The 20 Best Shots of 2020

This article is part of our 2020 Rewind. Follow along as we explore the best and most interesting movies, shows, performances, and more released in this very strange year. In this entry, we explore the best frames and shots of 2020.

Chopping the year into twenty Perfect Shots is a stressful endeavor and leaves the editor agitated. Despite what some may say, 2020 was a damn fine time at the movies and on TV. Hundreds of films and shows saw release, and thousands of shots feel worthy of attention. What you will find below is a collection of frames and shots in an order I’m happy with today. Ask me tomorrow, and I’ll feel altogether different.

Following the mold from last year, we’re looking to celebrate beyond the typical credits of director and cinematographer. Many creative minds work to realize these images, and we tried to highlight the responsible departments involved with each selection. The concept of cinema continues to morph as both television and features deliver bewitching artistry. Rather than have the two mediums fight it out, we chose to hold both deliver systems on equal footing.

We hope that your favorite shots made the list, and if they didn’t, you know how to reach us: tweet @OnePerfectShot.

20. Tenet

Tenet Best Shots

  • Cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema
  • Directed by Christopher Nolan
  • Starring John David Washington

Choosing a singular moment from Tenet is challenging. Any number of shots could qualify for a list such as this one. The inverted hallway fight is littered with elements that drop viewers’ jaws. Christopher Nolan is a meticulous craftsman, and every frame results in a picture pretty enough for your wall.

However, with Tenet, my mind drifts back to those earliest images experienced in the trailers. The above one stuffed cheekily toward the end of the first advert. This is THE moment of the movie when John David Washington takes his first steps into a world he can never come back from. Hoyte Van Hoytema’s camera stays tight on the actor, keeping just a few feet ahead of him. Washington sucks in his O2 and sallies forth a changed man.

19. Lover’s Rock

Lovers Rock Best Shots

  • Cinematography by Shabier Kirchner
  • Directed by Steve McQueen
  • Production Design by Helen Scott
  • Costume Design by Lisa Duncan & Jacqueline Durran
  • Music Edited by Lewis Morison

The shot before this one centers on a record needle drop. The Revolutionaries’ “Kunta Kinte Version One” pierces the air. Shabier Kirchner’s camera then wades into the crowd and bops along with the dancers. As the rhythm picks up, the energy of the men in the room does as well. They lose themselves to their passions, letting the lions within out. The scene is a cathartic outburst of relief. Where they begin and the music ends blur.

Steve McQueen doesn’t nail you to a time or a place or a moment. He envelops you. Every department crescendos in this dance, and through the lens, the audience becomes another player on the floor.

18. Tesla

Tesla At The Mic

  • Cinematography by Sean Price Williams
  • Directed by Michael Almereyda
  • Starring Ethan Hawke

In a film lathered in anachronisms, the sequence in which Ethan Hawke’s Nikola Tesla takes hold of a microphone and belts out “Everybody Wants to Rule The World” while standing before a rear-projected cloudy sky is the pièce de résistance. Michael Almereyda delights in absurdism. He’s having fun with his protagonist and those who bought their tickets to his movie. Tesla could not get out of his own way. There was an opportunity to rule, but he couldn’t bash his big electric dream into a commercial space. He’s a joke. He’s a champion. He’s an icon.

17. David Byrne’s American Utopia

David Byrnes American Utopia Best Shots

  • Cinematography by Ellen Kuras
  • Directed by Spike Lee
  • Lighting Design by Rob Sinclair 
  • Starring David Byrne

From one musician to another. Spike Lee expertly translates the broadway stage production for HBO. The camera is never bored, always moving, only taking moments to rest on unique angles like this one. We all know what it’s like to sit in the seats of a theater. Some positions are better than others. In their version, Ellen Kuras and Lee take you to spots nobody could ever reach. Rather than watching a show, you feel like you’re living in David Byrne’s brain.

16. Star Wars: The Clone Wars – “Old Friends Not Forgotten”

The Clone Wars Ahsoka Lands

  • Lighting Cinematography by Joel Aaron
  • Art Direction by Kilian Plunkett
  • Directed by Saul Ruiz
  • Directing Supervised by Dave Filoni

Thanks to The Mandalorian, 2020 will go down as the year mainstream Star Wars fans discovered Ahsoka Tano. However, for The Clone Wars diehards, her greatest moment on screen this year did not occur in live-action but in the animated realm. After the series was callously cut short, season seven arrived earlier this year, resurrected on Disney+, and delivered what might be the single strongest run of Star Wars stories ever assembled.

The shot above is the hero moment for Ahsoka Tano. With the Jedi preoccupied with Count Dooku’s assault on Coruscant (see Revenge of the Sith), Tano is left to defend Mandalore from the clutches of Darth Maul. She meets his armies without fear, free-falling to the surface below, and sticking a landing that would make Iron Man blush. In a franchise built on heroic bravado, Tano nails one of its finest examples.

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