Back in issue 41 I began a two part series called “Move The Camera” wherein I started to list some of my favourite camera moments in some of my favourite movies. This has turned out to be harder than I thought as the top of the list is full of some of my favourite films from some of my favourite filmmakers and it has been hard to narrow things down.
I give this little precursor as a reminder that I’ve inevitably left some great moments off the list and it just wasn’t possible to squeeze it all down to 10. That being said, this is a hugely nerdy thing to do anyway and most of you are mildly interested at best and just want me to cut to the chase. So here it is. The chase:
5) STAR WARS – George Lucas
One of the most important movie moments in history is the opening sequence of STAR WARS. George Lucas’ epic space adventure, then known only as STAR WARS (and now, unfortunately, known as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) opened in theatres on May 25th, 1977 and went on to blow just about everybody’s mind. I wasn’t born yet but I still remember the first time I saw that famous opening title (“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away”) and heard that opening music. The very first thing you see in the first Star Wars movie (after the expository scroll) is an incredible chase sequence set in space. Using models and primitive special effects, George Lucas introduces his audience into the scope and scale of his fictional world right away. Amazingly shot and able to hold up even now (especially with his endless tinkering and updating) the opening scene remains iconic and spectacular!
4) Drive – Nicolas Winding Refn
In a movie filled with hypnotic and beautiful camera work, one scene always shoots right out to the top of my memory. The first time I saw Drive, this scene made me gasp a little with emotion. It was one of those little cinematic gut punches that brought tears to my eyes without any warning and suddenly I was just stunned into complete amazement. If you’ve seen the movie you’ll probably know the scene I’m talking about even if you may have had a slightly different reaction to it. Everything about this moment was perfect. The music, the change in lighting, the shutter speed, the actors faces, the choreographed movements, the violence, everything. In one moment I was completely and forever enamoured with Gosling and Mulligan and Refn and Drive.
3) Punch Drunk Love – Paul Thomas Anderson
I could have easily just made a list of my ten favourite Paul Thomas Anderson camera moments. The man is a visual genius and his movies are filled with brilliant camera work. I decided on one of his lesser loved movies, but one of my favourites – Punch Drunk Love. Adam Sandler has a bit of a reputation for crappy movies (and deservedly so) but every once and a while he does something great that really only he could do – Punch Drunk Love is one of these. Harnessing both Sandler’s comedy and his unique ability to be both vulnerable and full of rage, Punch Drunk Love becomes kind of an anti-romantic comedy. Telling this unique love story Anderson punctuates the film with strange colourful music montages and fills it with eccentric camera work and an unusual score by Jon Brion. Near the beginning of the movie is the moment I wanted to highlight – where Sandler’s Barry finds a harmonium in the street. With a great use of space and sound, Anderson invites the audience to glimpse, in that small moment, the movie’s unusual essence.
2) The Dark Knight – Christopher Nolan
So most of you, if you read my contributions at all, know by now how I feel about Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. I’ll shout the loudest about how Nolan dropped the ball on the final part of his Dark Knight Trilogy, but I’m still a firm fan of the second part. Stacked from top to bottom with amazing sequences the movie is still my gold standard for superhero flicks. In fact, The Dark Knight sits securely on my list of favourite films of the new millennium and gives me hope for more great Nolan work to come even as his last few have been underwhelming. My favourite Camera moment from The Dark Knight has turned out to be impossible to find – it’s not a banner shot but a small, quiet establishing shot. It is the slow, steady helicopter shot of the SWAT team moving Harvey Dent across the city, just as the film goes back to its IMAX ratio the sound cuts out and the Hans Zimmer’s Joker strings return and the whole movie starts screaming at you that something bad is about to happen. Just then, in the enormous black and blue frame we see a burning Firetruck. It gets me every time! In lieu of that I decided to show my second favourite camera shot: The Joker hanging his head out of the police car window – short and sweet, the shot becomes Nolan’s visual reminder of the film’s theme: Chaos.
1) Children of Men – Alfonso Cuaron
Alfonso Cuaron is the king of these kinds of movie moments, my favourite living director, and the inspiration for doing this list in the first place. Telling his stories so well visually that you could understand most of the thematic content of his films just from the images, Cuaron has established a reputation for greatness that he just keeps living up to. His latest film, Gravity, is steamrolling through the festival circuit right now and a lot of people are saying that it’s the best movie of the year – It’s certainly my most anticipated. Hopefully this will be the year he gets the Oscar credit he deserves – it may be a stupid, superficial awards ceremony where the rich and famous pat each other on the back, but it means a lot inside the industry and it may mean that he gets to go on making whatever kids of movies he wants. I, for one, think that’s a very good thing. My favourite camera moment of his is from “Children of Men” – a movie that I just can’t say enough about! It is a movie that just keeps getting better every time I see it – and I’m constantly stunned by the level of choreography and timing that goes into his films. Cuaron loves long shots, he keeps the camera rolling forever while the action plays out. It makes for a really immersive movie going experience for the viewer and, I would imagine, a really complicated job for his crew. One of the best examples of this is the epic “Car Shot” where the main characters run into some trouble during a drive. The sequence was shot in one continuous, (nearly*) unbroken take and lots of practical and digital effects (including building a special car with the camera harnessed inside and the film crew balanced on top) were used to make it into one of the most unbelievable moments in the movie. I’m on the edge of my seat every time I watch it.
*Although the shot appears unbroken there must have been some digital wizardry used in order for Clive Owen to get out of the car at the end (and the camera with him) to watch it drive away. I don’t know how they did it.