Sometimes it’s the way it was shot.
The best cinematography elevates a film creating indelible, unforgettable images. It’s a pity because the way movies are being enjoyed nowadays can seem to neglect the power of a filmed image. I’m still a firm believer that a single frame of film seen on the big screen doesn’t have the same effect as seeing it on your smartphone. But a great shot can transcend that.
Again to reiterate: great cinematography always creates unforgettable images.
Here are my choices for the five best shots of 2016.
5. Moonlight (Director of Photographer, James Laxton)
Moonlight obviously takes many directorial styles from Wong Kar-Wai and director Barry Jenkins states in interviews that Chungking Express was a huge inspiration. It’s fascinating that the most devastating scene in the film in my opinion is shot with such clarity and vibrance. Paired with Naomi Harris’ amazing performance and the painful slow-motion as she screams (in silence) to Chiron (Alex Hibbert) just escalates the hurt.
4. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Director of Photographer, Greig Fraser)
The last thing you expect from a Star Wars movie (or any well-established franchise for that matter) is the ability to surprise, especially in its cinematic techniques. What makes Rogue One a great addition to the franchise is its ability to ground the Star Wars lore in a gritty world that feels authentic. Fraser films this sci-fi epic like a well-worn war movie, and when the looming Death Star rises above Scarif, it reminds us of its power. Also, wasn’t it great to see Stroomtroopers on a beach?
3. Hell or High Water (Director of Photographer, Giles Nuttgens)
There are many shots in Hell or High Water that have the Howard Brothers (Chris Pine and an underrated Ben Foster) shot in far mid-shots amidst the dry landscape of modern-day Texas. It’s in those shots that ironically take us deeper into the brothers and their relationship. There’s desperation and abandonment in the world our characters live in. It’s timely and it’s utterly cinematic.
2. La La Land (Director of Photographer, Linus Sandgren)
Shot in glorious Cinemascope and unabashedly borrowing color schemes and musical motifs (and ahem, character flaws) from Jacques Demy, La La Land isn’t ashamed whatsoever of what kind of film it is. It’s the first time in a long time that Los Angeles looked this good. It’s smart for them to open on this vast freeway opening number, edited to look like one single shot. From here on in, we’re hooked.
1. Arrival (Director of Photographer, Bradford Young)
Perhaps the best cinematography of 2016 goes to Bradford Young’s restraint work in Arrival. Surprisingly, the only visual effects in this shot is the spacecraft but that rolling fog is real and captured on film. Inspired by the great cinematographers Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and Gordon Willis (The Godfather films), Bradford Young isn’t afraid to light naturally and capture film as rich and textured. He isn’t afraid to underexpose and juxtaposing the beauty of light and dark in his shots and Arrival is triumphant work from a young cinematographer who is just getting started.
Silence (Rodrigo Prieto)
Hail, Caesar! (Roger Deakins)
Jackie (Stéphane Fontaine)
A Monster Calls (Oscar Faura)
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Philippe Rousselot)