- HOLLYWOOD, Calif.
The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) celebrates its 100th anniversary today, marking the occasion with the release of its members’ list of 100 Milestone Films in the art and craft of cinematography in the 20th century. The list is the first of its kind to showcase the best of cinematography as selected by professional cinematographers.
The list culminates in a Top 10 (the other 90 are unranked). They are:
1) Lawrence of Arabia (1962), shot by Freddie Young, BSC (Dir. David Lean)
A lasting milestone in epic filmmaking and a standard by which all subsequent event films have been measured, Sam Spiegel’s production invaded the Arabian Desert for two years of grueling shooting. The resulting picture clearly illustrates the harsh, desolate conditions under which director David Lean, “lighting cameraman”(the British equivalent of the cinematographer) Freddy Young, BSC and their entire cast and crew toiled, but also the glorious beauty of the desert. Fortunately, the result was well worth their efforts, the rich colors of the landscape captured in glorious Super Panavision 70 and Technicolor.
2) Blade Runner (1982), shot by Jordan Cronenweth, ASC (Dir. Ridley Scott)
It should come as no surprise to find this Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic so close to the top of this list. For nearly 40 years, filmmakers and film aficionados have probed the deep shadows of Jordan Cronenweth, ASC’s moody cinematography for inspiration and insight into the craft. “Ridley felt the style of photography in Citizen Kane most closely approached the look he wanted for Blade Runner,” Cronenweth told American Cinematographer. “This included among other things high contrast, unusual camera angles and the use of shafts of light.” A hybrid of science-fiction and neo-noir tropes, Blade Runner wore its gritty realism and existential nihilism on its sleeve —and the screen —like no film before it, and altered people’s perceptions about the genre. For his efforts, Cronenweth was honored with a BAFTA award for Best Cinematography.
3) Apocalypse Now (1979), shot by Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now cemented the reputation of Vittorio Storaro ASC, AIC as a brilliant and innovative cinematographer. (He was aided in his task by second-unit cameraman Stephen Burum, ASC.) Due to inclement weather, unforeseen illness, and just plain bad luck, the five-month shoot in the Philippines stretched to 15 months, with over a million feet of film running through Storaro’s cameras. The result is a motion picture of singular qualities: the dream-like story of a Vietnam special-ops Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) who is sent up the river Nùng into Cambodia to assassinate rogue Army Colonel Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando). Upon receiving the 1979 Cannes Film Festival’s top honor —the Palme d’Or, shared with Volker Schlöndorff’s The Tin Drum—Coppola famously characterized the making of his film, Apocalypse Now, thusly: “The way we made it is the way Americans were in Vietnam. We had too much money, access to too much equipment and little by little we went insane.”
4) Citizen Kane (1941), shot by Gregg Toland, ASC (Dir. Orson Wells)
Rookie motion picture director Orson Welles wanted the best cinematographer in Hollywood to shoot his debut feature —specifically,the renowned Gregg Toland, ASC. But Welles never thought he would convince the highly respected veteran to take the assignment. Out of the blue, Toland arrived at Welles’ office, volunteering to shoot the picture, noting, “I feel I can learn something by working with someone who doesn’t know anything about filmmaking.” The resulting combination of naiveté, audacity, collaborative artistry and technical virtuosity made this picture an instant classic that remains influential today, cementing Toland’s reputation as one of Hollywood’s finest cinematographers of all time.
5) The Godfather (1972), shot by Gordon Willis, ASC (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
Gordon Willis, ASC’s camerawork in The Godfather is so revered that it once prompted a fellow cinematographer Tom McDonough to refer to it in his memoir as “the Sistine Chapel of cinematography.” McDonough is only half-joking when he offers a plea to Willis on behalf of cinematographers everywhere: “Saint Gordy, pray for us sinners.” Simply put, The Godfather ranks among cinema’s most exquisitely photographed films. The tale director Francis Ford Coppola tells—a brooding gangster Guignol centering on the ruthless, all-powerful Corleone crime family—remains one of the most analyzed and celebrated achievements in film history, and a touchstone for movie lovers of every generation. Although its production was notoriously filled with conflict and day-to-day difficulties, Willis certainly recognized its status as a classic: “The Godfather is a stunning piece of magic, brought together by a special group of people, mostly in the midst of chaos.”
6) Raging Bull (1980), shot by Michael Chapman, ASC (Dir. Martin Scorsese)
Photographed in black-and-white by cinematographer Michael Chapman, ASC, director Martin Scorsese’s operatic opus about the rise and fall of Jake LaMotta, an Italian American middleweight boxer with an aggressive fighting style and a toxic, self-destructive personality to match. Chapman’s cinematography was inspired by the media of the 1940s and ’50s that brought boxing into America’s living rooms. “Boxing was black-and-white to us, whether it was the Friday night fights on TV or the graphics in Life magazine,” the cinematographer told American Cinematographer. “I knew in theory that you had to use backlight to separate [elements in the frame], and that you only had tones to work with. But I found that it was actually liberating to shoot black-and-white because it’s inherently more abstract than color... You start one step from reality, and from there, you can do pretty much whatever you want.” The result was boxing as it had never been seen before—a brutal, beautiful ballet that knocked the audience flat and earned Chapman his first Academy Award nomination
7) The Conformist (1970), shot by Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC (Dir. Bernardo Bertolucci)
Whenever cineastes discuss the use of color and design as a visual language, they will eventually talk about The Conformist, a relentlessly stylish Italian thriller directed by Bernardo Bertolucci and photographed by Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC. In this film, Fascist state operative Marcello Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is tasked with the assassination of his outspoken former college professor. With its dynamic, psychological approach to camera and lighting, Storaro and Bertolucci both comment on and indulge in the tropes of Fascist film aesthetics in an ode to expressionism that transcends homage into reinvention.
8) Days of Heaven (1978), shot by Néstor Almendros, ASC (Dir. Terrence Malick)
“A drop of water on a pond, that moment of perfection,” is how director Terrence Malick wanted audiences to experience his sophomore effort, Days of Heaven,a turn of the century heartland fable about Bill and Abby (Richard Gere and Brooke Adams), two vagabond lovers who travel from Chicago to the Texas Panhandle to work the land of a wealthy, ailing farmer (Sam Shepard). Malick was already an admirer of the work of Néstor Almendros, ASC, specifically his naturalistic photography in François Truffaut’s L’Enfant Sauvage (1970), and sought a similar approach for his film. Almendros later told American Cinematographer that their creative intent “consisted basically in simplifying photography: cleansing it of the artificial glossy look of the films of the recent past.” Cleansed of all artifice, Days of Heaven is more than a mere film—it’s a reminder of the perfection of nature and man’s place within it.
9) 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), shot by Geoffrey Unsworth, BSC with additional photography by John Alcott, BSC (Dir. Stanley Kubrick)
Photographed in 70mm Super Panavision by lighting cameraman Geoffrey Unsworth, BSC —with additional photography by John Alcott, BSC —Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey immediately became the high-water mark for not only science-fiction storytelling, but cinema as an art form. Described by the director as “not science-fiction, but science-fact projected a few decades into the future,” 2001 spans eons to tell the story of the human race and its relationship to a mysterious cosmic presence embodied by black slab monoliths. A consummate perfectionist, Kubrick consulted with more than 30 technical experts in developing his ideas for the film—a true cinema event released in Cinerama and 70mm.
10) The French Connection (1971), shot by Owen Roizman, ASC (Dir. William Friedkin)
Based on actual events, director William Friedkin’s iconic crime film was shot entirely on location and became known for its “gritty New York style.” Famously, many viewers assumed the naturalistic cinematography was achieved with “available light” —meaning employing whatever sources the filmmakers found on site. “Yeah, it was shot with ‘available’ light,” cinematographer Owen Roizman, ASC would later joke. “Everything that was available on the truck! We shot in a lot of very difficult, dark locations—subway stations, bars, hotel rooms—and they all required extensive lighting, but the key was to make the film look very natural, which supported this true story. Becoming too expressive or theatrical would have undermined our story approach.” Roizman earned an Oscar nomination for his expert cinematography that remains a major influence on the crime genre.
The lists were voted on by ASC members who wanted to call attention to the most significant achievements of cinematographic art. The selected films represent a range of styles, eras and visual artistry, but most importantly, the lists commemorate films that are inspirational to ASC members, and have exhibited enduring influence on generations of filmmakers.
Founded by 15 cinematographers in 1919, the ASC has been a professional cornerstone for the men and women who oversee the photography of motion pictures and television through the masterful manipulation of lighting, composition, color and camera movement. The Society’s esteemed international membership represents the most prolific artists in the field. When a cinematographer’s name is followed by the letters “ASC,” it denotes a level of professional and artistic success signifying that they are among the finest practitioners of their craft.
Here’s a full list of the ASC’s 100 Milestone Films headed by the year in which each was released:
Gone with the Wind
Wizard of Oz
The Grapes of Wrath
How Green Was My Valley
The Magnificent Ambersons
The Red Shoes
The Third Man
On The Waterfront
Night of the Hunter
The Bridge on the River Kwai
Touch of Evil
Last Year at Marienbad
Lawrence of Arabia
I Am Cuba (Soy Cuba)
The Battle of Algiers
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Cool Hand Luke
In Cold Blood
2001: A Space Odyssey
Once Upon a Time in the West
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
The Wild Bunch
A Clockwork Orange
The French Connection
The Last Picture Show
McCabe and Mrs. Miller
Last Tango in Paris
The Godfather, Part II
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
All the President’s Men
Bound For Glory
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Days of Heaven
The Deer Hunter
All that Jazz
The Black Stallion
Chariots of Fire
Fanny and Alexander
The Right Stuff
Empire of the Sun
The Last Emperor
Wings of Desire
Raise the Red Lantern
Searching for Bobby Fischer
Trois Couleurs: Bleu
The Shawshank Redemption
The English Patient
Saving Private Ryan
The Thin Red Line
In the Mood for Love