26 January 2010

On Cinematography This Year (2009)

I believe, I'm going to make these posts (i. e., this and last year's) the first two editions of an annual early-year tradition: selecting my favorite still-frames from all the motion pictures that I have seen in the past year. Like most of my traditional lists (e. g., Most Eagerly Anticipated), this newly traditional list will have 10 items, plus one eleventh extra mostly for fun (see last year's #11, Oogway's transcendence from Kung Fu Panda [2008]); and, in a small effort to add a bit more content to this log, I'll explicate each item verily. So, without any further ado, I'll dig in:

  1. Fish Tank by Robbie Ryan- In this beautifully shot British independent film, the natural light and the squarish framing create some tightly acute and illuminative images, completely coherent with the spirit of the piece, (e. g., the young protagonist Mia watching her mother dance in her underwear through the tiny squared portal into their kitchen, the newly caught fish puckering for its life on the sodden riverbankside); but the lead of these images is this #1 item, a fluid portrait of Mia, sitting in quiet consternation, from the beginning of the film.

  2. Bright Star by Greig Fraser - With her able cinematographer Mr. Fraser, directress Jane Campion opens her film by pointing us to the Romantic sweeps of the pastoral hillsides, dotted by sheep and expertly costumed actors, in this image among others that aptly recall the landscape works of the then contemporary Dutch master-painters and set the stage for her dreamy historical tragedy.

  3. A Single Man by Eduard Grau - Director's, Tom Ford's, début A Single Man contains a plethora of list-worthy images, from which I've selected this one to recognize his and his Mr. Grau's captivating work. This still, a reflected collage of Mr. Firth's Professor George Falconer's trimline briefcase and his young neighbor's turquoise shoes and skirt reflected by the earthy brown of the local bank's marble floor, was all the image that I needed to see, to make me interested in seeing the whole film - spectacular.

  4. The Secret of Kells by Tomm Moore - The surprisingly stunning animated feature The Secret of Kells is the former of two films on this list that well exceeded my initial expectations of visual aptitude in the feature. Fittingly described by guest-blogger José at The Film Experience as a dazzling confluence of influences from all eras and media in art-history (see here, ¶ 6), this Irish animation, like Mr. Ford's début, offers many instances worthy of inclusion in this list; however, I have selected this most particular of those instances: that depicting young protagonist Brendan, combatting with the diamond-eyed snake-god that willfully blocks his success, in a nebulous and chalk-inspired dreamscape, where the beast and he both as here pictured mimic the tension inherent in a densely clustered neural network, vying for balance between desire and understanding - yes.

  5. The Hurt Locker by Barry Ackroyd - In creating a list such as this one, one simply cannot ignore this signature image from directress', Kathryn Bigelow's, hot-topic The Hurt Locker. A succinct and fateful allegory for the inextricable puzzlement weighing down upon the men at the heart of her film, this image depicts her protagonist (played skillfully by Jeremy Renner) unearthing a literally explosive network of bombs from underneath the dusty and dry Iraqi soil.

  6. The Messenger by Bobby Bukowski - Director's, Owen Moverman's, also surprisingly (visually) adept feature The Messenger was the latter surprise-feature of this year in film 2009 for me: Delicate, sensitive, honest, earnest, and entirely captivating, the film is a work of serious, gracious mettle. The image that I've selected from it depicts the quiet, ochre-stained removal of the film's protagonist from his world, both a world of feeling and of people; alone thereby in his sparsely decorated bedroom, he plays at disguising himself, even in the dark and solitude, while trim memories of his history figure awkwardly in the lamp-light.

  7. 歩いても 歩いても (Still Walking) by Yamasaki Yutaka - Perhaps the most perspicacious film of the year 2009, Hirokazu Kore•eda 's 歩いても 歩いても (Still Walking) richly observes the extremely delicate interpersonal threads, weaving together a rather disparate family on the anniversary day of a beloved family-member's past death. Though few images from the film recapitulate the natural breath-taking-ness that possesses many other images on this list, such that those other images can almost stand as stills on their own, this image from Mr. Kore•eda's film is certainly one that does achieve equivalent power, by sparing nothing and attending to everything: The image here at #6 depicts the altar, sustained for and ritually honored by the family of the deceased, where it stands deceptively as a superficial common-place fixture in the family's house, deceptively as a deep and literally and figuratively central pivot-point in all the family's emotional turns.

  8. Antichrist by Anthony Dod Mantle - The images of Antichrist may to the rather cursory observer seem like the finely tuned vacuities of an eye, connected with hands in possession of lustily high-tech. gadgetry, through which there can be only the desire to exaggerate and have fun; time-lapsed, highly defined specters of misty etherea waft in and out in almost clinically exact extractions and colors hit saturation-points thick with sticky dyes. However, there is - or, at least, there attempts to be - beyond this cursory superficiality always a visual steam, like a fluid, guiding and shading and solving the fantastical figments and pigments that compose each scene; the images' intention resides behind the eye, connected with the hands in possession of the lens. In no still more than this still is that intention clearer, in which an exhausted She contracts fetally, pressed against the dry and fallow boards of the cabin at Eden and situated at the feet of 'The Three Beggars', who like spectral familiars both become tutelaries and yeomen of her lament, while the referential snowy window blows quietly in the back - captivating.

  9. L'Heure d'Été (Summer Hours) by Eric Gautier - While perhaps not an architecturally formal film in its cinematography, the images of director's Olivier Assayais' contemplative work, much like the images of Kore•eda's 歩いても 歩いても (Still Walking), communicate nevertheless deftly by including in coherent fashion the passing affections that its characters allot toward their fellow others as well as toward their artefactual surroundings. In perhaps the epitome of this style of passing depiction, this image, from the third act of the film, centers (in constant revolution) around a desk that had once been integral in life but since has been quite displaced - even from its accompanying chair - in the cold and artificial podium of museum, whose relics and reliquaries are dimly acknowledged by the touring hoards, featured at back from the back, in passing. At frame's left, a member of the coterie who knew the desk before its current state looks on, herself quite displaced, at the creation of artifact - bravo.

  10. Inglourious Basterds by Robert Richardson - Half too structured, half too quick, Mr. Richardson's cinematography for Quentin Tarantino's spaghetti-Western vacillates between gorgeous absorptions of the stunningly executed sets and art-direction and gratuitous divulgements of the brass and comedic quippery that really sets this top of a film a-spinning. Though impossible to say whether either approach is exactly wrong or exactly right - really neither alone is, which is quite the point - the resultant images as a better whole did stay with me well past the first viewing. For that stickiness alone, the work deserves a place on this list, but all the more it receives such a place here for this #10 image of Marcel, Shosanna's Black lover confidant and accomplice, standing silently in the half-lit space behind the film-screen, where the eye of film trains on him - a deliriously reflexive and bountiful still.

  11. Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces) by Rodrigo Prieto - Not an especially visually pleasing film, Los Abrazos Rotos, written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, nevertheless does have one image poignant enough to merit placement on this list, in whimsical slot #11: the temporally tense, essentially self-referential still of protagonist's Mateo's now aged hands vainly groping for the faintest wisp of textural revision the staticky frames of his last fleeting kiss with his muse and lover (Penélope Cruz), a kiss remembered now only by himself and by the film, two mutually exclusive eyes that hinge on the same image yet exist in radically different spheres. (While the addition of the wristwatch on Mateo's wrist does feel a bit heavy-handed,) the electricity of this shot cannot be dissuaded (by such hyperconscious details.)
Honorable Mention: Where the Wild Things Are by Lance Acord - Director's Spike Jonze's 2009 feature-adaptation of the controversially classic children's book of the same title certainly was a mixed bag of highs and lows for both myself and the general viewing audience. Whereas moments in the film to be loved were plentiful enough, the equally plenteous rest was also there, in sorry counterbalance. Nevertheless, cinematographer Lance Acord, when he did deliver those moments to be loved, delivered them in royal heaps, on top of which is in my opinion this #8 image (not shown) of protagonist's Max's visual exploration of his new friend's artistic masterpiece, a sculptural miniature of his world entire.

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