There’s a sense of haunting isolation that accompanies the entirety of the criminally under seen film, The Assassination of Richard Nixon. From the way Sean Penn is harshly lit by a television, or how a claustrophobic shot from inside a small mailbox distances us from the character. A great, visual encapsulation of a man gone mad.
9. Y Tu Mamá También (2001)
What’s great about the grainy look of Y Tu Mamá También is that, at this point in their careers, we know Lubezki and director Alfonso Cuarón were capable of a more refined style. But they went with something raw, and oh how appropriate it is.
8. A Little Princess (1995)
A Little Princess just feels like a fairy tale, doesn’t it?
7. Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Not since Sleepy Hollow has a cinematographer understood Tim Burton’s macabre vision of the world so magnificently. This film is haunting in its grotesqueness.
6. To the Wonder (2013)
Every Terrence Malick film looks amazing, but I can’t think of a more skilled man than Lubezki to so expertly capture the poetry of Malick’s work. I mean hell, they even made a damn Sonic fast food restaurant look incredible in this movie.
5. Ali (2001)
I love everything about the look of Ali. I love that Lubezki and director Michael Mann invented a tiny camera to capture the closeness of boxing, I love the lush blues of the dark night clubs, the warm browns of the boxing arenas, the grainy digital shots of city riots after Martin Luther King’s assassination, the out of focus shot of Ali after he’s learned his good friend Malcolm X has been killed, the slow motion knockout of George Foreman, and on and on. But mostly, I love a brief shot near the end of the film, seconds after Ali has knocked Foreman down. The camera glides around Ali’s corner, looking for a subject to focus on. It stops on Ali’s longtime trainer, Angelo Dundee (Ron Silver) whose wide eyes and nodding head are praying for a knockout. There’s so much power in Silver’s look there.
4. Children of Men (2006)
Some people think the barren, impossibly grey scenery of a nearly apocalyptic world in Children of Men is too drab. Some think the extended shots in the film (achieved in part through hidden editing cuts) are cheap and deceitful. I am certainly not one of those people.
3. The New World (2005)
The best part about Lubezki’s contribution to Malick’s The New World is that its greatness is inarguable. Say what you will about Malick’s desire for lack of narrative focus, but Lubezki’s gliding camera always manages to capture the best, most human moments. This is poetry come alive.
2. Gravity (2013)
If there’s one nagging aspect about watching Lubezki’s tour de force work for Cuarón’s Gravity, it’s the bafflement that ensures once you realize the man still hasn’t won a goddamn Academy Award. If Gravity doesn’t earn Lubezki one, then surely nothing will. The look of this film has forever changed the game.
1. The Tree of Life (2011)
Poetry is a world I obviously use often to describe the fruitful collaboration of Terrence Malick and Emmanuel Lubezki. But perhaps the word itself is too small. Because, from my perspective, The Tree of Life is as good as films can look. Its visually imagery is something I remain utterly astounded by, and its swift camera work is nothing short of magical. Like the shot I’ve screencapped above. Why does a small child running through a dining room send chills of inspiration down my spine? I haven’t a clue. That’s the power of Lubezki’s frame.