A ranked list of the best shots we saw on screen this year.
History will ultimately determine which are the most Perfect Shots of the films of 2016. Well, who are we kidding? We’re going to spend years doing it through the One. Perfect. Shot. Twitter account. As we continue to work our way through the films of the year, many of which will require multiple viewings, it’s likely that the most definitive version of this list will be fluid for a while. But for now, these are our picks for the 16 Most Perfect Shots of the Movies of 2016.
As you’re about to discover, there’s a good mix of high and low budget films from a variety of genres. We’ve got a little animated love (albeit animation that was created in a physical space) and plenty of work from some of our favorite cinematographers. A “Perfect Shot” can mean a number of things. There are beautifully composed shots that, regardless of what comes before or after in a movie, stick out as singularly pristine. There are shots that capture and call back to a film’s vibe or help us recall the emotion that a film provides. Then there are shots that do a little bit of both. We seek to find shots that live in the middle of that Venn diagram. And with some varied mileage, we’re reasonably sure we’ve curated a great list for 2016. But just as history will determine the ultimate list of Perfect Shots, it’s up to you, our beloved readers, to determine whether or not this version of the list is any good.
16. Deadpool ⎟ DP: Ken Seng ⎟ Director: Tim Miller
There are a number of Shots that remind us how much fun Deadpool is, both as an action film and a work of subversive superhero cinema. Candidates include the one in which Deadpool shoots several bad guys through the head all at once or any of the lewd moments in which Ryan Reynolds fills the frame with his posterior. But this one feels right. Mid-action, Deadpool strikes a pose.
15. Kubo and the Two Strings ⎟ DP: Frank Passingham⎟ Director: Travis Knight
Laika’s latest stop-motion animated film is simply beautiful. There are frames – by our estimation, most of the film – that could be hung on the wall next to the finest movie art. This shot, a wide shot of Kubo and Co. walking along toward their next adventure, is rich with color and detail. Some of the frame is digital, but probably far less than you’d anticipate.
14. Captain America: Civil War ⎟ DP: Trent Opaloch⎟ Director: The Russo Brothers
The ultimate showdown of heroes reaches its crescendo. Much of DP Trent Opaloch’s work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been fairly clinical and yeoman-like, failing to stand out as either amazing or particularly bad. It’s a kind of cinematography that fits well with the homogeny of a big cinematic universe such as Marvel’s: it is competent, but never calls attention to itself. But this sequence at the end of Civil War, set in an old Russian military installation, had some breathtaking moments. Opaloch takes great care to keep the three (and in this case two) combatents in frame. It all peaks with the backbreaking showdown between technology and strength.
13. Green Room ⎟ DP: Sean Porter⎟ Director: Jeremy Saulnier
There are few frames in Green Room, one of our collective favorite movies of the year, that will remind us how much we will miss Anton Yelchin quite as much as this one. DP Sean Porter captures freedom of spirit in this frame, but the reliance on overcorrecting the green hue is somewhat foreboding. Later in the film, the color normalizes but the environments become more claustrophobic as tension mounts. This shot represents the freedom that is later lost when the young punk band runs into trouble.
12. The Edge of Seventeen ⎟ DP: Doug Emmett⎟ Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
We sometimes catch flack for not recognizing the work of production and costume designers or art directors on Twitter. Let’s just say that there’s a character limit and we have to be consistent. Given the space we have here, let’s do a little bit of that yearned-for recognition and give a shout to Production Designer William Arnold, Set Decorators Ide Foyle and Leesa Hanna, and Costume Designter Carla Hetland on The Edge of Seventeen. Before DP Doug Emmett could perfectly frame Hailee Steinfeld and her broody teenage moment against the exterior of this drug store, they had to put in a lot of work to match colors and give this modern coming-of-age story an aestheetic similar to John Hughes’ 1980s. It’s a combined effort that makes Kelly Fremon Craig’s film stand out beyond it’s wonderful script and cast.
11. The Love Witch ⎟ DP: M. David Mullen⎟ Director: Anna Biller
We were genuinely surprised to discover that Anna Biller didn’t shoot this movie herself. She certainly did everything else, from writing to composing to editing and production design, this film is a tour de force of filmmaking talent. She brings to life the aesthetic of technicolor melodramas with her sensual tale of a witch looking for love. Her use of bright colors and meticulously crafted costumes brings the 60s and 70s to life in the middle of an otherwise modern day west coast setting. This shot, of lead Samantha Robinson executing one of her lustful pagan rituals, is a perfect representation of the film’s aesthetic glory. It’s actually hard to see how this particular witch would have any trouble finding love…
10. The Fits ⎟ DP: Paul Yee⎟ Director: Anna Rose Holmer
The relentless spirit of Anna Rose Holmer’s feature debut is in this frame. The story, about a community center dance troupe plagued by a mysterious affliction that causes fainting spells and violent fits, and a girl raised around a boys boxing gym just looking to fit in, is about finding your spirit and letting it shine. In this sequence, the overwhelming spirit of the film is what’s shining. Credit goes to Holmer and DP Paul Yee for opening the shot up wide and just letting its talented group of girls just go for it.
9. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ⎟ DP: Greig Fraser⎟ Director: Gareth Edwards
“But wait, this shot is all digital?! How does that count?” Not only do we hear your concerns, we went all the way to ILM and wrote an extensive article about why this absolutely counts. It’s representative of the marriage between digital artistry and old school instinctual filmmaking. The shot may have considerable digital elements (and by considerable, we mean complete), but it has the fingerprints of its director (and DP) all over it. Beyond that, it’s a spectacular use of light for the reveal of the looming presence of the Death Star. That’s no moon, indeed.
8. The Handmaiden ⎟ DP: Chung Chung-hoon⎟ Director: Park Chan-wook
Director Park Chan-wook and DP Chung Chung-hoon have long collaborated on beautiful movies – from Oldboy to Stoker – but The Handmaiden might represent their most beautiful playground. Again, credit goes to production designer Ryu Seong-hie for putting together this amazing corridor. And to the director and DP for this magnificent push shot. It ends, for those who have seen the film to understand, on a very precarious duo.
7. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ⎟ DP: Larry Fong⎟ Director: Zack Snyder
Regardless of where you fall on Zack Snyder’s vision for the DC Cinematic Universe, it’s hard to argue against the fact that Larry Fong is one of our best working DPs. Even when the gritty Snyderverse darkness overwhelms his frames, he finds ways to capture some breathtaking shots. This shot alone almost excuses some of the over-reliance on slow motion seen elsewhere in the movie. Or even some of the disgusting CGI that went into creating the film’s final bad guy. One thing we learned from BvS: both Snyder and Fong love Batman and want to spend more time shooting action sequences involving Ben Affleck’s bulky Dark Knight. Here’s hoping that Fong gets the chance when it comes time to crew up for The Batman.
6. The Witch ⎟ DP: Jarin Blaschke⎟ Director: Robert Eggers
Director Robert Eggers and DP Jarin Blaschke deserve unending credit for the way The Witch was shot using natural light. Because if you’re going to make a movie about the 1630s, a time in which there was only candle light, you can’t be authentic with set lighting. The result is Shots like the one above, rich in detail and a foreboding sense of doom. Ralph Ineson can pray all he wants, that won’t stop what’s coming for him and his family.
5. The Neon Demon ⎟ DP: Natasha Braier⎟ Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
We’ve been impressed by the work of DP Natasha Braier ever since she broke onto our radar with The Rover. Now that she’s framing shots for Nicolas Winding Refn, it’s taken both of their work to the next level. This runway sequence in The Neon Demon is one of the more breathtaking you’ll see all year.
4. The Eyes of My Mother⎟ DP: Zach Kuperstein⎟ Director: Nicolas Pesce
Director Nicolas Pesce, along with DP Zach Kuperstein, deserve credit for bravely shooting their horror film in black and white. Like Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night in 2014, the black and white aesthetic serves to heighten the sense of mystery and dread at play within the story. For Pesce, this is very much an ode to some of the brilliant black and white horror of old. For the modern audience, it’s a creepy-as-hell throwback that is born as much of classic noir as it is classic horror.
3. La La Land⎟ DP: Linus Sandgren⎟ Director: Damien Chazelle
It’s not enough for a musical to have song and dance. For a musical to be truly special, as we believe La La Land to be, it must also display a visual rhythm. Damien Chazelle and DP Linus Sandgren are more than happy to oblige us with the colorful, at times bombastic and playful visual language of their film. La La Land is a love letter to Los Angeles, using the city as a backdrop to the abundantly charming pair of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. It’s this year’s paragon of perfectly lit sunset sequences. And of course, some dancing across the galaxy.
2. Moonlight ⎟ DP: James Laxton⎟ Director: Barry Jenkins
There’s an intimacy to Barry Jenkins’ film that is created in the marriage of story, performance, and cinematography. It’s beautifully and affecting. This shot might not look like a lot for those who have not seen the movie. Sure, it’s well-composed. But for those who have experienced Moonlight’s powerful story and performances, it’s likely to illicit a strong response. That’s what a Perfect Shot can do.
1. Arrival⎟ DP: Bradford Young⎟ Director: Denis Villeneuve
Here’s another brilliant example of marrying the physical world with digital possibilities. Even if you were to remove the alien craft from this frame, DP Bradford Young has composed a brilliant rolling shot. In the context of the film – this is the first time we get a clear look at the alien craft – it’s a perfect storm of narrative timing and drop-dead gorgeous scenery. What you don’t get in this GIF is the way Jóhann Jóhannsson score not-so-gently pounds against the chest of its audience. It’s a marvelously breathtaking sequence that is not to be forgotten anytime soon.