FIVE best cinematographers in Hollywood (not named Roger Deakins)

The process of making films is very difficult, whether it’s a short or full-length feature, one needs to put together a team of talented people in order to produce something that one can be proud of. One key component to make any film work is the person who does the actual shooting. The director tends to get all the credit when it comes to making a film but in a big or small production, a cinematographer is the real star behind the scenes. The director is in charge of the entire production crew, so he/she can’t oversee each and every shot during the shoot. That’s where the cinematographer comes in, this person must know the ins and outs of the cameras, which lens to use for each scene, set up lightings for each location and most importantly this person needs to be on the same page as the director. Basically, the cinematographer is the second most powerful person during the shoot.

I do feel that cinematographers tend to get over look when people are talking about certain films. One of the most well-known cinematographers in Hollywood is Roger Deakins and I won’t put him on my list here since his work deserves a list of its own. Here, I’m listing some of the best but not that well-known cinematographers working in Hollywood today.

In no particular order, here’s my list:

1. Robert Richardson

I was hesitant to put Richardson on the list since he’s won 3 Oscars for his work on JFK, The Aviator and Hugo. But I don’t think most film fans know much about him. Known to be a hot head in Hollywood, there were reports that he actually took over the directing tasks when Marc Forster lost control of the troubled shoot of World War Z. He then asked him name to be taken off the credits for that film because he wasn’t happy that the studio decided to convert the film to 3D and changed the color lutz of the footage that he shot. Richardson sounds like a man who don’t have much patience for inexperience directors in large productions, which explains why he mostly work with famous director like Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and Oliver Stone.

Here are some clips of his work that I think are great:

2. Oliver Wood

Wood has been working as a cinematographer since the late 60s. He shot several episodes of the TV show Miami Vice in the 80s and got his first big Hollywood production gig by shooting Die Hard 2. He’s been busy shooting big blockbusters ever since. But I don’t think many people knows much about him at all. You’d be surprised that some of the well-known films were shot by him, Rudy, The Bourne Trilogy and Face/Off are some of the films he shot. Now some might say that he started the whole fast editing and shaky cam action shots that plagued many action films of the 2000s, but I think that blame should go to Paul Greengrass.

Here are some shots of his work that I think are great:

The snowmobile chase/shootout in Die Hard 2. I’m pretty sure this scene was a very difficult shot to set up, it contains snow and set at night time.

The opening intro of Castor Troy in Face/Off. John Woo apparently fired his original cinematographer for this film because that person couldn’t keep up with his demands. Wood took over the gig and this scene is one of the many great shots in the film.

The epic car chase through the streets of Moscow in The Bourne Supremacy. One of the best car chases ever filmed and I assume wasn’t easy to film:

3. Ellen Kuras

Sadly, this is the only female cinematographer on my list here. As most of everyone knows, this is still a male dominated field and many female cinematographers are having a hard time breaking in. Kuras is one of the few that have been working in this field for a long time. She started out doing mostly short films and documentaries in the 90s. Her big break came when Spike Lee hired her to lens He Got Game starring Denzel Washington for him. Apparently, she worked well with Lee and they shot two more films together, Summer of Sam and Bamboozled. Some of her best-known films are Blow, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Ballad of Jack and Rose. In the late 2000s, Kuras decided to go back and direct mostly documentaries and short films. I hope she comes back and shoot more feature films because I think she’s very talented.

Here some samples of her great work:

Summer of Sam trailer, I couldn’t find any clips on YouTube but you can see her work on this trailer. An underrated gritty drama that should’ve been seen by more people:

Train ride sequence in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. A simple sequence but probably very difficult to set up, shooting scenes in a tight spot is never easy. There were many great shots in this film, but I’ve always enjoy watching this scene.

4. Steven H. Burum

Probably the oldest cinematographers on this list, in fact Burum hasn’t been working much since the early 2000s. But I’m sure you’ve seen many of his great work. He’s a constant collaborator of Brian De Palma and some of his famous work were Mission: Impossible, The Untouchables, Carlito’s Way, The Outsiders, St. Elmo’s Fire and The War of the Roses.

Here are some of my favorite shots of his work:

The mission gone wrong scene in the first Mission: Impossible. By killing off each of the team members early in the film, fans of the TV show were pretty shocked by it. The way this sequence was shot was quite spectacular. I think this whole film was full of great shots, most people tend to forget that the first Mission film was more of a suspense thriller and didn’t have a lot of action like its sequels. Most of the scenes were shot in tight spaces but Burum was able to make them look cinematic and big in scope.

The climatic foot chase/shoot out in Carlito’s Way. One of the most underrated films of the 90s and this sequence alone is worth the price of admission. Just watch and be awed by it.

PART I:

PART 2:

5. Matthew Libatique

Out of the people listed on here, Libatique might be the most well-known cinematographer working today. He’s been working with Darren Aronofsky since the early 90s and has shot all of Aronofsky’s films ever since. Probably his most famous work are his shots in Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Inside Man and the recent remake of A Star is Born. I think Libatique is maybe the most generic of all these cinematographers that I’ve listed. It doesn’t mean that he’s done average work, it’s the opposite. I think he really catered to the style of the directors he’s worked with. Some of the clips from his work will show you what I mean. One is a film from Aronofsky and other is a Spike Lee’s film.

Here’s a clip of Aronofsky’s The Fountain:

Here’s Spike Lee’s Inside Man:

If you’re a fan of either Aronofsky or Lee then you can see how Libatique really catered to both of the director’s style.


These cinematographers didn’t quite make the list, but I think they will have have long career in front of them:

  • Rob Hardy
    He’s a constant collaborator with Alex Garland and has shot all of Garland’s directing projects including Ex Machina, Annihilation and the current TV show DEVS. But Hardy’s biggest success was 2018’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout.
  • Zoe White
    She’s young and most of her work were short movies. But I think her work will get more recognition in the upcoming years. She’s already shot several episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale and the recent episode of Westworld. Let’s hope some directors will hire her to shoot their upcoming films soon.

  • Hoyte Van Hoytema
    He’s young and has shot some of the biggest event films in the last few years. He’s also working with the most popular director right now, Chris Nolan. Pretty sure you’ve seen his work in Interstellar, Dunkirk, Spectre, Her and Ad Astra. His next film is Nolan’s Tenet.

– Post by Ted Saydalavong


So, those are some of the best cinematographers working in Hollywood today. Did I miss any of your favorites? If so, please name them in the comment section.

FlixChatter Review: A Star Is Born (2018)

Once in a while, a film came along that you couldn’t stop thinking and talking about for days, maybe weeks. I may be one of the last few people in the universe who have never seen any of the three prior adaptation of A Star Is Born. Somehow I managed to avoid reading about the whole story, which adds a bit of mystery to it all. But even if you have seen all three and very familiar with this epic love drama, you still should see Bradley Cooper’s version simply because well, it’s an amazing film.

The contrast between two musicians at two opposite spectrum, one shooting up the stratosphere and the other on a downward spiral sure makes for a great cinematic adaptation.  Right from the moment the film opens, with Cooper’s Jackson Maine going up to the stage, popping pills before he performed to an audience of thousands. You can see the dread and sadness in his eyes… despite all his fame and money and success. I was immediately blown away by Cooper’s gravely voice, apparently he trained so much that he lowered his voice down one octave! The whole scene was so beautifully-filmed and the angle from the stage makes you feel like you’re actually there.

It doesn’t take long before Jackson meets the woman he soon falls in love with that would change his life forever. Lady Gaga’s Ally singing La Vie En Rose in that drag club will surely thrill her Little Monsters but as more of a casual fan of hers, I too was captivated by her. Gaga’s star quality is indisputable, but it’s after she takes her makeup off is when she truly shines. That’s another directorial decision that works perfectly in the film, that Cooper insisted Gaga strips down to her au naturel look and shows her true beauty.

The romance itself is more of a slow burn… and boy is it ever mesmerizing. I love that Cooper take the time for us to get to know both of them and actually witness two strangers fall in love. That scene in a convenience store is both funny and touching, Jackson using a frozen veggie bag as an ice pack is the stuff of rom-com meet-cute. But their romance is not cutesy, it’s intense and heartfelt. The moment Ally belted her own song in an empty parking lot was truly a memorable one. That was memorable moment to be sure, but the moment Ally got up on stage and sang a duet of The Shallow with Jackson gave me chills! This film has a phenomenal soundtrack that lives up to the fact that it’s about artists in the music industry. Every song is beautiful and emotionally-resonant, perhaps even more so because in the context of this beautifully-realized story. You feel for both Jackson and Ally. The roller coaster ride of their whirlwind relationship swells you up to cloud nine level, only to crash it down that you literally feels a pang in your heart. I packed SO many tissues going in but I still almost ran out. I was even thinking if anyone didn’t shed a tear or at least choked up watching this, one should check their pulse.

The chemistry between Gaga and Cooper has been all over the news and truly it’s something to behold on screen. It’s one of those magical cinematic pairing that’ll be talked about for ages. Obviously Gaga is already an iconic music star, but this film proves she’s got what it takes to be a movie star as well. She’s got this magnetic presence and yet somehow relatable in the way she portrays Ally who’s vulnerable and insecure. So when Jackson tells her she’s beautiful, her aghast reaction is believable, just like many of us women feel that way as well. I also appreciate the message about having an authentic voice and something real to say in an industry where artists are often dictated by producers, the media, even fans, to be something they’re not.

As for Cooper, much has been talked about his phenomenal directing debut and rightly so. I’d be rooting for him in the Best Director (and even Best Picture) category come award season, but I’d also be rooting for him to at least nab a Best Actor category. His Jackson Maine is classic leading man material… there’s a particular moment halfway in the film that’s both funny but also cringe-worthy and heart-wrenching. I don’t want to spoil it for you but the expression in Jackson’s eyes didn’t just tug my heart strings, it ripped it to shreds. Pardon the melodrama here but I feel it’s appropriate for this review.

The supporting cast is great all around. Sam Elliot definitely stood out as Jackson’s older brother. It’s quite amusing how Cooper trained to match Elliot’s trademark super-deep voice and it worked to make the casting even more believable. Dave Chapelle is fun to watch as Jackson’s bestie, wish he had more screen time though. One thing I notice though, is that aside from Gaga, there’s not a single memorable female performer in this film. It’s not really a criticism, more of an observation, but I couldn’t help but wish there’s at least one or two female supporting cast here.

Overall though, this is one sublime motion picture that defies the theory that ‘all remakes are automatically bad.’ Largely thanks to Cooper’s masterful direction and casting choice (that is casting himself and believing in Gaga as Ally), as well the sharp script by Cooper, Eric Roth and Will Fetters. The cinematography by Matthew Libatique is gorgeous and has that immersive quality. As I mentioned before, some of the concert scenes (partly filmed at Coachella Festival) makes you feel like you’re there on stage with the performers. Cooper’s vocal training paid off, but more importantly, I think his clear vision of what he wants this film to look, feel and sound proves that he’s an artist to be reckoned with. I sometimes giggle when I think he’s also the same actor voicing Racoon in Guardians of the Galaxy. Now that’s range, folks!

This is a love story for the ages… that’s actually more than just epic romance. I’m glad I finally get to see A Star Is Born that feels as timeless as ever.


Have you seen the latest ‘A Star Is Born’? I’d love to hear what you think!