned professionals, we’ve rounded up the examples that have most impressed us this year. Check out our rundown below and, in the comments, let us know your favorite work.

All These Sleepless Nights (Michal Marczak, Maciej Twardowski)


Using the combination of a Steadicam and computerized gimbal, Michal Marczak and Maciej Twardowski float in and out of crowded dance floors, house parties, lush gardens, and sun-kissed beaches, all in a way that would make Emmanuel Lubezki proud. Coupled with a near-constant soundtrack of the latest in electronic and pop (as well as a Polish version of Pocahontas‘ “Colors of the Wind”), one could mistake any scene from this as a music video, but as a whole it forms something cohesive. One of the most interesting formal choices is a noticeable excursion into home video-esque footage for the film’s most intimate moments, as if we’re entering our protagonist’s mind for the the first time, separated from the glossy sheen that occupies the rest of life. – Jordan R.

Beach Rats (Hélène Louvart)


Shot by French cinematographer Hélène Louvart (Pina, The Wonders) in 16mm, Beach Rats continues the level of Claire Denis-esque physicality found in Hittman’s debut. In one of many striking shots, they capture the group of boys with their heads out of the frame. As their bodies move through streets, there’s a viscerality that’s manifested in this mob, which includes Jesse (Anton Selyaninov), Nick (Frank Hakaj) and Alexei (David Ivanov), a group that Frankie feels emotionally a step outside from. As his cruising leads to his these two identities converging, the plotting can feel more schematic, but it’s nonetheless stimulating thanks to Hittman’s vivid style. – Jordan R.

The Beguiled (Philippe Le Sourd)


Shooting in New Orleans, Coppola and her production team — including The Grandmaster cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd — have created a fully realized world of eroticism, humidity, and Southern Gothic atmosphere. The characters are simply engulfed by it, almost to the point that even the twisted willow trees appear to be reaching out to grab them. Indeed, it is a far more beautiful work than Siegel’s original. – Rory O.

Blade Runner 2049 (Roger Deakins)


As divisive and austere as its predecessor, Blade Runner 2049 is loved by some and shrugged at by just as many. But if there’s one element of Denis Villeneuve’s film upon which everyone agrees, it’s the gorgeous and haunting cinematography of Roger Deakins. Stepping beyond the tropes of Ridley Scott’s film, Deakins intentionally avoided looking back at Jordan Cronenweth’s work on the original, in favor of crafting his own textured and tangible vision of the future. Fused with Dennis Gassner’s Brutalist architecture-influenced production design, Deakins’ layered and arresting use of lighting, combined with an ever-shifting color palette, executed with surgical precision, results in one of the most visually dynamic and unforgettable cinematic experiences of the year, if not the decade. – Tony H.

Call Me By Your Name (Sayombhu Mukdeeprom)


Lucidly shot by Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s frequent cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, Call Me By Your Name is most fascinated with the allure and seduction of the human form. The opening credits, which display photographs of famous Italian sculptures, foreshadow the physical presence of our leads, particularly Hammer’s Olivier. Guadagnino is director who clearly loves his actors and superbly conveys this through his perspective. As Elio gazes upon him, he frames Oliver, who is almost always shirtless sporting short shorts, from a low angle as he dances and swims, his imposing sexuality towering over the frame and disarming Elio. – Jordan R.

Columbus (Elisha Christian)


This film gently revolves between several different modes, approaching its namesake city either through the cold, resentful eyes of John Cho’s Jin, the optimistic view of Haley Lu Richardson’s Casey, or a combination of both when the two are together. A small city in the middle of nowhere which also happens to host a wealth of beautiful architecture, it represents home and beauty for Casey and a chain for Jin, shackling him to his father. Elisha Christian’s lens works with both their points of view, often at the same time, presenting various Columbus landmarks at a chilly distance which also lets you take in their Modernist goodness. – Dan S.

A Cure for Wellness (Bojan Bazelli)


In A Cure for Wellness, director Gore Verbinski uses the genre and setting — the spa is located in a castle on a mountain top at the foot of the Alps — to flex his visual acumen to maximum effect. Trailers used the overwrought “visionary” descriptor for Verbinski, but it is hard to argue with the title given the look of this film, shot Bojan Bazelli (The Lone Ranger, Pete’s Dragon). Hardly a scene goes by without at least two immediately striking shots, and these perception-arresting images serve as the more visceral drive underneath the plot’s creaky forward momentum. – Brian R.

Dunkirk (Hoyte van Hoytema)


Calling back to Eisensteinian visual grammar while melding his strict sensibilities with modern experimental panache, Christopher Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema pack every frame of Dunkirk with tactile, pulse-pounding motion. A film about how time and survival are intricately linked, Dunkirk’s lens focuses on the facility of boots crushing sand or the wings of a plane cutting through air to illustrate the delicate, often random dance of life and death. Balancing the automation of these vessels of survival is the study of faces, a striking reminder of how war is chalk full of individual human beings. – Mike M.

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