I watched the movie The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford the other day and it struck me that -apart from it being a great movie- this was a great display of beautiful photographs.
Then I asked myself which other movies I know have remarkable photography. Not in the sense of cinematography, but in the literal sense – if the two really can be separated. (There must be a reason why a Cinematographer is called a Director of Photography in the USA; even though they share to the same entry in the Wikipedia.) But in this case I’m not interested beyond still pictures. Even though the director of photography of two of the movies on my list was nominated for an Oscar several times. (Hint: Roger Deakins.)
Which list? Well, I thought this would make a nice subject for a list: the Top-5 or Top-10 of movie photography. Mind you, not movies about photography or about photographers, but simply movies with great photography.
Or had someone already created that list? Of course they did. I found some five blog posts presenting lists of great photography movies. (Again, not counting lists of films like this one, dealing with films that deal with photography or photographers).
One blog post even took the Jesse James movie as a starting point, just like I just did. Coincidental, huh?
Since five blog posts on the entire world wide web is actually not that much, I can safely maintain that this is an original idea and go ahead and present my top 5 list. I would like to extend this list to a top 10, or even further so please drop me your additional lines!
1.The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
This is the film that gave me the idea and that’s why I put it in the number 1 spot. I love movies, but I’m not really a buff, so it’s only because of the little research I did for this blog post that I found out that the director of photography is the very same as the cinematographer of most of the Coen Brother films: Roger Deakins.
2. The Sopranos
This is of course a TV series, but each episode can be seen as a movie by itself. The framing and lighting in each scene of each episode is great. Especially when there are portraits involved.
3. The Ladykillers
I could also have picked Fargo or No Country for Old Men; they are all three by Roger Deakins and the Coen Brothers. Generally regarded as one of the weaker movies by the Coen Brothers, the photography of The Ladykillers is brilliant. I especially like the recurring (and geometrical) view from the bridge from which one dead body after another is dumped on passing garbage boats.
4. Funny Games US
The US version of this terrifying Michael Haneke movie has some remarkable shots in it. Taken in one shot, the viewer is for instance forced to watch the entrance of a room where horrible events take place, without actually seeing them happen, for minutes.
5. The American
Not that good a movie, but the director Anton Corbijn is a famous photographer of famous people. And it shows.
My own addition: Had I written this article in 2014, I would have added The Grand Budapest Hotel by Wes Anderson. Watching this movie is almost as if you’re browsing a storyboook (with some animated characters in it). Many of the shots are taken frontal and framed symmetrical, giving the photography an strong tableau effect. Superb.