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20 Directors Who Are Good At Making Visually Stunning Films

21 March 2014 | Features, People Lists | by Emilio Santoni

Samsara

Film is an art form which combines many various disciplines and a good film is not necessarily a film that looks good. But there is no denying that film is first and foremost a visual medium and that making your movies look beautiful can never really be a bad thing.

Below you will find twenty directors who all have made various visually beautiful pieces of work. Some of them have very distinct visual styles, whereas others seem to vary the look of their movies significantly whilst still always keeping them visually impressive. And some of these movies are masterpieces, whilst others are a whole lot less successful. But the one thing they all have in common is that all of them have graced the screen with some awe-inspiring imagery.

 

20. Danny Boyle

Danny-Boyle

Most noteworthy examples: The Beach, Sunshine & Slumdog Millionaire

Whilst Boyle’s earlier works, Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, are without a doubt better films with their fair share of stylish camerawork, it wasn’t until later in his career that his movies started to have a truly noteworthy visual look.

The Beach was shot by Darius Khondji, a cinematographer who will be featured more on this list, and was bathed in lush colour and a kinetic visual style. Slumdog Millionaire was equally visually arresting and shot by Anthony Dod Mantle, who would again collaborate with Boyle and also make 127 Hours look quite spectacular, despite the fact that it was mostly set in one location.

sunshine

But perhaps Boyle’s greatest looking film was the SF thriller Sunshine. A thoroughly frustrating film, which has a sublime first two acts but a third act in which the story falls apart, it can not be argued that it is one of the most spectacular and stylish looking SF films ever shot. Cinematography, special effects and production design combine to create something truly unique here. If only Boyle could combine the story telling and freshness of his earlier works with the look of his later films, we might be in for something truly special one day.

 

19. Pedro Almodóvar

Pedro Almodóvar

Most noteworthy examples: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Talk To Her & The Skin I Live In

If there is one word to describe Almodóvar’s films, it would simply have to be colourful. His campy pop-art aesthetic was already present in his earlier works but really came to the forefront in his international breakthrough film, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. A film so colourful, it could easily be mistaken for a Mondriaan painting, had the man not just painted geometric shapes and been a gay Spanish surrealist.

Together with his partner in crime, cinematographer José Luis Alcaine, his frequent collaborator on other highly colourful movies such as Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and the other noteworthy example mentioned above, The Skin I Live In, the duo manage to make the colours leap of the screen and burn themselves into your retinas, greatly augmenting the surreal sensibilities of Almodóvar’s work.

broken-embraces

But it’s not just Almodovar’s colours, which make him a extremely talented visual director. His striking imagery also clearly stands out. A fine example of this is the silent film parody and surrealist fantasy sequence in which a man climbs into a woman’s vagina in Talk To Her, one of Almodóvar’s best. No wonder he has been compared to the late great surrealist master Luis Buñuel. Imagery doesn’t get much more outlandish than this.

 

18. Guillermo Del Toro

GuillermoDelToro

Most noteworthy examples: Blade II, Hellboy I and II & Pan’s Labyrinth

Guillermo Del Toro’s knack for impressive visual imagery was there from the very start. His early Spanish features, Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone, both already showcased his talent to fill the frame with remarkable imagery but it wasn’t until he went to the States and his budgets and stature grew that we got to see what the man was really capable of.

His comic book adaptations, Blade II and both Hellboy movies, show a clear understanding their of source material and managed to impress with the fantastic production design and clear use of colour and light but his crowning achievement has been the Spanish produced Pan’s Labyrinth which took things even further. The haunting creepy adult fairytale has become a benchmark against which films of this type are measured and its nightmarish and fantastical imagery exists almost in a sphere of its own.

Pan's Labyrinth

His go-to cinematographer has been Guillermo Navarro, who has shot all his films since The Devil’s Backbone, with the exception of Blade II. Del Toro’s passion for wondrous visuals has also carried over to the many films he has produced and it isn’t surprising that he was initially hired to direct Peter Jackson’s Hobbit Trilogy before having to bow out due to scheduling issues. It would have been so interesting to see the results there had he stayed on board.

 

17. Andy & Lana Wachowski

Andy & Lana Wachowski

Most noteworthy examples: The Matrix Trilogy, Speed Racer & Cloud Atlas

Whilst the overall quality of the Matrix Trilogy is questionable (we all know the first one was incredible whilst the sequels were pretty hard to stomach), the visual style of all three movies certainly is not. Groundbreaking use of special effects might have been the key here (who can ever forget bullet time effects?) but the films green-tinted colour palette and original production design completed the package and sealed the deal.

The Wachowskis followed up their success with Speed Racer, a truly god-awful film, which nonetheless was a visual spectacle of the first order, provided you could sit through the vomit inducing hyper-kinetic and over-the-top candy-coloured whirlwind of images. The movie might have been a disaster on many levels but you sure as hell had never seen anything like it without the aid of drugs.

Speed Racer

Toning things a bit, Cloud Atlas turned out the be yet another ambitious but flawed project although it once again offered cutting-edge special effects and visual delight. The Wachowskis are currently working on their next SF opus, Jupiter Ascending, which from the looks of trailer will at the very least be continuing their impressive visual track record.

 

16. Dario Argento

DARIO ARGENTO

Most noteworthy examples: Deep Red, Suspiria & Inferno

Dario Argento is the master of the genre known as Giallo, the Italian word for the colour yellow. It comes as no surprise then that his Giallo horror films are extremely colourful (actually, the two have nothing to do with each other as the term Giallo simply referred to the colour of the trademark yellow paperback covers of mystery novels, which inspired the both genre’s name and subject matter).

Nonetheless, Argento’s films are a sight to behold. He had already directed his “Animal Trilogy” in the early seventies, which were all highly stylised pieces of work but it wasn’t until he came back from a few years hiatus from the Giallo genre that his most audacious work was delivered in the form of Deep Red, still often cited as the best Giallo film ever made. It had a tremendous impact on horror films and especially slasher movies, although none of them would ever look this colourful again.

Suspiria-movie

He followed up Deep Red with Suspiria, where incredibly enough he managed to turn the colour volume up even higher. A true assault on the retinas, Suspiria is maybe better described as a surreal work of nightmarish imagery than a horror film. It’s just that outlandishly visual. After Suspiria came Inferno, a semi-sequel to Suspiria. Although never reaching the heights of his two previous masterpieces, the film still leaves a lasting visual impression and is also of note as it marked a collaboration with Mario Bava, another Italian director with a keen visual eye, who is next on this list.

 

15. Mario Bava

mario bava

Most noteworthy examples: Blood and Black Lace, Planet of the Vampires & Danger: Diabolik

Even though Dario Argento became the master of Giallo, it was Mario Bava who seemed to have taught him all the rudimentary tricks. With his strong visual sensibilities, it comes as no surprise that Bava used to be a painter and cinematographer before he turned his talents to directing.

Six years before Argento delivered his first Giallo, Bava was already knocking it out the park with Blood and Black Lace, a blueprint for all Giallo films to follow including the incredibly lush and sumptuous colour palette. But unlike Argento, Bava didn’t just stick to Giallo and ensured that his striking visuals carried over to other genres, even when he was faced with severe budget limitations.

Planet of the Vampires is a classic cult B-movie science fiction film. A lot of this has to do with outrageous production design and use of primary colours (plus the fact that the whole concept of vampires in space sort of lends itself very well to B-movie cult sensibilities of course).

Danger Diabolik

Even more amazing is Danger: Diabolik, a super campy comic book adaptation with some of the most outrageous psychedelic candy-coloured 60’s production design you’ll ever come across. This is the movie that Beastie Boys used as their inspiration for their hilarious Body Movin’ clip. Bava made many more strikingly visual B-movies during his lengthy career but these three movies provide a great starting point and exemplify his outrageous visuals perfectly.

 

 

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  • Martin Cunningham

    No Guy Maddin? Good grief.

  • chaneldeschanel

    You really really really forgot Tarsem Singh.

  • SAJAL

    james cameron ???

  • Elisabeth White

    where was Quentin Tarantino? .. Kill Bill 1 is a visually stunning film

  • Lindi Veki

    No Tarsem Singh or Wes Anderson ?

    • lando

      +1

  • lame

    This list is lacking. Where’s Fincher?

  • Luis Arturo González

    tarkovsky, anyone?

    • Unkle Amon

      Everyone. 🙂

    • TheTachy0n

      Nono, gotta make room for Zack Snyder. *sigh*

      • jann1k

        Say what you will about Snyder and the overall quality of his movies, but they tend to be visually stunning. But sure, Tarkovsky should’ve been on here too.

  • Bárbara Marques

    Andrei Tarkovsky??!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Leon Horka

    “His early Spanish features”, “the Spanish produced Pan’s Labyrinth” whoa, whoa, whoa. Cronos is Mexican, The Devil’s Backbone is Spanish-Mexican, Pan’s Labyrinth is Mexican-Spanish, (2 of the 5 studios involved in it are Mexican, plus the director, writer, cinematographer, production designer, 3 of the 5 producers involved, all of them Mexican). The Spanish people love the idea of del Toro being Spanish, but he’s Mexican as fuck, he can’t help it, even his studio is called Tequila Gang.

  • Tarsem Singh??? Wes Anderson??? Michael Gondry???

  • Dave

    Woody Allen has always been underrated for his visual style which has been consistent despite the varying quality of his work. Even after the departure of his main cinematographer Gordon Willis, Allen has kept up a gorgeous visual style with a variety of different people behind the lens while he turns out a film a year.

    • David Martin

      His movies just look flat and commonplace.

  • Ted Wolf

    Orson Welles? Anybody ever hear of him? Granddaddy of all visually stunning directors?

  • Anibroto

    I miss Alejandro González Iñárritu here !!

  • Satyaki Ray

    Tarkovsky? Bergman? Paradjanov? Tarr? This list lacks depth. Some of the choices on this list are pedestrian.

  • Modernilla

    Wes Anderson is not on the list :/

  • Eduardotipo

    Nicholas Winding Refn, anyone?

    • Raging9

      That’s what I’m saying…Neon Demon alone should’ve got him on this list.

  • Randall Green

    Peter Weir.

  • headhunt

    Can’t believe Chan-Wook Park didn’t make this list

  • ʇɹǝqlᴉS ɯɐS

    Good list, but it could have used some Alfonso Cuaron, David Lynch, David Fincher, PT Anderson, and Jean-Luc Goddard. Hell, maybe even Spielberg. Or Hitchcock. Betcha didn’t think of that one, did you?

  • Will Vega

    No Sergio Leone, no Quentin Tarantino, no Steven Spielberg, no David Fincher…this list needs to be ALOT longer.

  • João Simões

    Tarkovsky, Wes Anderson and Hayao Miyazaki

  • Iam_Spartacus

    David Lynch should be listed here. Eraserhead, Elephant Man, Dune & Blue Velvet are all visually stunning works.

    • Klaus Dannick

      All of Lynch’s films are visually stunning, IMO.

  • Suresh Kumar

    Krzysztof Kieślowski ? Jim Jarmusch ? Federico Fellini ? Akira Kurosawa ? Chan Wook-Park ? Bong Joon-Ho. Did I miss them all or they didn’t make to the list ? Good list though! Not everyone sees the same films. 🙂 and Good choice with Ron Fricke!

  • Jed Bartlet

    Ken Russell? Alan Parker?

  • Joe Mickey

    I would have never included Danny Boyle on this list. And maybe for slumdog, they ought to do the top ten slum kids Boyle ripped off to make the film

  • Though this is a rather impressive list (most of these I would agree with, though I would put Kubrick at numero uno) I am dismayed by the omission of Nick Ray, Tarantino, and (egad!) Powell/Pressburger!! These latter three (or four, if you will) would probably be my second, third, and fourth choices. But it was a nice surprise to see Mr. Fricke in there, even if he is (obviously) taking Kubrick’s rightful spot. 😉

    See ya ’round the web.

  • disqus_FJCFCHwgN4

    Ang Lee?

  • Ο ΑΔΕΚΑΣΤΟΣ

    FRITZ LANG?????

  • Jennifer Wheaton

    Lynch, Von Trier, Tarkovsky, Tarantino, Fellini? Come on……..

  • Peter Simon

    This list is so common-place.
    This entire site is losing steam?
    Tarkovsky?
    Bergman?
    Bela Tarr?
    ROY ANDERSSON?
    Chan Wook Park?
    Bong Joon Ho?
    Tarsem Singh?
    Wes Anderson?
    David Lynch?
    Innaritu?

    Such a list should have never been made – it is idiotic.
    It’s like saying Top 20 Novelists who use extremely well formed sentences.

    • Shotgunster

      I think you might be missing the point, the list is called “20 directors who are good at…” not “the 20 best directors of…”, plus the site its called “taste of cinema”, Not “the real truth about cinema”.

  • Fernando Arenas

    Peter Greenaway

  • Lucas Kao 高智鵬

    Would also add Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Bela Tarr, Krzysztof Kieślowski to the list.

  • Carl Peter Yeh

    Ridley Scott; Michael Cimino, Akira Kurosawa, Richard Attenborough.

    • Speedbird_9

      Replace Cimino with Hitchcock or Van Trier and I agree with you.

      • Carl Peter Yeh

        ‘Deerhunter’ is part of my youth. The film, the music, the acting by DeNiro and Walken, it simply blew my mind, in all it’s majestic, grotesque violence and nihilism. Therefor I cannot or will not replace Cimino because someone called Speedbird 9 asked me to do so. Sorry for that. But the great names mentioned by you belong to the list. Most def indeed. PS: being half Chinese myself, Cimino’s ‘Year of the Dragon’ also hit me hard. Mickey Rourke never looked more determined and yet vulnarable at the same time than in this film.

  • Pavel Dumitrescu

    Michel Gondry?

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  • BOM

    Ever hear of a guy named John Ford…?

  • Tito Piccolo

    no love for Akira Kurosawa?
    or even Jodorowsky, Tarkovsky?

    heck even Refn makes Visually Stunning Films.

  • James Jeffers

    everybody is a critic…

  • Colicub

    No Peter Greenaway or Shinya Tsukamoto? Fail.

  • David Martin

    Where’s Lynch? Von Trier? Leone? Jodorowsky? You include Zack Snyder but not them?

  • Andreah Schultheis

    What about Lars Van Trier, David Lynch, Shane Caruth, and David Chronenburg?

  • Davor Gorupić

    ALEX PROYAS !!!!!

  • erinlyndalmartin

    Sofia Coppola

  • Crackoo

    Nicholas Roeg?

  • dude, the

    Yeah, a lot great directors missing. Tarkovsky, Bela Tarr, Wes Anderson, Roy Anderson, Kieslowski, Bergman, Fellini to name a few.

  • Rup

    Jodorowsky for making the Holy mountain

  • Biswajit Bhattacharya

    where’s
    satyajit ray?
    Speilberg?
    Nolan?
    Cameron?
    emmerich?

  • Lutz Bacher

    Among other deserving figures, I’d like to mention–each with a “spectacular” film–Alexander Sokurov (RUSSIAN ARK), Mikhail Kolozotov (I AM CUBA), Kenji Mizoguchi (UGETSU MONOGATARI), and Max Ophuls (LOLA MONTES).

  • lewiespearman

    peter greenaway? you can spot one right away within five minutes of how he stages his actors as though they are in a painting. also, wes anderson as someone else already pointed out. someone already pointed out greenaway… 🙂

  • Ben

    Winding Refn needs to be on this.

  • cc

    What would be the point of movies that AREN’T visually striking?

    I don’t understand this list.

  • Dibyendu Mrugaraj

    Tarkovsky, Lynch, Fellini

  • Taylor Drake

    You know what, I hate when people dog on the lists here. As the sponsor for the Audio Visual Club at my school, one of the things I remind the students is not to be snobbish when we discuss films. Every film teaches us something about filmmaking – sometimes good and sometimes bad.

    This article, though it may not be filled with art-house or avant garde or directors with extreme visuals, this is not an exhaustive list. This is a list I would give my students (who are 6th – 12th grade) and then afterwards, direct them to other directors.

    This is a good list as a starting point. Thank you for your contribution to taste of cinema. I appreciate your perspective. Blessings,

  • Wow. I’ve seen all of Kubrick’s films. But I just realized I need to see all the rest on this list.

  • cesar

    Dude Zack Znider and Danny Boyle you gotta be kidding me. These 2 are as poor as it gets. Go watch more stuff before writing about movies.
    Reading this is disappointing.

  • в. яσвєятѕση

    Gus Van Sant – Gerry, My Own Private Idaho

  • vance9281

    The Fall by Tarsem Singh may only be a single film, but it is arguably the most visually stunning movie ever made.

  • Pooja Kumar

    Indian filmmaker ManiRatnam!

  • Melinda

    Tony Scott

  • BK207

    No love for John Carpender??
    I mean if you’re putting people who are out of touch make films which can be seen as 1920’s cosplay, heavy psychodelic color palete, details which can be traced to Baroque art in every film unless it has a desert on then(less details see*) which is the case of Baz Luhrmman.

    • BK207

      I’m very happy that some great people like Cary Fukunaga(True Detective S1), Benh Zeitlin(Beasts of the Southern Wild) are coming around so that way overrated f* like Baz Luh.. get off the scene..

  • Tal Doron

    Kubrick always was and always been number one

  • Ruchit Negotia

    this list is irrelevant when you omit Tarkovsky…

  • Raging9

    I would definitely add Nicholas Winding Refn in this bunch. Despite the darkness in The Neon Demon…I thought it was gorgeous and the same goes for his previous films…Valhalla Rising and Only God Forgives.