Monday, October 1, 2018

Top 10 Sean Bobbitt Films

It’s getting harder for me to contain my excitement for the release of Steve McQueen’s Widows next month. With only a few weeks to go, I thought it’d be fun to dive into the work of McQueen’s longtime cinematographer, Sean Bobbitt. And while Bobbitt is perhaps best knows for lensing McQueen’s four feature films, his work elsewhere certainly should not be overlooked.

Honorable Mention
Dog (2001)
Like much of Andrea Arnold’s work, her short film, Dog, is captured with a hand held camera and in a grainy texture. It’s great to see two filmmaking pioneers like Arnold and Bobbitt creating something together, if ever so briefly. I would love to see what these two would do on a feature film together.

10. Wonderland (1999)
Michael Winterbottom’s Wonderland was the first feature film Bobbitt shot, and while it looks raw as hell (the film was shot on grainy 16mm stock), the look of the movie is an early capture of the aesthetic styles Bobbitt would become known for, including natural lighting vs. neon lighting, vast depth of field shots, and trapping subjects in by their surroundings.

9. Hysteria (2011)
What’s most noticeable to me in the period pieces Bobbitt has shot is the way he manages to infuse vivid color in otherwise gloomy settings. Hysteria is a great example of this. The film is set during the Victorian era and much if it is captured intentionally in natural, depressed lighting, making the bits of color pop right out.

8. On Chesil Beach (2017)
Two things to note about Bobbitt’s work for On Chesil Beach. First, I love his insistence on shooting on film; not many cinematographers have the luxury of shooting on film today, but Bobbitt’s always makes the investment worth it. Second, On Chesil Beach is a fine example of Bobbitt trapping emotionally and physically repressed characters in the frame.

7. Stronger (2017)
The single take scene in Stronger where Jeff (Jake Gyllenhaal) has bandages removed from his recently amputated limps is cause enough for the film to be included here. Bobbitt is a great practitioner of long takes, and this one is one of his most gut wrenching.

6. Oldboy (2013)
Spike Lee’s Oldboy didn’t exactly turn out how anyone (Lee included) expected. Regardless, Bobbitt’s work remains a highlight of the film. The central fight scene (even though it curiously isn’t presented in a single take) is a breathtaking example of Bobbitt’s mastery of camera choreography.

5. Byzantium (2012)
Neil Jordan’s Byzantium covers a lot of time in the life of two vampires, and Bobbitt’s cinematography is perfectly suited for every setting. I love how he blends some of the modern, neon-soaked set pieces with the gloomy dread of the 19th century.

4. The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)
The Place Beyond the Pines is a big film with a large scope, and Bobbitt’s cinematography ingests each sequence of the film with tireless energy. The hand held long takes, the realistic bank robberies, the manic motorcycle chases, it all helps to keep Pines well paced and exciting.

3. 12 Years a Slave (2013)

12 Years a Slave was greeted favorably by the Oscars (it was nominated for nine awards and won three, including Best Picture), but of all the films Bobbitt has shot, I am stunned his work didn’t merit an Oscar nomination here. 12 Years a Slave has something that many period films lack: a visual aesthetic that is continually engaging. Whether it’s the long, excruciatingly patient shot of Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor) hanging, or the brutal, hand held beating of Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), 12 Years a Slave may not be easy to watch, but it was captured with such a skillful lens that it’s impossible to look way.

2. Shame (2011)
Steve McQueen’s Shame is one of my favorite films of all time. It’s arguably the movie I’ve discussed the most on this blog. I’ve never been one to shy away from an opportunity to talk about Sean Bobbitt’s contribution to the film, simply because it so ingeniously traps us in the tortured mind of the movie’s main character, Brandon (Michael Fassbender). I love everything about Shame, which includes every long, meticulously thought out shot within it.

1. Hunger (2008)
I once spent two consecutive weeks taking screenshots of every single shot in Hunger, as a way of showcasing the skills of Sean Bobbitt and Steve McQueen (in addition to editor Joe Walker). The movie contains 468 shots total, which was more than I thought before I began, but my idea was to visually illustrate how every shot in the film is not only important, but beautiful in its uniquely poetic way. Make no mistake, Hunger is an ugly film in its brutality, but the lyricism of its cinematography is a huge achievement. Every time I brave a new viewing of Hunger, I am absolutely transfixed from frame one.


  1. Holy shit, I forgot he shot Wonderland as it's one of my favorite films by Michael Winterbottom. The look of that film is one of the reasons why I love it as I'm someone who is fond of grainy cinematography.

    The stuff he's done with Steve McQueen is incredible as I'm also excited for Widows. I love what he did in The Place Beyond the Pines as well as Dog and Stronger that I saw 2 months a few ago as I love what he does as a photographer.

    1. I honestly forgot he shot Wonderland as well. I'm so happy to hear you like that movie as well. I love its grainy aesthetic. Soooo excited for Widows.

  2. The three films he did with Mcqueen + Byzantium are my favorites. Those were beautifully shot.

    1. Right?! His collaboration with McQueen is one of my favorite director/DP collabs in film right now.

  3. I had no idea the same guy shot all of those, very versatile! Yeah, Shame is my favorite here too. Love the shots you posted particularly the imposing one of him standing over Mulligan

    1. That whole scene in Shame is so damn dangerous. You have no idea what these two people are going to do. That shot is so terrifying. Like, "Oh, no. What the hell is about to happen here?"

  4. I've seen numbers 2 through 6 and they are all fantastic looking films.

    The Oldboy remake is an odd curiosity for me. The hammer fight does look great. Glad you recognized it. The movie as a whole is a miss, but I don't think it's as quite as big a miss as people make it out to be. For that reason, I'm hopeful Spike's director's cut sees the light of day at some point. Both he and Brolin swear it's far superior to what we were given. And this is coming from someone who, even though a Spike Lee fan, did not want him to do this film at all.

    Now, I have to see Hunger.

    1. Completely agree about Oldboy. I didn't think it was nearly as bad as the majority made it out to be. I remember when it was released, Spike was uncharacteristically tight lipped about his thoughts on the film. Which, to me, seemed like Spike was under contractual obligations to not speak badly about the film. But now that there's some distance since its release, he's been more open about how the studio had full control over Oldboy, which is not the way to handle a Spike Lee film. Basically, I would love to see a director's cut of that movie as well.

      And YES, please see Hunger when you can. It is a brutal film, but so very well done.