Variety’s Picks for 2016’s Best Film Shots

January 12, 2017 5:00 am
Silence (Paramount Pictures)
Silence (Paramount Pictures)

As a twist on the standard year-in-film listicle treatment, Variety editor Kristopher Tapley produced a list of the 10 standout film shots for 2016—but talked to the director of photography from each of the films about the creative process that went into filming those exact shots. (This is the publication’s 10th installment of the list.)

The films represented include: Martin Scorsese’s Silence, Trey Edward Shults’ Krisha, James Laxton’s Moonlight, Pablo Larraín’s Jackie, Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, Fede Álvarez’s Don’t Breathe, Beyoncé’s Lemonade, Oliver Stone’s Snowden, Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation, and Damien Chazelle’s La La Land.

Below, check out some morsels from each film’s director of photography.

La La Land (Lionsgate)
‘La La Land’ (Lionsgate)


1. La La Land

Of the shot, Linus Sandgren, director of photography, told Variety that

“… [director] Damien [Chazelle] wanted the camera to be like a character in the film. He wanted to give the sense of being there and watching it breathe and not doing any cuts, and then hopefully you would appreciate the numbers better because you were involved.”

Birth of a Nation (Fox Searchlight)
‘Birth of a Nation’ (Fox Searchlight)


2. The Birth of a Nation

Elliot Davis, director of photography, noted that he went about this particular shot as if he were an architect (he was actually trained as one). Said Davis: “The whole film is really encapsulated in this frame….It’s about the polarization of a system and of a people liberating themselves from an oppressor.”

Snowden (Open Road Flims)
‘Snowden’ (Open Road Films)


3. Snowden

Anthony Dod Mantle, director of photography, went about the shot looking to tease out improv from the actors. To this end, he says

“I also wanted to seize this one opportunity in the last meeting between these two characters, to underline, visually, the degree of power and influence bestowed on a superior officer, and to give Rhys [Ifans] the necessary tools to visually enhance this theme by using the space in the frame I allotted to him.”

Lemonade (HBO)
‘Lemonade’ (HBO)


4. Lemonade

OK, so maybe you don’t think a Beyoncé video is worthy of a film list, but it’s going to nab a Grammy, so it’s time to pay it the attention it deserves. Chayse Irvin, director of photography for it, had this to say about the shot:

“This shot is a great example of that, because we’re concealing her face with that coat she’s wearing. It was this kind of beast or this mythical creature starting to transform.”

Don't Breathe (Sony Pictures)
‘Don’t Breathe’ (Sony Pictures)


5. Don’t Breathe

Pedro Luque, director of photography for the film, echoes The Birth of a Nation‘s Elliot Davis in saying “… it’s a symbol for the whole movie, because you see all of the things that will come into play later. There’s a sense of a bigger order of things.”

Arrival (Paramount)
‘Arrival’ (Paramount)
Zohreh Shahribaf


6. Arrival

Director of photography Bradford Young talked about the serendipitous nature of the shot Variety chose:

“That shot was a total gift: All that fog appeared out of nowhere….To the right was the St. Lawrence River and to the left was just these mountains and rolling hills. And then we cleared a ridge line and there it was, that fog rolling off the St. Lawrence. It was like, ‘Hold on, is this really happening?’”

Jackie (Fox Searchlight)
‘Jackie’ (Fox Searchlight)


7. Jackie

Jackie‘s directory of photography, Stéphanie Fontaine, noted that “In this shot, we’re almost seeing things from Jackie’s perspective. It adds to the intimate feeling that we looked for.”

Moonlight (A24)
‘Moonlight’ (A24)


8. Moonlight

James Laxton, director of photography for the Oscar-buzzing Moonlight, had this to say about the chosen shot, which he notes was written into the script itself:

“We wanted an image that would be everlasting in the audience’s minds, something that evokes some strong emotional consequences. I think it’s almost like asking the audience to be contemplative and have a moment to think to yourself about what you just watched.”

Krisha (A24)
‘Krisha’ (A24)


9. Krisha 

Invoking famed director Robert Altman, Director of Photography Drew Daniels explains that

“This was one of our Altman kind of shots. Instead of cutting into coverage—because obviously you want to end this scene in a close-up—we start zooming once the conversation begins taking a turn for the worst.”

Silence (Paramount Pictures)
‘Silence’ (Paramount Pictures)


10. Silence

Rodrigo Prieto, director of photography for Martin Scorsese’s Silence, saw this shot as if it were a Christ-like painting by famed Spanish master Francisco Goya. “Jesuits try to mold their way of life and spirituality in Christ himself, and I think this moment speaks to that, as well as that confusion of, ‘How would Christ behave in this situation?’”

Read Variety‘s complete story here.

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