Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Some Very Pretty Pictures (for you!)

I started off the day intending to do a shot-by-shot analysis of the scene in which my favorite shot of all time takes place, but, alas, I couldn't find the clip on Youtube, and it would be silly to do an article like that without providing a way to see the scene. So, instead, I'm just going to rattle off the five prettiest movies I can think of right now (they'll all be fairly recent, as they need to be somewhat fresh in my mind for me to rattle them off) and extol their virtues a bit. I'll also provide the link for the trailer to each one (I wish I knew how to embed videos. If someone can provide a tutorial, or some helpful advice, I'd be much obliged). I highly, highly recommend that you watch each trailer; while you can't really appreciate a film's style when it's cut up like that, it will give you a good idea of the film, as well as provide the pretty pictures I promised you. It also helps that all five trailers are just excellent examples of trailers at their best.

(These are in no particular order, by the way. If forced to choose, I would give slight advantage to the first two films I mention.)

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Cinematographer: Roger Deakins aka God)
This film really, honestly defies description. Roger Deakins takes his characteristic starkness and emotive lightwork and kicks it into overdrive. He's lensing modern day gods, and it feels like it. Everything is large, grand, and ultimately bleak. His color palettes are unbearably gorgeous. Really, this film is stunning. See it. The film is poetry at its best.

The Thin Red Line (Cinematographer: John Toll)
This film is a little more grounded in reality than the admittedly fantastical musings of the previous entry, but it's no uglier for it. Toll adroitly mixes beautiful nature shots with jaw-dropping tracking shots through battle, liberally spiced with surreal-feeling flashbacks and expressive underwater photography. More poetry here.

The Piano (Cinematographer: Stuart Dryburgh)
Unconventional lensing for an unconventional film. Dryburgh does just the opposite of The Thin Red Line in that he excels at casting sharp juxtapositions between the characters and nature. The film feels cold and harsh, as if the landscape is aware that humans shouldn't be living there. He also goes for great unorthodox shots, as well as returning to shots that he knows works (the piano on the beach, framed by waves, for instance).

Brokeback Mountain (Cinematographer: Rodrigo Prieto)
(The shot that I was originally planning this article for is at the end of the trailer: Heath Ledger and fireworks. You'll know it when you see it.)
My definition for a pretty film is this: I feel like I can stop the film at any given moment, print the frame I stopped on, and hang it on my wall as a piece of art. More than anything else, Prieto's work feels like art. Painterly, really. Every scene, every shot seems like a composition that I could hang on my wall.

Hero (Cinematographer: Christopher Doyle)
This film uses color like nothing I've ever seen. Every part has a particular scheme that works beautifully in the context of each location. Notice how all the characters seem to blend and melt into their surroundings, as if the world is swallowing them up, blurring the lines between self and whole. And it's very, very big. It beats everything else on the list in terms of scale.

So, it would seem that my favorite pretty movies all concern nature/human juxtaposition. What do you think? Are these pretty enough for you? What are some other movies that I could have mentioned? If you want me to talk about a film's look or style, I will: I love cinematography. Leave me some suggestions.


  1. I like this entry! My favorites from this list (this is based only on the trailers, so it was kind of hard to judge) are The Assassination of Jesse James... and Brokeback Mountain. Both of these followed what you said. I could pause the trailer at pretty much any point and it looked awesome. As for Hero, I feel sorry for color blind people. The scene in the trailer where two people in green are fighting what looks like a colorless (or near colorless) army stood out to me. What other movies have Rodrigo Prieto and Roger Deakins done?

  2. Oh boy. Chuck, you just picked two of my favorite cinematographers. Prepare to be dazzled.
    Rodrigo Prieto: State of Play, Babel, Alexander, 21 Grams, 25th Hour, Frida, Amores Perros
    Roger Deakins, aka God: A Serious Man, Revolutionary Road, The Reader, In the Valley of Elah, No Country For Old Men, Jarhead, The Village, House of Sand and Fog, A Beautiful Mind, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Big Lebowski, Kundun, Fargo, Dead Man Walking, The Shawshank Redemption

    I also highly recommend these two fellows:
    Emanuel Lubezki: Burn After Reading, Children of Men, The New World, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Ali, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Sleepy Hollow, Great Expectations

    Janusz Kaminski: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Munich, War of the Worlds, Minority Report, A.I., Saving Private Ryan, Amistad, Schindler's List

    Or John Toll, or Conrad Hall, or Dion Beebe. I could really go on forever with these!

  3. Ooh, or Anthony Dod Mantle. I forgot him!