The 30 Most Perfect Movie Shots of the 21st Century (So Far)

20. Certified Copy (Dir.: Abbas Kiarostami, DP: Luca Bigazzi, 2010)

Abbas Kiarostami gifted cinema with perhaps the greatest everyday poet it was yearning for. As essential as the everyday part of his humanly knit stories is, the poetry is what helps it rise above the crowd. It belongs to a world far more perfect than the setting of his films. It defies logic, clarity and definition. It is like a windy day: memorable, yet fleeting.

It is a peculiar reaction associated with nearly all of Kiarostami’s endeavors. “Certified Copy” sees him detail the life of a man and a woman, strangers at first, who appear to mystifyingly become a couple who has been married for years within hours. Their burdens seem insurmountable, but as with all studies of marriages, their intimacy is what gives the film its poignancy.

This moment occurs near the end where the skepticism the viewer holds about the possibility of their marriage is broken by James informing his wife it’s his “no-shave” day as she lovingly strokes his face: a detail impossible to have come to his notice had he not been her husband. And as practicality takes a back seat, the image of the two on those steps manifests itself as a cinematic treasure.


19. White God (Dir.: Kornél Mundruczó, DP: Marcell Rév, 2014)

While a Cannes perennial, whose “Jupiter’s Moon” is in Competition at the 2017 Festival, for most global audiences, Kornél Mundruczó has been flying under the radar. Although some of his work (“Tender Son”) has been middling, one of his films has shown true potential: “White God”, which won the Un Certain Regard Prize at Cannes and is a haunting, ethereal film that deserves to be seen in larger numbers.

It is an account of a girl who owns a dog and who moves in with her estranged father as the dog is purposefully alienated by the man. Perspectives shift from the girl and her life as a teenager to the dog and his adventures with the other dogs from the pound he escapes. It might be one of the most intriguing animal films ever made.

The final shot of the film finds the girl, Lili, her father, her pet and all the other pound escapees lying at peace as Lilli plays the trumpet. The madly ingenious film is closed on a perfect note of comfort and immeasurable, inexplicable depth as all of its incongruous achievements start to make perfect sense.


18. Pan’s Labyrinth (Dir.: Guillermo del Toro, DP: Guillermo Navarro, 2006)

Guillermo del Toro knows his fairy tales better than any other filmmaker. But his visionary reinterpretations of them are far from faithful, while still feeling as rapturous and compelling as something out of an age-old folk lore.

His undeniable forces are striking in “Pan’s Labyrinth”, the amalgamation of the horrors of the post-Civil War Spain with the frightening, yet lovable monsters who may or may not be the fabrication of a lonely child. Both are treated with unimpeachable passion here and the curious among the audience will find themselves wanting for more.

The contrast between the troubling harshness of humans and the heartwarming kindness of the underworld creatures yields exquisite results thanks to Guillermo Navarro’s classically attuned camerawork. This particular still that presents a child succumbing to an untimely death, can also signify, for those are willing to believe, a princess’s restoration to her grandeur. The two Guiellermos make it hard not to.


17. Mad Max: Fury Road (Dir.: George Miller, DP: John Seale, 2015)

George Miller could make Max Rockatansky sipping coffee for the entire duration of a feature film compelling. The franchise is handily of one of the greatest visual action bonanzas of all time, but also one that has uncharacteristic depth and vigor.

“Mad Max: Fury Road”, a reboot almost everyone dreaded would be a misfire of catastrophic proportions was actually the show of artistic prowess that restored the faith of nearly all film enthusiasts in franchise productions. It brought back the gruffly endearing Max back to glory, but startlingly made relevant statements about redemption and the delusional sense of masculinity so many men harbor.

This haunting image of Furiosa, the awe-inspiring heroine of the piece looking out the window in search of a destiny that has eluded her for years, as the girls she has helped flee their demonizing captor depend on her to lead them to a more forgiving life, benefits from a beguiling use of the blue-yellow color palette frustratingly overused in studio productions, but can only be designated as visceral here.


16. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Dir.: Michel Gondry, DP: Ellen Kuras, 2004)

Frenchman Michel Gondry turned Charlie Kaufman’s moving puzzler of a script into one of the most visually enlivened experiences of the century. Kaufman’s writing style emboldens a uniqueness that Gondry exploits with a knack for knotty, non-linear camera movements to create something truly audacious, yet affably humble.

The plot follows the brain re-wiring of Joel Barish, who wishes to have all memories of his girlfriend, the eccentric Clementine Kruczynski, “deleted”. From this preposterous, albeit horrifyingly possible premise, a love story about the simplest of things in the grandest of schemes is interwoven with the incessantly interesting shards of Joel’s recollections.

This shot at the beach of Joel staring at a distant Clementine is both dismaying and consoling. Joel has lost so much of Clementine, yet the arresting colors she adorns her body with make sure some part of her still faithfully lingers.


15. Enter The Void (Dir.: Gaspar Noé, DP: Benoît Debie, 2009)

Gaspar Noé’s short, divisive career trajectory found its peak with 2002’s “Irréversible”, an unforgiving psychological thriller that still feels revolutionary. And his warped vision took shape in the form of “Enter the Void” to an equally mesmerizing effect.

The film is a densely convoluted, but still fascinating disarrangement of the lives of a brother and a sister whose charged-with-sadness lives come to a halt when the brother is killed in a police shooting. He returns from the beyond to observe the people he was associated with, truly getting to know them for the first time.

An explosion of the ultra-modern neon on the celluloid, “Enter the Void” can be repulsive to those not possessing the stomach to ingest its excess. But for those who tap into the other-worldly tenderness that surprisingly surfaces in moments like this one shot, it is a surreal cruise through a completely original creation.


14. Black Swan (Dir.: Darren Aronofsky, DP: Matthew Libatique, 2010)

Barring “The Wrestler”, all the films directed by Darren Aronofsky feature Matthew Libatique’s urgent, vivifying cinematography. From “The Fountain’s” glorious brightness to “Requiem for a Dream’s” intimate reality, they have been symbolic of a stellar partnership at creating an assortment of visually textured cinema.

Narrative holds much significance to the style they choose for a film and in “Black Swan”, the director’s full throttle, galvanizing melodrama, the choice of the 16mm film with a trembling uncertainty in the camera movements mirroring Nina’s precocious anxiety works perfectly in contrast to the tragic elegance of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake”.

The film begins with a dream Nina has where she has, after years of struggle at the Ballet Company, finally been cast as the Swan Queen. She performs the White Swan in an enchanting, melody-laden act and the tone, the character, the rapidity of the camera, and the heightened sense of reality instantly seep in. But with this shot, so does a grandeur the film shamelessly endorses.


13. Werckmeister Harmonies (Dir.: Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky, DP: Fred Kelemen, 2000)

Béla Tarr doesn’t subscribe to the “tell-it-all” school of film thought. Filmmakers of his kin are not cut out for verbal connotation to all the ideas they wish to explore. So when he chose to explore the idea of a changing world, he showed us a world so intensely detached from reality that its utter plausibility was downright frightening.

“Werckmeister Harmonies” is an ode to a time unknown, yet one that feels so intensely within reach. Set in an anonymous Hungarian village the plot follows a young man named János, and his relationship with an old composer named György and the events that follow the transportation of a giant circus whale into the village.

The closing of the film finds György walking towards and subsequently away from the now vandalized whale. It still looks imposing and magnificent, but its utility has ceased to exist and as he is seen despondent of almost everything around him, so much becomes unambiguous as the viewers are left thinking about so much more.


12. Children of Men (Dir.: Alfonso Cuarón, DP: Emmanuel Lubezki, 2006)

Much of their well-earned affection from mainstream audiences stems from the bravura production of 2013’s “Gravity”, but Alfonso Cuarón and Emmanuel Lubezki have been masters at delivering gratifying-to-the-eye cinema for a long time, starting from the feisty “Y Tu Mamá También”.

With “Children of Men”, the hypnotic dystopia that is hard to shake away once its shackles are around you, they administered a lasting anesthetic with requisite dexterity that transmitted a feeling of hope shimmering all around the despair that hangs over the film where in some distant future, humans have stopped reproducing.

When the first pregnant woman in eighteen years gives birth, she’s rescued by the protagonist Theo who takes her on a boat to the world starting afresh. The framing in this shot divides the desolate world that came to a halt from the new one, wrapped in fog, still unfamiliar, waiting to be discovered.


11. Jackie (Dir.: Pablo Larraín, DP: Stéphane Fontaine, 2016)

Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín has to his credit some of the most incisive political explorations in cinema. His Oscar-nominated “No” covered the massive role played by advertising agencies in the 1988 Chilean Plebiscite, while his “Neruda” is a biographical account of the famous Chilean poet and Senator Pablo Neruda.

When he was offered the opportunity to de-construct America’s beloved First Lady, many believed he would trade his edginess and political acumen for a by-the-numbers biopic that can be a box-office success. Instead, they got a pristine, unsentimental look at the creation of the Camelot mythology that stands unabashedly tall among the political films of the decade.

The scene this shot belongs to centers on Jacqueline Kennedy and a band of men looking after the funeral arrangements searching for a spot to bury a President whose legacy is in doubt after his assassination.

How she flutters about finding a place where many other pasts lie, so that the one that belonged to her husband is far more striking than the ordinary and must somewhere be in unchartered territory, makes the purpose of legacy and the allure of history clear to us, as it does the process of its creation.