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Best Cinematography of 2011


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#1 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 04 January 2011 - 09:14 PM

I was busy this year and didn't get out to the theaters are often as I would like. On the other hand, there weren't a lot of movies that I was crazy about this year. Trying to stick to five, it came down to whether to put "Let Me In" (the remake of "Let the Right One In") or "The King's Speech", both of which I thought were very artistically done, but I'm a sucker for anamorphic photography and mood, so "Let Me In", well, got in.

"Get Low" was probably the best-shot indie movie of the year, unless you count "The Black Swan" as an indie movie.

The new Harry Potter movie looks great, but the one before ("Half-Blood Prince") shot by Bruno Delbonnel, looked SO good that it was hard to top.

Best
Black Swan
Inception
Let Me In
The Social Network
True Grit

Runners-Up
Alice in Wonderland
Book of Eli
Get Low
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt.1
The King’s Speech
MicMacs
Robin Hood
Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World
Shutter Island
Tron: Legacy
Wall St.: Money Never Sleeps
The Wolfman

Should have seen but haven't yet
The American
Biutiful
The Company Men
Eat Pray Love
The Ghost Writer
Greenberg
I Am Love
Ondine
127 Hours
Rabbit Hole
The Tempest
Winter’s Bone
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#2 Vincent Sweeney

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Posted 05 January 2011 - 03:07 AM

No "Never Let Me Go"? I'd put it on my best, along with "Black Swan" and "Shutter Island".

Can't wait to see "Biutiful; it looks like a good contender. Catching "Get Low", "Blue Valentine" and "King's Speech" at the Spirit Awards voting screenings.
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#3 Brian Rose

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Posted 05 January 2011 - 12:46 PM

The best cinematography I saw in theatres was "The Red Shoes" in a 35mm print from the new restoration...

But that's cheating a bit. For films made THIS year, I thought Pfister's work was quite good for "Inception" (even if I think he's starting to repeat himself a bit), and I gotta throw down for Deakin's and "True Grit." The man is due for his Oscar, and I'd give it to him just on the strength of that amazing shot in "Grit" where Matt Damon's face is illuminated by striking a match. Remarkable!
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#4 Austin Serr

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Posted 06 January 2011 - 03:53 AM

My favorite this year (from what I've seen; still aching to see Savides' work in Somewhere) is The Social Network. Runners up would be Inception, Black Swan and Tron:Legacy.

Deakins' work in True Grit was of course solid but I wasn't blown away (maybe my expectations were set too high after being promised it was as good as his work in The Assassination of Jesse James) and I thought the King's Speech was a little overrated (interesting, awkward composition was used but didn't go anywhere to match the progression of the characters and the story, negating any possible deep meaning it could have held). Doyle's work in Ondine was also disappointing for me. His work was stunning in last year's Limits of Control so maybe my expectations were too high (what else can you expect when he shoots a film in Ireland - the beer-drinkers paradise? :P).
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#5 Ignacio Aguilar

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Posted 06 January 2011 - 05:16 PM

I have just seen Peter Weir's "The Way Back". Is it elegible for Oscars?

Russell Boyd does a good job capturing some great outdoor vistas and the coldness of the journey, but I've never been a fan of his work (I was very dissapointed with his Oscar win, "Master and Commander") and his night exteriors feel uninspired. He is probably more confortable using spherical lenses, but IMHO this is the kind of film that cries for anamorphic photography. Not that the grittiness of Super 35 composed for 2.40:1 doesn't help certain parts of the story, but anamorphic would have rendered much detailed wide shots. But the film itself is really good, though a bit long.

My favourites of the year, so far, are "The Social Network" (Cronenweth), "Inception" (Pfister), "Robin Hood" (Mathieson) and "The American" (Martin Ruhe).
I have yet to see "True Grit" and "Black Swan", but I was unimpressed by "The King's Speech" (good looking, but TVish at times), "Shutter Island" (not the best Richardson) or "The Ghost Writer" (otherwise a good film).
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#6 Ignacio Aguilar

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Posted 06 January 2011 - 05:45 PM

Other film I'd like to mention is Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck's "The Tourist", lensed by John Seale.

It's nice to see Seale going back to his roots, with a film of straight photography, after years of working on effects heavy pictures ("Perfect Storm", "Poseidon", "Harry Potter I"). Like Von Donnersmarck previous and much better film ("Das Leben der Anderen" AKA "Lives of Others"), "The Tourist" has been shot in anamorphic, using the recently introduced Panavision anamorphic zooms (40-80mm and 70-200mm), which is a nice departure from Seale, who has been using Super 35 with Primo spherical zooms for all his recent pictures. Seale seems really concerned about getting the nicest look from Angelina Jolie (who gets an old fashioned star treatment), and does a good job capturing the sun of Venezia, with a real good night sequence in the canals. The film itself is very light and forgettable, but the glamour from John Seale's cinematography is really noteworthy.
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#7 Peter Moretti

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Posted 07 January 2011 - 03:01 PM

... Trying to stick to five, it came down to whether to put "Let Me In" (the remake of "Let the Right One In") or "The King's Speech", both of which I thought were very artistically done, but I'm a sucker for anamorphic photography and mood, so "Let Me In", well, got in.

...


Daivd,

BTW, I'm curious as to your take on "The Lives of Others," in reference to anamorphic photography.
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#8 John Allen

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Posted 08 January 2011 - 01:24 AM

Thanks David, that is a great list! Let Me In looks especially good, but I have yet to see it. I will need to do that ASAP! How did you like it apart from cinematography?
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#9 John Allen

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Posted 08 January 2011 - 01:27 AM

No "Never Let Me Go"?


I agree, Never Let Me Go seems to deserve something for cinematography. I guess it wasn't anything spectacular, but for a low budget film, I really felt it's deserving of recognition. :)
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#10 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 08 January 2011 - 11:28 AM

Daivd,

BTW, I'm curious as to your take on "The Lives of Others," in reference to anamorphic photography.


I'm a big fan... but that wasn't a 2011 movie. I wonder though if it was the director's decision to use anamorphic lenses for "The Tourist" rather than John Seale's.
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#11 Ignacio Aguilar

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Posted 08 January 2011 - 05:01 PM

I'm a big fan... but that wasn't a 2011 movie. I wonder though if it was the director's decision to use anamorphic lenses for "The Tourist" rather than John Seale's.


I'm a big fan too of "The Lives of Others". Hagen Bogdanski's cinematography is gorgeus. He pull-developed 5218 and got nice pastel tones. The use of wide-angle Hawk anamorphics for interior work and zooms lenses for exteriors reminded me a lot of Owen Roizman's technical choices on the 70's (such as "The Three Days of the Condor"). Any fan of this work should check out "The Young Victoria", also shot by Bogdanski, with lots of low-key, single-source naturalistic lighting, underexposure and push-processing. Really good period photography, though the coverage and lens choices aren't as interesting.

Regarding "The Tourist", I would think it has been shot using anamorphic lenses because of the director, who went as far as using them for the short film he did prior to "Lives of Others". Though "The Tourist" isn't a very low-key film in terms of lighting, Seale has claimed in the past ("Poseidon" AC article) that he wasn't confortable anymore using anamorphic zoom lenses due to their high stop requirements (IMHO it makes little sense to shot whole pictures in anamorphic with rear adapted zooms, because you get no artifacts, only a larger negative). So using the new anamorphic zoom lenses from Panavision (with a front anamorphic attachment, much faster and with the same artifacts as primes) made a lot of sense for this director's requirements while allowing Seale to keep using his beloved zooms. But this is my guess, of course, and I may be wrong.
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#12 Shaan Aslam

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Posted 10 January 2011 - 02:41 AM

I mostly agree with the list, it's a great one! I thought some scenes in Shutter Island were amazing, and The King's Speech was without a doubt one of the better looking films out there. I haven't seen True Grit, but hearing from friends they were less than thrilled with Deakins' performance. In the words of one man: "We may have witnessed the beginning of the fall of Deakins."

Say it ain't so!
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#13 K Borowski

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 02:50 AM

I have to say, despite it being all 500T, S35, 2K DI, I thought Robin Hood was beautiful, with the one flaw of a couple of scenes where you could tell some underexposed shots were boosted digitally, where the "Merry Men" are celebrating at the village tavern.

But, since the Best Cinematography nod, usually coupled with Best Art Direction, is handed out like a damned consolation prize every year, it probably won't even be in the running.
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#14 georg lamshöft

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Posted 25 January 2011 - 10:09 AM

Inception: I was underwhelmed, maybe I expected more "65mm-show-off"-shots instead of 35mm-handhelf!? But overall, it looked very well and Mr. Pfister was overlooked for "Dark Knight" ("Slumdog?" for what?)
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#15 georg lamshöft

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Posted 25 January 2011 - 10:09 AM

Inception: I was underwhelmed, maybe I expected more "65mm-show-off"-shots instead of 35mm-handhelf!? But overall, it looked very well and Mr. Pfister was overlooked for "Dark Knight" ("Slumdog?" for what?)
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#16 georg lamshöft

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Posted 25 January 2011 - 10:35 AM

Inception: I was underwhelmed, maybe I expected more "65mm-show-off"-shots instead of realistic lit 35mm-handheld!? But overall, it looked very well and Mr. Pfister was overlooked for "Dark Knight" ("Slumdog?" Seriously?) already.

True Grit: Mr. Deakins was overlooked as well and quite often... But he should have got the Oscar for "Jesse James", I've hoped that "True Grit" would more look like that, than boring "No Country" (didn't understand the whole movie, to be honest).

Black Swan: Film of the year, IMHO! The visual style/ approach works great, I rarely enjoyed close-up handheld-work this much. But the cinematography itself? I think faces lacked depth due to Super16 and what about the odd lighting of Portman/ Cassel standing on the stairs during the party? Looked wrong to me.

King's speech: Haven't seen it. Is it really a good movie, or just another history-piece "playing safe" and making very little wrong?

Social Network: Best Film of Fincher since years. But because of Fincher? I don't think so, a good script risking very little (compared to the dramaturgy of Black Swan or Inception) and a well-trained craftsmen putting it all together (good actor, good crew) - but nothing special. Nothing "Fincheresque", IMHO. Seriously, just because everybody expected a debacle from a Facebook-biopic? And now the movie of the year? And the cinematography? Some nice, well-lit shots but the majority was pretty standard digital stuff - clean but not very detailed, odd colors limited DR and tonality - both, technically and artistically - it angers me that Fincher did much better in the 90s (but nobody dared to say "Oscar"), IMHO and isn't Fincher the one "doing" the cinematography anyway and therefore an odd choice for awards? His movies always look like Fincher - independent from the DoP and I've read he even dictates the focal length for every scene!

Shutter Island: Started nearly one year ago and already forgotten? I was spoiled beforehand and couldn't enjoy the twist - but DiCaprio, the production design and the cinematography were great! Best Cinematography of 2010, IMHO.

But to be honest, visually, very few movies were impressing me in 2010!?
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#17 Ignacio Aguilar

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Posted 27 January 2011 - 04:50 AM

King's speech: Haven't seen it. Is it really a good movie, or just another history-piece "playing safe" and making very little wrong?


I saw this film when it opened, when the Oscar buzz only was about the film's performances. I thought that it was OK, but nothing special. Had I seen it today, with its 12 nominations, and I would have been really dissapointed.

Social Network: Best Film of Fincher since years. But because of Fincher? I don't think so, a good script risking very little (compared to the dramaturgy of Black Swan or Inception) and a well-trained craftsmen putting it all together (good actor, good crew) - but nothing special. Nothing "Fincheresque", IMHO. Seriously, just because everybody expected a debacle from a Facebook-biopic? And now the movie of the year? And the cinematography? Some nice, well-lit shots but the majority was pretty standard digital stuff - clean but not very detailed, odd colors limited DR and tonality - both, technically and artistically - it angers me that Fincher did much better in the 90s (but nobody dared to say "Oscar"), IMHO and isn't Fincher the one "doing" the cinematography anyway and therefore an odd choice for awards? His movies always look like Fincher - independent from the DoP and I've read he even dictates the focal length for every scene!


I have to disagree. This is one of the best Hollywood films I've seen in years. The script is very solid, with clever dialogue, and David Fincher's direction is very precise, both in narrative and visual storytelling, plus he manages to get great performances from the cast. I also enjoyed Jeff Cronenweth's cinematography. Either his or Fincher's compositions are rich well balanced and elegant, with very little depth of field (Master Primes at T/1.3) that helps to isolate characters on each frame. And there's some moody lighting here and there, a common Fincher treat, but here everything looks more stylized in a "commercial" way to say so, with more care given to the onscreen look of the actors, while still retaining a natural and low-key look. I would almost say that's Jeff Cronenweth's main contribution to the film, as other DPs Fincher has used in the past tend more towards lighting spaces and not faces (Harris Savides comes to mind and this was the right look for "Zodiac"). And regarding picture quality, I tend to like much more the look of film, but here I have to admit that I was blown-away by the quality of the 2K DCP projection, the textures, clarity, sharpness and color reproduction, and I have seen theatrically 70mm prints from both 15-perf and 5-perf 65mm origination. It wasn't as crisp, and it's hard to judge latitude from this film cause it's all shot under controlled lighting, but the projection easily surpassed the regular 35mm presentations, specially from Super 35 films with a 2K DI. It only could be equalled by the best 35mm projection from 35mm contact-printed & anamorphic films.
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#18 georg lamshöft

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Posted 27 January 2011 - 10:04 AM

I forgot "Never let me go" - but I think it won't come out in Germany within the next months?

To be honest, I prefer "bigger than life"-cinematography to a certain extent, where no scene looks randomly lit or composed. Artistically, TSN appeared dull in most scenes, like the flat, slightly underexposed brownish interior scenes which were in ~60% of the movie. I cannot even remember particular scenes regarding cinematography, except for the boat race. For some people, that's the art of cinematography - I don't think so.
Technically, it was the best RED-shot-movie ever! They carefully hid deficiencies just like in the previous "tries to look like film"-Fincher-movies. But occasionally, one sunny window, one light beam making the scene contrasty and the illusion fell apart. "Benjamin Button" didn't look worse, IMHO.
I saw it on a very good 35mm-projection and compared to some trailers shown before, the image clearly lacked, I also saw "the American" in the very same cinema - rich, contrasty with this particular feeling of "depth" at times - despite using Cooke S4 instead of Master Primes (I like their clarity and contrast). Maybe it was the 35mm-print, but the STN-blu-ray is a very precise replication of the print I saw. Many (typically 500ASA S35, 2k-Telecine-DI) movies did look softer than TSN but others have clearly demonstrated what's possible with 35mm handled properly. I saw "Inception" just a few days apart from STN on a 28m-wide screen in 15perf - it was soft but detailed, the exact opposite of STN, IMHO.The beginning which looks as dull and brownish as most STN-scenes got a certain "dimensionality", fine tonal transitions. which made me fell how these scenes were intended to look like. But the blu-ray looks sometimes more digital and waxy than STN...

No, my favourite film of Fincher: The Game - that's the Hollywood I love! And anybody seen the new Se7en-HD-Transfer? Very nice! But back On-Topic ;-)
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#19 Ignacio Aguilar

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Posted 27 January 2011 - 11:13 AM

TSN appeared dull in most scenes, like the flat, slightly underexposed brownish interior scenes which were in ~60% of the movie. I cannot even remember particular scenes regarding cinematography, except for the boat race. For some people, that's the art of cinematography - I don't think so.
Technically, it was the best RED-shot-movie ever! They carefully hid deficiencies just like in the previous "tries to look like film"-Fincher-movies. But occasionally, one sunny window, one light beam making the scene contrasty and the illusion fell apart. "Benjamin Button" didn't look worse, IMHO.


I just happen to love all the underexposed brown scenes of the picture, either toplit, sidelit or lit with practicals, which are heavily influenced by the work of Gordon Willis, ASC ("The Godfather I & II", "The Parallax View", "Interiors", "Manhattan") and other 1970's pictures. I believe Fincher once said that "All The President's Men" (shot by Willis) is his favourite picture, and his visual style references Willis all the time, starting with "Se7en", a film heavily toplit. For instance, Harris Savides, ASC, has claimed in some interviews that they watched "Klute" (also shot by Willis), "All The President's Men" and even "Being There" (shot by Caleb Deschanel, ASC, at his more Willisque work), to find the style and mood for "The Game". This influence is also very clear in "Benjamin Button", which I consider a great work by Claudio Miranda, ASC, though it relied much more in CGI than "The Social Network" and some parts were too digital looking due to this approach. The boat race in "The Social Network" is really nice looking, and would make a great commercial, but perhaps it stands out too much in the middle of the film, as opposed to the precise, static framing and low-key lighting style of the rest of the picture.

"Inception" looked great too. The 35mm presentation I saw was very good for the 35mm anamorphic segments, but the 8-perf 35mm and 5-perf 65mm parts never showed any increase of sharpness and clarity and were very difficult to spot, other than by the lack of anamorphic artifacts. My main concern about Wally Pfister's work is that they introduced very few new ideas regarding lighting, camera moves, operating, etc and they followed "The Dark Knight" formula almost as if they were shooting a sequel. So while I still find it very compelling, technically and artistically, I prefer "The Social Network" due to the mixture of classicism with the camera & lighting together with the most modern HD & CGI techniques (what they did with the twins is amazing).
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#20 Peter Moretti

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Posted 30 January 2011 - 11:59 PM

I am watching "The American" right now. I have to say that I love the cinematography in it. It reminds me of an extra-lite version of "The Conformist." Great use of colors and the opening scene going through the tunnel is beautiful.

I esp. love the thought put into the little touches. E.g., a Sergio Leone movie is playing on the TV, BUT it's NOT an immediately recognizable scene and it does NOT literally tie into the action at hand or to immediately happen. It must have been tempting to use a shot everyone would recognize and play that classic sound refrain, but it would have felt hokey in this context.

But no restraint works well too. The prostitute Carla's room is about as heavy handed as it can be. But it works perfectly b/c by this time you trust the reality of the film.

This is a beautiful film, that I have to go back to right now to finish, :P .


P.S. Well, I have to say that I didn't care for the very last camera move of the movie, panning up to the tree. Staying on the car and Carla would have been pedestrain/less artsy, but it would have been more powerful and better illustrated their relationship and what just happened. After staying on that for awhile, if you really need to, go up to the tree. JMHO, of course.

P.P.S. I loved the priest.
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