Golden Cages 2020: Best Cinematography


[2020 is finally over but before we send it off to the trash heap it deserves to be in, it’s time for the third annual Golden Cages, Flixist’s extremely coveted prize! Each year the Flixist staff gets together to vote on the best and worst films of the year and gives you lovely readers our true and honest thoughts. Plus since there are no other awards shows this winter (suck it Academy!) we’re now the de facto voice of truth in the film industry. So read on dear viewer and see which films win our lovely little award!]

Tenet was a bit more controversial in 2020 than I think it would have been, barring global societal-altering pandemics and general political insanity preoccupying most agendas. A new, big, ambitious film from Christopher Nolan was going to be a surefire hit, no? While some were hung up on it’s allegedly-muffled dialogue (it isn’t!), at the very least, then, one can appreciate Tenet on its own terms from a purely-visual perspective. And it certainly delivers on that.

Frequent Nolan collaborator Hoyte Van Hoytema was behind the lens once again, bringing a sense of lush detail to Nolan’s very-physical, object-oriented obsessions strewn across Tenet‘s globe-trotting story of a brewing quantum Cold War. I say “very-physical” because Nolan, like some of his cinematic precursors like Michael Mann or Robert Bresson, loves stuff. Trinkets, be they watches or cyanide pills; physical objects and how they feel, Nolan uses inanimate objects and circumstance as a means of relating to our protagonists. In this case, literally, the Protagonist (John David Washington). To do this, you’ve got to look at these things in the right way, and Van Hoytema knows what to do.

Tenet pulls in the focus often, despite its widescreen 70mm and IMAX technology, giving sharp detail to things like oxygen masks or relics of a future war. The sharpness granted to what Nolan and Van Hoytema wants us to be paying attention to gives Tenet a grounded sense of physicality while retaining a vibrant and sophisticated palette to keep us engaged. And, I mean, how about crashing that plane?

It speaks to Nolan the director, but the cinematic capturing of some of Tenet‘s grander stunts is utterly remarkable. It’s one thing to stage a bunch of trucks boxing each other in on a freeway. It’s another thing entirely to film it and make it look so. Darn. Good.

Maybe Tenet-skeptics and naysayers can have a good time with the film after all; mute the sound (don’t!), turn on subtitles (don’t!), and focus for the entire time, glued to the screen and its dazzling images.