What Are the Most Beautifully & Creatively Shot Films of All Time? Cinematographers Pick Their Favorites

To deter­mine the all-around great­est films of all time, the well-known Sight and Sound Direc­tors Poll sur­veys film­mak­ers them­selves. By that same log­ic, then, if you want to know which movies most excel in one par­tic­u­lar aspect, you’ll want to poll the peo­ple who work on that aspect of cin­e­ma: the actors will know which have the best act­ing, the edi­tors which have the best edit­ing, the sound design­ers which have the best sound design, the rig­ging grips which have the best-gripped rig­ging. And if you want to know the best-shot films of all time, you have only to ask the cin­e­matog­ra­phers.

In 1998, Amer­i­can Cin­e­matog­ra­ph­er polled the Amer­i­can Soci­ety of Cin­e­matog­ra­phers mem­ber­ship for the best-shot films of all time. Kristo­pher Tap­ley at Hit­flix writes that the “cin­e­matog­ra­phers were asked for their top picks in two eras: films from 1894–1949 (or the dawn of cin­e­ma through the clas­sic era), and then 1950–1997, for a top 50 in each case. Then they fol­lowed up 10 years lat­er with anoth­er poll focused on the films between 1998 and 2008.”

Here are the 1894–1949 top-ten results and their cin­e­matog­ra­phers:

  1. Cit­i­zen Kane (Gregg Toland, 1941)
  2. Gone with the Wind (Ernest Haller, Ray Ren­na­han, 1939)
  3. Sun­rise (Charles Rosh­er, Karl Struss, 1927)
  4. Metrop­o­lis (Karl Fre­und, Gün­ther Rit­tau, 1927)
  5. The Wiz­ard of Oz (Harold Rosson, 1939)
  6. The Mag­nif­i­cent Amber­sons (Stan­ley Cortez, 1942)
  7. Casablan­ca (Arthur Edes­on, 1942)
  8. Bat­tle­ship Potemkin (Eduard Tisse, 1926)
  9. The Third Man (Robert Krasker, 1950)
  10. The Birth of a Nation (G.W. Bitzer, 1915)

“The choice of Gregg Toland’s cin­e­matog­ra­phy for Cit­i­zen Kane as the best in the first 45 years of motion pic­tures comes as no sur­prise,” writes Amer­i­can Cin­e­matog­ra­ph­er’s George Turn­er. “No oth­er movie has been more praised, stud­ied and writ­ten about — or more panned, damned and black­list­ed.” At the time, “audi­ences in gen­er­al were put off by the ‘arty’ pho­tog­ra­phy, over­lap­ping dia­logue, unusu­al cut­ting and Welles’s pen­chant for inject­ing star­tling and often irri­tat­ing sound effects. It was years before the ‘new­ness’ of the Kane style wore off and gained wide­spread accep­tance,” and even absorbed into the main­stream.

And those from 1950–1997:

  1. Lawrence of Ara­bia (Fred­die Young, 1962)
  2. The God­fa­ther (Gor­don Willis, 1971)
  3. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Geof­frey Unworth, 1969)
  4. Days of Heav­en (Nés­tor Almen­dros, 1978)
  5. Schindler’s List (Janusz Kamin­s­ki, 1993)
  6. Apoc­a­lypse Now (Vit­to­rio Storaro, 1979)
  7. The Con­formist (Vit­to­rio Storaro, 1970)
  8. Rag­ing Bull (Michael Chap­man, 1980)
  9. Blade Run­ner (Jor­dan Cro­nen­weth, 1982)
  10. Touch of Evil (Rus­sell Met­ty, 1958)

Turn­er calls Lawrence of Ara­bia “per­haps the crown­ing achieve­ment in the long and illus­tri­ous career of direc­tor of pho­tog­ra­phy Fred­er­ick A. Young,” nam­ing as its most famous sin­gle image “the lin­ger­ing scene in which Omar Sharif, rid­ing a camel, is first seen as a tiny spot in a mirage on the hori­zon. In the fore­ground, Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) and an Arab youth are draw­ing water from a well when they notice the wob­bly, dis­tort­ed shape com­ing toward them. Shim­mer­ing in waves of heat and strange­ly liq­uid col­ors, the rid­er steadi­ly approach­es the well. As he gets clos­er, he is still indis­tinct, but the omi­nous thump­ing of the camel’s feet can be heard. Sharif final­ly emerges from the mirage, rais­es his rifle and shoots the Arab. The long scene car­ries a strong ele­ment of dread and sus­pense.”

Final­ly, here are the results from 1998–2008:

  1. Amélie (Bruno Del­bon­nel, 2001)
  2. Chil­dren of Men (Emmanuel Lubez­ki, 2006)
  3. Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan (Janusz Kamin­s­ki, 1998)
  4. There Will Be Blood (Robert Elswit, 2007)
  5. No Coun­try for Old Men (Roger Deakins, 2007)
  6. Fight Club (Jeff Cro­nen­weth, 1999)
  7. The Dark Knight (Wal­ly Pfis­ter, 2008)
  8. Road to Perdi­tion (Con­rad L. Hall, 2002)
  9. City of God (Cidade de Deus) (César Char­lone, 2003)
  10. Amer­i­can Beau­ty (Con­rad L. Hall, 1999)

The Amer­i­can Soci­ety of Cin­e­matog­ra­phers quotes Del­bon­nel on Amélie’s visu­al vic­to­ry: “This is real hon­or for me, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing the oth­er movies in this list. These are some of the finest cin­e­matog­ra­phers, and I’m not sure I deserve to be among them, but I am very hap­py to be. They are all explor­ers.” And in that, he sums up why, when we want to know what movies to watch, we should ask the peo­ple who make movies: their real com­pe­ti­tion lies not in sim­ply gen­er­at­ing beau­ty, but in lead­ing the art form into ter­ri­to­ry unknown.

You can watch sev­er­al films on the lists–Bat­tle­ship Potemkin, Sun­rise and Metrop­o­lis–above. Find more great films in our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

via Hit­flix

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The 100 Most Mem­o­rable Shots in Cin­e­ma Over the Past 100 Years

A Mes­mer­iz­ing Super­cut of the First and Final Frames of 55 Movies, Played Side by Side

Free: F. W. Murnau’s Sun­rise, the 1927 Mas­ter­piece Vot­ed the 5th Best Movie of All Time

Metrop­o­lis: Watch a Restored Ver­sion of Fritz Lang’s Mas­ter­piece (1927)

Watch Bat­tle­ship Potemkin and Oth­er Free Sergei Eisen­stein Films

The 10 Great­est Films of All Time Accord­ing to 358 Film­mak­ers

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (9)
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  • Bill W. says:

    ‘High­lander’ should have made that list. Sure, the script and act­ing was ter­ri­ble, but the cam­era-shots and film­ing was incred­i­ble!

  • David says:

    Who through this mess together…Bergman?

  • Tadas Stalyga says:

    Total­ly, agree. What sort of poll is this? For Amer­i­cans and some Euro­peans? Where is Tarkovs­ki, Kiarosta­mi, direc­tors from Asia?

  • Nako says:

    Please rename the site to “Amer­i­can Cul­ture”.

  • pitnick says:

    “In 1998, Amer­i­can Cin­e­matog­ra­ph­er polled the Amer­i­can Soci­ety of Cin­e­matog­ra­phers mem­ber­ship…”

  • GK says:

    Whoa: Look­ing at this list, I could con­clude that my pri­ma­ry cri­te­ri­on is cin­e­matog­ra­phy!

    Unfor­tu­nate­ly, some movies that I thought I liked because of their cin­e­matog­ra­phy are not on this list. Here they are, but some are uncon­ven­tion­al:

    Beat Street
    Edward Scis­sorhands
    and even the often-imi­tat­ed Hair.

    Maybe my favourites owe to the fact that writ­ing, act­ing, sound and sto­ry are cor­re­lat­ed with cin­e­matog­ra­phy?

  • Ali says:

    a list with­out Lars von von Traier and Tarkovk­s­ki is not a real list…

  • Raoni says:

    Where is Bar­ry Lyn­don (John Alcott, 1975)?

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