Under the Radar: Cinematography

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Jose Solis Mayen chooses five films that deserved much more notice for their camerawork this season...

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.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.