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The Best Cinematography of 2018

Written by on December 17, 2018 

Gemini (Andrew Reed)

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With cinematography by Aaron Katz’ go-to DP Andrew Reed, Gemini aesthetically evokes Los Angeles with a delicate old-school soft-focus glow that in turn calls back to its celebrity-enamored narrative. Fusing this dreamy camerawork with its wistful performances, a rhythmic synth soundtrack, and the general aura of its setting, Gemini is an irresistible experience that restages the Hitchcockian thriller in a social-media-obsessed contemporary landscape. – Jason O.

Happy as Lazzaro (Hélène Louvart)

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With its Netflix release it means we sadly won’t get to see the gorgeous 16mm cinematography of Happy as Lazzaro in its projected form, but it’s still a marvel to behold digitally. From Beach Rats and Pina DP Hélène Louvart, who reteams with Alice Rohrwacher, the world of Lazzaro is one of tactility and dreamlike beauty with the feeling that anything can happen around the frame’s corners, even a time jump of decades, as does occur. The optimism of our protagonist is tied wonderfully with the cinematography, which evokes Rohrwacher’s passion for the majesty to behold all around us. – Jordan R.

If Beale Street Could Talk (James Laxton)

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Continuing their collaboration since their film school days, cinematographer James Laxton and Barry Jenkins once again create one of lushest, most vibrant films of the year with If Beale Street Could Talk. Bringing the world of James Baldwin to the screen, their Harlem is one of bright beauty and swoon-worthy colors, a cacophony of visual delight to match the emotional exuberance of the story’s foundational romantic center. Along with the colorful palette, Laxton’s camera movement is something to behold, particularly in the film’s best scene as Brian Tyree Henry and Stephan James’ characters reconnect over a meal and we feel like we’re another member of the table as the frame gracefully glides back and forth. – Jordan R.

Madeline’s Madeline (Ashley Connor)

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Placing us firmly yet freely in the head space of our conflicted protagonist, Ashley Connor’s cinematography in Madeline’s Madeline is some of the most visceral filmmaking of the year. As Josephine Decker dissects ideas of artistic vampirism, the camera bobs and weaves through space and time while Madeline confronts both the joys of performing and the uneasy feelings tied to the motivations behind her performance. Few movies this year felt like we were witnessing the future of indie filmmaking, but thanks to Connor’s intimate eye, Madeline’s Madeline was certainly one of them. – Jordan R.

Mandy (Benjamin Leob)

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Mandy is manic and melancholic and majestic, a film as intent on breaking skulls as it is acknowledging the toll that loss takes on those left to stare at the ashes. As such, cinematographer Benjamin Leob shoots Mandy with striking counterpoints of lucid truths and hallucinogenic obscurities. Take the unmistakable anguish on Nicolas Cage’s face in extended takes of heartbreak alongside the strobing terrors and nightmarish pigments working in absolute harmony. It’s gentle and garish and extremely goddamn metal. – Mike M.

Milla (Robin Fresson and Mel Massadian)

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The opening shot-reverse-shot of Milla breathtakingly sets the scene: It holds on a blurry huddled silhouette, before the film cuts, revealing an entangled couple lying in a car, foggy windshield behind them. Captured by director Valerie Massadian’s son Mel alongside DP Robin Fresson, the film’s eerie cinematography conveys the alienation from society that often comes with poverty, but not without simultaneously romanticizing the presence of love amidst a more dour reality. – Jason O.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Rob Hardy)

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The aesthetic shape-shifting of the Mission: Impossible franchise is central to it’s longevity. Christopher McQuarrie’s decision to return behind the camera came with the caveat of directing the film as a different filmmaker, and in turn, a different crew. The result is one of the more intimate and exhilarating entries in the series. Rob Hardy’s lens keenly assures us that not only is the film’s star is at the heart of the practical derring-do, but is at peak performance. Whether jumping out of a plane (in a breathless fake one-er), or speeding through Paris, kissing cars. Hardy guarantees that audiences who came to watch Tom Cruise tempt fate will get their admission’s worth. – Conor O.

The Old Man & the Gun (Joe Anderson)

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One of the few directors who can pull off homage without making it distractingly apparent, David Lowery’s perhaps most difficult feat yet in that regard is Old Man & the Gun. While it plays like a greatest hits and tribute to Robert Redford’s career, it never feels cloying or obvious in that regard (even when pulling in footage and images from his past films). Much of this success is owed to Joe Anderson’s cinematography, which gives a timeless, filmic feel to the heists and the in between moments of pondering a life’s legacy. There’s an effervescent touch to it all that sells the whole endeavor, from the first to the last frame. – Jordan R.

The Other Side of the Wind (Gary Graver)

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While critics have lavished much of their praise for The Other Side of the Wind on the late master Orson Welles and his star/co-writer Oda Kodar, the creative contribution of cinematographer Gary Graver is undeniable when looking at the finished film. Working under difficult conditions, a limited budget, a start-and-stop shooting schedule, and a complex found-footage visual aesthetic, Graver and Welles captured a vivid and manic portrait of 1970s Hollywood by shooting on multiple film stocks, including 35mm, 16mm, and Super 8, in both color and black and white. Doing so, Graver and Welles endowed the film with a powerful sense of immediacy, not unlike raw news footage of a live event. – Tony H.

Roma (Alfonso Cuarón)

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Clichés abound when bemoaning the absence of Netflix movies from the cinema, but Roma really begs to be seen on as big a screen as possible. Acting as his own DoP, director Alfonso Cuarón is as innovative as his regular collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki, creating a visual style to his cinematic memory play that from the film’s opening scenes holds your gaze with its strange eccentricity. The blocking–the position of the camera in relation to its subject–makes the camera an ethereal character, panning left to right but regulated in movement, like a spirit observing the action in silence. Naturalistic lighting that inflects a domesticated appeal, ridding the black-and-white movie of the tropes of wispy romantic nostalgia (the film is set in the early 1970s). And Cuarón’s unswerving use of wide-angle lenses makes the intimate epic, and the familiar profound. – Ed F.

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