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Frame By Frame: The Best Shots Of 2013

by The Playlist Staff
December 24, 2013 11:02 AM
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Spring Breakers Jetty

7. “Spring Breakers” - The Pink Jetty Ending (Harmony Korine & Benoit Debie)
“I wanted to make a film that looked like it was lit with candies” Harmony Korine said to the AV Club, “like we were lighting it with Skittles or we were using Starburst Fruit Chews. I wanted all that kind of pop gloss and tone, and I wanted all the mythology and the meaning to be the residue from the surface, to kind of bleed from it… all the neon colors, the candy colors. I wanted you to feel like you could touch it or lick it.” Ok, so this writer is not in the pro-”Spring Breakers” camp at all (and make no mistake, you need to pick sides on this one, war is imminent), but one of the things that was so frustrating about watching the film was that just when a particularly pretentious piece of repetitive voiceover, or some other self-consciously arty embellishment had eroded our goodwill to the point of nonexistence, a shot would swim up out of the blur and simply be so viscerally stunning to look at, that we’d be back onside. Momentarily at least.

And this was most striking at the very end of the film, at exactly the point we were sure it had well and truly worn out its welcome and shown us all it was going to, that this perfectly gorgeous, ridiculous shot appeared and our jaw may have dropped. On the surface, it’s not hugely different from what’s gone before—the girls are wearing their bikinis that glow under UV light, the balaclavas are on and they’re carrying guns—so far so “Spring Breakers.” But here the neon pop-art aesthetic is exaggerated to its graphic limit, and something about its woozy immediacy, with the jetty lit pink leading off to house in the distance and the violence to come, more perfectly encapsulates the hollow nightmarishness of the concept of “spring break forever” than anything in the preceding 90 minutes. The sheer bravado of this shot, its almost insulting coolness and Chupa Chups palette works brilliantly to convey both the seduction and the seediness of the vapid but violent lifestyle the girls have embraced, and when the battle lines are drawn in the great “Spring Breakers” war, will probably, along with the peerless use of Britney’s “Everytime” prove this combatant’s major Achilles heel. You can see a smudgy version here—the top of the shot is cut off, but you catch the drift:

Inside Llewyn Davis Cat reflection

6. Inside Llewyn Davis” - Cat looking out the subway window (The Coen Brothers & Bruno Delbonnel
One of the criteria we set ourselves when compiling this feature was that the shots we picked out should be the kind that just knocked our socks off in the theater. Everyone has a slightly different reaction to a shot like that, but personally we end up involuntarily making a noise somewhere between a gasp and a sort of groany shortness of breath. We vividly remember doing so during the train sequence of "The Assassination Of Jesse James," and we did it more than once during the upcoming "Under The Skin" (don't be surprised if this list next year is made up entirely of shots from Jonathan Glazer's film). We weren't expecting to have that reaction this year from a shot of a ginger cat looking out a window, but that's what the Coen Brothers and Bruno Delbonnel (stepping in, beautifully, for Coens regular Roger Deakins, who was busy on "Skyfall" at the time) managed with our pick from the masterful "Inside Llewyn Davis."

Early in the film, Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) accidentally lets out a cat belonging to the Gorfeins, who've been putting him up overnight. He manages to grab it, but not before the front door has closed behind him, so suddenly, he's stuck with the animal for the rest of the day. With no other option, he brings it on the subway with him, and the Coens and Delbonnel, remarkably, frame the journey through the eyes of an animal that's never seen anything like it before. It's a gorgeous little sequence, but the shot in particular that gave us butterflies is a sort of POV glimpse, as the reflection of the cat is caught in the window as it watches tunnels and stations rush by, just as the rest of the world is rapidly overtaking the cat's new babysitter. One can only imagine how many takes it must have taken to get right (as the Ethan Coen told Collider, "That was just difficult. It was what you would expect from an animal on the set.... it's just unbelievably boring, frustrating and painstaking to shoot"), but boy, was it worth it. Again, no embed, but you can see a glimpse of the moment in the trailer below.

Upstream Color

5. “Upstream Color” - The Bathtub (Shane Carruth)
When we asked Shane Carruth how he would define his delirious, enigmatic, indefinable ”Upstream Color” if he had to choose just one thing, he replied “That's tough. I would say romance… But there's only a small part of it that's their relationship, some of the romanticism is Kris and her whole story of being broken down and there being some resolution… but yes. It's tough but I would say romance.” And having lived with the film for most of a year now we’d have to say, pigs and orchids and starlings and microbial infections and kidnappings and “Walden” and fraud schemes and all, we agree: our overriding memory of this rich, complex and rewarding film, is of (ostensibly) the simplest of its elements, the love story. And the other thing that stayed with us (apart from the fantastic score which clocked in as our collective 3rd favorite of the whole year) was the silvery loveliness of the cinematography, which, like the soundtrack too, was masterminded by the polyglot Carruth. Appropriate, then, that the shot that has lingered most in our minds (also possibly helped along by the fact that it was used in some of the film’s marketing materials) is one which is probably among the most romantic in this romance. 

Kris (Amy Seimetz) has awoken in a panic and thinks she hears strange noises, and Jeff (Carruth) infected by her panic, as their symbiotic bond suggests he must be, unquestioningly hurries them both into the bathroom, where they tangle up defensively in the tub and pull the curtain. The silliness of this move as a potential deterrent to whatever might be lurking outside is part of the brilliance of this moment, a kind of childlike “if I can’t see it, it’s not there” response, that shows how both characters have, in this moment, devolved into creatures of pure, shared instinct, as incoherent and illogical as that instinct might be. And so this shot, overhead looking down at the two of them, almost as though they’re sharing a womb, is both suffocatingly claustrophobic and swooningly romantic: they practically dissolve into one another physically here, as much as they already have emotionally and psychologically. In that it perfectly embodies what makes this film so special: it may be "simply" a romance, but it tells us that romance is anything but simple, and it’s about the mystery, terror and sadness of being in love, and the erasure of self that implies, more than it’s about love’s joys. No clip available, but the trailer has a brief look at the moment leading up to it (and also serves as a reminder of the numerous other fantastic shots in the movie).

Place Beyond The Pines

4. “The Place Beyond The Pines”- Opening Tracking Shot (Derek Cianfrance & Sean Bobbit)
“[Cinematographer] Sean [Bobbit] quickly decided that we needed to start the movie off with an epic opening shot, like so many of our favorite films, whether it be a Béla Tarr film or ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days’ or ‘The Player’ or ‘Touch of Evil.’ A shot that will kind of teach you as an audience how to watch the movie,” director Derek Cianfrance told Vanity Fair about the ballsy opening to his epic drama, “The Place Beyond The Pines.” And while the rest of the movie mostly forgoes the style, as an opening statement of intent there’s a reason we’re still talking about it nine months after it opened in theaters and over a year since it premiered at TIFF. With a firm nod to the Dardennes and something a bit sinister and noir about it too, Cianfrance keeps the face of his lead Ryan Gosling out of view to kick things off and instead starts on his inked, ripped body and hands—playing with a butterfly knife no less—as he paces impatiently. The unbroken shot then follows Gosling from behind as he works his way through a busy fairground, walking with focused purpose. He arrives inside a tent where an excited crowd awaits, and he turns to sit on a motorcyle, and after we see his face for this time every so briefly, he covers it again with a helmet and proceeds into the appropriately named Cage Of Death, where he’ll defy death with a sideshow stunt. But for all the style that the sequence contains, and technical virtuosity with which it was pulled off, the sequence immediately tells us a lot about Ryan Gosling’s tragic, romantic heatthrob Luke: he’s fearless, reckless and confident. And it’s combination that will soon see him riding like lightning, and crashing like thunder. Watch the full sequence below:

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  • Jake Bart | January 25, 2014 8:29 PMReply

    It may not measure up to some of these shots in terms of a technical feat, but the closing shot of THE WOLF OF WALL ST. was one of the most chilling and memorable images I saw on screen all year. Perfect button for that film.

  • James | January 14, 2014 12:41 AMReply

    I just saw "The Hunt" today and I have to say that the shot of Mads Mikkelson in the church towards the end, looking emotionless, is one of the most powerful images I've seen all year.

  • QG | January 5, 2014 11:56 AMReply

    The opening of "American Hustle" with Christian Bale trying to paste a muffin on his head--so reminiscent of the ageless hope of mankind for immortality, bringing to mind the monolith in "2001" or the various efforts of Dr. Frankenstein through the decades. OK, I kid, but it's all I could come up with on short notice.

  • Shane | January 1, 2014 7:37 AMReply

    As much as people hated it, I loved the Family and it had some really interesting camera work
    Specifically, in the opening where the Assassin emerges from the smoke and also many of the stuff in the eerily yet enthralling yellow of the end shootout sequence.
    The Tracking shot in Mama, so damn creepy...
    Also most of the shots from Ain't Them Bodies Saints specifically at the beginning...

  • Patrick | December 31, 2013 12:05 PMReply

    Well, it took a while to read all of the reviews and I'm not sure I necessarily want to see any of these films, even Gravity. The little note on Before Midnight...I guess that film wasn't special enough to the reviewers to make the list but it is the only film mentioned here that I actually saw.

  • Lord | January 2, 2014 7:57 PM

    Wow! thanks for sharing your opinion, Poop-stick. Like anyone gives two shits that you have poor taste in films. Grow up and Get Lost.

  • Zach | December 31, 2013 12:02 AMReply

    If you're going to throw on a shot from "Pacific Rim" I think it's got to be the jaeger coming out of the mist towards the beginning of the film.

  • Enrique | December 30, 2013 12:42 PMReply

    this list has no credibility without Post Tenebras Lux on it.

  • Ger-Bear | January 2, 2014 7:59 PM

    Light after darkness should have been called turn off the light and leave me in darkness. Hit the road, art-house snob.

  • PhilipG | December 24, 2013 4:26 PMReply

    *harrumph* : How about the shot in Stoker where it fades from Nicole Kidman's hair to the wheat field......

  • FP | January 2, 2014 3:02 PM

    Excellent transition in an awful movie.

  • Genga26 | December 24, 2013 10:27 AMReply

    Nice list. I have to say my preferred shot in Grandmaster isn't the 'Kissing' scene between Zhang and Leung. Rather, I felt the scene with Leung and the old master lighting the cigarette scene later on to be THE scene of the whole film. It conveyed so much with such simplicity. Two masters without having to throw any punches who size each other up with a mere lighting of a cigarette. Beautifully poetic.

  • Glass | December 23, 2013 2:52 AMReply

    That first shot in Place Beyond the Pines was so Vimeo-cliche I wanted to turn the movie off. Can we stop with the tracking shots from behind characters soon? It was stale in 2010.

  • james | December 23, 2013 12:28 AMReply

    The final shot of Beyond the Hills

  • joel | December 22, 2013 11:32 PMReply

    The shootout at the end of Spring Breakers is the worst part of that shit film. It's amazing how much you hipster douche bags have elevated what is one of the most predictable and pedantic films of 2013 into the cinematic equivalent of coconut water. The really funny part is going to be in three years when you realize you spent $25 on the blu-ray only to discover you never watched it twice and you can't sell it because your douche bag pals already tried to unload their copies onto Ebay. Enjoy your clams, cocksuckers.

  • douche-chill | January 9, 2014 2:43 PM

    spraaaaangbraaaaake forevaaaaaa

  • ROBERT GASSAWAY | December 22, 2013 1:42 PMReply

    "Berberian Sound Studio" - Gilderoy enters the film/becomes the film
    "Leviathan" - disorienting, inverted birds flying overhead

  • Swaggy P | December 21, 2013 11:04 PMReply

    the letter burning shot from 12 Years a Slave sticks out in my mind.

  • S | December 21, 2013 5:37 PMReply

    The film came in for a hiding, but I do remember being impressed by the hotel penthouse break-in scene in THE HANGOVER PT. III, with the damaged fluorescent lights flashing as Black Sabbath's N.I.B. plays loud on the soundtrack.

    Also Macon Blair lighting his own face by torchlight as two home invaders move around the house in Jeremy Saulnier's BLUE RUIN stayed with me.

  • Gerard Kennelly | December 20, 2013 2:19 AMReply

    Dennis Quaid face during customer appreciation day --AT ANY PRICE

  • Erik | December 19, 2013 9:18 AMReply

    I know most people don't care for it, but 'Stoker' contains some truly impressive cinematography.

  • Erik 2 | January 2, 2014 8:05 PM

    God said "you are neither hot nor cold, so I shall rebuke you from my mouth," to those that wavered in the grey area. And you are a indecisive shithead who will be rebuked from both parties for not picking a side on stoker, you Dirty Ass-Face

  • Davide | December 19, 2013 4:03 AMReply

    Love that you mentioned La Grande Bellezza and Pain & Gain. Those movies are gorgeous!

  • POBLANO_66 | December 19, 2013 12:01 AMReply

    Almost anything in the sumptuous palette of director Andrew Dosunmu and DoP Bradford Young's Mother of George is worthy of inclusion on this list. From the luscious wedding sequence in the opening to the askew framing of the disintegration of the marriage 3/4's through. A must see for any true cinephile. Find the trailer and see for yourself.

  • Joss | December 18, 2013 6:36 PMReply

    - The slow zoom into the helmet until it becomes Bullocks POV shot from Gravity.
    - The one take exterior shot of the robbery in Spring Breakers
    - The final shots in the wood in The Hunt. Says so much through so little.

  • mijo | December 18, 2013 6:32 PMReply

    That was the most boring fight scene ever filmed. Good thing i skipped on renting that.

  • Josh | December 18, 2013 6:28 PMReply

    Although I didn't much like it either, half this list could have been filled up with Spring Breakers. Not since Tree of Life have I found a movie so simultaneously exasperating and gorgeous to look at.

  • Lou | December 18, 2013 5:24 PMReply

    I'll echo the "Prisoners" love. I especially loved that last scene with Gyllenhaal driving the little girl to the hospital. Just flat-out beautifully shot by Deakins.

  • serena | December 18, 2013 5:13 PMReply

    Regarding the BLING RING shot, Sofia Coppola mentioned to Elvis Mitchell that she thought about cutting that sequence thinking it would be too technically difficult but Savides fought really hard to keep it in, so it's his handiwork entirely.

  • Matt | December 18, 2013 6:39 PM

    I was lucky enough to meet Sofia Coppola recently and asked her about the glass house shot and if it was inspired by the famous Jacques Tati house shot in Mon Oncle. She said honestly that it was completely her DP's (Savides) idea. But she knew the Mon Oncle reference and said she didn't doubt that Savides knew it too.

  • serena | December 18, 2013 5:10 PMReply

    There's a shot from Terence Malick's TO THE WONDER (seen in the trailer) where it's a wide interior shot on Ben Affleck on the ground floor, Olga Kurylenko on the second floor, and they both walk in the same direction off-camera. It quietly communicates that these two people are going in the same direction, but totally separate at the same time. It's one of the movies where any shot is a piece of art.

  • Tom | December 18, 2013 5:23 PM

    Even the shots at the Sonic drive-in. I'm completely serious.

  • TimParker | December 18, 2013 4:26 PMReply

    Pain and Gain? I have not seen it, but was Ben Seresin's work particularly good? Was Michael Bay's? What was it about that movie's framing that made it worth mentioning? Just curious.

  • Kurskij | December 27, 2013 12:46 PM

    Pain&Gain cinematography and editing is remarkable in a sense that there are no explosions, but it still is definitely a Bay movie: it looks like younger, lesser Roger Deakins shot it while wasted on ecstasy.

    Bright, full of energy and at the same time weirdly restrained and precise in its framing, lighting and palette.

    It's not a good movie (IMHO), but fascinating to look at.

  • Franka | December 18, 2013 4:37 PM

    There's a shot out to P&G in the honorable mention section.

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