Best Cinematography is subjective, if you're not going by which movies have won awards for their cinematography – which I am! After all, everyone likes different things, everyone finds different scenes and techniques beautiful. In this respect, watching movies can be like reading books: sometimes you read for the story, sometimes you read for the writing, and sometimes you get lucky and find a book that uses great writing to tell a fantastic story. Similarly, some movies have great plots, some have the best cinematography, and some have both. I'd love to share my opinions with you, by highlighting some movies that maybe aren't great but are nonetheless visually stunning, and other films which have fabulous stories and beautiful cinematography. And I can't wait to hear your opinions about which movies you think have the best cinematography, too!
1. House of 1,000 Corpses
This probably seems like an odd choice, but seriously, I think this movie had some of the best cinematography. It's one of my favorite horror films, I think Rob Zombie has a very interesting aesthetic, but it's mainly the scenery that gets to me. The scenes at the end, underground, the bones glowing in the faint slivers of moonlight? That's just awesome. The Devil's Rejects has a much better story, but I've always thought House of 1,000 Corpses is visually amazing.
2. Apocalypse Now
Apocalypse Now is a gritty, violent masterpiece, not in the least because of the cinematography. The movie itself is pretty much perfect from start to finish, but the realistic fighting scenes, all the smoke and fire and lighting, create something beautiful out of something intrinsically ugly. That's not easy to do in any artistic genre.
3. American Beauty
I love many things about this film, and I think it has some of the best cinematography I've ever seen. Most of it comes from Lester's fantasy sequences – and I'm not just talking about the rose petals, although those scenes are gorgeous. Even the end scene, tragic yet beautiful, is absolute perfection.
4. Dr. Zhivago
Dr. Zhivago is an amazing film. The Russian backdrop is incredible. I've never been, but every time I watch this movie, I long to go. For the most part, the scenery is allowed to speak to itself; it doesn't need anything special to define it. As a result, the cinematography is just as inspiring as the central love story. In fact, it heightens the romantic aspect of the film.
5. Barry Lyndon
I remember seeing this movie in AP English my senior year in high school and thinking that it was a terrific example of the best cinematography I'd ever seen. Stanley Kubrick had an amazing aesthetic and John Alcott heightened it perfectly. Not so surprisingly, thanks to advanced lenses and filming techniques, this film one the Oscar for cinematography.
6. Schindler's List
This film contained stunning cinematography as well, and for a largely black and white film, that's saying something. However, it was because Janusz Kaminski was able to capture the gritty starkness of Poland during the war that the cinematography is so incredible. Subtle pops of color, such as the girl in the red coat, emphasize the film's beauty.
7. Memoirs of a Geisha
Memoirs of a Geisha is a beautiful novel and a stunning movie, with some of the best cinematography you'll ever see on screen. The backdrop is part of the reason, of course, but there are also so many scenes where you notice little details that loom and linger. Something as simple as hanging cherry blossoms become breathtakingly beautiful.
8. Lawrence of Arabia
Freddie Young was the cinematographer on this film – he was also responsible for Dr. Zhivago, which speaks volumes about his talent. Lawrence of Arabia is an incredible movie in all aspects, but its cinematography is especially breathtaking. That's due not only to such locations as Jordan, England, Spain, Cairo, and Morocco, but also to Young's skill with capturing sand dunes, sunsets, and ships.
As you can see, some movies that have the best cinematography really don't tell the best stories, but the visuals pull you in and make you enjoy it more. Not all of these films have won awards for the best cinematography, but they spoke to me in some way. And that's cool – sometimes you just need to sit back and enjoy the scenery. Now tell me: how do you define the best cinematography, what movies do you watch for the visuals?
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