10 Best Vilmos Zsigmond Movies
Vilmos Zsigmond was a talented cinematographer who worked with some of the greatest filmmakers of the American New Wave generation. They came about and peaked in the 1970s and early 1980s, though some of the filmmakers who were forged there continue to do incredible work today. Sadly, Zsigmond passed away in 2016, but his legacy lives on. His eye for photography was invaluable to the movement at large. Zsigmond collaborated with Steven Spielberg, Robert Altman, Brian De Palma, George Miller, Woody Allen, and Michael Cimino to name a few. Indeed, he was talented. Here are ten of the best movies of his career.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Zsigmond worked as the cinematographer for Steven Spielberg in his follow-up film to his breakout hit Jaws. Close Encounters of the Third Kind began his reputation as one of American cinema’s foremost science fiction entertainers. is visually stunning — one of Spielberg’s greatest masterpieces and no doubt Zsigmond is significantly responsible for that.
In 1981, Brian De Palma reimagined the 1966 Michelangelo Antonioni mystery film Blow-Up. De Palma and Zsigmond deliver a colorful, heart-pumping thriller where John Travolta gives one of his career-best performances as a sound designer who becomes the prototypical man-who-knew-too-much. In 2011, the year of its 30th anniversary, the film was rightfully added to the Criterion Collection.
The Deer Hunter (1978)
Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter would be considered, by today’s standards “star-studded” with Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, and Meryl Streep all playing a significant part. But at this time, their respective careers were fledgling, and they were only just beginning to gather public attention. The film details a group of steelworkers and the way their lives are impacted — and perhaps inhibited — by being sent to fight in Vietnam. It is a haunting film with powerful imagery by Zsigmond.
The Long Goodbye (1973)
The Long Goodbye is one of director Robert Altman and star Elliott Gould’s respective best films. It’s also one of Zsigmond’s. In this adaptation of the Raymond Chandler novel of the same name, Gould plays private investigator Philip Marlowe who takes it upon himself to solve his friend’s wife’s murder. It is much quieter than contemporary thrillers but is nonetheless unmatched.
McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)
Zsigmond and Robert Altman also worked together on McCabe and Mrs. Miller. In this unique western, Warren Beatty and Julie Christie play a gambler and a prostitute, respectively, who open a brothel together. Soon they find themselves at odds with a much bigger enterprise who seeks to shut them down. The film is lauded for a wide variety of reasons — including its original music written and performed Leonard Cohen — but the film would assuredly be incomplete without Zsigmond’s contribution.
The Sugarland Express (1974)
The Sugarland Express was Steven Spielberg’s feature-length directorial debut and for it, he recruited Zsigmond as his director of photography. The film was a small-time hit, earning nearly $13 million at the box office against a budget of around $3 million. Goldie Hawn and William Atherton play a wife and her fugitive husband, respectively, who intend to take their son back from the foster care he was placed into. As well as being Spielberg’s debut, it is his first of many collaborations with composer John Williams.
The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
Is it any surprise that George Miller, director of the largely female-led Mad Max: Fury Road was also responsible for The Witches of Eastwick? The ensemble film is a dark comedy starring the likes of Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer as three friends who unwittingly form a coven. The trio finds themselves drawn to a mysterious man who comes to town (Jack Nicholson), but when his true intentions are unveiled, they take matters into their own supernatural hands. It is sadly Miller and Zsigmond’s only collaboration.
Heaven’s Gate (1980)
Not to be compounded with the cult of the same name, Michael Cimino’s film Heaven’s Gate is a period western featuring a star-studded cast of Christopher Walken, Isabelle Huppert, Jeff Bridges Kris Kristofferson, and John Hurt. It is a gorgeous-looking film, in large part thanks to Zsigmond, even if it is also overlong at a stunning five hours and 20 minutes.
The Black Dahlia (2006)
Brian De Palma’s late-career hit The Black Dahlia dramatizes the infamous mid-century Los Angeles murder of Elizabeth Short. It is certainly a product of its era, starring Josh Hartnett in a central role, as well as Scarlett Johansson and Aaron Eckhart. It may not be one of De Palma’s best films, but his undeniable skill, as well as Zsigmond’s, is nonetheless on display.
John Boorman’s Deliverance is a haunting film. Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Jon Voight, and Ronny Cox play four friends who go on a canoe trip through rural Georgia. However, they are met by the locals with disdain or outright malice and the trip quickly becomes a fight for their lives. It is a thriller in the truest sense of the word with some sturdy cinematographic work by Zsigmond. Deliverance is a classic, albeit not for everyone.
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