A completely random collection of my favorite singular images from movies the last couple years.
Movie: Beasts of No Nation
Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Director of Photography: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Context: Before the depravity ensues, Agu (Abraham Attah, center-right) and his friends play on their “imagination TV”.
The beginning of Beasts of No Nation is extremely uncomfortable despite it more or less being a group of kids goofing around. We know this is going to turn bloody, so to see Agu and his friends play around with a broken TV -putting it in front of people as they act out various tropes- is very eerie. Many shots from this film’s first 10 minutes stand out but I like this one with Agu and his friends dancing, completely unaware of what’s about to happen. The loss of innocence is a central theme in this movie.
Movie: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Director: J.J. Abrams
Director of Photography: Dan Mindel
Context: Rey (Daisy Ridley) beats every last drop from her water bottle as she stands hilltop against a fallen Imperial Starship she was looting for metal.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens was very aware of Star Wars’ timelessness, perhaps to a fault. But this is one of the first looks we get at Rey; and it manages to establish her solidarity and her assumed unimportance all while clarifying that we are in fact years removed from The Return of the Jedi. Along with the shot of her sitting at the AT-AT, this is integral to removing the original trilogy from where we’re at now while still connecting. And it just looks dope.
Movie: The Hateful Eight
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Director of Photography: Robert Richardson
Context: Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) recounts a rather graphic story full off johnson and pecker talk to a former Confederate leader, and we see said story played out in glorious 70mm.
If you’ve seen The Hateful Eight you damn well know that this image is one of many that could be chosen from Samuel L’s way too detailed account of his fellatio-resulting interaction with a Confederate hero’s son. This segment of the film is perhaps the most Tarantinoish thing Tarantino has ever done. As well as being completely over-the-top in a way only Tarantino can pull off, it functions as the climax to the racial OVERtones that run within the film’s DNA. It’s also the moment where Robert Richardson is allowed to fully flex.
Director: Dennis Villeneuve
Director of Photography: Roger Deakins
Context: The mysterious Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) prepares to “interrogate” a suspected cartel member as U.S. officers sit idly by.
This is a cop out. Deakins has shot too many great movies full of too many great images to choose one. But Sicario, one of my very favorite movies, showed his gifts off. For all the talk about the climactic sequences he shoots in night/thermal-vision, his minimalism thrives throughout this film. Here, the “team” finally gets a lead and Benicio lugs in a water cooler refill. He drags it in. We know he’s water-boarding the guy; but this image, with his foot in between the dude’s legs and the water slightly off-center, works perfectly as the final image seen before implied torture occurs.
Movie: Inherent Vice
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Director of Photography: Robert Elswit
Context: Stoned private eye Doc Sportlelo (Joaquin Phoenix) mockingly bows down to the L.A.P.D. as he approaches a station.
Joaquin Phoenix’s character in Inherent Vice is lost; a talented private investigator struggling to connect with the world as the 60s become the 70s. On numerous occasions authoritative figures mock him for his look. The sideburns, the dirty feet, the unkempt hair. This extended shot of him approaching an LAPD outpost on business is quite hilarious. Earlier in the film, he’s pushed down by an officer. This time, he’s submissive, even going as far to cover up his asshole with his hand. It’s a funny moment in the film, beautifully framed (PTA & Elswit always make for visual gold) and also making great use of shadows.
Movie: Jurassic World
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Director of Photography: John Schwartzman
Context: The monorail arrives, the camera pans up and zooms in, offering us our first look at the new, fully functioning Jurassic World in what has to be one of THE great set pieces ever put on film.
This is the most emotional image from Jurassic World, for me at least. As some of our characters approach the park the camera moves to reveal it from afar. First we get the water area, but this frame centers the hub amongst the mountains behind it and also uses hoards of extras to show of the park’s popularity. Perfect use of a set piece -surely there’s some digital work done here but they DID build some stuff- and a nice way of quickly establishing the film’s general setting without having to waste time with too much expository dialogue.
Movie: Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Director: Alejandro G. Inarritu
Director of Photography: Emmanuel Lubezski
Context: As everything begins(?) to fall apart for Riggan (Michael Keaton), he walks into a peculiarly lit liquor store to pick up a fifth of bourbon.
I guess that 85% of Birdman counts as the same shot, but this moment stood out to me. Riggan is at his low point and the contrasts at play when he walks into this liquor store are powerful. It looks beautiful, with the lit chilis creating a tunnel of sorts to the booze. But again, this is probably the film’s darkest moment, at least in Riggan’s mind. I also like how this -along with moments of Riggan on the street- take us outside the centralized location of the theatre. As fun as the onstage and backstage happenings are, parts of Birdman felt a bit claustrophobic. This quick moment in the film takes us into another world almost.
Movie: X-Men: First Class
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Director of Photography: John Mathieson
Context: A very cool looking but vengeful Magneto (Michael Fassbender) walks into an Argentinian bar with fatal intentions.
This one is ALL about context, using the trick of keeping a secret from the characters while the audience is well aware of it. We know right away Magneto has come to this bar to kill the men (not pictured), and that knowledge makes Fassbender’s raw coolness here so deliciously uncomfortable. Matthew Vaughn is a fun visual stylist. He and his DoP’s often “over-do” things for affect. The lighting here, along with the costume choices, create an overwhelmingly bright aura that’s very different than what you generally would see in an X-Men movie.
Movie: Ex Machina
Director: Alex Garland
Director of Photography: Rob Hardy
Context: Just as our not-pictured protagonist begins to figure things out, our quasi-villain Nathan (Oscar Isaac) nonchalantly tears up the dance floor, bro.
Ex Machina is very serious,weighty, dark. But in this moment, when Domhnall Gleeson (our lens) confronts Nathan (Isaac) the reaction is anything but those adjectives. Alex Garland shows Nathan’s insanity and disconnection from the common folk by having him boogie down. The red from the bottom creates a cool look when reflected against these characters’ skin and there’s a certain disorganization to Isaac here -shirt barely buttoned up while the beard matches his black attire- that sums up his rather complex character.
Movie: The Lobster
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Director of Photography: Thimios Bakatakis
Context: After watching a hotel employee “tease” him, David (Colin Farrell) stands by as she makes the bed.
The Lobster is very uncomfortable. For all its allegory, it’s also a vacuumed story about solidarity and sexual frustration. Here, a hotel employ tortures David by stimulating him only to cease just before the point of ejaculation. I love this image of David nervously scoping her out afterwards as she makes the bed, business as usual. The gun -an important device in this movie- rests in the center of the shot between the two. There are many notable images in this movie but this the one that stands out to me.
Thanks for reading! I had fun gathering this shots together and hope to do something like this again soon, perhaps more organized? (Best shots of the 70’s, best opening shots, etc).