The Beauty of Cinematography


Source: The Solomon Society

Analise Bruno, Writer

There are a lot of factors involved in a movie that make it great. The plotline, the cast, the set, wardrobe, but what about the actual cinematic magic behind the movie itself? I’m talking about camera angles, breathtaking shots, astounding emotional acting. So many movies are simply “good” but what about the ones that are great?

These are a few of my personal fifteen favorite movies that I think have amazing cinematography and that I recommend you watch at least ONCE in your lifetime.

Little Women (2019)- Greta Gerwig

Rating: PG

Based on the best-selling book by Louisa May Alcott, the story of Little Women follows the story of four sisters in their coming of age during the 19th century. I believe the newest adaption of the movie by Greta Gerwig is absolutely amazing. Not only is the casting and wardrobe great, but the acting is phenomenal. The emotion across Saoirse Ronan’s face as she delivers Jo March’s iconic speech is breathtaking. I adore that this movie holds the same sentiment as the original and that it has a more modern-feminist twist on it. I highly recommend this movie for anyone who loves coming of age stories and period pieces.

Midsommar (2019)- Ari Aster

Rated: R

I used to not like horror movies, but once you realize that they’re more genius than scary, you’ll find yourself obsessed with them. Midsommar follows a couple and a group of their friends who travel to Sweden for their annual summer festival, but soon find that this celebration will take a more sinister twist. This movie is not for the faint of heart, but I do admire Florence Pugh’s raw emotion as it is truly astonishing. Most importantly, the cinematography of this movie is so incredibly well thought out and beautiful, even amongst all the chaos. The flower crowns and entire flower suit made to be worn by the May Queen was truly captivating, and one of the best wardrobes I have ever seen in a movie. Would highly recommend this if you like more psychological thrillers.

The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)- Michel Gondry

Rated: R

The story of The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind surrounds couple Clementine and Joel who break up and both go through procedures to have each other erased from each other’s memories. Although Clementine goes through with the process, Joel has second thoughts and begins running through his brain to revisit and try to save all of his memories connected to Clementine. I won’t lie, this movie can be pretty chaotic, but I find a strange beauty in the randomness of it all. Getting to run through Joel’s mind with him as he jumps through memories formed at different ages, visiting his fears, his joys, his sadnesses really draws you into the film. I love the scene where they wake up in the middle of the freezing beach they first connected in a little bed, I think it perfectly exemplifies the chaos and disorganization, but also beauty, of our minds.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)- Wes Anderson

Rated: PG-13

I have absolutely fallen in love with all Wes Anderson movies not only because of their great casting and amazon storylines, but also because each movie of his has a distinct color palette (and the pink, olive green, and yellow is one of my favs). Moonrise Kingdom follows two outcast turned lovers who run away together amidst an approaching storm that sends a search party into motion to find them quickly. Not only do I think the color scheme of this movie is beautiful, I think the camera angles and shots work perfectly to help tell this complex and softly turned chaotic story. I especially loved the wardrobe, the simplicity, yet ornateness really stood out to me. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in the power of filmmaking because this movie is truly genius, I admire Wes Anderson’s originality. 

Titanic (1999)- James Cameron

Rated: PG-13

I of course had to include some classics in this list! The story of Titanic follows two lovers from opposing social classes who grow fond of each other on their voyage to America, that is until the ship starts sinking. I truly don’t believe that Jack and Rose could’ve been cast any better, Kate and Leo were simply born to play these roles. Not only is the wardrobe and acting phenomenal, but the entire reconstruction of such a large and famous hip that was the Titanic was incredible. The way James Cameron was able to pull the audience into the feeling of being on a sinking ship all while getting amazing shots of the grand balcony, the sunset on the bow of the ship, rooms flooding with water, and of course, the ship snapping in half and sinking was incredible work on his part. This movie is a classic, but if you haven’t seen it, you need to watch it and get a feel for the action.

I, Tonya (2017)- Craig Gillespie

Rated: R

I, Tonya tells the story of figure-skating legend, Tonya Harding, and her incident with Nancy Kerrigan. However, unlike the media, this film works to show the audience Tonya’s side of the story. I found the acting by Margot Robbie in this movie to be incredible. Though she is not a figure skater, the way she was able to emulate such similar moves and expressions was outstanding. Not only that, but the camera angles, where they captured her spins and jumps from a broad range of angles are truly breathtaking. I would highly recommend this film, not only for its out of this world acting but also for the entire ambiance that the director and cameraman were able to create around these crazy skating routines. 

Jojo Rabbit (2019)- Taika Waititi

Rated: PG-13

Jojo Rabbit tells the story of a young boy in Hitler’s army during WWII that changes his perspective on his beliefs after finding that his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their house. Many have given their criticism about this movie not being “boring” or “childish” but I thought it was an interesting spin on the topic of WWII, as the main character completely changes his views by growing as a person. Not only that, but I think the acting is lovely, and can even get you crying in some parts. I also have to acknowledge the camera shots from this movie that is so well crafted, the CGI butterflies were a favorite of mine. If you are looking for a comedy that may make you both laugh, cry, and think deeper into yourself, I would highly recommend this movie. 

The Florida Project (2017)- Sean Baker

Rated: PG-13

The Florida Project follows a young girl named Moonee growing up in impoverished conditions while trying to enjoy summer with the rest of the young kids at the motel, and still dreaming of going to Florida’s greatest attraction: Disney World. This film is amazing, not only for its acting but also for its creative storyline that so many can relate to. I always found the ending with the rainbow over the motel to be one of the most beautiful shots ever captured, because it calms and softens the chaoticness of this whole movie. I really appreciated this film and would recommend it to everyone who hasn’t seen it. 

The Lovely Bones(2009)- Peter Jackson

Rated: PG-13

The story of The Lovely Bones tells of a girl Susie Salmon who, after being murdered, tries to sort her life out in the “in-between” as she looks down and reflects on what the world is like without her. I feel like this film is often very overlooked because it does deal with a more heavy subject, but I thought the CGI and the creation of the scenes in the “in-between” were beautiful. This land of the “in-between” is meant to encompass all of Susie’s desires and creates a sense of fantasy and joy. The way all the scenes were constructed, with the quick changes and flashbacks is truly breathtaking. My personal favorite shot is this end scene as Susie runs through the bright yellow field to the olive tree as the sky is full of the most amazing colors. I think this movie is really touching and has a lot of potentials. 

Get Out(2017)- Jordan Peele

Rated: R

Jordan Peele’s horror phenomenon, Get Out, is about a couple who go upstate to visit the female partner’s inlaws. Although things seem normal at first, her partner, Chris, soon releases something more sinister may be taking place and that he may be in trouble. I know horror films may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I truly admire more psychological horror films like this one. In particular, I find the scene where Chris gets hypnotized to be truly breathtaking as his emotion is genuine/raw, and the visual effects are amazing. Chris is meant to sink into a “sunken place” and the shots of him falling through two realities are so well crafted and truly touching. Similar to Midsommar, I would recommend this to anyone who likes more psychological thrillers. 

LadyBird(2017)- Greta Gerwig

Rated: R

This coming-of-age film follows artistically inclined Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson who longs for opportunity, fun, and adventure beyond what her Sacramento Catholic high school can offer her. I generally feel that coming-of-age films can sort of be hit or miss, but I truly adored this film. Not only is the storyline very authentic, but I also found that the roles were very original. I also love how relatable this film is, and how the way it’s written puts you into the shoes of Lady Bird throughout the movie. I simply love all films by Greta Gerwig because I feel that they are so unique and entertaining. I particularly liked Lady Birds’ staple iconic look and the general direction of the film. This film, in terms of cinematography, isn’t as jaw-dropping as the others, but it definitely makes up with amazing acting and an interesting story. I would highly recommend this film. 

Marie Antoinette (2006)- Sofia Coppola

Rated: PG-13

This film is a retelling of the very iconic story of France’s old queen, Marie Antoinette. However, in comparison to some boring history documentary, this film operates from the perspective of Marie Antoinette and brings her character some innocence that is meant to clear her generally bad image. I absolutely love the intricacy in all Sofia Coppola films, as the costumes and set were incredibly ornate down to the very last detail. When doing a period piece, it’s important to bring historical accuracy, but this film also added a touch of modernism that really showed off Marie’s adolescence. I really enjoyed this film because it offered a totally different perspective to the ill-fated queen’s story and because the shots of the sets were so beautifully designed (the glasses, crystals, diamonds, prop food). I also have to mention how lovely the costumes were, the time period this movie is set in includes a lot of large dresses and I thought the recreations were gorgeous and well captured. Overall, I really appreciated the story behind this film, and I would recommend it to anyone who likes more modern spins on history.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)- Wes Anderson

Rated: R

This film tells the story of the owner of the very luxurious Grand Budapest Hotel’s early years working as a lobby boy. I understand this film may not seem as interesting as all the rest, however, I do believe it has amazing cinematography. Wes Anderson is known for having each of his films surround a specific color palette to make it stick out. The Grand Budapest Hotel color palette is made up of beautiful light pinks, purples, and blues. In this film, I have to say I truly admire the set. The Grand Budapest Hotel is often referred to as this huge and luxurious building that is known for being high quality. I thought the shots of the building itself were beautiful, and I also admired the different camera angles used throughout the movie that really pulled you in. If you are looking for a beautiful piece of cinema to watch, you must take a look at this film. 

20th Century Women (2016)- Mike Mills

Rated: R

20th Century Women tells the story of a mother bringing up her son, Jamie, in the late 1970. Having trouble raising and teaching Jaime all the things he needs to know alone, she enlists the help of the other females in her life to help him through the burden of growing-up. I admire this moving because it radiated female empowerment, and teaches the audience so many valuable lessons. There is also a huge sense of relatability this film creates that makes it so intriguing to watch. I truly love how this movie was filmed with such a casual tone, as the set and wardrobe are so simple yet so meaningful. This film is what I would like to describe as “warm” as it pulls you through a rollercoaster of emotions that come with the harsh reality of growing up. I also have to add that the way the camera follows the characters doing things like riding skateboards, is really cool and intricate (it makes you feel like you’re a part of the film). Overall, this is a great film I think everyone needs to see at least once. 

Big Fish(2003)- Tim Burton

Rated: PG-13

The story of Big Fish surrounds a son trying to comprehend the truth from his father’s story of his life, as he’s on his deathbed. Will’s father is known for his outrageously unrealistic stories, so he is on a mission to find the truth in what he’s told now that he’s nearing the end. This is definitely a chaotic movie, as the film goes along with Ed Bloom’s interesting (to say the least) story of his life. Ed Bloom often tells stories that seem almost like a fantasy, such as befriending a giant, joining a circus, finding a strange hidden town, etc. The storyline is definitely chaotic and a bit confusing, but again, I still think there’s beauty to be found in even the craziest of plots. In particular, the scene where Ed stands in a field full of a thousand daffodils to win over the women he loves is truly beautiful. The shot of him just standing so calmly as the bright yellow flowers extend far beyond his is so unique and original. I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a more lighthearted and thoughtful film.