When it comes to visual storytelling, cinematography works as a language, within which there are some vocabularies and sublanguages of the lens, composition, visual design, lighting, image control, continuity, movement, and point-of-view. And like any other language, cinematography is a never-ending and fascinating life-long process to create prose or poetry.
A film director can only tell you that one of the real secrets of a significant direction is recognizing and maximizing what every team member can contribute. And the closest player in the entire team is the cinematographer, who works closely with the director. There is no doubt that a director should know the basics of a camera being used, and the cinematographer should act as the second mind of the director. After all, they are both involved with the primary common task, “storytelling with the camera”.
Here, I will be discussing some of the best camera works around the globe in movies I like! Hope you will enjoy reading it too.
Table of Contents
1. Enter The Void (2009)
Director: Gasper Noe
DOP: Benoit Debie
Enter The Void is a fantasy drama Written (by Lucile Hadzihalilovic) and directed by Gasper Noe; it tells a story about Oscar, played by Nathaniel Brown, his sister Linda (Paz De La Huerta), and a drug dealer sharing an apartment in Tokyo.
Being an Argentinian director and Screenwriter, Gasper’s unique style of filmmaking always constitutes elements of photography, imagination and isolation. And when it comes to breaking all those existing rules and traditions of filmmaking, this film would be at the top of the list.
Visually this film is disorienting at first look as if the protagonist’s (Oscar) eyes work as the camera; even the constant blinking would make you feel like you are the Oscar. Later the floating shots would give you an even more out-of-body feeling as Oscar’s soul floats around and inspects his surroundings.
2. No Country For Old Men (2007)
Director: Coen Brothers
DOP: Roger Deakins
No Country For Old Men is a neo-western crime thriller drama based on a novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy, written and directed by Coen Brothers (Joel and Ethan Coen).
The story goes with a hunter named Llewelyn Moss, played by Josh Brolin, who discovers two million dollars while strolling through the aftermath of a shootout scenario in a drug deal gone wrong. And a sociopath killer Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), who is relentless to track down his money and kill anyone who comes his way.
In visual terms, the film is a masterful re-creation of the central theme translating every aspect: place and time, characters, moral choices, human nature and fate.
3. Baraka (1992)
Director: Ron Fricke
DOP: Ron Fricke
Baraka is a non-verbal series of sequences with meditative music, directed and photographed by Ron Fricke and produced by Mark Magidson, covering 24 countries over 14 months, showcasing humankind’s interconnections with nature. Baraka is a Sufi word that means blessing.
Having no dialogue, this film needed the best picture quality to perfectly translate the theme, which was acquired by shooting less in 65mm and more with 35 mm films because of limitations in budget. Fricke also implemented various techniques to achieve beautiful timelapse shots with the help of custom-made setups.
4. Tree Of Life (2011)
Director: Terrence Malick
DOP: Emmanuel Lubezki
Tree of life is an American experimental drama written and directed by Terrence Malick, the fifth film in 38 years by him. This film feels like a philosophical conversation with the soul of a 1950s suburban Texas family, an intimate talk with oneself which is never completely understood or explained, like poetry.
For visual effects in this film, the director approached Douglas Trumbull, a visual effects supervisor in 2001: A Space Odyssey, as he did not want modern computer-generated visuals.
Apart from special effects, this film is a work of art, to which Lubezki quoted: “in the Tree Of Life, we used natural light, and the sun, wind and rain and other elements that came our way became part of the story. An essential theme in the movie is the constant passing of things, the changes and flow that are part of life”.
5. Amelie (2001)
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
DOP: Bruno Delbonnel
“Amelie” is a French-language romantic comedy film directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, released in 2001. This film follows the life of Amelie, played by Aundrey Tautou and explores her character, who is searching for love and meaning in life through her active imagination. The film revolves around this mischievous character in a fantastical world with dreams of love and beauty.
If I talk about distinctive kinds of cinematography in films, Amelie will come first in my mind. It is not because of any single aspect of camera work, but every part of cinematography is covered in this film; whether we talk about its bold selection of colors, movement based on character’s emotions, unique composition and center framing, they all add up to the film’s beautiful visuals.
6. Roma (2018)
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
DOP: Alfonso Cuaron
Roma is an autobiographical drama film directed, written and photographed by Alfonso Cuaron. The film was about to be shot by Cuaron’s best duo Lubezki, but other commitments forced him to leave the set, making Roma a one-man army project for Cuaron.
The story follows a live-in maid worker named Cleo, played by Yalitza Aparicio, working for an upper-middle-class family. It was the most personal film for Cuaron as it was inspired by his childhood and a domestic worker who raised him.
The film was shot in black and white as it was about the story of the past and also was related to Cuaron himself. Although he refused to go with the traditional stylized black and white with long shadows and high contrast and went with more naturalistic black-n-white.
7. Pather Panchali (1955)
Director: Satyajeet Ray
DOP: Subrata Mitra
“Pather Panchali” (1955) is a Bengali-language film directed by Satyajit Ray and photographed by Subrata Mitra. This is the first film of Ray’s series Apu Trilogy and became a landmark in Indian cinema history.
The film is regarded as simple, delicate, deeply felt, yet complex in terms of the story of life itself. It showed a story of a poor family in rural Bengal when industrialization had just entered rural India.
Ray was not a big fan of studio lighting; thus, he experimented with natural lighting techniques with Subrata Mitra, a still photographer, developed bounce-back lighting and diffusion, and employed them beautifully in this film. This lighting technique evolved gradually, which we still use in filmmaking.
8. The Master(2012)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
DOP: Mihai Malaimare Jr.
The Master is an American psychological drama directed and written by Paul Thomas Anderson and photographed by Mihai Mlalimare Jr. It tells a story about a world war 2 Navi veteran named Quell, played by Joaquin Phoenix, struggling to fit in the post-war society. He comes into contact with a cult leader (Dodd), played by Phillip Hoffman, running a religious movement called “the cause”.
The film was visually shown in 70mm format with various symmetrical compositions, including leading lines and dynamic symmetry, as Malaimare describes frames as a ‘cell of filmmaking’. This is evident in the film as it gives you a hypnotic experience from the start and keeps you hooked on the story till the end.
9. Children of Men (2007)
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
DOP: Emmanuel Lubezki
“Children of Men” is a 2006 science fiction thriller based on a novel of the same name by P.D. James, directed by Alfonso Cuaron. There have been many discussions about the perfect Dir\Dop duo in cinema history, and this film could be one of the best examples in such terms.
The film follows a man named ‘Theo Faron’ played by Clive Owen, a former activist turned bureaucrat, who finds himself responsible for transporting a mysterious woman named Kee to the coast of London. This unusual request from his ex-wife ‘Julian’ played by Julianne Moore, was a fight for survival in a situation where civilisation was on the verge of extinction.
This film is characterized by its long takes and extended tracking shots, which give the feel of a documentary as a source of realism to the story. Such handheld camera movement by Emmanuel Lubezki made this film different from other traditional ski-fi movies.
10. All Quite On The Western Front (2022)
Director: Edward Berger
DOP: James Friend
“All Quiet On The Western Front” is a German-language war film based on the classic ‘Erich Maria Remarque (1929) novel of the same name. This film is the third adaptation of the book after the 1930 and 1979 versions.
This anti-war film follows the protagonist “Paul”, an innocent young soldier preparing to go on a war front with his friends. As the story proceeds, they happen to witness the realism of the horror of the war and how their innocence and nationalist perception dissolve along the way.
When it comes to the film’s visual grammar, it feels more like a documentary, not in terms of handheld camera movement but in terms of immersion throughout the story with minimal vocal expression. Friend decided to shoot mostly in overcast naturalistic lighting, as shooting so many exteriors with an endless field becomes necessary.
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