In the era of HD cameras, CGI, motion capture and post-production effects aplenty, it has never been easier to make a film look aesthetically pleasing. However, technology itself is just a tool. To make a film a work of art you need the right artists. In film, these are the directors and cinematographers who bring whole worlds to life on screen and leave an lasting impression on audiences. So, today our writers talk us through those films they consider to be aesthetically pleasing, visually stunning works of art.
The Great Gatsby (2013)
I hate this film. I really hate it. Like viciously. I hate it so much, I actually now hate Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, because it to uses his ‘visually striking’ style. Visually striking, by which I mean, anachronistic, tacky and cheap.
Fireworks, balloons, and Lana Del Ray just feels absurd. I don’t like being the person who moans about anachronism – but Jesus Mary mother of God, that party scene – it just feels cheap and tacky. Luhrmann throws away any tactful or genuine use of aesthetics, in favour of hap handed enthusiasm and lazy vigour. Slightly confusing oxymoron, but it makes the point.
One most amazing thing about the novel is the way beauty is used. The conflict between the East Egg and West Egg, the ‘valley of the ashes’, the city; there is so much visual material which could be used by a filmmaker who is actually aware of the use of aesthetics in the novel they’re adapting. Where in the film are the visuals used to show us the rot, the hate and conflict that underpins the setting in the novel, the longing and the pain. Flashy colours, modern music and fireworks are nice, but they don’t match the grandeur of 1920s New York, or the darkness that underpins it. For me, the visually striking style ruins the film. By forty minutes in, The Great Gatsby is just tasteless, and tiring, and unlike Romeo + Juliet, it can’t even be salvaged by Leo. Oh Leo…
One of my oldest friends, Romy, loves this film. It’s almost enough to ruin a friendship over. Kidding! (a bit).
Call Me By Your Name (2017)
So the film itself might be problematic – but it’s by far one of the most beautifully shot movies I’ve ever seen.
The scene in question has nothing to do with peaches – but the one minute set to Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Mystery of Love’. It’s a road-trip, following Elio and Oliver on their last adventure before the pair are separated. Driving through the forest, clambering up the hill (screaming ‘Love My Way’ by The Psychedelic Furs, a callback to an earlier scene which you should google the behind the scenes of just to see Armie Hammer looking incredibly awkward whilst dancing to no music) and, you guessed it, calling each other by their own names.
When I first watched the film with some mates, we all brushed over the various other awkward scenes and just realised how much we loved this one. There was something this bit of the movie just gets about being in love that does kind of make you want to run up to the top of a hill and scream their name – and those images packaged with Stevens’ music portrays that feeling so well.
Call Me By Your Name is by no means a perfect film. It’s flawed, problematic and made me cry far more than I care to admit. But it is one of the most beautiful films to watch. That still of Timothée Chalamet gazing out the window next to some books will never get old.
A gorgeously colourful, sweet but not saccharine film depicting two queer Kenyan girls, Kena and Ziki, as they fall in love in a country that punishes queerness by imprisonment.
Rafiki is full of rainbow-hued motifs that make it visually spectacular: from the bright pink sunsets as the girls overlook a community of people who hate them for being themselves, to Ziki’s bright blue and pink braids and matching nails, to a glowing neon-tinged UV party. Every shot perfectly showcases the youthful and playful love between the couple. The film is joyful and simple, the plot sometimes predictable, but it never undermines or sugar-coats the severity of the cruelty it deals with.
Ultimately, the colourful visuals perfectly demonstrate the liveliness and energetic hope that Kena and Ziki’s romance brings, in the face of violent oppression and hateful politics.
There are so many films out there that are visually striking and have some of the best cinematography. A few that stick out to me are Memoirs of a Geisha, Dunkirk, Pan’s Labyrinth, Black Swan, and most of the Star Wars and Harry Potter movies.One of the films that is the most visually striking for me is Skyfall. There are SO MANY scenes in the film that were taken to a whole new level with the cinematography and colour palette choices. From the vibrant and illuminated backdrop of Shanghai with its mesmerising lights and colour, to an adrenaline-filled fistfight taking place against a hi-def psychedelic light show, and then to the chilly blues of the Scottish moors.
Roger Deakins (ten-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer) and director Sam Mendes did an incredible job when it came to shooting Skyfall. The location choices and backdrops, camera angles, and smooth shots, with the different colour palettes across the different locations, was a real treat for the eyes. Skyfall is also the first James Bond film that Roger Deakins has shot on a digital camera.
Portrait Of A Lady On Fire (2019)
The visuals of a film have always been one of the most important aspects of a film for me. So, it’s not surprising that Wes Anderson is one of my favourite directors. I just love some good cinematography. No, I’m not going to pick yet another Wes Anderson film (although I definitely could). Instead, I’m going to go for something original. Blade Runner 2049 (2017).
Wait for what? Lucy has already picked that, ruining my originality yet again? Well, at least I now have the opportunity to talk about an even more beautiful film. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) is one such film.
Following a painter commissioned to paint a portrait of a reluctant bride without her knowing. They soon fall in love with one another. The plot of this film is interesting and engaging, the dialogue thoughtful and the performance amazing. But despite all of these positives, to me they all seemed insignificant compared to the masterful cinematography.
Claire Mathon, the cinematographer behind this film, has helped create the most brilliant looking film. Ever. Each shot looks like a piece of art thanks in part to an awesome colour pallet. The film may be in French and I wouldn’t be able to understand without subtitles, I wouldn’t mind not having them as the film is as much a visual experience as it is narrative.If you want to experience pleasure of the eye balls check this movie out.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
What better fit for the category of most visually striking than one of the most epic science fiction films ever, a sequel that is better than the original, a director that is by far one of the best of today… Blade Runner 2049 is a beautifully shot film with scenes you simply cannot take your eyes off. I want every shot of this movie framed on my wall, including my holographic wife.
Blade Runner 2049 is a tremendous piece of art that every single shot will leave you speechless. There are a million directors who can tell brilliant stories in boring ways, but we can count on Villeneuve to do the opposite. Somehow, each scene is loud and severe just from its appearance alone. I remember when I saw that it was 2 hours and 44 minutes, I cringed inside…that is one long ass movie. But after watching it, I could have watched another hour simply because of the beautiful visuals.
Alongside the beautiful shots, we also have the beauty of Ryan Gosling. Him on screen alone makes this film visually striking. The physicality and the raw emotion he brings is unparalleled…he’s never been this intense or this weakened before and it’s a performance I’ll never forget. It’s breathtaking which coupled with all the luscious cinematography and the stellar direction and thematic work, this film is a master piece. To think that the visuals has that type of impact…astounding.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
This was this first film I saw where I not only enjoyed watching a story but was blown away by how everything looked. It was an experience I’d never had before as the beautiful pastel palette stunned me. The very art deco feel to this film about a hotelier, I found transfixing and new. It was so intricately designed, not only that but completely consistent from the costumes to the different settings to the people even. The whole film was immersive in the way it looked.
I also was some behind the scenes footage include in tiny dolls house models of how Anderson wanted the various hotels to look never flinching from his vision. The flowing nature of the film made it more like watching a moving painting rather than a film.
Loving Vincent (2017)
Loving, Vincent is a visually stunning film, and no one seems to know what I’m talking about when I mention it. It’s the world’s first fully painted film, and it’s literally stunning to watch. The film was firstly live-action shot, and then in production they used the live-action frames to incorporate van Gogh’s art style. The film is made up of 65,000 frames, each one oil painted by different artists in the style of van Gogh. This was a 6 year process, but they really made the film look like van Gogh painted it.
The actual plot revolves around a man called Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth) who is asked to deliver van Gogh’s last letter. Through this, it turns into an investigation of how van Gogh really died, with everyone’s opinions and stories conflicting about the troubled painter. There’s tension and drama, but also a real heart to this film. It’s a really interesting way to learn more about the painter and his life, rather than a simple biography. Loving Vincent gives insight, whilst honouring his art form.
Each shot is wonderfully crafted, and the cast themselves are excellent. Have you ever wanted to see an oil painting of Saorise Ronan? Well, now you can. It’s so cool that you can distinguish the cast members so clearly, even though swirly oil-painting styles. It’s also super impressed that the film looks so coherent, despite the fact 125 painters from across the world helped make it possible. This alone is a testament to how much they all wanted to honour van Gogh’s art style, because if one of them didn’t replicate the exact art-style techniques then the whole film would be an incoherent mess. It took a lot of time, but a lot of love.
If you like Cluedo-esque films about what happened to someone and how they died, this film is for you. If you enjoy art and just want to see a visually stunning film, this film is also for you. Genuinely, this film is brilliant.
Last modified: 11th May 2020