Cinematography is, in many ways, the most important aspect of the film. As the pen (or computer now I suppose) is to the writer or the brush is to the painter, so is the camera to the filmmaker. Cinematography is the language of cinema. Yes, the acting, costumes, set and writing are also important, but choosing what to show the audience (or what not to) and how to show them is what makes movies, movies.
It is a testament to how great 2016 was for cinematography that many of the cinematographers that have shots on this list were not nominated for Best Cinematography at the Oscars. The category was almost as competitive as Best Actress this year. So, in order to recognize the great work cinematographers did last year, we have compiled our Top 21 Shots of 2016:
Director of Photography: Georges Lechaptois
— Jake —
I’ll admit, there’s not much in this shot to discuss. As I look at it more, however, it strikes me that the shot works as a singular photograph. It’s a moment in time from the film, but it captures the characters’ tenuous relationship with one another. Vincent (Matthais Schoenaerts) is out of focus in the background. He’s been hired as a bodyguard for Jessie (Diane Kruger) and her son. The viewer is never quite sure if the danger from which they are protected is real or imagined. Vincent hovers and gazes far too long at Jessie. In this shot, we’re uncertain if he is a bodyguard or stalker. The film as a whole makes this detail unclear as well. Likewise, Jessie’s covered eyes mask her true emotions. Is she looking over her shoulder? Is she afraid of Vincent or does she trust him? This shot doesn’t answer any of these questions and on the whole, neither does the rest of the film.
Director of Photography: Ken Seng
— Sam —
I love this shot from Deadpool. It is the perfect combination of everything that makes the character of Deadpool great. It has his epic use of katanas, it showcases his incredible strength, and it is paired with a bit of dialogue that not only showcases his sense of humor but also his tendency to break the fourth wall by talking to the audience. (“You’re probably thinking, ‘My boyfriend said this was a superhero movie but that guy in the suit just turned that other guy into a fucking kabab!'”). The fact that a single shot could have that much packed into it just proves how amazing Deadpool was for a film that not even it’s studio thought would do well.
19. The Nice Guys
Director of Photography: Phillipe Rousselot
— Sam —
This shot, from The Nice Guys, although not technically difficult from a filming standpoint, still stuck out to me as one of the best scenes from the film. Gosling makes this scene what it is. His hilarious antics with the stall door, pulled down pants, gun, and cigarette are priceless. The length of his struggle is also key to the comedic nature of this scene. Every time you think he might figure it all out he just makes a bigger mess of the situation. The final cut back to the look of annoyance and bewilderment on Crowe’s face is a great touch by the cinematographer. This is certainly one of the most entertaining shots from this laugh out loud film.
18. American Honey
Director of Photography: Robbie Ryan
— Joe —
This particular shot is what secured my love for American Honey. The film, revolving around a young woman who abandons her difficult life in a small town to travel the country with a magazine crew, is sort of a coming of age tale, though it is definitely not your daddy’s coming of age tale. American Honey is dirty, sexy, crude and unabashedly geared toward a millennial sensibility. Which is why this shot is so perfect. Besides the aesthetic beauty of the shot, with Star (Sasha Lane) silhouetted against the quickly fading light of a blue evening sky, the shot is also an essential coda to the film. This is Star’s coming of age moment as she wades into the water, washing herself clean of the events of the film, to emerge seconds later as a new woman with a new perspective on life. It is simply, wonderfully beautiful.
17. The Witch
Director of Photography: Jarin Blaschke
— Jake —
The Witch is filled to the brim with some of the most chilling shots I’ve ever witnessed on-screen. The goat Black Phillip is at the center of the film’s horror and mystery. The youngest siblings of the Puritan family claim that he speaks to them at night. He’s wild, uncontrollable, and at one point stands on his hind legs like a human-being. Add on top of this the little detail that goats have long been associated with Satan since medieval times, and you’ve got a creep-fest in front of you. This tracking shot follows Black Phillip as he runs berserk towards the stables. Not only was this shot likely very difficult to execute, but it continues to build terror around Black Phillip’s presence in the film. This shot stands as a horrific omen for what is to come and showcases the genius camera-work evident throughout the rest of the film.
16. Swiss Army Man
Director of Photography: Larkin Seiple
— Sam —
This is just one shot in an extremely entertaining montage in Swiss Army Man that follows the main character, Hank, teaching Manny, his corpse friend, what it means to be human. I really could have picked any shot from that montage but this one in particular really stood out to me. I love the use of fairly muted colors throughout most of the shot. This helps to highlight the aspects that your eyes are supposed to be drawn to, namely the bright green and white cups and Hank’s bright red wig. The acting of this very short shot is also very important and well done. As with the rest of the movie, Radcliffe does a great job of convincing us that he actually is a corpse. The way he lets his body go limp and be controlled by Hank is masterful. This small shot adds a lot of character to an already quirky and hilarious film.