Here are the best films shot by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki

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Emmanuel Lubezki is the goat of cinematography in more ways than one. On the one hand, it is known as El Chivo or “The Goat”, a nickname he earned as a child, but he also happens to be one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. While you might be surprised to see his name appear in the credits of movies like too bad it’s good The cat in the hat, Chivo has flexed his cinematic talents across genres. His most famous work may have a heavy tone, but his talent for calibrate the mood, whether in pure comedy like The bird cage or a serious biopic like Michael Mann’s Ali, never falters.

While he has worked with many prolific directors, his closest collaborations have been with American Terrence Malick and his compatriots, members of the three friends, Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro Iñárritu. His first collaboration with Cuarón was on the director’s comedy Sólo con tu pareja, which never had a US release but was given new life thanks to the Criterion Collection. He immediately followed that up with the colorful romantic drama Like water for chocolate, although his collaborations with Cuarón seem to be where he found his distinct voice. Of all six, distinct facets of his talent shine through. You can see him using natural light in Y Tu Mamá También, giving it a realistic feel, while using a studio to masterfully mimic the light of outer space in Gravity. Chivo likes to use wide-angle lenses to capture both foreground and background in a single shot for in-depth focus. This allows his shots to be exceptionally expressive and full of depth – the actors’ emotions on full display while the world remains rich and textured around them. Here are eight of the best films made by Emmanuel Lubezki

8 A little princess


Two girls standing on a statue in A Little Princess.
Warner Bros.

This first English-language collaboration with Alfonso Cuarón is a heartwarming contrast to Chivo’s later, grittier work. A little princess follows the story of a girl named Sara who is kicked out of her father to live in a strict boarding school. The headmistress resents her, but Sara hasn’t forgotten her friendships, nor the positive lessons her father taught her, and she will always have her powerful imagination. Far from the brutal realism of Chivo’s later work, he won over the critics a different way here. Chivo’s colorful production design and lavish, whimsical shots brought Sara’s imagination to life in style. They place the viewer in their unique and imaginative point of view for magical results. He got his first Oscar nod for his work on the film, an award for which he would be nominated seven more times. win three.


seven Burn after reading


Brad Pitt holding a phone in Burn After Reading
Focus characteristics

One of the best examples of Chivo’s comedic sensibility, Burn after reading is a classic comedy of errors from the Coen Brothers, with their unique style of slapstick violence. It follows the horrific mishaps that ensue when the memoirs of a former CIA analyst (John Malkovich) fall into the hands of two air gym workers. Chivo provides minimal flair, perfectly framing the characters and allowing the dialogue and action to speak for themselves. Several memorable scenes involving Brad Pitt’s character stand out as particularly well-composed, including one of the funniest punches in the face. Lubezki also exemplifies the character’s paranoia perfectly in his work here, often bringing the cinematic language of a spy thriller to a comedy.

6 Y Tu Mama Tambien


Three people dancing in Y Tu Mama También.
IFC Films

The mother of all road trip movies, Cuarón Y Tu Mama Tambien follows two teenagers who hit the road with a Spanish woman in her twenties named Luisa. They head from Mexico City to a town they’ve concocted, called Boca del Cielo (literally “the mouth of heaven”). But the destination is never the goal of a trip like this, anyway. While the film focuses on the central trio and their tangled feelings, the Mexican countryside they traverse becomes a character in its own right thanks to Lubezki’s wonderful cinematography. Much of the film feels like a loving tribute to the beauty of its homeland and its people. It’s the movie Lubezki credits as his most important, and it’s easy to see why. He experimented with long shots and a portable documentary style that makes the viewer feel part of every scene. Its signature wide-angle handheld camera bob injects a warm personal nature into the story, and the lingering takes allow every emotion to come through beautifully. A memorable first-person shot of Luisa’s dance makes us feel like we’re right there with her, swaying to the beat.

Related: Here are some of the best movies about class consciousness

5 children of men


Clive Owen walking with military men in Children of Men.
Universal Studios

One of Lubezki’s boldest projects was filming children of men, Alfonso Cuarón’s acclaimed dystopian thriller. Set in a world plagued by war and mass infertility, Cuarón and Lubezki achieved a distinct vision of London’s future – an incredibly realistic vision that at times felt like a war documentary. The scene of the London uprising is particularly memorable. Shot in one of Lubezki’s trademark long takes (helped by CG frames to appear completely uninterrupted), it follows the escalating violence in the streets like a war reporter’s handheld video camera. It puts you in the harrowing scene, forcing you to experience the longest 7 minutes ever. Violence is visceral, explosions and gunshots were both felt and heard. Another of the film’s single-shot sequences taking place inside a car is even more famous. It starts with lighthearted fun and ends with gruesome violence.


4 Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)


Michael Keaton surrounded by lights in Birdman.
Projector images

Lubezki was already revered by then as a master cinematographer, but birdman took things a little further, then down a series of narrow hallways. Alejandro Iñárritu’s dark comedy follows a troubled actor struggling under the weight of his glory days, back when he played a Hollywood superhero (he’s played, appropriately, by Michael Keaton). As he prepares for his Broadway debut, behind-the-scenes drama and angst ensues, and tension erupts between him and his cocky method costar (Ed Norton). The movie appears be shot in a 2 hour supertake – an effect achieved through a clever use of editing and computer-generated images. Although the camera frequently pauses in rooms and lingers on characters, it never seems to cut from a new angle or take a new shot. To add even more to the film’s distinct look and feel, it was shot mostly indoors, giving it a claustrophobic quality. Lubezki’s signature wide-angle shots take on an almost oppressive quality in birdman, mimicking the anxieties of the central character. It gave even the film’s more comedic moments a dark undercurrent of tension.

Related: Here’s Every Alejandro González Iñárritu Movie, Ranked

3 Gravity


Sandra Bullock in Gravity.
Warner Bros.

Arguably one of the most impressive technical achievements of modern cinema, it’s impossible to fully appreciate the breadth of Lubezki’s talent without seeing Gravity. Chivo and Cuarón’s most recent collaboration, this film has shocked audiences with its realistic depictions of outer space – allowing us to truly feel Sandra Bullock’s isolation and panic as she finds herself stranded in space. ‘space. No movie will leave you wondering “how did they do that?” quite like this which required a inventive use of lighting to make the actors appear to be floating (or caressing) in space. Because he was working with a largely imaginary setting, Lubezki had to work with virtual cinematography for the first time, using his extensive knowledge of lighting to make the film’s extensive CGI look as real as possible.


2 The ghost


Leonardo DiCaprio wearing a body in The Revenant.
20th century workshops

From the superb opening shot to the bloody and satisfying conclusion, Iñárritu The ghost places you in his world so definitively that you’ll forget you’re watching a movie. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass, a fur trapper who is mauled by a Grizzly and left for dead. There’s little dialogue, and the film relies heavily on DiCaprio’s acting and Lubezki’s camerawork to tell this remarkable story of survival as Glass escapes human, animal, and environmental threats in pursuit of revenge. The wilderness becomes a full-fledged player in this story, as Chivo’s camera winds through the trees in one fluid motion that reveals the next horror that awaits Glass. The movie was originally designed to be a massive hold like birdman, but the shooting was already demanding enough. This flourish would have been unnecessary – Chivo’s masterful use of natural light and extended immersive shots were enough to make this one of his most powerful films to date.


1 The tree of life


People walking on the sand in the Tree of Life.
Projector images

Lubezki has worked with Malick on four films including Towards the Wonder and The new Worldcorn The tree of life stands out as his strongest collaboration with the art house legend. Loose on plot and partly improvised, Malick’s beautiful film centers on a Texas family in the 1950s and their adult son Jack (Sean Penn) as he reflects on his childhood years later. The film follows a visual logic, interpolating shots of the family with an abstract series of shots that depict the birth of the universe. It’s an unrelenting collage of cinematic beauty that will leave you in awe even if you don’t quite understand what it means. Lubezki portrays the vast expanses of outer space, the breathtaking landscapes of Earth, and intimate family scenes with equal beauty and care.


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