In Contention

The top 10 shots of 2009: part two

Posted by · 12:46 pm · February 17th, 2010

Colin Firth in A Single ManIn case you missed the first part of our look at the best shots of 2009, go ahead and catch up here.  Before getting into the top five, however, I’d like to spotlight a few examples that almost made the cut but just missed.

First and foremost, “Inglourious Basterds” is obviously a favorite around these parts.  Robert Richardson, as we’ve come to expect, offered a wonderful visual context for Quentin Tarantino’s story, and though none of the shots particularly spoke to me on a thematic level, it is nevertheless worth pointing out the aesthetic impact of Shoshana’s cackling specter projected on smoke and the gripping crane down to reveal a hiding Jewish family in the countryside of Nazi occupied France.

One of the unsung heroes of the season in the field was Greig Fraser, whose soft touch gave Jane Campion’s “Bright Star” a beautiful identity.  The shot that has always stuck out for me was Fanny Brawne on her bed, intoxicated with love as a strong afternoon breeze blows in her window.

I was also captivated by the visual aesthetic of Tom Ford’s “A Single Man,” shot by Eduard Grau.  The disorienting nature of an image featuring a “Psycho” poster always stuck out to me.  It is also worth noting a shot of Jeremy Renner standing in a grocery aisle in “The Hurt Locker,” speaking volumes about his character’s disposition, lost in a safe world (though lenser Barry Ackroyd was not involved with the U.S. portion of the shoot, it should be noted).  And I always smile when I see the image in “Crazy Heart” of a passerby reflected in the window of Bad Blake’s wrecked suburban, rushing down the hill to help.

Finally, Roger Deakins should never go unmentioned in a discussion of cinematography, and what he did on the Coens’ “A Serious Man” was trademark organic beauty.  The image that sticks out to me is, ultimately, the final image of a tornado bringing the arbitrary wrath of the film’s themes to a tangible form.

In any case, it was, as always, a joy digging through the year’s visuals and coming up with this collective.  Even in a weak year for the medium, there are always gems worth spotlighting.  I hope you enjoy the second half, so let’s get down to it.

The top five shots of 2009…


Public Enemies

Director of Photography: Dante Spinotti

It was very complicated from the point of view of visual effects.  They rigged the car so that it was trailing sort of a platform on which the actor was lying and there was a green screen on top of it and then shot the background of the road and all the dust.  So it looked like the guy was actually pulled by the car on the road itself.  Dillinger loses his friend and mentor and teacher in this scene and the fact that something goes terribly wrong with the prison break probably sets the tone of the rest of the story.  Criminality was going in a different direction.  The look between the two actors is really wonderful and the moment is definitely very emotional.

–Dante Spinotti

Dante Spinotti first came to America in the early 1980s.  He soon had a professional relationship with producer Dino De Laurentiis, and after a pairing on one project fell through, De Laurentiis told Spinotti, “Don’t worry, I’m going to put you together with a talented young director.”  That director was Michael Mann, the film was “Manhunter,” and the rest is history.

“Public Enemies” marks the duo’s fifth collaboration (and Spinotti actually got a call for “Miami Vice,” but couldn’t commit).  Spinotti’s work on the film has largely been debated for the use of digital photography, but none of that really figured in to my perception of one of the best shots of the year.

After breaking his comrades out of prison in the film’s early moments, John Dillinger looks on as his friend and mentor is gunned down.  What makes the moment powerful and the image arresting is that the characters get this final, aching goodbye as Dillinger’s friend is dragged alongside the getaway car.  I’ve never seen a shot like that and it became one more reminder that Mann knows how to draw a lot of emotion out of a single unique frame.



Director of Photography: Andrew Dunn

A lot of what cinematographers do has a greater meaning than the shot itself.  This shot is of course only of value within the context of the storytelling.  It reflects her situation.  The apartment is a prison and her life is a prison and within that is this prison, this cauldron of bubbling mess.  We were getting ready to move off that set and we knew we needed an actual storytelling point.  It’s absolutely imperative that you get these little moments of storytelling.  You don’t always know at the time of shooting what will be necessary and valid during the editing process, but it’s absolutely vital that you get all the ingredients so that the editor has choices.

–Andrew Dunn

Lee Daniels brought a stylistic sense to “Precious” that few would have anticipated given both the material and his career to date.  But what resulted was a flourish of creative storytelling and an affecting drama that has a singular, penetrating vision.  Much of that vision is owed, in no small part, to British cinematographer Andrew Dunn.

One of the key sets on the shoot was, of course, Precious and her mother’s New York apartment.  The goal was to shoot those scenes like the hot bed of tension they were, and one instance early on in the film stuck out to me as an intriguing commentary on everything from stereotypes to health concerns to, most definitely, thematic context.

Dunn’s quote above really tells the tale.  The shot is deceptively simple: a boiling pot of pig’s feet.  But what seems like a simple cutaway insert holds so much more information, and its usage in the editorial flow of the scene becomes a mark of detail-oriented visual storytelling.


Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker

Director of Photography: Barry Ackroyd

It’s very informational in a lot of ways.  It’s kind of a symbolic image as well, which I think gives it its strength.  The obvious thing was to show this from above to give this kind of web surrounding him, which I think is metaphorical for his position, but also the moment of ecstasy at the center of this thing, it’s like he’s caught in a spider’s web.  And it’s almost like an impossible place to be, so I think it’s a little bit mystical as an image.  You wouldn’t get yourself in the center of such danger, but that was obviously the character.  He was prepared to do that, which made him different to the other guys, and I think ultimately that’s what the film’s about.

–Barry Ackroyd

Lenser Barry Ackroyd started his career back in the early 1980s.  After paying his dues in the world of television, he hooked up with director Ken Loach for a number of projects before finally breaking onto the scene Stateside with Paul Greengrass’s “United 93.”  And it was that film, in fact, with its blend of intimate drama and guerrilla-like docudrama filmmaking that caught director Kathryn Bigelow’s attention.

With “The Hurt Locker,” Ackroyd worked with Bigelow to develop a singular frenetic style meant to emulate the high tension of the profession being dramatically documented.  But the image that stood out as iconic in the face of all of those multiple cameras and set-ups was a calmer perspective, and one that helped to define the visual identity of the film.

Staff Sergeant William James, stuffed into an ominous bomb suit and having diffused one IED already, discovers he’s not out of the forest yet.  As he yanks on a chord connected to a slew of other devices, he lifts the arrangement out of the dust, yielding one hell of a gasp-inducing moment.  Intriguingly enough, given the weight of a typical IED, this is something a man wouldn’t have had the strength to do, but it makes for high visual drama nevertheless.


The Cove

Director of Photography: Brook Aitken

We had four hours and five minutes of drive time.  It was a prototype camera, then we had to have a battery specially made.  So the inside of this camera, the lithium batteries were around it, so it looked just like dynamite.  We tried it once and it didn’t work because we had gotten it too early, and the second time we got it, it happened in the last five minutes as we were running out of hard drive space.  It’s actually a dissolve.  We sped it up so that probably about a minute and a half got reduced to maybe five seconds.  We didn’t mess with the color at all on that stuff, and that honesty was really important to me in that shot.

–Director Louie Psihoyos

Louie Psihoyos’s “The Cove” was a feat of cinematography from the get-go.  The film is, after all, about a covert operation to capture vital footage that could galvanize and help start an activist movement.  The planning that went into getting that footage, the building of casings to hide cameras, the prototypes unitized in order to get large amounts of digital footage, is an undeniable accomplishment.

One image in particular really stood out to me when I first saw the film, as I’m sure it did many others.  One of the underwater cameras captures, in stark detail, a flood of dolphin blood filling the screen and turning the water crimson red.  The impact is helped along, no doubt, by the use of audio over the shot, the screams of terror from the dolphins filling the soundtrack.

Psihoyos put together a wonderful team for his film and much credit should be given, obviously, to DP Brook Aitken.  But when it came to this particular moment, I thought it would be best to get the director’s perspective, given the overall guerrilla group effort.  And being a former National Geographic still photographer himself, I knew he would have plenty to offer to a discussion of one of the film’s most arresting visuals.


Paranormal Activity

Director of Photography: Oren Peli

I literally spent months playing around with it and tweaking it, finding the right angle and the right colors, the right filters.  It took a lot of effort.  Once I got the positioning I had to figure out the lighting.  It had to look natural but not like we were trying to be creepy.  So I had to create a source of light that allows you to see what’s going on but not too clearly.  I took a light and put it in the corner facing the wall, used filters to give it a little more bluish look and increased the contrast a little bit more.  I knew this was going to be the standard shot we were going to use.  I didn’t want to keep using different shots with drastically different angles.

–Oren Peli

The year’s DIY success story also happened to feature one of the most effective images of the year.  Oren Peli’s “Paranormal Activity” was certainly no traditional production, with a handheld camera and a few actor friends filling out the crew.  The director himself essentially served as his own cinematographer, though mostly it was the job of actor Micah Sloat to capture the film in a home video fashion.  One shot in particular was a bit of an exception, and it immediately became the visual identity of the film.

A standard still image used in the narrative to capture what is happening to a haunted couple as they sleep at night, the composition accomplished so much with minimal lighting, some creative production design and a wide angle lens.  To the right, you have your sleeping couple, to the left, a door and, further, a hallway that plays an integral part in the plot.  However, it is one thing to be efficient with the way you choose to shoot a scene.  It is another thing entirely for your composition to take on a life of its own, capable of raising the hairs on the back of one’s neck as a simple production still.

That is what Peli managed with his shot.  He tried a few different things after renovating the house for his purposes, like placing the bed on the wall to the right, for instance.  But ultimately he settled on this composition, and it couldn’t have been more perfect.  It is, for my money, the best shot of 2009.

And that does it.  Another year charting the greatest images in film comes to a close.  I’m sure there are plenty of opinions out there, so feel free to cut loose with your own list below!


The top 10 shots of 2014

The top 10 shots of 2013

The top 10 shots of 2012

The top 10 shots of 2011

The top 10 shots of 2010

The top 10 shots of 2009

The top 10 shots of 2008

The top 10 shots of 2007

→ 72 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: The Lists

72 responses so far

  • 1 2-17-2010 at 12:56 pm

    Dan said...

    Wow, these are quite the surprise. I love the commentary, and thank you so much for the labor of love that went into this project.

    Nevertheless, I’m disappointed with the shots. That’s more a complaint about the year than your choices, but the ones that I thought stuck out the most were the ones you chose to leave off. The ones you mentioned, from A Single Man and Inglorious Basterds, were highlights of the year for me. I think the shot of Shoshana’s face laughing in the smoke would have been my number 1.

    Great work; I’m already looking forward to the 2010 shots column!

  • 2 2-17-2010 at 12:56 pm

    M@ said...

    I like it. Paranormal Activity never crossed my mind, but you’re right. That shot was more important (and more effective) to that film than anything else in 2009.

  • 3 2-17-2010 at 12:57 pm

    Dan said...

    Oh, I almost forgot. No shots from A Serious Man??!?!?! The cinematography was gorgeous, and I could think of at least a few shots worthy of such a list.

    Given your love for the film, why did you choose to leave it off?

  • 4 2-17-2010 at 1:03 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Oh, I meant to mention the tornado shot in the also-rans, thanks Dan. But as much as I loved the work, nothing really forced itself onto the collective in my view. Generally speaking, it was all wonderfully organic rather than featuring specific stand-outs.

  • 5 2-17-2010 at 1:05 pm

    Megan said...

    Hmm, the Precious shot is interesting; I never thought about that one. At all.

    I’m a bit disappointed not to see anything from “A Serious Man” in here, because, while it wasn’t a visual stunner inherently, a few shots (specifically, Gopnik at the massive, scribbled chalkboard, and the very final shot), really spoke to the whole meaning of life/theodicy thing.

    I agree that no one single shot from Basterds was that compelling visually, with the exception of the scene where you see Shosanna leaning against a huge, round window with a giant Nazi flag and a von Hammersmarck movie poster looming faintly across the way. The way she had her arms crossed with her hand to her chin pensively really hit me.

    This here was a very disparate and surprising list. Especially that pot of pig’s feet. Groovy.

  • 6 2-17-2010 at 1:06 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Just added a note, Megan. We’re on the same page, mostly.

  • 7 2-17-2010 at 1:09 pm

    Fitz said...

    That shot in Public Enemies really sets the tone. I only wish it could’ve taken District 9’s slot for Best Picture.

  • 8 2-17-2010 at 1:20 pm

    Scott Feinberg said...

    Nice job with this, Kris. I thought I might see that shot from “Crazy Heart” after the car accident when you see the person rushing to rescue him through the rearview mirror. Did it miss the cut by much?

  • 9 2-17-2010 at 1:22 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Ugh, another one I meant to mention in the also rans. Thanks.

  • 10 2-17-2010 at 1:24 pm

    Artorious said...

    As always, very interesting choices. I have to say, even though I hated the film, I agree with M@, this shot meant so much to the movie.

    I am disappointed that you chose the 6 IED shot over the grocery aisle shot. To me, the grocery aisle symbolized the film as a whole more so than anything I can remember.

    All in all, there weren’t to many shots this year I could really get behind for a list like this. Fun list, though, Kris.

  • 11 2-17-2010 at 1:26 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Artorious: It did, but iconic imagery has a lot of sway on this list for me. In many ways, the IED shot was the most iconic image of the year, period. And I must confess, the fact that Ackroyd didn’t shoot the grocery shot kind of took some of the sting off of it for me, but that shouldn’t take away from it’s brilliant thematic context, of course.

  • 12 2-17-2010 at 1:27 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Nice choice with the Public Enemies. Also love the wide shot of the theater with everyone turning to look left and right except Dillinger.

    But I can’t believe you chose the pigs feet. To me, that shot epitomizes the lazy, tacky and tepid approach Daniels took to the most difficult parts of his material.

  • 13 2-17-2010 at 1:38 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I guess I just disagree.

  • 14 2-17-2010 at 1:38 pm

    John Campea said...

    Great list,

    The only slight change I would have made was reversing your #1 and #2 spot. That shot in “The Cove” will haunt me for years. So powerful. An entire narrative in a dialog-less 5 seconds.

  • 15 2-17-2010 at 1:52 pm

    Al said...

    While I wasn’t a fan of Paranormal Activity, I certainly recognize the impact that this image has had and its cultural relevance. Nice choice.

    I also agree with the shot from The Hurt Locker, one of the key visual moments of 2009 cinema.

  • 16 2-17-2010 at 1:52 pm

    Adam Smith said...

    I’m (somewhat) with Chad. Granted, I imagine that that’s the difference between people who love Precious and people who don’t–that’s a great representative shot of why you feel the way you do, whichever way you fall. However, as someone who (upon second viewing) dug Precious but didn’t love it, I was really hoping that one of the early shots of Mary would have made the list (in the scene when the principal talks to Precious through the intercom). It’s a close-up, but not an extreme close-up, she’s looking off to one side, cigarette in hand, and there’s just a very simple shadow across part of her face. Very simple, very understated, but in that moment, if you haven’t already grasped the fact, it removes any shred of doubt about what a terrifying and imposing figure Mary is in this girl’s life. Gave me chills.

  • 17 2-17-2010 at 1:54 pm

    Chase K. said...

    Consider me a little disappointed (which is not to take away from the time and work you put into this, Kris, not to mention the subjectiveness of the project), but with “A Single Man,” “Bright Star,” “Antichrist,” “Sin Nombre,” and even “Inglourious Basterds” missing from the list, my favorite achievements in cinematography this year go unrecognized.

    And while I laud the inclusion of “Public Enemies” on the list, I would have gone with a couple of others – namely the shot of Christian Bale hanging out of the car window, guns blazing during the Little Bohemia raid.

  • 18 2-17-2010 at 1:58 pm

    Hans said...

    Very very nice, Kris. I will also join in on the chorus that appreciates the cereal shot much more than the IED shot, but a great choice nonetheless. I also like how you bookended your list with two shots, one from a megablockbuster and the other from a sleeper blockbuster, that never would have occured to me but now seem so obvious.

    Did you consider any clips from District 9 or HP6? Forgive my obvious boner for the latter. As I sat in the theater watching what I thought was by far the best installment in the series, one of the things that stuck out at me most was just how brilliantly shot it was, and from my seat I called a cinematography nomination. The Quidditch sequence is gorgeous, the cave scene is heartpounding, and the flashback scenes gave me chills.

    I have to ask, is that specific shot you have there at the very start of that terrifying sequence where she gets dragged down the hallway from some unseen force?

  • 19 2-17-2010 at 2:01 pm

    N8 said...

    I knew it! I knew that shot from “The Cove” would make it! Well done. It’s my favourite of the year, and it’s high placement on this list is most deserved.

    Conversely, I’m just not feeling it for that “Paranormal Activity” shot. It’s not bad, but to see it #1 ahead of that incredible shot from “The Cove” is way anticlimactic, and it pales in comparison to your #1 shots from the previous two years. To each his own, I suppose.

  • 20 2-17-2010 at 2:01 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    But what does that shot really say about the film, Chase? And while your picks for the best overall lensing of the year are valid, are there any particularly striking thematic strokes in them (Antichrist and maybe A Single Man excepted)?

    The way I fall on this annual project is this: I could hate the cinematography from a given film, but if a certain image leaps out as brilliantly capturing theme in unique and exciting ways, it deserves recognition.

    And in the rare instance that aesthetic becomes impossible to ignore regardless of thematic context, then there are those to consider as well.

    After all, if you look at my picks for the best cinematography of the year, you’ll note that only two of those films appear on the list.

  • 21 2-17-2010 at 2:03 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Hans: Yes, it is. And I didn’t really consider HP6 too much. I looked at it again, and it’s beautiful, but nothing really grabbed me specifically.

  • 22 2-17-2010 at 2:06 pm

    Megan said...

    I’ll admit I was surprised by the pig’s feet inclusion, Chad, but I didn’t see it as tacky or lazy at all.

    Allow me to dissect it to an almost hilariously unnecessary extent the way I see it.

    The simplicity and directness of the shot spoke to me in a number of ways. First, food is an apt and always understandable representation about race and culture. I’m not making a crass “black people eat pig’s feet” stab; here you have a poor young black girl cooking pig’s feet. To me it was an indirect reminder of the big issues in play in “Precious.” It made a statement.

    Then you have the fact that the pig’s feet are bubbling grotesquely in the pot, a sort of accessory to the dirty, dark, monochrome look to Precious and Mary Jones’ apartment. It helped set the mood.

    So it served a number of purposes. To me, anyway.

    Daniels is no Bigelow, Cameron, or Tarantino (the sex scene in Monster’s Ball was one of the creepiest and most awkard things I ever saw), but I think he’s been unfairly criticized all season.

  • 23 2-17-2010 at 2:19 pm

    Lance said...

    I would have included the visual of the ghost’s first appearance in “The Prophet”

  • 24 2-17-2010 at 2:22 pm

    Chase K. said...

    For me, a great shot is something that sticks out and becomes synonymous with the film – when I think of “Public Enemies” I think of a) Elliot Goldenthal’s score and b) that shot of Bale hanging out of the car window.

    Once again, it’s a completely personal thing, I’m not here denounce your list or anything, mine would just look differently. :)

  • 25 2-17-2010 at 2:23 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    A Prophet is a 2010 US release so it wasn’t considered.

  • 26 2-17-2010 at 2:24 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Fair enough, Chase. Though I’m actually trying to remember that shot. Where is it in the film?

  • 27 2-17-2010 at 2:36 pm

    Jeff S. said...

    This year there seems to be fewer shots that stick out in my mind. The Cove and The Hurt Locker selections were dead on. The one that sticks out the most for me for the whole year (could have to do with seeing the movie recently though) was in The White Ribbon where the barn was burning and the shot was of the children looking out the window with the reflection of the fire in the background.

  • 28 2-17-2010 at 3:04 pm

    Bryan said...

    A note on The two Hurt Locker images: they really work best as a commentary on each other. James, surrounded by IEDs, is in immediate physical danger, but is where he wants to be. James, surrounded by the choices of a grocery aisle, is in no physical danger, but psychologically in a much murkier place. For me, they are bookends to his character.

    And I respect your exclusion of Antichrist, Bright Star, and A Serious Man, because, while I would nominate all for best cinematography, the work in them is best at establishing an overall mood, a cohesive filter for these stories, and so do not work on this shot by shot basis. There’s a different focus.

  • 29 2-17-2010 at 3:12 pm

    Jeremy said...

    Interesting list. I especially like your selections from “Up in the Air” and “Public Enemies”, as well as the “Hurt Locker” shot, which is indeed a gasp-inducing moment.

    Two standout shots of the year for me that you didn’t mention:

    1. The first scene in “Star Trek” with the tiny Kelvin ship on one side of the screen and the gargantuan behemoth of the Romulan ship on the other. Just a majestic image. (Frankly, I’m a bit surprised you didn’t include it, given your professed love for “Star Trek”.)

    2. The shot of Harry descending the stairs in shadow in “Half-Blood Prince”. You could also go with some of the shots in the cave that are leeched of color, but I love the staircase shot because it’s thematically resonant as well as beautiful.

  • 30 2-17-2010 at 3:13 pm

    Mike_M said...

    Good list again Kris, not sure they would make my list (I think I would pick something else from The Cove, but The Hurt Locker one may be spot on for me. I agree with Chad’s comments though about the shot from Precious though.

    Too bad this past year was week, I hope next year we have 4 or 5 shots from Tree of Life alone…

  • 31 2-17-2010 at 3:19 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Oh, another shot I considered, from Avatar, was the slow-motion shot of the Direhorse on fire, galloping away from the destruction of home tree.

    Unfortunately, when I tried to get the image from Fox for consideration, I was told they “didn’t want an image of animals dying ‘out there.'” Right. Make believe CG animals. Don’t want it “out there.”

    Whatever. Still a lovely image, and I got some great material from Joe Letteri on it. Shame it goes to waste, but that’s the machinery at work, folks.

  • 32 2-17-2010 at 3:20 pm

    david said...

    off topic: Kris…just curious if you have seen Shutter Island yet, and your opinion of it? Hopefully, you will end up writing a review for it in the near future.

  • 33 2-17-2010 at 3:26 pm

    Mike_M said...

    Very interesting story about Avatar Kris.

    Just curious about your process: Typically, do you experience problems when trying to obtain images from the studios? Do you go directly to them and ask for specific frame stills or do they provide scenes and you just screen grab them?

  • 34 2-17-2010 at 3:32 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    In that case I went directly to the studio. I did not have a screener of Avatar. But generally speaking, and fully known to the studios who are helping me secure interviews with the DPs, I take the screenshots myself.

  • 35 2-17-2010 at 3:33 pm

    rosengje said...

    Yay, my favorite shot of the year came in at #3. As you mention in the blurb attached to it, I literally gasped at the cut to the overhead shot of the IEDs. Really like the comments by Ackryod, especially the idea of its practical and symbolic significance. In general, are the cinematographers you contacted excited or reluctant to discuss their work?

  • 36 2-17-2010 at 3:36 pm

    Mike_M said...

    Ahh, makes complete sense.

    Now that I think about it, I feel the impact of the Hurt Locker shot would have had a little more impact if it wasn’t used so much in the pre-release marketing. I know it is a striking image and all, but the poster had that shot on it as did some web adds, so when I watched the movie I was just waiting for that scene to happen. Kind of wish the first place I saw it was in the movie.

    Just a thought…

  • 37 2-17-2010 at 3:38 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I totally agree, a sentiment I conveyed to Ackroyd, in fact.

  • 38 2-17-2010 at 3:43 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    I have to admit, I genuinely believed that your dislike of The Hurt Locker’s cinematography would have you snub it in your list.

    I was wrong, and I apologize and congratulate you on placing it so high.

  • 39 2-17-2010 at 3:46 pm

    Douglas said...

    Great pic for no. 1 Kris. I have to say the best moment/ shot in paranormal activity to me is when Katie is dragged out of the bed and down the hallway followed by the door slamming shut. That is one truly terrifying shot.

    I’m surprised nothing from avatar. Not even a almost-ran? Didn’t you say it’s was best visual entertainment experience you’ve had or something along those lines? What about when Neytiri first takes flight on her flying creature? Or as the na’vi climb the floating mountains? I mean their not thematically significant in any way but they tale your breath away.

    Another shot I would have included is toward the final moments of district 9 as Koobus approaches Wikus about to kill him. The close up of Wikus’ bloody face with the yellow alien eye and the expression of pure exhustion and terror on his face managed to capture not only a brilliant piece of acting but also the spirit of one of modern cinema’s great characters (and the spirit of the entire film mind you).

  • 40 2-17-2010 at 3:47 pm

    Mike_M said...

    Glad I am not only one.

    Disregard how I wrote my first sentence, substitute “power” for the last “impact”. I am trying to fix some last minute code bugs at work while reading/commenting on the column.

  • 41 2-17-2010 at 3:54 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Douglas: Read comment #31.

  • 42 2-17-2010 at 4:02 pm

    Kent said...

    This actually isn’t a bad list here, Kris. And I was pretty skeptical. Haven’t seen all of them, but given how much I agree with the ones I have seen, I’ll certainly take a look at the others.

    Paranormal Activity is a great choice for #1. It wasn’t just a shot…. it was a single shot about the power of single shots. Good eye.

    I also liked…

    – The shot of deep satisfaction on Eli Roth’s very Jewish face as he mows down Hitler in the end. I get the feeling QT cast him for his Hebrew looks more than acting prowess. The moment is so heartfelt, it’s almost moving.

    – The shot in Watchmen of the Enola Gay with Silk Spectre painted on the side and Hiroshima lighting up in the background. The entire movie in one composition.

    -The shot of poor old Carl at the funeral parlor at the beginning of Up.

  • 43 2-17-2010 at 5:24 pm

    The InSneider said...

    I dug some of the work in Fantastic Mr. Fox, during the electric fight with the Rat. Also, the sequence with the groovy colors in The Soloist.

  • 44 2-17-2010 at 6:19 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Interesting to note horror takes the crown for the second year in a row. Of course, it’s a genre known as a playground for visuals

  • 45 2-17-2010 at 6:32 pm

    andrew said...

    very unique list here and i appreciate many of the scenes placed on this top 10. as much i disliked the movie antichrist as a whole, the opening sequence was so unforgettable and so beautifully filmed. for me, that was my number one of last year. i can’t pick a particular short from the scene but the whole thing is equally incredible

  • 46 2-17-2010 at 6:42 pm

    Kripley said...

    What about the shot in Avatar where they showed Jake’s legs?

  • 47 2-17-2010 at 7:18 pm

    yer said...

    I usually love this series (2007, 2008), but the choices this year are absolutely dismal.

  • 48 2-17-2010 at 7:51 pm

    Glenn said...

    Great list, Kris, and well done on choosing something like “Paranormal Activity” as your #1. Great list all ’round.

  • 49 2-17-2010 at 8:10 pm

    Danny King said...

    Were any shots from Watchmen considered? I thought that film had several memorable ones.

  • 50 2-17-2010 at 8:40 pm

    Speaking English said...

    I’m glad you mentioned the (attempted) use of the burning horse image in “Avatar.” That one immediately stood out to me. Very powerful.

  • 51 2-17-2010 at 9:06 pm

    Speaking English said...

    ***The shot of deep satisfaction on Eli Roth’s very Jewish face…***

    That’s… really kind of offensive.

  • 52 2-17-2010 at 9:34 pm

    Matthew Starr said...

    I’ m actually down with Kris’s top three picks this year. I knew for certain he was putting that sea turns to blood shot on here and actually did think Paranormal would make this list.


    I am not sure if it is effective as a still but the scene of her throwing her boyfriend at the camera was excellent in my opinion. The hallway is dark and you hear footsteps approaching with the tension high and then BAM! Here he comes.

    That scene/still for me is classic. Although I very much disliked her crawling and then making faces at the camera. That was overdone.

  • 53 2-17-2010 at 9:35 pm

    Zach said...

    I was kind of suprised that you chose that particular “Up in the Air” shot. Whenever I think about that movie, I think of the shot of Anna Kendrick sitting alone in an room filled with empty, discarded office chairs. The shot is bunched into a montage, and is onscreen for like three seconds, but I was immidiately struck by its meaning.

  • 54 2-17-2010 at 10:00 pm

    Artorious said...

    @Matthew Starr

    I was just talking to my roommate about this. Even though I didn’t like PA, the shot of her standing in the doorway with blood down her shirt after throwing him at the camera freaks me out. I still am scared when it’s dark in my house.

  • 55 2-18-2010 at 6:07 am

    Megan said...

    “***The shot of deep satisfaction on Eli Roth’s very Jewish face…***

    That’s… really kind of offensive.”

    I find it more offensive when people bother to call people on stupid stuff like this. So he’s got ethnic features. So what. How is that a bad thing? You even think Eli Roth himself would get all up in arms about that?

  • 56 2-18-2010 at 7:36 am

    BrianA said...

    I completely agree with Megan. Noting that someone has ethnic features is in no way derogatory. I understand there may be more sensitivity for Jewish people because of their history, but philosophically I see it as no different than saying Emma Thompson has English facial features or Antonio Banderas has Latin features, both of which are true.

  • 57 2-18-2010 at 8:36 am

    Tom said...

    Kris, love how you’ve been doing this for the past couple of years. however, i must object to your list this year; no District 9 specifically the shot of the ship in the air? that is one of the most ominous shots i have ever seen.

  • 58 2-18-2010 at 8:45 am

    Megan said...

    “Emma Thompson has English facial features or Antonio Banderas has Latin features, both of which are true.”

    And Tiger Woods has a caublasian face–he gets a little bit of everything.

    See? Everybody wins.

    Now, off I go to kiss the reflection of my Polish face in the bathroom mirror…

  • 59 2-18-2010 at 8:58 am

    Benito Delicias said...

    This is pretty great. I knew that Hurt Locker shot was going to be used and I’m very surprised by the #1 pick, although I do agree that it was excellent.

    Did like the choice of the Precious scene, for what it stands for, but the cinematography inside the apartment is one of my biggest issues against the film.

  • 60 2-18-2010 at 10:03 am

    James said...

    I’ve never thought of it, but yeah, that PA image is iconic now…

  • 61 2-18-2010 at 10:07 am

    Daniel said...

    Chalk it down to a difference of opinion & taste.

    I’m really thankful that Kris started this series, which has given cinephiles something seriously meaningful to mull over now that the Oscars have become a bit of a bore, and if it aint worth debating over, it aint worth reading. Since this series started, I have started to pay more attention to the depth and meaning of each shot whenever I watch a film. So I’m grateful to the guy who originated the idea.

    But I have to admit this year’s choices are a great disappointment to me – even though the rationale behind each of these selections is extremely well written and sensible. Last year’s winner was spot on to me. Nothing even came close to the climactic shot in Let the Right One In. But I find myself disagreeing to most of the choices this year.

    The #1 shot did nothing for me and was, to me, as much of a one trick pony as the movie was. Though, of course, the way one responds to GREAT shots is inadvertently a reflection of how much he likes or dislikes the film. They are not mutually exclusive. And my opinion that the #1 pick is completely dismal is, I guess, also due to how much I disliked Paranormal Activity, so there is no way a shot like that could exert any thematic or emotional impact on me.

    The other picks are a bit of a mixed bag for me. The shots in THE COVE, PUBLIC ENEMIES & THE ROAD were amazing to me, and absolutely deserved their slots. THE HURT LOCKER pick is ok. The others wouldnt have made my list, or even my also-rans. And I fail to see how the TRANSFORMERS shot has more thematic resonance than the ones in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (the one everyone is talking about), or the shot of Fanny in bed with the curtain blowing against the window in BRIGHT STAR, or one of several in AVATAR, WHITE RIBBON & ANTICHRIST.

    The winner for me would have been the shot in THE COVE, which left me speechless.

    Again, chalk it down to a difference of opinion. Just my two cents worth. I’ll still be violently anticipating next year’s list while compiling my own. It’s great fun.

  • 62 2-18-2010 at 4:41 pm

    a shot in the dark said...

    All things are relative. That was the best shot in Paranormal Activity FOR THAT FILM. But compared to other shots in other films, it was nowhere near the top. C’mon, now.

  • 63 2-18-2010 at 4:53 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Lol. “C’mon now.”

    Ay, ay, ay.

  • 64 2-18-2010 at 7:27 pm

    Glenn said...

    Just face it, Kris. Your opinion on your website is obviously wrong. No point denying it.

  • 65 2-19-2010 at 4:43 am

    Peter said...

    Awesome list. I look forward to this every year. I kinda got inspired to do my own. Ch-ch-check it out if you get the chance.

  • 66 2-19-2010 at 9:34 am

    Tim C. said...

    I agree with Zach above on the shot of Anna Kendrick among the office chairs–very meaningful, and it hasn’t been done before.

    Also, I was surprised at the lack of any love for Up, specifically the shot of the girl playing with her toys in her room as the house (and colorful shadows from the house balloons) drifts by her window.

    Additionally, World’s Greatest Dad, with Williams and Goldthwaite sitting on the bed, waiting to leave for the talk show. I loved it.

    And, of course, the opening credits of Duplicity (Giamatti v. Wilkinson) were fantastic.

  • 67 2-20-2010 at 11:49 pm

    The Q-Mann said...

    Man, love these lists every year.

    I think the thing I love most is how they point the way to movies I may have missed out on and make me wanna check ’em out. It happened with Let the Right One In last year and for that I am eternally grateful.

    Love the choice for #1. The most iconic and most important to the film itself of any shot in ’09, hands down. Only change I would’ve made was to include the Shoshana projection shot from Inglorious Basterds. Sure it’s an obvious choice, but so is the Hurt Locker IED shot (which I also love). It’s the only glaring omission in my humble opinion.

    Nevertheless, kudos on another great list… now if you’ll excuse me, I gotta go check out The Cove.

  • 68 2-21-2010 at 9:02 am

    BP said...

    The Paranormal and Hurt Locker shots were top notch.