With the advent of streaming technology, it has become a lot easier to take movies for granted. With so many films available at a keystroke, sometimes on screens with less surface area than an actual apple, the art and beauty of cinema can go unappreciated. But don’t assume that because you’re not looking for it, it’s not there. When you’re ready to quit multi-tasking, scanning, and split-screening, sit down in front of an adult-sized television, and truly take in a motion picture, not just for its story, but for the meticulous visual interpretation of that story — believe it or not — Netflix has you covered.
While the streaming service is sorely lacking in some areas of its catalogue, cinephiles can take comfort in the fact that, currently, some of the most compelling and memorable cinematography of the last two decades is right there hanging in the electronic ether, ready to be viewed on whatever platform you choose. Remember, dozens of great, award-winning cinematographers put a lot of time and thought into these moving images, so you might want to watch on something that doesn’t fit in the palm of your hand for a change.
Forrest Gump, Don Burgess
From the falling feather to Lieutenant Dan’s missing leg, Gump’s robust photography combined with the subtle integration of then-cutting edge digital effects helped to usher in a new age of modern American cinema.
Sense and Sensibility, Michael Coulter
As we would all find out for certain two years later, the camera loves Kate Winslet. The sweeping, rainy vistas of Sense are a world away from the oceans and steel of Titanic but just as moving.
Fargo, Roger Deakins
Let’s not mince words, Deakins really shot the hell out of that snow. The starkly beautiful setting was ideal for the Coen Brothers frigid, quirky microcosm of murder and betrayal.
Evita, Darius Khondji
The Madonna-fronted adaptation is a full-blown musical in the truest sense. No dialogue, just performance and swirling visuals.
Titanic, Russell Carpenter
Don’t only focus on the iconic “King of the World” shot. There are plenty of wonders to behold on this sinking ship.
Amistad, Janusz Kamiński
Spielberg’s slavery epic was beat out for a cinematography Oscar by another grand film that took place primarily on the high seas (Hint, hint: Look up.)
Shakespeare in Love, Richard Greatrex
Director John Madden took an almost West Wing-ish approach to Elizabethan England, with Greatrex leading the way through its winding theater district.
The Wings of the Dove, Eduardo Serra
Whether in England or in Venice, Helen Bonham Carter has never been better or more stunning. Serra’s photography captured her in this rare moment against some of the most picturesque sites in Europe.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Peter Pau
One of only two actual Oscar winners on this list, Ang Lee’s lavish and kinetic Tiger is finally getting a sequel after 15 years thanks to Harvey Weinstein.
Gladiator, John Mathieson
Who can forget the image of fingers in a wheat field?
Malèna, Lajos Koltai
According to IMDB, the tagline for this 2000 Oscar nomination is “A woman provokes sensual awakenings in a group of adolescent boys.” When that woman is Monica Bellucci, you’d better shoot for all it’s worth.
Amélie, Bruno Delbonnel
The whimsical world of Audrey Tautou’s character’s imagination, colorfully captured by Delbonnel earned this fantastic love story a well-deserved Oscar nomination in 2001.
Black Hawk Down, Slawomir Idziak
The opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan gets a lot of attention and deservedly so. But Ridley Scott was no slouch when it came to depicting the horrors of modern warfare thanks to Idziak’s frenetic, head-spinning cinematography.
Cold Mountain, John Seale
Seale re-teamed with director Anthony Minghella — they both won Academy Awards for The English Patient — for this Oscar nominated wartime drama.
The Passion of the Christ, Caleb Deschanel
Recently, when Robert Downey Jr. suggested Mel Gibson be allowed to direct the next Iron Man, some guffawed, but let’s not forget Gibson directed this 2004 Oscar-nominated (for cinematography) hit.
Brokeback Mountain, Rodrigo Prieto
Prieto masterfully used his camera to create different worlds that depicted the film’s conflicted characters’ interior lives.
There Will Be Blood, Robert Elswit
Elswit won the Academy Award for shooting Paul Thomas Anderson’s harrowing oil epic, hailed by many critics as one of the best of its decade.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Janusz Kamiński
Already a legendary cinematographer for his work with Spielberg, Kaminski pioneered first-person melancholy by putting viewers into the mind of the film’s bedridden protagonist and letting us look through his eyes at the world he would soon leave.
The King’s Speech, Danny Cohen
For obvious reasons, you might remember this 2010 Oscar nominee as a dialogue-heavy production. But the combination of lush cinematography and production design brought Speech alive.
Skyfall, Roger Deakins
Who says action movies can’t be thoughtfully and gorgeously photographed? (No one that year, with Django Unchained and Life of Pi both nominated for cinematography Oscars alongside Skyfall.)
The Grandmaster, Philippe Le Sourd
Directed by world renowned filmmaker Wong Kar-wai and shot by Le Sourd, this martial film followed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as far as elevating the genre and raising its profile.
(*All entries on this list are either Oscar winners or nominees in the area of cinematography.)