The unsung heroes of the filmmaking world are the cinematographers. While the director sets the tone and certainly executes a very specific vision for a film, it’s the cinematographer who makes the visuals a reality. Just as there are very different directors, there are also very different cinematographers, and this year’s cinematic output gave us a series of wildly diverse—and impactful—images. There were so many notable pieces of cinematography in 2014 that it was hard to narrow it down to a list of just 10, but after the jump I’ve managed to single out the very best that the year in cinematography had to offer.
10. The Homesman – Rodrigo Prieto
Rodrigo Prieto has experience with the Western genre having lensed Brokeback Mountain, but for director Tommy Lee Jones’ consistently surprising The Homesman, he offers something quite different. The landscapes are gorgeous, of course, but Prieto makes interesting choices when it comes to framing Hilary Swank’s lonely, titular character, and the Midwest winter setting gives the film a unique palette as far as Westerns are concerned. It’s an odd, haunting film, and Prieto’s cinematography matches the fascinating tone that Jones hits upon for the female-centric drama.
9. Foxcatcher – Greig Fraser
Director Bennett Miller’s drama Foxcatcher is one of the coldest, most chilling films of the year, and Greig Fraser’s stark cinematography aids in conveying the sadness that permeates the picture. The characters are often framed as isolated and cutoff from the outside world, and even when multiple characters are in the same room, the stark contrasts paint them as alone. It’s impressively subtle work that proves the versatility involved in the art of cinematography—not everything has to be “pretty”.
8. Under the Skin – Daniel Landin
Filmmaker Jonathan Glazer’s arresting sci-fi drama Under the Skin is a visually-driven film. There’s not much dialogue involved, and when major things happen onscreen, it’s not explicitly explained to the viewer what exactly is going on and why it matters. It’s more poetic or lyrical in nature, and thus cinematographer Daniel Landin’s work is absolutely essential. Not only did he and Glazer rig up a van with hidden cameras so that they could capture non-professional actors interacting with Scarlett Johansson, but they found a terrifying way to visualize Johansson’s seduction of various men. It’s unforgettable sequence after unforgettable sequence, and Landin and Glazer walk the thin line between beauty and oddity.
7. Mr. Turner – Dick Pope
When tackling the subject of painter J.M.W. Turner, it’s tough to create a visual palette that matches the majesty and whimsy of the artist’s work. But somehow, by some miracle, cinematographer Dick Pope actually manages to make certain portions of Mr. Turner evoke a genuine Turner painting. It’s jaw-dropping, really, and I couldn’t believe it when I learned that there was zero CGI involved in the landscape shots—it’s all in camera. The film itself is so gorgeously crafted by Pope and director Mike Leigh that it could reasonably be considered a portrait all its own.
6. The Immigrant – Darius Khondji
Darius Khondji has been doing incredible work for years, and The Immigrant is no different, with one shot in particular destined to go into the Cinematography Hall of Fame. Khondji brings the world of 1920s New York to life through the eyes of Marion Cotillard’s Polish immigrant. The film is textured and moody, and yet also somewhat alluring—it’s nearly dreamlike at times. The cinematography goes hand-in-hand with the emotional draw of the film, and did I mention that incredible final shot?