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15 Great Films With Distinctive Visual Style

10 April 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Gavin Miller

film unique style

Style in cinema can be the ultimate creative expression. Every great film has a distinct style, and many times the most memorable movies are those that give the viewer an experience that let them see and feel things they couldn’t normally do. Whether it be an action scene that simultaneously breaks the laws of physics and inspires a true “wow” out of the audience, or a love story with a real sense for expressive visuals – stylistic touches in film can elevate material and garner attention towards unique filmmakers.

Every auteur to step behind the camera has looked at their story in a different and unique perspective, and the ones that translate that perspective to their storytelling and visual methods are the ones that leave a true mark. Sometimes, style can overwhelms substance, and the film becomes emotionally vapid, but when balanced right, the two can create a sensational, wonderful and unstoppable force.

Visual storytelling can be just an important aspect of filmmaking as characters, plot and dialog, and even if a film is strong in all three of those fields, if it doesn’t possess enough visual power to set itself apart, then it simply won’t be as interesting as it should or could be.

 

15. Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast

Jean Cocteau’s magical rendition of Beauty and the Beast is a paradigm fantasy film of superior design, and one that is incredibly memorable in large part due to the fantastical stylizations of the camera-work, characterization and visual effects.

The film even opens with a message telling the audience to let go of reality and let the make-believe immerse them, and the experience is one of the most romantic and genuinely magical stories ever filmed. The gorgeous sets and charming visual effects back up a timeless tale, and Cocteau, who always knew how to make a film look good, was at his best here.

 

14. Batman

Batman movie

Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman is all about style. The characters are interesting and the plot is engaging, but style and design really take over this comic book film. The action scenes are filmed with incredible flair, and the set and art direction is darkly beautifully. Batman is a film of mood, and Burton and crew redefined the superhero film with the gothic visually and mood setting sequences.

The color palate and exciting music also help give the film a lot of personality, and not only did it redefine the superhero film when it was released, it’s truly one of the better of the genre.

 

13. Le Samourai

Le Samourai

Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le SamouraÏ is the definition of cool. The titular character Jef Costello is a suave and intelligent assassin who is on the run from the law, and the story is told with such style and sophistication that the film will win anyone over. The story progresses naturally, and the audience is kept in check due to palpable style and real sense of fashion.

The cinematography is always interesting, and the storytelling keeps the characters mysterious. We never get to know them too well, and this works perfectly as the suspense heightens and the audience has to dissect enigmas and think about plot elements. A suspenseful and engaging film, La SamouraÏ is one of the most memorable and excellent thrillers due to the design and stylistic flourishes.

 

12. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is one of the true landmark Westerns in the history of the genre, and with its hopping soundtrack, likable characters and fun spirit, it’s one of the most stylish as well. The action and violence is as stylized as Westerns get, and the general mood of the film is irresistible.

Two of the most famous scenes of the film include the mountain jumping and the “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” sequences, and its moments like these that make Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid such an excellent and stylish classic.

 

11. The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson’s latest comedy exercises all of his signature flair, and it’s possibly his most highly stylized film to date. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a quickly paced, smart and fun movie that never slows down, and it has more energy than most big-budget Hollywood productions. The colors are reliably out of control, and the everything from the costumes to the sets to the camera work absolutely screams style.

A period piece in the most heightened sense of the term, the characters act if they’re on high wire, the action is zippy and the film’s often dark humor is relentless. The design of The Grand Budapest Hotel is so meticulous and perfected that it’s hard not to fall in love with and admire Anderson’s artistry and special talent for telling unique stories with genuine personality.

 

10. Breathless

Breathless

Jean-Luc Godard is the master of cinematic style, and many of his films could have gone to this spot. However, Breathless, his debut film, redefined the language of cinema, and was like nothing before it when released. The dialog is realistic and witty, and this character-based crime film features very memorable style and revolutionary storytelling, backed up with genuine characters who face real plights – not without a whole lot of style though.

Breathless is a good representation of the French New Wave at its most glorious and inspired, and when watching Godard’s acute taste and voice for style, it’s understandable why the movement is to this day so inspirational to filmmakers everywhere.

 

9. Kill Bill

Kill Bill

Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill is an exercise in style if there ever was one. What his two-part revenge flick basically boils down to is a pastiche of martial arts movie references making up a revenge story – and the violence and fighting is so stylized that is practically overwhelms what-ever the film is trying to say or be about.

At times switching to black and white photography, and during one flashback sequence, even switching to anime style animation, Kill Bill’s visual patterns and aesthetical devices are unpredictable and a joy to watch. Style is a staple of martial arts cinema, and Kill Bill is both everything you want. It’s entertaining and well-made, and shows off real passion behind and in front of the camera.

 

 

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  • Abel Sanchez

    What about THE FALL by Tarsem Singh?

  • Ana

    What about IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE by Wong Kar Wai…?

    • Joao Ribeiro

      wrong car wash

  • What about Enter The Void by Gaspar Noé? jajaja many I thougt could be here were not…

  • charleydeppner

    No Terry Giilam? e.g. Brazil, 12 Monkeys, etc. etc. etc.

    • Richard McLin

      I agree. No other film had matched “12 Monkeys” style.

    • Daniele Concina

      yea. This list kind of sucks.

      • Shotgunster

        The list is great but people always complain. Maybe they left out some other great movies but this list definitively don’t suck.

        • Daniele Concina

          The first 3 are seriously average movies.

          • Shotgunster

            Do you understand what “distinctive visual style” means? I dont remember seing another film with the same visuals as Sin City

          • Daniele Concina

            I see you always defending this site’s lists, so i am just going to tell you that you are right and end it here 😉

  • JohnB

    Good List. If I was to add any movies it’d be Eternal Sunshine Watchmen, or Scanner Darkly. Sin city is a beautifully made film and I cant wait till the sequel this year. Not only were some of the shots exact from the novel but using the bleaching out of the blood let them get away with a hell of a lot more in the movie.

    • JohnB

      Id also include Traffic for the simple fact that they uses unique visual color tones for each story.

  • Malcom Tucker

    I’d include Chunking express too

  • Pingback: 15 Great Films With Distinctive Visual Style | Taste of Cinema | D3sign (Dis)Course()

  • mph23

    2001:A space Odyssey should be here too. Kurosawa’s Ran as well.

  • ThaWizzard

    ALIEN should be on this list. SMH

    • Minz

      I personally preferred the style of Blade Runner but either one could have easily been in this list

  • How about Mamoru Oshii’s “Avalon”?

  • Rodrigo Gonzalez

    sin city and 300. this is a good time to unsubscribe from this website.

    • chrosTV

      You’re kidding right? I do unterstand your problem with 300, but Sin City is a visual masterpiece!

  • Armando De La Cruz

    manhunter should be on this list

  • Tex Arcane

    You could include almost any of Peter Greenaway’s films among these listings, especially “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover.” Also, Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “The City of Lost Children” would be a good addition, as would Alex Proyas’ “Dark City.” And why not go back a few years? Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane,” Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” and Robert Wiene’s “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” had pretty distinctive looks.

  • Dave

    Days of Heaven? The Conformist?

  • Robert

    Natural Born Killers?

  • Will Wuorinen

    Collateral Damage

  • Bryton Cherrier

    No Blade Runner?
    Are you shitting me?

  • Matias Gonua

    black swan? what a random list

  • Susan F

    So sad that a rank amature is given space to write about film. He has no idea who Fritz Lang was, or Alfred Hitchcock was or who Luis Bunuel was or who … I won’t go on.

    • Gines Velazquez

      it´s right… looks like a very amateur made list… or we are getting old…

  • Daniel Koehnen

    No El Topo, Holy Mountain, Valerie and week of wonders,Arrebato, La decima vittima, Roman Coppola’s CQ, Horsehead, Mondo Candido, Poor Pretty Eddie……

    Where are Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Fernando Arrabal, Shinya Tsukamoto, Walerian Borowczyk, Andrej Zulawski, Curt McDowell, David Cronenberg ?

    this list is kinda disappointing and boring

  • cjewelz

    This mofo doesn’t know s*** about stylish films.

  • Brian

    Terrible list…so many better films: Kurosawa’s Kagemusha, Michael Mann’s Thief certainly inspired Drive, Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey, Tarsem Singh’s The Fall or The Cell, Wenders Paris, Texas or Wings Of Desire, Lynch’s Blue Velvet, Hitchcock’s Spellbound…you can go on and on…

  • Siham Bsn

    That is a GREAT list
    + would like to mention that Cries and Whispers is visually stunning

  • Choudhury Sayak

    Nothing by Almodovar???!!

  • andrewklynsmith

    How about Vertigo? Hitchcock had a very distinctive visual style, nowhere better than in Vertigo. Also, Russian film Solaris is a great precursor to the style of Alien and its imitators.

  • Ozhan

    Tarsem’s “The Fall” man. Seriously..

  • Mark Whitener

    the primary comic book colors of Dick Tracy