Top 10 Best Cinematography of the Last Decade

by Eric Melin on December 6, 2011

in Top 10s

Cinematography is the realm of every movie’s director of photography. It’s not necessarily what is in front of the camera — that is the realm of the art directors, set designers, and costume designers — but more what the camera is doing to capture that.

A good DP can be subtle or overwhelming, depending on the part the movie calls for, but great cinematography always tells the story more effectively. Sometimes the camera is a character (and sometimes that can get annoying), but its really up to the cinematographer to make the movie come alive in a way that assists the film’s storytelling strategy.

Here’s my Top 10 list of the Best Cinematography of the Last Decade. If you have a Top 10 list you’d like to contribute, email me at

10. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Ellen Kuras (2004)

9. Kill Bill, Robert Richardson (2003-4)

8. The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, Janusz Kaminski (2007)

7. The Fall, Colin Watkinson (2006)

6. Road to Perdition, Conrad L. Hall (2002)

5. The Fountain, Matthew Libatique (2006)

4. No Country for Old Men, Roger Deakins (2007)

3. Children of Men, Emmanuel Lubezki (2006)

2. There Will Be Blood, Robert Elswit (2007)

1. The Tree of Life, Emmanuel Lubezki (2011)

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of and writes the Screen Stealers column for The Pitch. He’s President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 warren-j December 6, 2011 at 8:52 am

Good work. I especially liked the addition of Road to Perdition, a worthy entrant and one that would have been easy to miss.


2 Reed December 6, 2011 at 11:40 am

Agreed on Road to Perdition. It’s the only worthwhile thing in the movie, but it is absolutely exquisite.

Great list, Eric. The only other ones that come to mind are Sin City and the Motorcycle Diaries, but they can’t top these ten.


3 ewrann December 6, 2011 at 5:40 pm

The New World was excluded? Impossible!


4 Steven December 7, 2011 at 9:45 am

Great list! I just hope I Am Love and Fish Tank came in at numbers 11 and 12 :)


5 Amanda December 7, 2011 at 3:18 pm

Great list, but i would add The Assassination of Jesse James and The Man Who Wasn’t There; I really love Roger Deakins.


6 RCM December 7, 2011 at 3:49 pm

It’s a very good list, though maybe a little too Hollywood-centric. I feel like Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Hsiao-hsien Hou, Bela Tarr, Andrey Zvyagintsev and a few others should have gotten some of their movies on a list like this.


7 Sloan December 7, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Enter the Void, perhaps? Even though it stylistically shared a good bit with Irreversible, it’s one of the few movies to really pull off the whole “first person” viewpoint successfully for me, even once he enters the afterlife (especially when he enters the afterlife, floating around over the city). Even though it certainly isn’t, the film feels like one eternally long (and uncomfortable) shot.


8 Eric Melin December 7, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Amanda & Reed- The Assassination of Jesse James barely missed the list…so close…so was Sin City, although that one and O Brother Where Art Thou had so much digital manipulation that I kinda left them off on purpose.

ewrann- The New World is amazing as well. You and I are in rare air with our love of that movie….ha!

RCM- I also agree its a little Hollywood-centric, but I would welcome a contribution list that was the opposite. It’d be a great way to expose those filmmakers to a different audience; embedding their work here.

Sloan- Wow. Good call. Totally forgot that one. That was an unforgettable experience and honoring it on a list of great cinematography may be the best thing for it, honestly. Perhaps I’ll do the next 10 soon….


9 Sloan December 7, 2011 at 5:07 pm

Also, good list nonetheless. I forgot to say that.


10 tombeet December 7, 2011 at 5:46 pm

Wong Kar Wai’s movies should be on this list.


11 Xavier December 8, 2011 at 1:54 am

I completely agree with amanda, that one shot in jesse james where the lawmen are approaching the house and its shot through the frosted glass almost makes the scene look like an oil painting I thought that was incredible. I probably would have the aviator, black swan and synecdoche new york on my list


12 goran December 8, 2011 at 5:10 am

*Ahem* In the Mood for Love *ahem*


13 Eric Melin December 8, 2011 at 9:12 am

“In the Mood For Love” is a great choice, only it wasn’t in the last 10 years!


14 jes December 8, 2011 at 10:41 am

Russian Ark? A 96-minute movie shot entirely in one take is pretty impressive. I’m also kinda sad Assassination didn’t make it. The trainrobbing sequence was beautiful. I<3 Roger Deakins.


15 jess December 8, 2011 at 10:51 am

Oh, but so I’m not just a complainer, I give thumbs up for 6 of these movies (I haven’t seen Tree of Life, Road to Perdition or The Fountain).

P.S. What the hell is up the Captcha giving me an omega sign? I don’t know how to make that!


16 jess December 8, 2011 at 10:53 am

My original comment is gone…..I said:

“Russian Ark? A 96-minute movie shot in one take is pretty impressive. I’m also kinda bummed about Assassination. The trainrobbing sequence is beautiful. <3 Roger Deakins!


17 will December 11, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Gus Van Sant’s Elephant (Harris Savides) and Paranoid Park (Christopher Doyle)


18 biji m. January 23, 2012 at 9:06 pm

assassination of jesse james? assassination of jesse? …james?? no? not even in the top 10?! damn, dude.


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