This past Tuesday and Wednesday, Kris Tapley of In Contention revealed his annual list of the top 10 shots of the year, which always serves to give me a buzz. But as much as it is an acknowledged and studied list, it's also one of preference. I had some issue with two of the shots picked, one being from "Hugo" which was rather unextraordinary when I saw it in the theater. It certainly shocked me to see it there. And the second was the big chase scene in "Tintin", which is rather fun, but I just couldn't escape how much of a cheat it seemed to me, though I entirely understand why he had it there. If it had been anything other than the top shot, I wouldn't have had as much issue.
Although I'm not one to argue in the slightest, as I could never put that amount of time and effort in to distinguish between a field of several brilliant shots. A single-shot action sequence isn't the worst he could have done, and it's an extremely impressive sequence and shot, all things considered. I shouldn't be complaining so much, so enough with that. The list did what it was supposed to, which was to inspire me in how I view images, and to get in the game, be it in a different way. I was struck by one particular image from "Drive" chosen on the list, but then again, I was struck by many different images from the piece that I felt obligated to share it to a degree.
You can easily consider this to be a study of the cinematographic work of the film on whole, but I did have some considerable difficulty landing on specific frames from the film. After narrowing it down to fifteen, I was struggling to dispense with some of them. There are plenty of periods in the film where the cinematography is rather pedestrian, out of necessity. It allows room for the sound design, editing, and performances to thrive. It's not merely a visual spectacle, but for the sake of this piece, we must treat it in that sort of way. There were plenty more shots that I had been considering, and I ultimately landed on these ten.
10. Hiding in the Supermarket
I gambled between this shot and a shot soon before it of Gosling simply driving in the daytime. There were many driving shots which served as brilliantly articulated placeholders as well as motivations of character, but they had a way of cancelling each other out in respects to this list. This shot seemed like a rather simple choice because of how it framed the Driver's perspective, at first open to the camera in his aimlessness, and as soon as he turns a corner towards Irene, he turns around, now with his back to the camera. He's hiding from connection, as a function of his life, and this along with the #9 shot detail his world before Irene.
9. Chance Encounter
This shot lingers for so few seconds, but it's so delicate in how it paints these characters and their fates. This is one of two shots on this list that feature the scorpion jacket, which proves to be a powerful motif in its relation to the Driver, but not as part of him. As we see an out-of-focus Irene brush past the Driver, we see the function of the scorpion, as both protector and captor. The two move towards each other at speed, but only to move faster away from one another. If nothing else, it's this fleeting but important moment of these two characters before they meant so much to each other. It's a delicate setup, but the Driver doesn't see Irene the way he soon will, and shows how willingly reserved his life is to this point.
8. Embracing of the Shadows
Moving on towards one of the last shots of the film, and perhaps a SPOILER you may want to skip past in case you haven't seen the film. If you have seen the film, you know of the importance of this shot, but it's more than just style. Throughout the film, the Driver has had an emotional journey in respects to people he surrounds himself with. Three times does the Driver sit down for food with people, once with a criminal who the Driver rejects, and next with Irene, Standard, and Benecio. The dinner setting is this sacred establishment of family, and as he sits down for the third time, it's with Bernie. It's this tragic realization of who his family is, and there's a cathartic element to this image, of the Driver almost melding with this shadowy figure, but ultimately separating himself from it, and rising above it. It's the ultimate overcoming of origins imagery.
7. Elevator Smackdown
There are very few shots on this list that are just there because they're pretty, but Nicolas Winding Refn and Newton Thomas Sigel certain had a fun time framing this image. This scene had to be aggressive to the nth degree, if nothing else so that Refn could tell his buddies that he hasn't gone soft with the love story of his latest piece. But there is so much going on in the head space of Gosling's character at this moment in the film. It's a scene of anger, pain, sadness, arousal, and absolute horror, and this shot is the ultimately monstrous and jigger-paced representation of that. As a still, it's simple. When you see it, it's jarring.
6. Mirror Doppelganger
Maybe I have too much of a sympathy for this shot, as you can't really see what's going on in this or any still you capture. All the same, it's a proper examination of the romanticizing reality theme that many films this past year have tackled. There is a very self-aware cinematic element of this film, as raised when Bernie Rose talks of the "European" films he used to make in the 80s. Refn knows he's making that kind of film, but the Driver is playing the sucker in a way. This is at once both a fantasy and reality based film, and the confusion of the two is what this shot plays off of. As the actor's reflection in the mirror pans away to reveal the Driver in the exact same position putting on this terrifying rubber mask that plays such a role in the later expanse of the film. It's this idea of Hollywood overlapping humanity that is the root of the horror.
5. Brother and Protector
Oh, come on! This shot is just freakin' gorgeous! Can't that be enough reason? No. Well, I came prepared. I suppose you could say that this shot is also a feature of the scorpion jacket, but in a different way. The Driver is cradling Benecio in his arms, big brother-like, with the jacket wrapped lovingly around him, protecting him. The Driver, meanwhile, has his back laid completely bare. This is the ultimate depiction of what the Driver's time with Irene and Benecio does to him. It causes him to shed the skin of the criminal, and for time he becomes human. He becomes a being of flesh and blood, and we need to feel that humanization of him for what comes later to have the devastating impact it does.
4. Rear View Crash
Okay, this one just might be for the style point, but it's also for all the work it took to get this shot so perfectly right and unique. It's a slow-motion shot that dazzles in that it keeps Christina Hendricks in the frame as this chaotic crash is going on behind her, but there's also some sort of deeper purpose to it. Throughout the chase scene, Blanche is just going absolutely crazy. She's in the wrong car, and things weren't supposed to go down this way. Her being in the frame is crucial in the placing of her loyalty. She is not at the same level as the driver, he is separate from him, and she is a part of that wreck.
3. Skipping on Water
Okay, if that last explanation felt a bit forced, this shouldn't. As the image that launches us into the "Real Hero" segment, this is such a gorgeous image. Skipping along the water, on towards a paradise of sorts. The fact that the Driver asks Irene and Benecio if they want to see something offers up this massive introduction of these people into his world. You get the feeling that this is his special private paradise that he's taking them to, and that few people get to see. He has no real "home", as he's constantly moving around to different places. This dazzling stream of water brings us across to a place he calls familiar, and even something he designates as special. The scene in its entirety is absolutely gorgeous, but this a perfect segue into it.
2. Master of his Fate
If you saw Kris Tapley's piece, you already know how spectacular this shot is, not to mention how important it is. I dare not step on a thing, or say it any other way, so mozie on over to In Contention, if you haven't already.
1. So Close, but Distanced
I'm cheating a bit, because that's just a lot more fun. Isn't it? I know. I'm such a hypocrite, but in all consideration, this shot is not one shot. It's the intersection between two different shots, but the connection of both is of such an extreme meaning. The two characters of the Driver and Irene exist on parallel planes, but intimately separate from one another. The exchange of his phone call to her might not even be real, but a fantasy that he isn't able to rise to himself. Either way, the fact he's not proportionate to her; that his face is as big as her whole torso, just show the inevitability that they will never be together, and can never be together again. They are of different worlds.