Cinematography is an art. This art encapsulates the essence of life through motion picture photography. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki was quoted saying “The most important thing in imaging for me is the dynamic range. The dynamic range means the tones you can capture from highlights to dark and the bits, the depth of color you can capture.”
Dynamic Range is a highly integral part of Cinematography. When you think about movies with the best cinematography you’ll know some note-worthy cinematographers who have changed the game. Cinematographer Roger Deakins and Cinematographer Lubezki are well renowned for their mastery of the art. Many movies with the best cinematography that we’re discussing today are the work of these geniuses.
10 Movies with the Best Cinematography
1. The Revenant
Director Alejandro and Lubezki worked on Alejandro’s vision to shoot the film chronologically. The story of ‘The Revenant’ starts in the autumn and moves into the winter season. Where Glass finds himself in the middle of nowhere for months.
Keeping the director’s vision in mind Lubezki decided to shoot exclusively in period-accurate firelight and natural light. The winter shots were filmed in Nothern Canada and the winter scenes of the movie were shot during the small daylight window.
This did delay the production for several months but the delay was worth it. It added to the beauty and the overall charm of the movie’s cinematography. Making it a worthy candidate for the top spot. Lubezki works hard at his craft since this and two of his other films were cinematography Oscar winners.
Frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) suffers life-threatening injuries in a vicious bear assault in 1823 while exploring the unexplored wilderness. Glass must use his survival abilities to find a way back to civilization after a member of his hunting team (Tom Hardy) kills his young kid (Forrest Goodluck) and abandons him for dead. The renowned fur trapper travels through the cold landscape in search of the person who betrayed him, driven by rage and grief.
2. Blade Runner 2049
Rodger Deakins and Dennis Villeneuve have made something incredible with Blade Runner 2049. The movie is chock-filled with auditory and visual treats, that would make filmmakers and cinematography critics weak in the knees.
The film won acclaim and many awards due to Deakin’s attention to plot development and detail. Blade Runner 2049 used color and color theory to tell the story to its audience. This story was relayed through sound and light.
Throughout the movie, you notice colors of yellow, orange, green, purple, pink and white. Each represents different aspects. White represents truth and information. Purple and pink are often connected to extravagance, opulence, romance and so much more. Green is usually used to represent vibrance and life. This makes sense then for Villeneuve to use green when K is with his robotic companion Joi. Orange is used throughout the film to represent mystery. You see orange when K enters the city of Las Vegas. Yellow in the movie is used to represent information and enlightenment for the protagonist K. During major plot twists or new revelations you will find yellow in the scene composition. This could be in the background light or a fire. There are subconscious queues for the audience through color.
Villeneuve’s use of color conveys meaning and tells subtle stories throughout the major plots of the film.
A long-buried secret is discovered by Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a new blade runner for the Los Angeles Police Department, and it has the power to destabilise what’s left of society. He embarks on a search for Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former Blade Runner who has been missing for 30 years, after making this discovery.
To depict the experiences of these two young British troops in World War I, Deakins in 1917 utilizes another unique cinematic technique of a single, long continuous shot in real-time.
Though this technique has been utilized in films before it has never been used for the ENTIRETY of the film.
“I aimed to tell this story over the course of two hours in real-time. So I thought it was only natural to draw the viewer into the experiences of the men,” filmmaker Sam Mendes told Vox. Additionally, after receiving Mendes’ briefing, cinematographer Deakins stated to The New York Times that “it looked like a fascinating approach to convey the story.” Deakins made it apparent that there were multiple takes when asked how many there were in all.
Lance Cpl. Schofield and Lance Cpl. Blake, two British troops serving in World War I, are given seemingly impossible orders. To deliver a message that might rescue 1,600 of their fellow soldiers, including Blake’s brother, they must cross over into enemy territory in a race against time.
4. No Country for Old Men
During the opening scene monologue. We’re gifted with some shots of the desert that may seem superficial at first glance. Then you’re reminded of the context of it. Bell remembers the early days when he joined law enforcement. The time his father was a lawman as well. People in the past never wore guns. Comparing the youth of today to old timers. There are also reflections on crimes that are committed today.
These comparisons in the monologue make the establishing shots have a blowing impact. It helps set up the theme of ageing, of reflecting on the days of the past and is a beautiful use of cinematography. There are so many visual elements in the opening scene and they help set up the plot for the rest of the movie. The dark tones, serious undertones and the nature of the characters in the movie and so much more.
Josh Brolin’s character, Llewelyn Moss, discovers the gruesome remains of a cocaine trade while out hunting. Even though he should know better, he cannot help himself and steals the money that was left behind. When a ruthless assassin by the name of Chigurh (Javier Bardem) follows his lead, the hunter turns into the prey. Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), a seasoned law enforcement officer who searches for Moss while harbouring a terrible secret of his own, is also seeking Moss.
5. The Tree of Life
Malick made the smart choice of choosing cinematographer Lubezki to shoot his film Tree of Life. The cinematography in the film is meant to evoke a sense of memory in a special way.
Using his skill at transforming images into immediate feelings, Lubezki creates family moments that feel utterly lived-in and genuine. We have the impression that we are seeing someone else’s memory, which may or may not prompt and activate our own memories of childhood or parenthood. In Maher Jr.’s book, Lubezki is cited as saying about their shooting technique: “We joke that we are like fishers. We are attempting to extract minuscule amounts from a river that is perpetually flowing. You may occasionally capture one or two, or you may not. It makes me really nervous.”
Young Jack (Hunter McCracken) is one of three brothers growing up as members of the O’Brien family in small-town Texas in this profoundly philosophical movie by famed director Terrence Malick. Jack’s relationship with his father (Brad Pitt) is tense, but he gets along well with his lovely mother (Jessica Chastain). As an adult, Jack (Sean Penn) wrestles with existentially significant problems as well as his past and attempts to make sense of his upbringing.
The team that worked on ‘Birdman’ is the same director cinematographer duo that worked on ‘The Revenant’ our rank #1 holder. That said, you can expect marvels from this dream team.
Similar to 1917, this team also tried to achieve the feel of long singular shots. Lubezki also worked hard to incorporate the artificial lighting that is ever present in Time Square. The camera movement and use of powerful colors were just some of the technical feats achieved during the film.
Throughout the shoot of the movie, Lubezki worked hard to hide his lighting equipment which is difficult to achieve when you’re utilising a bunch of 360-degree shots. This was another point that made the movie beautiful. The grip team constantly moved during the shoot of the film to achieve the perfect lighting shot by shot.
Michael Keaton’s portrayal of former movie superhero Riggan Thomson has organised a big Broadway production in the hopes that it can revitalise his stale career. Although it’s risky, he believes that his artistic wager will show that he is a true artist and not just a faded movie star. A cast member is hurt as the performance date draws near, forcing Riggan to enlist Edward Norton as the actor who would undoubtedly stir things up. In the meantime, Riggan has to cope with his ex-wife, daughter, and girlfriend.
We’ve seen a lot of Aronofsky films ranked, but of all his films Roma is one we should be talking about. Cuarón made the unique and wise decision of shooting this film in black and white, rather than color. Adding to the slight veil of mystery that surrounded the movie.
The usage of black and white though was not done to make it feel old, but rather to have the natural digital look of the present and embrace it. Cuarón acknowledged that a majority of his inspiration was Ansel Adams. He used Ansel Adam’s set of principles to perfect his exposure in the film. Cuarón wanted every frame of the movie to have information and subtle cues for his audience to pick up on. He also utilised a LUT created by Lubezki that was used for ‘Revenant’ and ‘Birdman’ as well.
For the most part, Roma is a single-camera production, with its lengthy, wonderfully coordinated tracking shots. The scene in which Cleo travels with Sofa (Marina de Tavira), her boss, and her kids to a relative’s hacienda for the winter vacations stands out as an exception.
In Mexico City in the 1970s, Cleo is one of two domestic helpers that assist Antonio and Sofia in caring for their four children. The situation quickly becomes complicated when Cleo learns she is pregnant and Antonio abruptly flees with his mistress. When Sofa decides to take the kids on vacation, she extends an invitation to Cleo so that she can take a much-needed break, unwind, and spend time with the family.
8. The Power of Dog
The Power of Dog is an amazing film, with great cinematography. The film, which Wegner calls “devastatingly beautiful,” was filmed in New Zealand’s South Island and is about a cattle ranch in 1920s Montana. It relates the tale of two brothers who are very accustomed to doing things a certain way; when one of them marries and moves his new wife and son to live on the ranch, it upends their dynamic and creates the scene for a Western drama that is full of passion.
Additionally, the film uses a lot of macro shots, which adds to the sense of space. We’ll concentrate on a minute aspect before reopening. The difference in shot sizes gives the impression that the movie is enormous when it is big. The objective is to breathe out while feeling constricted in a different way after exhaling once again. We also incorporated some time-lapse, which seems epic because it shows the sun moving and the Earth spinning. There is a sense of majesty, and the natural beauty is breathtaking.
When his brother brings home a new bride and her son, a tyrannical rancher reacts with mocking cruelty—until the unexpected happens.
With ‘Mank’ the director and cinematographer knew from the start that they wanted to shoot in black and white and not color. Mank took a lot of inspiration from the movie, Citizen Kane.
Fincher creates the appearance of vintage reel changes by placing small circles in the corners of the frames. Despite this, the frame through which we see his interpretation of the 1930s is wide rather than nearly square, adhering to the style established by CinemaScope, the wide-gauge celluloid format that was not made available to the public until 1953, the year in which the subject of this movie’s title passed away at the age of 55.
Additionally, the black and white in this image is not crisp nor deeply dark like a Gregg Toland or Stanley Cortez black and white. In no way is it a clear black-and-white situation. It has a dreamy, creamy black and white that occasionally borders on Lynchian.
Herman J. Mankiewicz, a biting wit and drunken screenwriter who is rushing to finish “Citizen Kane,” reexamines 1930s Hollywood through his eyes.
While Dune ranked #2 in our Best Sound article. It also does rank in our best cinematography movies list. Villeneuve and his cinematographer Fraser, worked to make the film intimate and make the audience feel a connection.
The film uses the colour scheme that Villeneuve and Fraser had planned out in advance, which Villeneuve describes as “subdued and monochrome visuals emanating from a planet that is just sand and dust.” Fraser insisted on filming it outside and used sand screens to surround the ornithopter to generate the right reflection for that level of realism.
The main character of Dune, Paul Atreides (played by Timothee Chalamet), sets out on an adventure to conquer the planet Arrakis with the help of his family. The desert planet is significant because it has melange, a rare spice. The story will depict the Atreides family and the instability in Arrakis. A movie guaranteed to give you a great surround sound experience.
The English film Industry truly has some cinematographic masterpieces. This is true of the other industries as well. Look out for an international version, you might find one on our Postudio blog soon enough!