The Top 10 of the 2010s: Best Cinematography

The 2010’s were packed with game changing films: debuts from independent giants that went onto blockbuster successes (such as Ava Duvernay and Barry Jenkins), and technological firsts from Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro G. Iñárritu. The decade also saw the return to form from icons such as Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson. This week, we’re rounding up the best moments in cinematography of the decade: from love letters to Old Hollywood, to digital marvels.

Special Mentions

As always, we couldn’t pick just ten, so here are the ones that just missed out.

  • Guillaume Schiffman – The Artist (2011)

Perfectly capturing the spirit of 1920s Hollywood while simultaneously staying modern.

  • Matthew Libatique – Black Swan (2010)

Ballet and horror. Libatique blends the two seamlessly with his dark and grainy cinematography.

  • Paul Thomas Anderson – Phantom Thread (2017)

Ah, the beauty that is Phantom Thread. Every shot is a work of art we want to stare at forever.

10th. Hoyte van Hoytema – Her (2013).

Van Hoytema is steadily becoming one of the most talented cinematographers in Hollywood, with Her being his star-making feature. The film’s soft and dreamy look encapsulates the feeling of the story perfectly, and Van Hoytema manages to make modern-day Los Angeles look both recognisable and futuristic. A film which almost entirely relies on the dialogue between a man and his AI can quickly become tedious, but Van Hoytema’s framing makes sure you’re always engaged and understand the inner-workings of our main character exactly.

9th. Linus Sandgren – La La Land (2016).

Love it or hate it, no one can say La La Land isn’t pleasing to look at. And we’ve got Linus Sandgren to thank for that. Having previously worked on David O. Russel’s Joy and American Hustle, La La Land was his chance to truly shine. From impromptu dance parties in traffic to the romance of late-night Los Angeles: Sandgren captures it all with an energy and beauty that makes even the most musical-hating person (such as myself) smile at every song. On top of that, we cannot overlook the innovative technological achievements that made even the most complicated sequence look effortless.

8th. Joshua James Richards – The Rider (2017).

Unlike Sandgren’s slick and produced camerawork, The Rider prefers a realistic, documentary-style approach. And the results are flawless. Perhaps the most underrated film of the decade (or ever?), Joshua James Richards’ work lets the actors and surroundings shine in all their natural beauty. Preferring to use as little artificial light as possible, we feel as if we’re right there with our actors. He seems to notice every detail and capture them all, adding extra weight to every scene you watch.

7th. Robert Yeoman – The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014).

If you love film, chances are there is at least a small part of you that loves Wes Anderson. And part of what makes his work so special is his cinematography courtesy of Robert Yeoman. Having worked together since 1996, Yeoman’s camerawork is possibly as famous as Anderson himself. The bright colours and his preference for theatrical-style framing make Anderson’s films so original and creative. The Grand Budapest Hotel might be Yeoman’s best work yet, having clearly perfected his style over many years and we can’t wait to see what he’ll do next.

6th. Emmanuel Lubezki – The Revenant (2015)/Birdman (2014).

Emmanuel Lubezki has been steadily changing the game for years. Having worked with many acclaimed filmmakers including Alfonso Cuaron and Terrence Malick, he has perfected his craft and created some of the most stunning and interesting moments in film in the last few years. While he could be on this list with pretty much every film he’s done in the past decade, his work with Alejandro Gonzales Inarittu might be his best yet. From the one-take marvel that is Birdman to the sweeping epic shots of The Revenant: his work leaves us continuously amazed.

5th. Alfonso Cuaron – Roma (2018).

After having collaborated with Emmanuel Lubezki on many of his films, Alfonso Cuaron decided to take on the daunting task of shooting his own film. And the results are magical. Shot in black and white, Roma captures 1970s Mexico in a way we’ve never seen done before. Cuaron finds the sweet spot between natural and artificial light, creating a film that feels both modern and timeless. Every shot is crafted to perfection showcasing Cuaron’s astounding knowledge and talent for filmmaking. The true highlight of the film being the one-shot beach sequence, which is one of our favourites of the decade.

4th. James Laxton – Moonlight (2016).

For Moonlight, director Barry Jenkins and cinematographer James Laxton wanted to move away from the realist look expected from American indies, and instead aim for a more ‘dreamlike’ feel. Upping the contrast in every shot, and using bold lighting techniques to capture the characters, Moonlight is distinctly different from other smaller-budget indie films. The juxtaposition between the colourful look and the dark story pulls you right into the film, and makes the viewing experience that much more emotional. The extreme close-ups and the occasional breaking of the fourth wall further help in cementing Moonlight as a film you can’t quickly shake off.

3rd. John Seale – Mad Max Fury Road (2015).

It may have come as a surprise for many that the reboot of the Mad Max-franchise would turn into one of the best films of the 2010s. And one of the factors to thank for this is John Seale’s dazzling camerawork. Fury Road is in many ways the exact opposite of what we expect an apocalyptic film to look like. Instead of grey cityscapes, we are transported to the colourful world of a dry desert wasteland through which we follow our leads on one long car chase. Every last shot was planned extensively beforehand through thousands of storyboards and most of the effects are practical. Brought back from retirement to do the film, Seale created one of the most beautiful and exhilarating action films of all time.

2nd. Lukasz Zal – Cold War (2018).

Our love for Cold War knows no ends, and this is also true for its cinematography. From the second the film starts, ever frame looks like a beautiful black-and-white photograph and it then comes at no surprise that Lukasz Zal was inspired by photography and not film. The choice to shoot in black and white was also one that had a deeper meaning behind it: set largely in Poland, they felt they could only truly capture the country of that time completely absent of colour. However, the film is never grey or boring. Instead, the contrast between the black and white is so high, it creates a dept to every shot that is usually only achieved in colour. Not a frame is out of place, and Zal has immediately shown himself to be one of the most talented cinematographers working today.

1st. Roger Deakins – 1917 (2019)/Blade Runner 2049 (2017).

With so many incredible films and so many beautiful shots, compiling a list of ‘the best’ is always hard. However, when looking at the last decade alone, Roger Deakins’ work amazes every time. With a career that would make anyone jealous, his films in the 2010s have proved he only gets better with age. From Skyfall (arguably the best Bond film) to Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario: each film is truly epic and cinematic in every sense of the word. However, the true stand-outs of this decade where Blade Runner 2049 and 1917, both of which won him the Academy Award for Best Cinematography. And while the Oscars aren’t necessarily the epitome of filmmaking, it is easy to see why these were singled out. Both films technical achievements in their own rights, Deakins tackles every challenge with ease. While the films couldn’t be more different, you can see Deakins’ distinct camerawork in both. Whereas Blade Runner 2049 is futuristic – ranging from neon-lit buildings, to dark, smog-filled cities – and 1917 evokes the muddy wastelands of the First World War, both films offer scene after scene of perfectly composed frames. Deakins constantly raises the bar, and his work (best enjoyed on the big screen) makes us love cinema a little bit more every time we see it.

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