Today’s Top Cinematographers

Corey Hogan

They say a picture says a thousand words – so a moving picture must have a hell of a lot to say. Cinematography is often one of the aspects of filmmaking to slip past your average movie-goer. That’s not to say it goes unnoticed; it’s just that most people are simply unaware of the spell being cast upon their eyes by the director of photography.

The practice of envisioning, framing, lighting and staging a shot is an incredibly monumental task. We’re spoilt with the sheer magnitude of beautiful looking films produced today, and with new technology constantly introduced, the sky truly is the limit. There’s a massive selection of genius cinematographers, but here are five of the best currently working behind the camera.

Robert Elswit 

Perhaps the most important trait to have as a director of photography is the ability to adapt with ease to whatever might need to be visualised. Robert Elswit has that locked down, effortlessly gliding from low budget independent comedies to high profile action extravaganzas. He’s known for collaborating well ahead of production with the film designers to nail down the look of a film, and for giving actors plenty of space and time in a shot in case improvisation is required.

Since the 80’s Elswit has worked with a huge variety of directors, which has no doubt led to his resourceful manner. His slick, shiny gloss is easily spottable in spy flicks Tomorrow Never Dies, Salt and The Bourne Legacy, and his creative eye for places to stick a camera has stunningly captured the insane stunts undertaken by Tom Cruise in the two most recent Mission: Impossible films. That same polish transcends to thrillers like The Town and Nightcrawler, and helped achieve the gorgeous black and white contrasts of George Clooney’s Good Night and Good Luck. But his best work is in his collaborations with the brilliant Paul Thomas Anderson, of whose entire filmography (save The Master) he’s served as cinematographer for. Clearly it’s here he’s learnt most of his lessons; the masterful tracking shots and perfectly symmetrical imagery are now an Anderson staple, looking no better than in Elswit’s Oscar-winning There Will Be Blood. Elswit is next heading into the Indonesian jungle for the Matthew McConaughey adventure Gold.

Robert Richardson 

There might not be anyone alive who captures history quite like Robert Richardson, no matter how twisted or surreal his collaborating director is spinning it. Richardson’s work could be considered experimental, especially given the sheer photographic range and progression he’s shown since his early work in the mid-80’s, but it’s his daringly bold risks that have earned him three Academy Awards and allowed him to frequently collaborate with some of the finest auteurs in the business – and amazingly, keep his own voice while doing so.

Richardson carved a name for himself alongside Oliver Stone in his very best years, envisaging the thick green jungles of Vietnam for Platoon and the steely courtrooms of JFK, as well as accentuating the psychedelic music trip of The Doors and the hyperkinetic brutality of Natural Born Killers. His shift from gritty realism to cartoonish ultraviolence came with his pairing with Quentin Tarantino for Kill Bill. He is responsible for the significantly different look in Tarantino’s new films compared to his old ones – look no further than Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained. And his period pieces with Martin Scorsese are possibly Richardson’s most avant-garde, but there are no historical epics out there that look quite like The Aviator or Hugo.

Richardson is the perfect fusion of old and new; an innovator of the way we view history. Forever unpredictable, it’s exciting to think of what he can still bring to the medium – he just resurrected the forgotten 70mm Ultra Panavision for The Hateful Eight, and will return to the 1920’s with Ben Affleck next year for Live by Night.

Claudio Miranda

Unlike the other directors of photography on this list, Chilean cinematographer Claudio Miranda doesn’t have a large and prolific filmography dating back a few decades behind him – but that’s what is all the more impressive about his work. While it takes most DoP’s a dozen or so films to hone their skill, Miranda has completely come into his own in a mere handful of projects, proving himself a master of seamless CGI environments and scooping up a slew of awards – including an Oscar – by only his fourth feature.

Starting as a gaffer for David Fincher on Se7en, The Game and Fight Club, he made history when Fincher promoted him to cinematographer for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; nominated for the first Oscar-eligible feature to be filmed entirely digitally. Since then his specialty has become realising computer-generated worlds. While Joseph Kosinski’s films have lacked narrative substance, both Tron: Legacy and Oblivion are absolutely breathtaking domains to be lost in. But his masterpiece is easily Ang Lee’s visionary Life of Pi. Despite being filmed in a simple shallow pool against a blue screen, Miranda’s vision showcased a most beautiful survival-at-sea tale in all its horror and wonder, and proved once and for all that it is possible to feel strong emotion towards something made entirely by computer.

He’s yet to match the pure imaginative quality of his award winning effort, but as long as his digital designs continue to drop jaws, the future is bright for Miranda. Following last year’s Tomorrowland, his keen eye will be seen again with Kosinski for something a little different – the upcoming Granite Mountain, based on the true tale of the men who fought the Yarnell Hill Fire.

Roger Deakins

British-born Roger Deakins is perhaps the best known professional cinematographer today, but surprisingly he’s still yet to be awarded an Oscar for his colossal impact – despite a whopping thirteen nominations, including two in one year for the gorgeous post-modern Westerns No Country for Old Men and The Assassination of Jesse James.  This could simply boil down to bad luck; he’s often overshadowed by a more buzzed-about picture, particularly rivalled in recent years by the man of the moment Emmanuel Lubezki.

Deakins’ range spreads across an array of different genres, but his name alone immediately conjures up masterful images of shadowy figures against desolate, dangerous landscapes, as evidenced in these shots. He’s the Coen Brothers go-to guy, having worked with them twelve times. He’s also a regular for Sam Mendes, with whom he delivered by far the best-looking Bond film Skyfall, and Denis Villeneuve, whose harrowing thrillers Prisoners and Sicario might not have had quite the same edge if not for his eye for green-and-grey tinted dread. Not content with sticking to live-action however, he’s also served as visual consultant on some of the most sumptuous animated features to grace the screen, including WALL-E, Rango and both How to Train Your Dragon movies.

Up next he’ll be stretching his talents to a new realm again with Villeneuve’s highly anticipated Blade Runner sequel; it’s simply mouth-watering to think of the potential Deakins has in sci-fi. And surely it’s only a matter of time until his four decades of influence on the industry are given the recognition warranted by the Academy.

Emmanuel Lubezki

Nicknamed “Chivo” by his peers, Emmanuel Lubezki now holds the record of earning three Academy Awards back to back, and for once it’s safe to say that these are well deserved. Hailed as a true innovator of the medium, Lubezki is acclaimed for his extensive and unbroken tracking shots.

Chivo has worked with some of the best in his career – Tim Burton (Sleepy Hollow), Michael Mann (Ali) and the Coen Brothers (Burn After Reading) – but his best work by far has come through his regular collaborators, Terrence Malick, and fellow Mexicans Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu. With Malick, he’s visualised the dream-like philosophical ponderings of To the Wonder and Knight of Cups, and the awe-inspiring conceptualisation of the beginnings and meaning of existence in The Tree of Life. He’s envisaged most of Cuarón’s films, most impressively his genius sci-fi thrillers – the criminally underseen Children of Men and the exhilarating 3D space rollercoaster Gravity. And most recently he’s teamed up with Iñárritu, delivering the seemingly uninterrupted single take of Birdman and possibly the most devastatingly beautiful reflection of nature ever seen in film with The Revenant.

The films Chivo selects are always divisive in opinion (and what art isn’t?), but there’s simply no denying the effectively orgasmic imagery he’s gifted the world of film. Next he reteams with Malick for Weightless, a tale of obsession and betrayal against the music scene in Texas.

Images courtesy of Dendy Films, Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Universal Pictures,  Hoyts Fox Columbia Tristar Films, Roadshow Films, Twentieth Century Fox, Guo Films Distribution, Sony Pictures & Icon Film Distribution


Quick Picks – Revelation Perth International Film Festival – Feature Films

What Lola Wants

Fast, fun, and ferocious – What Lola Wants may just be Revelation Perth International Film Festival 2015’s boldest and brightest feature.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Review by Tom Munday

Sophie Lowe in What Lola Wants

Sophie Lowe in What Lola Wants

Celebrity teenager Lola Franklin (Sophie Lowe) has run away from her Beverley Hills lifestyle into the wild, wild west. Believing she has been kidnapped, her parents stamp down a $1 million reward for her safe return. Lola meets rebellious, pickpocketing loner Marlo (Beau Knapp) in a diner, convinced he is the man of her dreams. Marlo, being hunted by Mama (Dale Dickey), is already neck-deep in trouble. The destructive duo heads out on the road, taking down anyone in his or her path. But which reward will Marlo choose – the girl or the money?

What Lola Wants is one of the biggest surprises of 2015. This crime-thriller is the pitch-perfect example of less is more – relying on character and tone over anything else. Australian writer/director Rupert Glasson injects his frenzying style onto every page and frame. Attributing to Quentin Tarantino and Sam Peckinpah, every plot-point, twist, and line of dialogue is drenched in pulp and viscera. Told from its lead’s perspective, it’s tough, sexy atmosphere sparks a thrilling pace. Glasson’s latest venture harkens back to some of Hollywood’s biggest middle-finger thrillers like Natural Born Killers and Badlands.

Glasson’s hyperkinetic, frivolous visuals bolster What Lola Wants’ simple-yet-effective narrative. Its lurid cinematography flaunts the American Heartland’s glorious scenic vistas. In addition, its scintillating score pays tribute to the dark, disturbing heart of the western genre. Indeed, touches including an animated credits sequences and comic-book-esque scene transitions deliver multiple surprises. Most importantly, the performances take charge from the outset – with Lowe and Knapp’s chemistry establishing their significant talents.

Bolstered by style and substance, What Lola Wants has more brains, brawn, and heart than anything 2015’s big-budget slate has offered thus far.

Sat 11th July, 6:45pm, Luna Leederville

Alvin’s Harmonious World of Opposites

 Alvin’s Harmonious World of Opposites, though not for the faint-hearted, is a unique and mind-altering experimental-drama/black-comedy.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Review by Tom Munday 

Teik Kim Pok in Alvin’s Harmonious World Of Opposites

The plot of Alvin’s Harmonious World of Opposites is, inexplicably, more intricate and perplexing than its title. Alvin (Teik Kim Pok) has not left the confines of his one-bedroom apartment for over 18 months. The agoraphobic nobody lives only with bizarre collections of toy pandas, Prince Charles and Princess Diana memorabilia, and vintage flour containers. Human interactions include obnoxious neighbour Virginia (Vashti Hughes) and video chats with his boss Angela (Allis Logan). With work and home-life difficulties building up, Alvin becomes paranoid after brown ooze begins dripping through the ceiling.

Writer/director Platon Theodoris’ feature debut is a unique and nightmarish examination of the Average Joe. His project meddles with several genres, concepts, and themes, with the first-two thirds highlighting the long-standing tedium of Alvin’s decaying existence. Sticking with Alvin inside his claustrophobic abode, the narrative’s repetitiveness and peculiarity illicit a unique physical, mental, and spiritual response. Similarly to David Lynch and David Cronenberg, Theodoris’ writing and directorial ticks put the audience on edge throughout its steady 73-minute run-time.

Alvin’s Harmonious World of Opposites’ final third becomes a Rubik’s cube-level obstacle course through awe-inspiring visuals and intricate ideas. Delving into Alvin’s baffling subconscious, Theodoris’ project switches valiantly from black comedy to existential angst. Scenic vistas and a stirring score establish the dramedy’s discussion of introspection, loneliness, and voyeurism. Pok, carrying every scene, conveys a bevvy of complex emotions with several key facial expressions.

This drama-thriller/black-comedy is a bizarre yet rewarding trip through Alvin’s dreamscape. Theodoris’ feature debut is set to be the “Did you get it?” flick of this year’s Revelation Perth International Film Festival.

Thurs 9th July 8:30pm – Cinema Paradiso
Sat 11th July 3:30pm – Luna Leederville


Here we go again…Plague is yet another exploration of the decisions we may be faced with if the world was to end in a zombie apocalypse.

⭐ ⭐
Review by Chantall Victor

Scene from Plague

Scene from Plague

Directed by Nick Kozakis and Kosta Ouzas, Australian film Plague aims to present itself as a horror film, but comes off as more of a psychological thriller – at least for the first 20 minutes. From then on it’s all downhill as sadly, the film meets its own death, and decays on the screen before the audience’s eyes for the remainder of its runtime.

Evie (Tegan Crowely) is stuck with a group of survivors in an Australian barn when she is confronted with the difficult decision of whether to stay and wait for her husband (Scott Marcus) – who may have been turned into a zombie – or go with the group in search of safety. Of course, true love abides, and she stays behind, only to encounter an unexpected guest.

I always look forward to an Australian made film because I believe the Australian industry has such potential, but unfortunately, this film will have to be an exception to my rule. Although visually pleasing — thanks to the make-up department, and cinematographer Tim Metherall — the film suffers from a lack of character development, and endless plot holes. At times the story becomes so unconvincing that it’s laughable — think the Australian version of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room – and so many elements are left unexplained. Overall, the aesthetics are just not enough to save this vague zombie flick.

Sat 11th, 8:45pm – Luna Leederville

Images courtesy of Revelation Perth International Film Festival, Rupert Glasson, Big Name Studios & Burning Ships Productions