I looked back on the year and thought about single cinematic images that knocked me flat. Or produced an actual “wow.” Or somehow encompassed a film in a strange way. Many of them rushed back immediately. Others sprung to mind when I skimmed through my list of films seen. In accordance with my favorite movies of 2013, many of which are featured here, I was surprised by what I responded to most. I noticed some trends. Evidently, I’m drawn to sunsets, running water (preferably colored), and, rather unoriginally, red. I also kinda like trash. Some of these shots speak for themselves, while others require the images that come before them, or after them, sometimes successively, to achieve their respective impacts. Presented in no particular order, each has a backstory, save the last, which is summed up with a heartbreaking, note-perfect line. This is a very personal list, and I could’ve easily bumped the total to 50 or more. Don’t see your favorite shots in the roster? Share your thoughts (or, ya know, a link to a screengrab) in the comments.
Spring Breakers opens with brute satirical force, blasting the harsh sounds of Skrillex over hedonistic (and overtly misogynistic) shots of alcohol cascading down bare breasts. But it’s at its most biting when Harmony Korine opts to incorporate Britney Spears’s “Everytime” in this surreal, yet serene, music break that’s crosscut with vicious mayhem, and culminates with a shot that typifies the film as a trouble-in-paradise, neon-nightmare send-up.
The We and the I
When I recently spoke to Michel Gondry, we discussed my favorite image from his glorious The We and the I: a small RC bus that looks like it doubles as a boombox, and cruises through the Bronx during the film’s opening credits. It’s a small symbol of Gondry’s signature whimsy, yet the intimately straightforward The We and the I is aesthetically unlike any of his other work, which is why, as he confirmed, the bus is destroyed by the actual bus that carts the movie’s cast of high-schoolers home. Here, the shadow of the real bus looms, seconds before its tire crushes the little bus to bits.
12 Years a Slave
No, this isn’t a nighttime satellite view of a glowing island, or a shot of a fiery constellation. It’s the soon-to-be-gone remains of slave Solomon Northup’s (Chiwetel Ejiofor) distress letter, which he burns to avoid punishment in the finest image from 12 Years a Slave. Held until the last ember dies out and leaves the screen black, the shot exemplifies the great beauty and peril of Steve McQueen’s work, as we gather with awe that we’re watching Solomon’s hope turn to ash, but we only process it on an intellectual level.
Mother of George
This shot of the hands of Mother of George’s surprisingly powerful co-conspirators (heroine Adenike, played by Dani Gurira, and matriarch Ma Ayo, played by Bukky Ayaji) contains so much of what makes the film thematically and aesthetically transcendent. In the cool blue of breakout DP Bradford Young’s lensing, Ma Ayo passes newlywed and pressured heir-bearer Adenike some fertility beads, in hands that will come to symbolize a wealth of female agency, and amid the culture-defining fabrics that remain a wondrous visual constant.