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The 25 Most Visually Stunning Movies From 2011 To 2014

07 October 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Alexandra Gandra

9. Weekend (2011)

Weekend (2011)

Relying on handheld camera movements, director Andrew Haigh and director of photography Ula Pontikos use a fly-on-the wall technique that manages to perfectly capture intimacy. What makes it stunning is just how easily it seems that the viewer is spying on the characters, like intruders of extremely private moments and conversations. Some angles are obstructed, there are images of the surroundings and seemingly unimportant shots that make for a more realistic atmosphere.

The low budget aesthetic, being shot with a Canon 5D, offers some limitations such as noise and inconsistent light, but it’s not distracting and it adds up very well with the simple and naturalistic color palette, and particularly well with the chosen shooting style – which does the often hard job of complementing such a passionate and powerful content. This is even more worth noting when you have in mind such low production costs.

 

10. The Grandmaster (2013)

The-Grandmasters-Tony-Ip-Man

A journey that took 3 years, directed by Wong Kar Wai with the help of French cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd – who made it into a constantly vivacious arty picture in every scene. Whether it was a calm scene, a lingering one – so common in Wong Kar Wai’s films – or an exhilarating fight, it was every bit of remarkable. This wasn’t easy to achieve, as the DP had to go to China to work on the film, having to carry a translator around set all the time and ignoring the fact that there was no script for him.

It’s specially hard when you want to properly capture martial arts in the way Le Sourd did, perfect timings and using certain elements to create shadows and movements, that deeply impacted the story. There were also interesting things to consider, such as fight choreographies, mixing slow with high speed, and giving out the feel that it’s a Wong Kar Wai film even with a different-than-usual cinematographer. His universe and his influence are present and it’s a great representation of why he’s so good.

 

11. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Wes-Andersons-The-Grand-Budapest-Hotel-jude-law

The result of yet another collaboration between Robert Yeoman, ASC, and director Wes Anderson: there’s the obligatory illustrative style that stylistically combines theatre and cinema with complex tales, while being compositionally specific about every shot. Obviously, one could also mention other recent works of these two, such as Moonrise Kingdom (2011), but The Grand Budapest deals with a whole different set of visual experimentations.

For example, there’s a variety of aspect ratios to consider, most notably the Academy ratio (4:3) used in all of the 1930’s scenes of the film, an almost square frame; the panorama-like format known from other Anderson films, used in the 1960s scenes; and the most common format in use today, the 1.85:1 ratio, for scenes taking place in the 1980s.

Also interesting features are the use of analog for most of the film’s action, natural light whenever possible, and lamps. The main use of a single camera only brings more relevance to the long dolly moves and swish pans so familiar in Anderson’s work and, of course, you can’t miss the unbelievable color palette.

 

12. Nebraska (2013)

Nebraska (2013)

From the beginning of production on this film, cinematographer Phedon Papamichael wanted it to be in black and white. Being a character-driven film, there was a need to make it as visually unique and interesting as possible, so at first he thought of shooting in B&W 35mm film. This didn’t work out because, as wonderfully as it would look, shooting in black-and-white is still seen in several markets as antiquated. He skirted this by first testing color stocks and digital cameras with the help of his colorist, in order to make it as similar as possible to the Kodak film aesthetic.

Shot on location across the American Midwest added sensitivity, but it’s consistency that makes it truly unique. Having always envisioned “Nebraska” in black and white, the responsible filmmakers’ only real excuse for this was that some stills are better in monochrome,and the story and landscapes “lend themselves to black and white”, according to Papamichael. Some interesting choices that worked and perfectly captured the feel of the film.

 

13. Life of Pi (2012)

Life of Pi

This technical marvel considered by many the most beautiful film of 2012 does very little in terms of actual pure cinematography. While it was unfilmable, Ang Lee made sure it only appeared so, with overwhelming achievements in computer animation and making it a visually stunning film to say the least.

The entire experience is more of a visual wonder than anything else, so it’s a natural contender here. The film’s most unique creation, the tiger, was completely brought by computer-generated effects. Lee knows exactly how to work new ground and still take the most advantage of it, always knowing how and when to employ jaw-dropping CGI, letting the camera float below the surface of water as if it is also lost in the ocean. This gift to photography and computer animation is as good as it gets in the 2010s, and still a must-see.

 

14. Elena (2011)

Elena (2011)

Andrey Zvyagintsev, one of the best filmmakers to come out of Russia, made “Elena” his finest creation to date. Strikingly different, this bittersweet and comic representation of the spiritual and moral corruption in present-day Russia is excelled with the help of cinematographer Mikhail Krichman.

Besides strong content and serious commentaries on modern Russian life, the chosen elements placed throughout the film are filled with unmistakable metaphors, mostly representing survival at any cost. The camera seems to constantly hover the scene, watching, and the aesthetic seems to favor the ambient sounds, a stylization of quiet moments that is typically associated with Russian cinema. Arguably one of the most stunning film experiences in 2011.

 

15. Only God Forgives (2013)

only-god-forgives-ryan-gosling

Director Nicolas Winding Refn seems to give priority to the atmosphere and style over matter, being one of those films able to divide an audience completely. The most peculiar aspect of it is probably how much it feels like someone’s constantly taking a photograph in each scene, with perfect lighting and even actors’ positions, making for a dazzling composition.

Larry Smith does his second collaboration with Refn as his cinematographer, and brings out specific elements that are becoming more relatable to him: the one-light-set-up, gorgeous use of on-set lights, theatrical ambient, strong shadows and, specifically, colored filters on light.

Red gels filter various scenes in order to recreate Bangkok – along with blue – coexisting in neon bright scenery and vibrating with the city’s violence and eroticism. Take note of Smith’s signature lense care: soft borders and transitions, warmer skin tones and, of course, all with the octagonal iris.

 

16. Spring Breakers (2012)

spring-breakers

The extreme talents in charge of this ironic testament to postmodern times are cinematographer Benoit Debie and director Harmony Korine. Korine found in Debie – also responsible for the hyperrealist “Enter the Void” (2009) – someone who could perfectly depict the degradation of culture.

The bubblegum, candy and colorfully insane tone worked wonders in representing the theme of the film: a culture of surfaces. Benoit Debie’s camerawork further portrayed this through a variety of filmstocks and formats, slow-motions and dubstep-infused shots.

Even though the music, the strong connections to pop depravity and the rawness of some of the footage make a strong impact on viewers, the overall visually ravishing sequences are almost a character in the film. As shocking and violent as the narrative, the pink neon glow and balaclavas stay with us even after the film ends.

 

17. Stoker (2013)

Stoker (2013)

South Korean director Park Chan-wook’s first English-language film presents us with another example of why the filmmaker likes dark narratives and mysterious characters, making them as clean and stylish as possible. With usual collaborator Chung Chung-hoon, who first worked with Park in “Oldboy”, they managed to place little lights in order to keep from having totally dark areas, controlling contrast mainly on set and trying to stick coloring to the basics in order to get as much advantage possible when editing.

By creating an unsettling and overall disturbing environment, the story becomes what we see, even despite the strong hints of symbolism and Hitchcock-influences. The camera work, overflowing with dynamic, and the groundbreaking cinematography are incredibly haunting: everything related to it makes “Stoker” an unforgettable twisted family drama, whose main problem is that it demands full attention in order to connect the dots. While not being as good as other Park Chan-wook films, it’s still beautiful entertainment.

 

 

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  • Maricarmen Cavero Arrivasplata

    You are missing a masterpiece called Helter Skelter by Ninagawa Mika.

  • Charles Barnes

    Uncle Boonmee and Under the Skin must be considered honourable mentions, at the very least 🙂

    • Michel Linstrom

      Right on. Uncle Boonmee’s catfish sex scene was beautifully weird.

  • Bhrushank Ved

    I think Rush was also visually stunning. And yes, Under the Skin as well.

  • Pete Howell

    What we are seeing in much of Post Tenebras Lux are dreams.

  • Pavan Kumar

    Inception?

    • mamaku

      2010

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  • Nava Hsu

    Yang yang

  • Kimpy

    Ummm… you guys missed The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and The Hobbit! Most stunning landscapes IMO

  • linqs

    ENTER THE VOID?

    • Guest

      2009

  • Jacob Rayis

    The Secret Life of Walter Mitty????

    • aRthica

      Thank you =)

  • Andrew Hubbard

    Skyfall? It’s probably Roger Deakin’s best work since The Assassination of Jesse James.

    • X Y

      *Skyfall is impressive!

  • talln45

    Nice placement of the share bug.

  • Deebee

    Pacific Rim and Lovely Bones should make it in there. Two films that had immense detail from camera angles, special effects and color palette.

    • Carmen Sandiego

      Lovely Bones was a visually precise movie, interesting colors, and it’s main strength was in the art direction and cinematography, and the CGI was fully taken advantage of to bring page to screen.

  • Dhaval Bhavsar

    I though Cloud Atlas was really beautiful. Also, I’m surprised that Inception didn’t make the list. It’s visual scheme was so ambitious. Also, what were your thoughts on Avatar. I mean despite the unoriginal story, the way the film looked was pure magic.

  • sorval

    author missed
    Pans labyrinth
    The Fall
    I think both are more striking than most of whats on this list.

    • John

      2006 was not within the last 5 years.

  • Drew

    So they’re all sad…

  • Jeff

    Nice “taste” in cinema. Check out Samsara, you might want to edit your list.

  • Zot OfKithairon

    spring breakers????!!! big korine fan, but that was one of the worst movies ever!!!!!!!!

    • Alex Arthur

      I think it was making a comment on itself. It was meant to be cheap and trashy and pointless.

    • Paesito Paez

      I personally loved the film for its message, but even if you didnt like the film you cant refute the fact that its a “beautiful to look at film”

  • D.j. West

    Frances Ha above Tree of Life? Nebraska above SPring Breakers? Lleywn Davis above upstream color? No Under The Skin or Enter the Void? Is this real life?

    • jaily

      Dude, this is not in a real order. It’s just numbered. All 25 movies are visually stunning.

  • Guest

    Heartbeats, aka Les amours imaginaries?

  • Michael Eng

    Heartbeats, aka Les amours imaginaries should be on here…

  • Ashku

    Hugo?

  • Raveena Vishwanath

    THE GREAT GATSBY!

    • Jade

      Totally agree tbh

    • Shadowfax

      VOILA !

  • James Davis
  • Guest

    No Kubrick films here?

    • Jade

      I doubt he made any movies in the past 5 years according to the fact that he passed away in 1999

  • Jade

    You should check out Short Term 12, amazing movie and it looked gorgeous from beginning to end.

  • Beto Díaz

    Great list, and I’m glad, you included Reygadas in there. I’ll just add “The Strange Color of your Body’s Tears” a movie with a strong giallo feeling, that’s full of candy-color imagery

    • Emmanouil Zifos

      In the same category/league, I would also add “Beyond the Black Rainbow”…

  • Emmanouil Zifos

    Enter the Void and Under the Skin ought to be in this list…

  • BabalooMandel

    Avatar?

  • nick

    There will be blood, Black Swan, Bronson, Grand Budapest (thats why i clicked on this link)

    • Krishna Prashant

      Weren’t made in the last five years mate , havent seen There will be blood yet(savoring to see it last in PTA’s filmography) but i found work in Bronson brilliant too, especially given its 90% inside the prison screenplay…

      • chrosTV

        Black Swan came out in 2010. This list was created in 2014

        • Krishna Prashant

          That was for There will be blood and Bronson.

  • Leandro Monjardim

    I made a list in Letterboxd site to make this a little easier. 😉
    http://letterboxd.com/monjardim/list/the-25-most-visually-stunning-films-of-the/

  • Scheme Gene

    Her is in every list

  • j.deleón-serratos

    Where’s…
    Vanishing Waves
    Enter the Void
    Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears,
    We Need to Talk About Kevin, and
    The Skin I Live In?

    • Hanna Hyeyoung Jin

      I totally agree with your list! Especially We Need To Talk About Kevin – the tomato festival scene is one of the most powerful visuals I have ever experienced

  • That Guy Who Said That Thing

    Some millenial idiot wrote this. Next time you compile a list, do a little more research than scrolling through your Netflix recommendations.

  • Walcamus

    Should be Wild Tales!!

  • Krishna Prashant

    Under the skin and Drive are to be considered at the least under honorable mentions..

  • Raymond

    Wow great list! I love all the black and white movies and the Wong Kar Wai love too.

  • Hanah

    Great list here! The Fall starring Lee Pace is another movie with incredible visuals. I was blown away pretty much throughout, I’d defintely reccomend it.

  • Henke

    Beasts of the Southern Wild

  • Fera Ponce Gutiérrez

    The blue planet!!!

  • Akshay Bhanot

    these movies are based on good visual cinematography

  • Peter

    lost river

  • Qualiarella18

    pls join this cinema forums..

    http://www.welikecinema.com/

  • Raul Humberto Maravilloso

    Snowpiercer … The Congress !!!

  • Francis Serrano

    “Norte, The End of History (2013)” for your consideration. 🙂

  • Mario Ride

    I’m Portuguese too, and I can confirm that indie directors and films have lot of market here. I feel that the portuguese movie fan believes that the almost blockbusters films don´t give anything to life, mind, to think and discuss. Btw Love this list and cheers to (my) portugal. Convido o Alex visitar a Tribo Cinéfila das tapas e vinho tinto no facebook, somos muitos e bons. Saudações.

  • BK207

    The Fall(2006) cmon

    • Alkis3

      You said (2006)…

      • BK207

        Oh fuck yea nvm dude

  • Alex Arthur

    what about ‘I am Love? and ‘Rust and Bone?’

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  • Samuel Segura

    Birdman, The Babadook, Mad Max, Black Swan, Cloud Atlas, Hugo 🙂

  • Richard Anderson

    Mad Max: Fury Road. There, I said it.

    • Elias

      Why not? I concurr…

    • Bernhardt Le Mechant

      Great visuals in Mad Max, and infinitely better than some of these.

      • Christian Wiederwald

        Great visuals, no story though.

        • Elliot Brown

          Every time someone says Fury Road has no story, I have to question if they actually watched the film. There is a story. Not a hugely complex one, but there is one nonetheless. A lot of it is also not spoonfed to the audience and is instead told visually.

    • chrosTV

      It definitely would have been included,if this list had not been made in late 2014.

  • Nacho Rockatansky

    A looooot of missing movies.
    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Inception, Interstellar, Güeros, Dredd, Birdman and so on . ..

  • George Romerofan

    Jupiter Ascending

  • Efren TD

    Gravity is shit

  • Daniel Mudo Lopez

    where’s DRIVE?

  • so suave

    As a polish person, IDA was the biggest piece of shit to have ever disgraced polish culture. It’s not even technically polish…

  • Tessa Giomi

    The Fall

  • Hero “Ying xiong”

    • Alkis3

      2002…

  • Jeannie Wood-Ramberg

    Tarsems The Fall?

    • Alkis3

      2006…

  • acgogo

    “The Master” was good. I don’t know about “visually stunning”. I bet most people don’t even know what it’s really about.

  • Lesley

    The Fall? How could that not be included?

  • Pooja Kumar

    Have anyone watched Indian film ‘I’.Visually jaw dropping movie.And also Emmanuel Lubezki’s Birdman,awesome!

  • Flávio St Jayme

    And where is The Great Gatsby??

  • Brian D. Meredith

    ‘Once Upon a Time in Anatolia’ — 2011. Superb.

  • William Cimino

    And according to this, no production designer or decorator involved

  • Michel Linstrom

    Man, I was so bummed out I didn’t get to see Tree Of Life in the theater. Even on my small laptop screen it was visually stunning.

  • Bernhardt Le Mechant

    ENTER THE VOID – probably one of the most visual movies ever made.
    and Mad Maz has amazing visuals as well.

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  • Christian Wiederwald

    Hero

  • ttt

    the list is too short and movies like Spring Breakers, Frances Ha or The Master dosnt fit.

    I would add:
    Beyond The Black Rainbow , Revenant, Under The Skin, Hardcore Henry, Pentameron, Lost River, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Godzilla, The Double, Cloud Atlas, High Rise, Holy Motors, Inception, Mad Max,

  • Fajrianur Afnan

    I would put Moonrise Kingdom, Brooklyn, Submarine, Tracks, and my favorite of the year The Witch 🙂

  • Cristhian Caicedo

    Bunraku!

  • Michael A Tucci

    what about “Ink” ?????
    Visually stunning!!!

  • Tim Creek

    House of Flying Daggers

  • X Y

    *can’t believe the number of idiots replying here.

  • Ted Wolf

    I found hidden river gorgeous

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  • oscarstan

    LMAO “Her” at #1? What are you people smoking

  • 26ml of Syrup

    No Wes Anderson’s movies ?

  • angelii

    Japanese do make quality of movies HD …let’s watch HD 2017 movies==>> GOODFILM99.BLOGSPOT.COM

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/0a679f70c4d6fc0387eadb8ed66a98e7e3029575ff1ddf3fe2aabdf5fad121bf.jpg