It’s 2018. Three days in and it already feels like it will probably be worse than 2017 based on the “trending topics” creeping up my personal Facebook feed. But, I don’t want to be a downer and a whiner here, at least 2017 gave us some really good and gorgeous looking films. Consider this post as my lame excuse for some sort of a cringy “end of 2017” post… Poor attempts at jokes aside, instead of looking at gear, or my personal failures throughout 2017 (trust me, there’ve been plenty), I decided to muse over my most enjoyable cinematic experiences of 2017.
Some of them I saw at the cinema, others – prescribed as home entertainment. Genres vary – from glacial-paced dramas, to big budget Hollywood horror films and episodic dramas on Netflix. Some of these you’ve seen, others probably not. But you really ought to.
Visuals alone, for this list, I tried to adhere to a basic, simple, and paramount rule – the cinematography MUST serve, enhance (but not overtake or overshadow), and compliment the story told. It must be invincible and part of the narrative, not a distraction out-of-place, or a blatant show-off.
Best Cinematography in 2017 (Features & Episodic) – My picks in no particular order:
You’ll see this film on many similar lists. For a good reason. It’s one of the finest films released in 2017. Shot on 35mm film, the cinematography here perfectly captures the authenticity of the performances and the grittiness of the narrative. If you have not seen it, you really have to. Indie “mini-studio” A24 just can’t seem to do any wrong – a recurring theme you’ll see as you go down the list.
A24 strikes again. Completed back in 2015, but released until sometime in late 2016 (and 2017 for the UK) under two different names – “February” / “Blackcoat’s Daughter” (quite possibly for marketing reasons), I have been wanting to see this film for a very long time, ever since I saw the first trailer back in 2015. I stumbled upon it accidentally on Netflix of all places just before NYE, and immediately gave it a go.
From the very first sequence it gripped me. It kind of holds your soul in a vice and tightens the grip with every scene. There are no cheap jump scares, or overused genre cliches here. “February” is a haunting experience and a visual masterclass in building tension. This is my pick for not only horror film of 2017, but also the best film I’ve seen in a long time. Shot on RED Epic.
As with all Fincher cinematic creations, Mindhunter is true to its cerebral aesthetic and cold, precise cinematography, done with surgical precision. Shot on custom-made/not-for-sale RED Xenomorph cameras (learn more about how they shot it here), Mindhunter lives up to the legacy of its creator and engrosses the viewer in its twisted narrative through state-of-the-art visuals, production design and use of VFX.
As a huge fan of the works of Stephen King, the 2017 film adaption of the horror master’s seminal work surprised me. Easily the best King film adaptation since Kubrick’s “The Shining” (which was more of a Kubrick film, thank a Stephen King adaptation, but that’s besides the point), IT 2017 put a lot of assess in seats, thanks to the (mostly) faithful adherence to the source material, the genuine performances by the ensemble cast, and epic visuals. Never over the top, the cinematography feels authentic, unobtrusive and very much grounded in reality, despite the absurd premise.
In terms of a major Hollywood horror film, IT delivered on all levels – a feat rarely seen in big budget scary movies. Cameras and lenses of choice were ARRI – Alexa Mini and XT Plus, Panavision Primo and G-Series Lenses & Angenieux Optimo Lenses. ARRIRAW 3.4K mastered for 2K according to IMBD.
There is nothing more that I can say about Blade Runner 2049 and Roger Deakins’ work on it that hasn’t already been said by others way more talented and smarter people than me. Cameras were ARRI – Mini and XT Studio with Zeiss Master Primes. ARRIRAW 3.4K for 4K and 2K delivery as well as IMAX prints.
I’ll only say that if Deakins doesn’t get his long overdue Oscar this year, it will be travesty of immense proportions and a downright crime against cinema. Also, if you didn’t see Blade Runner 2049 on a big screen IMAX or otherwise, you should be ashamed of yourself.
Jon Bernthal has been pretty much unstoppable ever since he got killed in The Walking Dead, he’s been killing it on the big screen. “Sweet Virginia” also features an outstanding performance by Christopher Abbott and subdued, naturalistic and truthful cinematography by Jessica Lee Cagne, which perfectly contrasts the oppressive and combustible atmosphere of the film. Very “Coen-esque” and stellar. You should really see this. No camera or technical details that I can find. Looks like an ALEXA film, but it could be anything really.
Shockingly good debut feature film by director Kevin Phillips, “Super Dark Times” achieves an impressive level of authenticity transporting the viewer back to the early 90’s, a time which I can very much relate to having grown up in the pre-Internet era the films events take place. An amalgamation of various genres, “Super Dark Times” plays very much to the nostalgia culture, but in a good way, accompanied by stellar visuals rarely seen in debut films. A highly recommended viewing.
Visually stunning and scary as hell, “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” is technically a 2016 film, but I didn’t get a chance to see it until early 2017, so it’s on the list for this year. This film makes a single location and three actors (one of which is a corpse) as exhilarating, unpredictable, and visually stimulating as a rollercoaster ride after a bad LSD trip.
When it comes to the best horror films of the last 20 years – this film deserves a spot on it. Much like most of the films on this list, it requires multiple viewings and a mandatory taking of copious notes on the visual style and how to make a single location look epic in every shot.
Definitely the most difficult film on this list, not only because it is based on real events, or at least inspired by such, but also because of its seemingly detached, “matter-of-fact” execution. A slow-burn pastiche of seemingly unrelated scenes, carefully composed and lit, as to in a way alter the audience of the inevitable tragic end. Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant” this is not, but it comes close to feeling authentic.
The cold and detached cinematography adds to the impending danger of senseless violence that seems to lurk around the corner. Too real at times, Dark Night may seem exploitative at first, but is reserved enough in its visual and stylistic approach to avoid classification as a cheap cash-in on a very real and senseless tragedy.
In yet, another A24 gem, Joel Edgerton broods over the dire circumstances surrounding his family at a remote cabin at what appears to be the end of the world as we know it. Drew Daniels’ cinematography never feels overdone or unnatural, on the contrary, it is invisible and thus it guides the viewer through twists and turns that await in the dark and desolate atmosphere of “It Comes at Night”.
Well, for what it’s worth this was my list for 2017. I’m no authority on the matter, just someone who enjoys well made films and tries to learn how to make a good one someday.
I am sure that some of you would not agree with some of my choices, and that’s OK, but I really hope you guys check out some of the films on this list in case you haven’t already. I’d love to hear what your favourite films of 2017 were, and/or your top Cinematography picks for the past year. Do share in the comments.