Year after year movies with innovative cinematography—which means an efficient, groundbreaking use of not only light but also camera movement—get snubbed in favor of classically lit works that evoke old paintings and photographs. However, year after year we also see movies—often photographed by newish DP’s—that should be getting more notices during awards season. This is a list of those that made a lasting impression in 2012.
Rust and Bone
Cinematographer: Stéphane Fontaine
As in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, Jacques Audiard’s movie deals with a man and a woman who’ve gotten the short end of the stick in life, which makes Fontaine’s bright lighting of them seem ironic. The DP allows the sun to show every single bruise and scar in their bodies and souls.
Key scene: Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) enters the club for the first time after her accident, Fontaine shoots her from behind evoking a boxer as we follow him to the ring. The camera makes us understand that she’s won the battle.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Cinematographer: Ben Richardson
Richardson’s work is gorgeous because he makes the most out of natural lighting and then adapts it to whatever he needs. Traveling through the swampland we get a sense of the humidity, inside Hushpuppy’s house he makes us feel her claustrophobia and in the film’s most haunting scene he gives red lights a brand new use.
Key scene: The scene with Hushpuppy and the fireworks. A scene with such vitality that it became the movie’s poster.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Cinematographer: Andrew Dunn
Andrew Dunn has over thirty years of experience as a director of photography and watching his work in Perks he makes you feel as if he’s a teenager grabbing a camcorder for the first time. His vibrant work captures moments that feel extracted from your deepest youth memories.
Key scene: The tunnel sequence as the main characters blast the mysterious Bowie song. In terms of pure movie magic it might be among the most exhilarating of the year.
Silver Linings Playbook
Cinematographer: Masanobu Takayanagi
David O. Russell’s precious little romantic comedy feels like a Woody Allen script shot by Martin Scorsese. Takayanagi’s vibrant camerawork with sudden travelings and sensitive slant shots features obvious references to Marty classics like Goodfellas.
Key scene: The dance competition, there is so much going on and the camera is everywhere, it makes us feel like we’re right there with the characters.
Killing Them Softly
Cinematographer: Greig Fraser
Fraser will undoubtedly get recognized for his work in Zero Dark Thirty but the Bin Laden movie wasn’t even his best film this year. In Andrew Dominik’s vastly underrated crime film, Fraser’s camera takes us to robberies, shows us what heroin feels like and captures truly disturbing beauty during a murder under the rain.
Key scene: The opening sequence features a marvelous traveling in which Fraser aptly follows a character, modulates the changing light and sums up the whole movie in a few key images. Floating garbage, a man walking away from the world, no end in sight…the movie never lets go after this.