First They Killed My Father
Director of Photography: Anthony Dod Mantle
There are a ton of gorgeous and powerful shots in First They Killed My Father, but this one really spoke to me. I love shots that say something profound about character or the film itself and I love shots that prep the audience in some way for what they are about to witness. This shot does both. We see through the eyes of a little girl, Long Ung, as we will for much of the film. Director Angelina Jolie wanted most of the shots to be designed like a child would see them and this includes several POV shots throughout the film. Besides the aesthetic choice though, the shot also holds a ton of meaning. Long Ung (and the country as a whole) is about to experience a loss of innocence. And it is no accident that the first face we see after the archival footage of Nixon is that of this little girl. Jolie wants the audience to know that the United States had a hand in her fate and she wants that fact to resonate as we look into her eyes.
Blade Runner 2049
Director of Photography: Roger Deakins
For the love of God, give Roger Deakins an Oscar already. If Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t solidify him as one of the greatest cinematographers of all time, then nothing will. His mastery with the camera is evident in virtually every shot of the long awaited sequel to Ridley Scott’s original. This shot showcases his use of seamless VFX with practical, in-cameras shots. K’s slow walk through a radioactive wasteland is one of the most mesmerizing and iconic shots of the entire film. With the dripping orange color-grading and dead-center placement of the subject, Deakins is at the top of his game. He’s a legend that continues to adapt to new technology and filmmaking techniques. We can only hope he doesn’t slow down anytime soon.
The Shape of Water
Director of Photography: Dan Laustsen
For all of its simplicity this shot says a lot about the character of Elisa and the themes of the film. Her imaginative and carefree nature shines through in her far off expression. The supernatural qualities of the film leak through as she appears to bend the water droplets to her will. This aspect is important as it foretells her fascination with water and the otherworldly creature that resides in it. We continue to see this fascination as the focus shifts from Elisa to the water droplets on the window. They also follow the water into the next shot (not seen in this Gif) by match cutting to a set of water droplets on Elisa’s bathtub as she bathes. It is a beautiful sequence in an emotional and heartfelt film.
Call Me By Your Name
Director of Photography: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom
The final shot of Call Me By Your Name is the perfect combination of music, picture and performance. Shown throughout the entire credits, Timothee Chalamet gives an incredible performance as Elio reflecting on the events of the film looking into the fire. As he emotes, Sufjan Stevens’ “Visions of Gideon” beautifully conveys Elio’s inner monologue. It is a wonderful moment of reflection for the character and for the audience and one of the most powerful moments of cinema I saw all year.
Director of Photography: Hoyte van Hoytema
Dunkirk is a symphony of perfectly composed shots. Nolan and his cinematographer Hoytema waste zero percent of each frame. It’s a meticulously constructed exercise of showing rather than telling. This is encapsulated in the character of Farrier, the Royal Air Force Pilot played by Tom Hardy. He hardly speaks throughout the film and after a heroic sacrifice he quietly lands his plane on the shoreline. In this shot, the camera pushes in on Farrier as he stands watching the blaze, waiting to be taken as a prisoner of war. The Nazis are on the horizon, climbing over the berm. With this final touch, Dunkirk communicates in one shot what other war films fail to capture in their entire runtime.
Director of Photography: Toby Oliver
The moment when Chris first drops into the Sunken Place is probably the most iconic and terrifying shot of the entire film. You can feel his utter dread as he desperately tries to get back to the real world, which is now represented by a small television shaped box at the top of his vision. He has become an unwilling secondhand viewer to his own life. The details of the Sunken Place that are the most frightening are the lighting and the slowness of Chris’ descent. Only the front of Chris’ body is lit which tells us that there is nothing but darkness down where he is slowly and painfully falling. The filmmakers created a perfect first taste of the abject horror that Chris will experience throughout the rest of the film.
The Florida Project
Director of Photography: Alexis Zabe
Incredibly, the defining feature of this shot (The lights of the motel coming on in the background) happened by pure chance while filming. As Willem Dafoe’s Bobby enjoys a cigarette and after a long day of running the motel with the sound of fireworks launching from Disney World in the distance, we see the film beautifully summed up before our eyes. It is fitting that Dafoe once played Christ as he is the closest thing to a benevolent deity in The Florida Project. He does his best to do the right thing and care for the people in his motel, but we see it is wearing on him. The lights come on almost as if he commanded them to, but the only thing he has power over is his motel. Meanwhile, the world goes on just outside the frame, completely ignorant of the Haleys and Moonees who are struggling.