Visually Appealing Films

Mitchell talking about Sky Captain, American Beauty and Road to Perdition made me think of the best looking films that I have seen.

In the past two years, I’ve seen some really terrific looking films. Here are some that come to mind:

Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven is the one that comes to mind first. This is the best cinematography that I’ve ever seen. It’s so breathtaking, the other elements of the film don’t matter. Malick’s Badlands is also beautiful to look at.

In both films, the lonely beauty of the prairie makes the films so visually appealing, but it’s also the cinematography that takes it to another level. I believe there are scenes in Days where Malick only shot at twilight or dawn, just to get that type of lighting. It’s so gorgeous. Some of the composition of the shots give me the same feeling as Edward Hopper paintings. I love that.

Another film that I saw recently that was visually beautiful was Tarkovsky’s Sacrifice. The film has many different types of visually stunning shots. There are moments when the characters are in a home, and there is a feeling of shadowy brown, like in Rembrandt. Then there are brighter shots. The film is truly enigmatic and slow, but well-worth watching for the visual elements.

I’ll try to post more later.

17 Responses to “Visually Appealing Films”

  1. Mitchell

    American Beauty and Road to Perdition easily top my list, but here are a few others to consider:

    Toys, which was such a disappointing movie that I seldom think about it except in conversations where visual appeal is the subject.

    Most of What Dreams May Come, which is a movie I hated, so I seldom think of it, either, except in conversations where the topic is either visual appeal or movies I hate.

    Dick Tracy and Batman for successfully accomplishing the look and feel of their respective source material.

    Dances With Wolves, which breaks my heart just about every time I think of it.

  2. Jenn

    Hero was one of the most visually stunning films I have seen of late. Well, I haven’t yet seen it in the theaters but I’d expect it looks even better than on the tv.

  3. burgess

    Tomb Raider I and II both movies were vivid and visually appealing for more reasons than Angelina Jolie. Not very good movies, though.

    Raiders of the Lost Ark

    The Incredible Hulk was a visual feast.

    Star Wars

    The Lord of the Rings

    The Matrix

  4. Reid


    Why’d you hate What Dreams May Come, again?


    I think the Star Wars films have some of the best action sequences of all time. The space ships destorying the Death Star(s) are aways good sequences, but I think my favorite is the chase scene in the asteroid belt.

    Most of Kubrick’s films are really cool to look at. The Shinning comes to mind right away. I love the way the camera would move down corridors in that film. He really did a good job of makng the house seem spooky and sentient.

  5. Reid

    Speaking of Kubrick, I just watched Barry Lyndon. In the same way that Sky Captain tried to recreate the Art Deco (and what I refer to as the Tamara de Lempicka look)–to an extent that the characters seemed to be moving in a painting, I think Kubrick does a similar thing except within a 19th Century realistic painting.

    The cinematography is really wonderful in this, and he really does a great job of recreating the look–particularly the light–in those type of paintings. I particuarly liked the indoor evening scenes, where I believe he just used the natural light from candles. In addition, transition scenes of the landscape were also pretty terrific. He seemed to like shots with some dark clouds in them, which created an interesting lighting effect.

    If you like 19th Century realism (I hope that’s the right term) and good cinematography, I highly recommend this film. The costumes and sets were pretty terrific as well. All in all, I’d say it’s the best looking film on 18th Century England.

  6. Reid

    I have to say that even if I didn’t care for A Very Long Journey, I really like Jean-Pierre Jeunet, particularly the visual aspects of his films. I like the way his films have a early 20th Century look even if they occur in modern/future contexts.

  7. Reid

    Martin Scorsese recently published his list of top 10 films that demonstrate a masterful use of light and color–an American list and an international one:

    American films
    1. Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon
    2. King Vidor’s Duel in the Sun”(1946)
    3. William Cameron Menzies’ sci-fi flick Invaders from Mars”(1953)
    4. 1946 film noir
    Leave Her to Heaven
    5. John Huston’s take on Moby Dick
    6. The 1943 version of Phantom of the Opera
    7. The Red Shoes(1948)
    8. John Ford’s The Searchers(1956)
    9. Stanley Donen Singin’ in the Rain
    10. Hitchcock’s obsession-themed Vertigo.

    International films
    1. Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt
    2. Ingmar Bergman Cries and Whispers
    3. Teinosuke Kinugasa’s Gate of Hell
    4. Wong Kar Wai In the Mood for Love
    5. Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor
    6. Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert
    7. Jean Renoir The River
    8. Federico Fellini Satyricon
    9. Luchino Vischonti’s Senso
    10. Sergei Paradjanov’s Shadows of the Forgotten Ancestors

    I think Red Shoes is a realy good film. I’m not a big fan of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, but I really like this one. It has the best ballet dance sequence I’ve seen. I vaguely recall the use of color and light, but not enough to comment in depthly. Kevin, I think you would really like this.
    Cries and Whispers does have some striking use of color (not sure about light). I just remember liking this film and remember the anguish of pain of one of the characters. I also remember thinking that seeing this film on celluoid may be preferrable to digital because the clarity and brightness of the digital transfer actually made the film seem “too” new and even a little harsh (which may have been what the Bergman wanted).
    For use of light and the composition of the shots, I think Bergman’s Persona is one of the best films ever. (It’s in black-and-white, so it wouldn’t make Scorsese’s list given the paramters.) Sven Nykvist, the cinematographer is really the star of the film to me–or at least just as important as the director. It’s a pyschological complex film (maybe even hokey), but it is one of the coolest films to look at. The film applies beautiful black-and-white photography in a film medium (images and sound moving over time).
    I know Contempt uses color in some artistic (if that’s the word) ways, but I had hard time understanding the film, like a lot of other Godard films. In the Mood for Love is nice to look at, but I’m going to have pay more attention to the way it used light and color the next time I watch it. I’ve seen other films like The Searchers, Singin’ in the Rain, Red Desert, Vertigo, but I would have to watch them again to appropriately judge their use of color and light.
    I haven’t seen the other films.

  8. Reid

    I saw Leave Her to Heaven (rented from the library) and the film looked almost like it was colorized or hand-painted. The colors had a metallic look similar to pictures of Tamara de Lempika, the art deco painter. I wasn’t totally impressed.

  9. burgess

    I think it’s interesting that nearly all of Scorsese’s American Films list are old(er) movies, or “classics”. Unfortunately, for me, I’m not a big fan of old movies, except for the occasional John Wayne flick, and of course, Citizen Kane.

    Sin City was visually appealing, and a movie I really enjoyed.

  10. Reid

    Have you seen The Searchers? John Wayne is in that, and he gives one of his most interesting (if not best) performances. And if you haven’t seen Singin in the Rain that’s a must. It’s one of the most joyfully fun movies of all-time.

    Sin City definitely gets points for transfering Frank Miller’s world to film. I didn’t care for the “pulpy” nature of the stories and characters though.

  11. Reid

    My V-I comments on The River.

  12. Reid

    I recently watched Gate of Hell and Satyricon. I liked the Gate (7/10), but I didn’t particular great use of color and light, except, I thought the costumes (kimonos) were pretty good.

    I liked Satyricon (4/10) less, but I did enjoy the staging, costumes and overall look of the film. I can barely remember the story now, but I know I didn’t care for it that much.

  13. Jill

    Gosh, I know there’s so many….

    The ones that come to mind now are:

    The Cell– Creepy, but very visually appealing to me.

    I’ll have to agree with Jenn- Hero was so awesome visually. My fav scene is when she’s wearing the red kimono and the leaves are flying everywhere. ..Along w/ House of flying daggers too. Hero was so cool to watch though.

    I love Pixar films, though I don’t know if animation counts.

    I also thought King Kong was cool to watch. MI 3 was also pretty cool.

  14. Reid


    Did you ever see the “animation” in Waking Life? I didn’t care for the film, but I liked the animation. Hmm, what are some of the best animated films in terms of visuals?

  15. Jill

    No, I didn’t see Waking life. What’s that about? …some of the best animated films????

    Definitely Pixar films top my list…. i’ll have to think of others…. If I do, I’ll let you know-

  16. Reid

    I don’t know if you’ve seen any of Richard Linklater’s films (Slacker, Dazed and Confused, etc.), but he’s sort of a Gen X director. In this film, we just see different characters “talking story” about a variety topics, mostly philosophical in nature. I found the dialogue boring and pretentious, but I really liked the animation.

    I liked the look of The Incredibles, but I don’t know if the other Pixar films stand out strongly for me in terms of visuals. Some of Miyazaki’s films are beautiful, particularly in terms of color.

  17. Reid

    Color of Pomengranates

    I have little idea of the meaning of this film, but it is cool to look at. A lot of it feels like cross between painting and performance art.

    Mother and Son
    You feel like you’re watching great painting, only with movement.

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