10. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Working with Martin Scorsese for the first time, Prieto gave The Wolf of Wall Street a frenzied look that was wholly essential to the film. When you break the shot list of this film down, it reads like one spawn from a student film, in which every camera trick imaginable is implored, just ‘cause. Stop motion, slow motion, time lapse, freeze frames, shifting aspect ratios – it’s all here. And then, what are we left with? A final, haunting shot of indifference and half-interest. A sea of faces looking back, wondering if they can make it too.
When you enter the world of Pedro Almodóvar, you enter a world of bright colors and obtuse angles. You also enter a world in which many other exceptional cinematographers have already established a theme, and left their indelible mark. The look and design of Broken Embraces fits perfectly within Almodóvar’s filmography. It’s lavish and appealing; a legitimate visual sensation.
Has Detroit ever looked so bleak? The cold streets, the sweaty hell of the factory, the smoke-laden danger of an underground rap battle. It’s the grit of the ghetto, the permanent stain of a disadvantaged life. There are no lasting moments of achievement in Curtis Hanson’s 8 Mile. No strolls into the sunset, head held high in victory. Instead, there’s a lone figure, walking down a sticky alley in a bad part of town, slowly making his way back to work.
Alejandro González Iñárritu’s debut film is a brutal masterpiece of the human condition. It’s a series of unflinching stories told through an equally stark lens, which allows us to immediately become immersed in the film’s dangerous world. And then there’s that final shot. That final, lasting shot that helps put the entire film into perspective. A new life is only a few long steps away.
A bright red dress covered in sand and dirt and fear is a terrifying backdrop of a harsh desert. The shifting, flashing lights of a nightclub so expertly capture the emotional turmoil within. A mundane Moroccan mountain is heaven on Earth for two joyful boys in the wind, while a drab village miles away is hell for panicked tourists. Babel is a film about different worlds colliding, and I so love how they are connected through Prieto’s lens.
One of the best shots of Rodrigo Prieto’s career is Javier Bardem walking on a bridge in Barcelona, making a quick phone call. Lit only by bright street lights and the fading blue sky, Bardem looks up and notices two flocks of birds intersecting and dancing in the sky together. In one shot, the camera follows the birds in the air, turns 360 degrees, then finds Bardem again, standing blankly, looking, thinking. It’s absolute perfection.
The look of Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution is an exercise into the lasting impact of shooting on film. Now, don’t get me wrong, as an independent filmmaker myself, shooting digitally has allowed me to have a career, for which I am forever grateful. I love digital filmmaking, but I’ll be the first to admit that digital lacks the texture of film; a deep texture that cannot be replicated. Lust, Caution speaks to this perfectly. The entire film looks like a goddamn painting; textured, balanced and, by all accounts, utterly flawless.
2. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Here’s the best way I can highlight Rodrigo Prieto’s Oscar-nominated cinematography for Brokeback Mountain: choose any still frame from the movie, and marvel at its greatest. Literally, any frame. It’s that good.
1. 25th Hour (2002)
The grainy introduction of our doomed antihero, Monty Brogan, and his vintage Super Bee. The over-washed New York hell shown in Monty’s Fuck You speech. The reflections of a Wall Street office used as a source of confinement. The way a dance floor bleeds like a tempting blue inferno. Or a club bathroom in which lush reds are an invitation to lost innocence. An over-exposed interrogation room is a glimpse into the harsh realities of the law. And, of course, a stark glace into the hollow depth of Ground Zero, one that doesn’t play as “Never Forget,” but rather, “Do Not Ignore.” All of these sequences look like they belong in a different movie. A different time. A different place. A different life. A life that came so close to never happening.
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