What Movie Comes to Mind When You Think of Great Cinematography?

What Movie Comes to Mind When You Think of Great Cinematography?

Mar 13, 2013

Out on DVD and Blu-ray this week is Ang Lee's Life of Pi, which took home more Oscars than any other film last month with four. One of them, Best Director, was a pretty big surprise, yet the most contentious (or at least discuss-worthy) award received that night is the Best Cinematography recognition for Claudio Miranda. Some critics, professionally and not, wonder if the film is undeserving of the honor because a lot of the gorgeous imagery we associate with Pi was rendered in a computer. 

Interesting enough, this is the fourth year in a row where the same film won for both Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects, which may actually say something about the way the craft of cinematography is changing in the digital age. Can we still consider cinematography just what a single person does during production with lighting and lenses and focus and framing and film stock choice and all that in-camera photographic stuff?

According to the ASC's American Cinematographer Manual, cinemamtography is all visual imagery from preproduction through postproduction and includes photography as only one element along with any manipulation done to the captured material later on. So, visual effects can contribute to cinematography as much as camerawork can. Technically, even animated films could be nominated for the Best Cinematography Oscar (and Pixar had hopes for Wall-E), but that hasn't happened yet. Pi and Avatar are close, however.

Unrelated to the fact that Pi hits home video this week, a promoted (old) tweet from Abel Cinema popped into my feed asking, "If you could pick one movie as an example of what great cinematography is, what film would you pick?" A link was also included in the tweet that goes to a year-old list of "25 Movies Every Photographer/Cinematographer Must Watch." Some of the titles mentioned are Barry Lyndon, The Fall, Lawrence of Arabia, Braveheart, Amelie, Rashomon, Schindler's List and two that won Oscars for cinematography and effects: Titanic and Inception.

A lot of these are movies that we think about when we think about great cinematography. A few DPs are represented more than once, such as Janusz Kaminski, Slawomir Idziak and Bruno Delbonnel. And it's nice to see not all selections are for "pretty" films, which tend to be what most people consider cinematography to be. That said, as a documentary fan, I'm going with a very pretty film for the answer to today's discussion poll: Baraka.


What movie comes to mind when you think of great cinematography?

Here are some responses received so far via Twitter:




















Join the next discussion on Twitter by following Christopher Campbell (@thefilmcynic) and Movies.com (@Moviesdotcom).


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