Everyone hates Tom Hooper. They hate his new movie, Les Misérables. They hate his stupid face. But most of all, people hate the way Hooper frames (or doesn’t frame) his shots. You see, Mr. Hooper knows what an auteur is and he wants to be recognized as one. The best way to do that, of course, is the create a consistent visual technique. Wes Anderson has his meticulous production design, colours and centred framing. J.J. Abrams has his anamorphic lens flares. Tom Hooper has his own style, too.

You’ll often recognize a Tom Hooper film by some of these awful visual crutches:

Dutch angles for no reason:

John adams

Close-ups with crazy wide-angle lenses:

damned united

Subjects on the side of frame, with out-of-focus dead space surrounding:

kings speech1

And sometimes all three traits at once!

john adams2

Some of these shots look better than others, and frankly they might all be alright if only Hooper didn’t rely on these techniques for almost every single shot in his movies. What to him might seem unique and artistic,  comes off as lazy and obnoxious to us.

Of course, many people love Tom Hooper’s films, including the way they look. (The American Society of Cinematographers nominated Les Miz for Best Cinematography!) So I got to thinking, what if other directors shot their movies like Tom Hooper? What if the best movies of all time took the “Tom Hooper” approach?

What if Tom Hooper directed your favorite movies?

I asked the question, and I answered it myself. Prepare yourself. (Any suicidal thoughts are understandable, but just remember, these aren’t real.)

Vertigo:

vertigo

vertigo3

Tokyo Story:

tokyostoryhooper

Apocalypse Now:

anhooper

The Silence of the Lambs:

silencehooper

Citizen Kane:

Citizen-Kane-hooper

The Leopard:

leopardhooper

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind:

eternalsunshinebdcap1_original

Casablanca:

casablanca-ending

Jaws:

jawshooper

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans:

Sunrise hooper

Back to the Future:

bttf-hooper

I am so sorry. I really am.

About The Author

Best Boy

Corey Atad is a writer based in Toronto with a passion for film. He's written for Dork Shelf and Sound on Sight, as well as running the former site, The Reelists, and the podcasts The Movie Dictator Club and The justAtadcast. His personal blog, justAtad, is updated… sometimes, but mostly you can find him posting way too much on Twitter.

  • http://twitter.com/BenendsBasement BenendsBasement

    Good fun. I must say, I’ve never thought much of Hooper as a director. I can’t say I hate his style but it’s just sort of there…

    • http://justatad.wordpress.com/ Corey Atad

      Yeah, despite this column, I actually don’t hate Hooper for his style either. This was all sort of in jest. I’ve seen Les Miz three times now, and though I don’t love that every shot is a canted angle close-up with a wide lens, it also doesn’t kill the movie for me as it has for many.

      The one time it really bothered me was John Adams. The visual style of that series was not only obnoxious, but as the narrative of the series got less interesting, the shots felt more and more like they were trying to make up for things. I very nearly quit the series during the fourth episode.

      • https://www.youtube.com/user/KizoneKaprow Kizone Kaprow

        I’ve made it to the final episode of John Adams, but not before wondering why every other shot looks like it could have been inspired by one of the Special Guest Villain’s hideouts on the old Batman TV series. Honestly, I would not have been surprised to see Penguin or Joker pop out of a closet to assault Adams in his Amsterdam digs. And those buildings! Did no 18th century carpenter possess a level or plumb line? How did the slanted houses remain upright and not fall over, killing every patriot before he had a chance to celebrate independence? Anyway, now I know why. It’s because the director is mentally disturbed. Thanks.

  • nataliezutter

    bahaha I love this. Please keep doing this with other directors!

    • http://justatad.wordpress.com/ Corey Atad

      I wish other directors had such obvious visual styles that I could emulate with simple photoshop skills.

      • Smashing_Heads_With_Kino_Fists

        Did you actually do anything to that shot from Sunrise? Because that table is already twisted like that in the film itself.

        • http://www.notgreatpod.com/ Corey Atad

          Untouched :)

          Finally somebody noticed.

  • Ryan McNeil

    Clever, but not something I’d say affected my take on LES MIS.

    If a director has a style, they have a style – that’s not a bad thing (and I don’t think you’re suggesting that). If anything it puts one more stamp on the director’s artistic identity.

    The thing for me wasn’t that Hooper employed these visual techniques in LES MIS, it was how poorly suited they seemed for the moments he employed them…and I say that as one who has liked the other Tom Hooper films I’ve seen.

    • http://justatad.wordpress.com/ Corey Atad

      It most definitely affected your take on Les Miz. Nevermind that his approach to framing these shots is haphazard and often just looks ugly, his constant use of them is a huge problem. Call it a “decision” all you want, but it’s a bad one on a fundamental aesthetic level, and this is coming from someone who really likes Les Miz.

      See, it has little to do with whether the style is suited to the material, but with the fact that he shows no care in terms of applying his style. In his film work he has progressively gotten worse in this sense. The Damned United actually looks pretty good, with a bold but still mostly subdued style of shooting. The King’s Speech pushes the wide angles up a notch, but not too much, and what is there can be explained away as a method of isolation the main character (though it’s often not used for this purpose). Les Miz takes things to near-John Adams level absurdity. Every. Single. Shot. All of them display Hooper’s bizarre camera affectations. Everything frames to the side. Everything wide angle. Everything canted.

      That is the problem. No movie could sustain that. Take a look at that Jaws shot I altered. You know the shot and the scene. That angle might actually have worked for that shot, adding extra shock and unease to the moment. Alright, but then imagine that the whole movie was shot like that. It would be absolutely numbing regardless of whether the style suits the content.

      And keep in mind, this is all coming from someone with a great affinity for most of Hooper’s work. His visual style is paradoxically too self-conscious and too careless obtuse. Sometimes the style is fine. Sometimes it’s bad but doesn’t actively detract. Sometimes it nearly kills the film. It’s all a matter of degree. It’s sort of like the difference between MI3, Stark Trek and Super 8 in terms of JJ’s use of lens flare. A lot of lens flares in Super 8 would have been fine, but there are SO many it becomes a serious distraction. So it is with Hooper and his wide-angle canted close-ups.

      • Ryan McNeil

        I’m alright with his use of tight close-ups – I wasn’t alright with his neverending use of them.

        I disagree on the point of how the style suits the material. Look at how well Baz Luhrman’s hyperactive phase worked for Moulin Rouge! He could have dialed down the pacing or the colour palette, but then the film wouldn’t work as well as it does. In the case of Hooper, there are many moments within the film where his trademarks work with what’s happening (“I Dreamed a Dream” being the most obvious example). However, by never knowing when to say “when”, he overloads his film with forced intimacy and (as our mutual friend pointed out after that first screening) denies it any scope.

        Even though you’re right to point out that Hooper went Ultra-Hooper on this outing, that doesn’t affect my take on the rest of his work…though I am surprised none of his producers had the gumption to reel him in a bit.

        I think we’re sorta saying the same thing here…

        • http://justatad.wordpress.com/ Corey Atad

          What I don’t like is your implication that there are right and wrong decisions with regards to style matching material. You personally feel like Les Miz is an epic that needs an epic visual scope to match. I don’t necessarily agree. The close-ups, it might be said, focus the film in on the characters and their emotional turmoil, making it epic on an emotional scale rather than a visual one.

          It’s like when people thought Michael Mann was wrong to use digital video the way he did for Public Enemies just because it was a period piece. That was a wrongheaded argument, and it ignored the real issue, which was that Mann was using a bad quality camera in ways it was not built to handle and ended up giving the film a decidedly ugly motion blur. Of course, some people like that style of digital blurb, but then some people, like Hooper, prefer every shot to be a

        • http://justatad.wordpress.com/ Corey Atad

          Also, I’ll add that I Dreamed a Dream is literally, as in factually, the only song in the movie shot in one long take and fully in tight close-up. All the rest use multiple shots with multiple distances. The closest to that song in style is Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, which is mostly in close-up, though using a few shots, and includes shots of the whole room to hit emotional beats in the lyrics. On My Own uses three main shots, one is a wide shot with the character walking. One is a close-up, but the character moves around and the camera follows. The last shot is more of a medium shot and from a totally different angle.

  • http://www.gmanreviews.com Andrew Robinson

    I just look at that shot of Apocalypse Now and want to cry… Corey… CRYYYY!!!

    You’re so right in that his direction is distracting, but I feel there a lot of other problems with it as a movie on a whole that’s worth discussing before we lambast the fact that he kept coming into work thinking “you know what’d be cool… Dutch Angle!”

    The film tested me. But I came out thinking it’s ok, or more thinking that I didn’t outright hate it and am not willing to put myself through it again in order to decide one way or another.

    • http://justatad.wordpress.com/ Corey Atad

      Russell Crowe doesn’t exactly help things.

  • James Ewing

    While I get this is a gag, it pretty much decontextualized what makes the direction of Les Mis problematic: a grand story told through film techniques that disservice the material.

    I love all these techniques in other films, a lot of what Hooper uses are the same techniques THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC uses, but that film does it effectively because it’s telling an very intimate story about one particular character. It also has a much better sense of how to edit and pace these images, which is something I felt Hooper never got a hold of in Les Mis.

    • http://justatad.wordpress.com/ Corey Atad

      You and I just disagree on this, as I do with Ryan. I’m generally in favour of the close-up, intimate approach because I feel like though it’s a story told over a long period with many characters, the strength of the story comes from it’s intimate examinations of the characters.

      For me the real problem is that Hooper seems to think tilting the camera and using a wide angle lens in every shot will make him a Dreyer-like artist, but he take no care in how he crafts these shots or how often to use them and the result is a visually unappealing film. So visually unappealing it can actually be distracting.

  • http://reviewsbytom.blogspot.com/ Tom Clift

    I smell a weekly feature!

    And for the record, I really like Hooper’s style. Les Mis is kind of an ugly story, so it makes sense to make some ugly directorial choices. In a uh…good way

    • http://justatad.wordpress.com/ Corey Atad

      I actually kind of agree with this, which may be why as much as I think it’s an ugly looking film, the visual style didn’t really bother me too much. Unlike John Adams.

      • http://www.moviemezzanine.com Sam Fragoso

        I should probably go see Les Mis at some point.

  • Christopher Runyon

    How many people have said your name five times in the mirror, Corey?! This madness will kill us all!

    • http://justatad.wordpress.com/ Corey Atad

      People asked for it!

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  • David Eng

    Yeah, everyone hates Tom Hooper…except people who actually make films like AMPAS, the DGA and every other guild. He doesn’t do this nearly as much as everyone thinks. Yet his detractors obsess about his “faults” and ignore his accomplishments like achieving the finest acting ever in a film musical. If you don’t like him, then just stick to Wes Anderson, where it’s 100% symmetry, square movements, and emotionless acting.

    • http://justatad.wordpress.com/ Corey Atad

      Truth is, I actually really like all of Hooper’s films. Love them, in fact. Even Les Miz (seen it three times now). This post is mostly in jest, though I do find Hooper’s visual style garish. Les Miz is probably the worst he’s been in his film career. I’ll still go see the next Tom Hooper flick, though.

      • David Eng

        I would disagree that his style is ugly and garish. That strikes me as a fundamental misunderstanding of his approach, like seeing Picasso as a failed realist rather than a highly skilled cubist, or listening to Miles Davis and complaining about the odd sour note rather than appreciating the freedom and lyricism. There is beauty if you rid yourself of false expectations.

        It’s not like Hooper wants to do Masterpiece Theatre but can’t pull it together. Rather, he makes period films that feel alive and contemporary. He draws out great performances from his cast, and then captures it as he sees fit, yes, often in close-up because the emotional subtleties would be lost otherwise. His approach is in fact like jazz, with great spontaneity from the actors and the camera crew. It has to be appreciated for what it is, not for what it isn’t.

        • http://justatad.wordpress.com/ Corey Atad

          Fair enough. I suppose where you see deliberate “jazz,” I see unmotivated camerawork. I do agree that Les Miz has a sense of spontaneity that often helps the film, though.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Crump/41400797 Andrew Crump

          And all of this strikes me as a fundamental misunderstanding of two things:

          1) The rules of craft in filmmaking.
          2) The reason Hooper is so reviled among so many critics.

          Hooper’s not playing jazz here; nobody criticizes him for off-the-cuff “sour” shots that just don’t work, so I think the comparison to Davis is bizarre. Hooper is in full control of his camera, and everything he does is planned and intentional. His work isn’t about artistic liberation from the “yoke” of craft but about him making his movies the way he wants to make them. And that’s fine, but he’s terrible at making them because he has no idea what those aforementioned rules are.

          Stuffing your performers into the corner of a frame or framing every shot so that you’re losing visual on them constitutes nothing short of an aesthetic crime. Maybe that tickles your fancy, but it doesn’t represent good filmmaking. When Hathaway steals Les Mis with “I Dreamed a Dream”, she does so in spite of Hooper, not “because of” Hooper– she’s barely even in the shot, which objectively de-emphasizes the emotional subtleties of the great work she does. (To say nothing of, say, Jackman or Redmayne.)

          The thing about Hooper is that when he just sits his camera down and shoots his actors in wide-angle lenses without involving himself in the scene any further, he’s fine– but that’s because he’s just creating a stage on which his cast can perform unhindered. I think that’s why The King’s Speech is so successful, but it’s also why, say Les Mis is such a disaster. He’s a limited filmmaker. He should work within those limitations.

          • David Eng

            Oh, I know the “rules” of filmmaking and so does Hooper, and they’re a LOT less rigid than you and his critics imagine. It’s the easiest thing in the world to follow the rules. Just because his artistic choices are unusual or not what you would do, doesn’t make them wrong. And as I said, these supposed faults are a lot less prevalent than you think. I can easily find tons of stills from his films that are traditionally centred and level. When he does choose to break rules, it’s for a reason.

            Take the first shot above. I haven’t seen John Adams, but I can tell right away from the shot that there’s a relationship between him and the items on the counter and that he’s in a troubled state of mind. If that isn’t the case and he’s just about to do something mundane like have breakfast, then I take it back and you’re right that he’s clueless. But chances are there’s a good reason for that shot if you bothered to look for it.

            As for the other shots, they’re actually pretty standard. The shot of Michael Sheen isn’t especially close or wide-angle. There’s no curvature to the lines like with Terry Gilliam – who uses wide angle shots far more and doesn’t get the hate that Hooper does. The shot of Timothy Spall is extremely ordinary; you’d have a hard time finding close-ups from any conversation that doesn’t look like that. Even Citizen Kane with all the deep-focus lenses resorted to split-screen tricks to keep a face and the background in focus simultaneously. I can’t tell what’s going on in the fourth shot (he could just be leaning his head forward) but with no sense of direction, it’s hardly outrageous.

            As for the Anne Hathaway performance, I strongly disagree that it works in spite of him. He shot all the songs with three cameras, and had the option of cutting to a wide or a slow push in but he and his editors found that staying with the close-up captured her expressiveness best. Her framing to one side speaks to her emotional isolation at that moment. To suggest that a wider, centred shot would have been “objectively” more emotional is nonsense. I’d hate to see the neatly-framed, centred wide shot version of her singing this that you’d make (or as is common in musicals, the standard lip-synching while strolling). No, she would not have been able to deliver that performance with any other director.

            He found a unique approach that allowed his actors the freedom to be their best. His critics are simply too lazy to try to understand his approach. But actual filmmakers (like the various academies and guilds) know how hard it is to accomplish what he has and that’s why he keeps winning awards, much to the chagrin of his critics.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Crump/41400797 Andrew Crump

            You’re doing some impressive gymnastics to explain why the shot of Giamatti needs to be a dutch angle, but the truth is that a centered shot achieves the exact same things as the shot produced here but without being aesthetically revolting. You can argue aesthetics, I guess, but trying to argue objectively that Hooper had a good reason for capturing that scene with that shot is sort of silly– especially since you haven’t explained why that shot had to be a dutch angle to convey the things you argue it conveys.

            The truth is, it doesn’t. The mise-en-scene alone is enough to suggest,

            a) the relationship between Giamatti and the items on the table, and
            b) the fact that Giamatti is in a troubled state of mind (which is, frankly, better established by Giamatti’s facial expression than anything else)

            So what exactly does the shot lose by being centered instead of angled terribly?

            And I don’t think that anyone’s arguing that Hooper shoots his films entirely using these criticized techniques. They’re simply criticizing his use of these techniques wholesale because they just look flat-out awful. In the case of “I Dreamed a Dream”, the greatest boon Hooper bestows on Hathaway there is the “live singing” requirement, and if anything he deserves credit for that idea because it makes his performers shine brighter than they might normally. But shoving her to the edge of the frame doesn’t enhance her sense of isolation because that shot doesn’t isolate her. It pushes her out of the shot. It keeps her out of the frame. You’re literally losing information, pieces of her performance, as the scene progresses. There’s nothing isolating about that; she’s being ignored by her director rather than having that sense of despair and abandon brought to the forefront, which is why letting the scene revolve entirely around her would have produced a much stronger effect overall.

            If you cut your performers out of the frame, they can’t perform. This isn’t really a matter that’s up for interpretation, it’s basic logistics and common sense.

            As for “guilds and academies”, you’re really just being naive here if you think these institutions are objective barometers of quality. Even the guilds are all about politics and brown-nosing, which is why few people whose opinions are worth a damn really put much stock in them.

          • David Eng

            Man, you really don’t understand film or any art form if you think it’s about objectivity and following rules. Yeah sure, every other director would have shot the same “objective” movie but Hooper was just too stupid to conform.

            I’m not convinced you even saw the film or were paying attention, when you insist she was “out of the frame” when no such thing happened.
            http://attheloft.typepad.com/.a/6a00e54ecca8b98833016305fe89ca970d-pi
            The only thing missing in the above shot is a tiny bit of her left shoulder. What critical information is being lost as you said?

            You obviously won’t be persuaded. But you’re deluding yourself if you think that there’s anything objective about your dislike for his films. Your subjective taste is for conventional rule-following techniques. Just stick with Wes Anderson and you’ll be happy.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Crump/41400797 Andrew Crump

            One shot out of a 3+ minute sequence doesn’t really support your argument, though it does show off just how hideous his framing is there. So, thanks!

            As for whether or not I understand art…yeah, this is the root cause of why I picked a fight with you in the first place. People who claim higher understanding of anything over bona fide experts generally have no clue what they’re talking about, so when a random blogger launches a tirade about critics “not getting” the supposed genius of a workmanlike director such as Hooper, I have to intervene. I’m a critic. Broad, sweeping, ignorant statements about what critics are capable of grasping are patently offensive to me.

            I inherently doubt the judgment of anyone who claims things like composition and framing don’t matter compared to…well, I don’t know what it is you’re arguing is more important, really, because you haven’t really made a case beyond “everyone is wrong about Hooper but me”, but “rules” (which really just can be translated as “technique”) matter just as much as that ineffable artistic expressive je nais se quoi. For the best filmmakers, cinematography is a discipline, something with boundaries to be respect and adhered to. There’s nothing disciplined about the way Hooper shot Les Mis, which, if you’ve been paying attention, is just about the only Hooper movie that I’m actually attacking. Remember that part where I described my like of The King’s Speech?

    • http://twitter.com/rbgame R D Burlingame

      “achieving the finest acting ever in a film musical.”

      I even like Hooper and Les Miz, but no. A thousand times : NO.

      • David Eng

        Okay then, name one film (let alone a thousand) where the acting is better, where they really feel what they sing instead of just lip synching.

        • http://twitter.com/rbgame R D Burlingame

          Well, let me just say that “feeling what [you] sing” does not necessarily make it great musical acting.

          But, off the top of my head, I would say the great musical performances are Jimmy Cagney in “Yankee Doodle Dandy” Marlon Brando in “Guys and Dolls,” Singing in the Rain, Wizard of Oz, A Star is Born, THE SOUND OF MUSIC, West Side Story, Chicago, Cabaret, even Walk the Line (if you consider it a musical)… I think the emoting in Les Miz is super showy — that in itself takes many out of the experience… so just saying “this person is really feeling it when they’re singing” creates a schism in the so-called immersive viewing experience.

          I get your point, and I’m not trying to call you out as an idiot or something, but I think that Les Miz takes a contemporary acting style and embellishes it to the point of near-camp. For example, no one is gonna say James Cagney isn’t a better actor than Hugh Jackman, just because Jackman was raised in the naturalist style of post-Brando cinema and emotes super hard.

          OH, and “All That Jazz” … I could have just said that to begin with.

          • David Eng

            Okay, you mention some good examples but none that I think match let alone surpass the acting in Les Mis. All of your examples use a showy, campy style borrowed from theatre. They also use lip-synching, where they just mug and fake alongside a studio recording (except Walk the Line which is NOT a musical). Les Mis might seem showy just because we’re not used to seeing actual emotions when people sing (it’s harder than you think), but in many ways it’s actually more intimate. That said, it’s also the epic nature of Les Mis that I don’t think Jackman or anyone else was excessive, It’s a very different approach than anything you mentioned, and one that I think raises the bar.

  • Craig J. Clark

    Man, the Tokyo Story one is so many kinds of wrong, I don’t even know where to begin.

    • http://justatad.wordpress.com/ Corey Atad

      You don’t think Ozu would approve?

  • http://twitter.com/salesonfilm Sales on Film

    Tom Hooper looks like someone slapped a ginger wig on a mop. I really do not enjoy his face. Or his films.

    • http://justatad.wordpress.com/ Corey Atad

      His face is really stupid. The stupidest of faces.

  • Tyler

    Haha this is brilliant! The Tokyo Story one had me in stitches. Hooper really is an atrocious filmmaker and his style gives me a headache.

  • http://twitter.com/TyleKurner Kyle Turner

    That Vertigo one… so much pain…

    Looking down the line through the comments, I’m fascinated by the discussion. However, I think, while the cinematography certain offended me (filled me with rage, actually), my biggest issue with the film was how those techniques (including the editing) were used in regards to the story. The storytelling was poor. The film was, in my mind, robbed of much of the context that it needed, politically, romantically, etc. There was little sense of place in it.

    Regarding the acting, while it was an interesting approach, I don’t think that the approach made it inherently “better”. Lip synching to a pre-recorded song does not make the performance inherently bad; it’s up to the actor/actress to bring that performance to each take *regardless* of whether the singing is live or not. Also, the TV movie version of Gypsy and Julie Taymore’s Across the Universe both employed live singing, the latter of which is able to achieve similar visceral results as Les Mis (and does so, in my opinion, more effectively).

    Anyways, nice post. Love the site, keep up the good work!

    • http://justatad.wordpress.com/ Corey Atad

      Thanks for the nice comments.

      I’ll just say that I loathe everything about Across the Universe. hehe.

  • http://twitter.com/RussellHFilm Russell Hainline

    Despite other reviews of mine present on this site, I’ll say that Hooper’s style never once bothered me until LES MIS. There, it was ruinously bothersome. But re-watching KING’S SPEECH, I don’t mind the choices there at all.

  • Elmer Grint

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you! I’ve only seen Hooper’s The King’s Speech and the goofy framing left me not speechless but screaming at the screen at how idiotic it was. The Leopard above is my fave. The face looking to the edge of the frame rather than within it, and reduced to one quadrant with all that wasted space behind and above it. He did that in King’s Speech. The “rules” of composition are rules because they work and breaking them usually produces bad, amateurish results. Hooper is not breaking the rules well. Or maybe we’re giving him too much credit and he doesn’t know the rules and just has really bad taste.

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