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The 25 Most Visually Stunning Films of The Past 5 Years

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

wes-anderson-nostalgia.

When someone mentions “visually stunning films”, it’s easy to associate this with films that lack real content, and instead are based mainly on images without portraying anything truly significant. The fact that these films are so relevant visually doesn’t mean that they don’t still tell a great story.

In fact, most of the films here are also considered some of the best from the last four years, and with reason. The wonderful collaborations between these directors, cinematographers, production, art and costume designers, colorists, etc., are most often built around a story, working towards the best ways to capture and express it in order to make fantastic and overwhelming visual experiences.

Over the last few years, a lot of filmmakers have been coming up with completely distinct storytelling formats, experimenting and toying with unusual mediums and styles. Featuring some of the most awe-inspiring American Indies and Hollywood films, and a few foreign films and collaborations, here are the 25 most visually stunning films from 2010 to 2014 – in no specific order.

Note: While there aren’t any references from the year 2010, last year gave us too many visual wonders and therefore occupies almost half of this list – thankfully.

 

1. Her (2013)

her 2013

In a film with such a strong idea and narrative, cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema had the task of making the visual storytelling almost as important.

The color scheme is one of the most interesting features he brought to the film. Being set in the future – although not so distant – and so relevant in terms of portraying technology, the color blue would be an obvious choice. Instead, Van Hoytema dismissed said color completely and created a warm environment, underlining the fact that “Her” surpasses such genres, and used minimal lighting and LEDs to add color to certain scenes.

By knowing how to adjust himself to the director – Spike Jonze, who is highly experienced in creating the mood for metamodernism -, the film gained a smooth and serene quality that brought out the most emotionally captivating aspects of the story.

 

2. Laurence Anyways (2012)

Laurence Anyways (2012)

One of the most interesting things about Xavier Dolan’s cinematography is that it is hardly his focus at all. By bringing more attention to the actors and the dialogue, his camera is left to linger on them – leaving it almost to chance, while still making beautiful shots, complements his narratives.

His engagement with LGBT themes and imagery urge him to combine exhilaration and emotional intimacy. Being visually witty no matter how hard he tries, Xolan and cinematographer Yves Bélanger choose unusual approaches to specific scenes, giving emphasis on the portrait of the main character, specifically through immense layers of investment.

Assigned as one of the – if the not THE – main queer filmmakers to watch out for, in less than five years since he first started, there are already inherent qualities attributed to his films, being sleek and empathetic, but full of complexities that aren’t too far from surrealism. Pushing constant boundaries and other parts of his aesthetic are easily confused with overbearing, lasting for almost three hours but acknowledging queer characters in a stunningly simple style.

 

3. Melancholia (2011)

melancholia

Provocateur and visual poet Lars Von Trier brings “Melancholia” in true art-film shape, regarding an approaching rogue planet that is about to collide with Earth.

His original inspiration was his own story of depression, how this mental illness can so easily make it seem like a person remains calm even amidst chaos. Following “Antichrist” and followed by this year’s “Nymphomaniac”, his second entry in the unofficially titled “Depression Trilogy” relies on sound and music above any other of his projects, using Wagner and combining him with aesthetics of Nazi Germany as metaphors.

Chilean cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro helps further push boundaries with fluid compositions, spontaneous handheld camerawork and lighting that makes the end of the world seem sophisticated.

A prime example in the mixing of style and substance, von Trier depicts beautifully – once again – a controversial and difficult subject, keeping the audience mute for long after the film’s end.

 

4. The Great Beauty (2013)

Paolo-Sorrentino-The-Great-Beauty

Even as a popular director, this has become Paolo Sorrentino’s most famous film, its popularity growing along with its cinematography. What differentiates this work from so many other visual poems is that it really bothers to reward the audience with rich context, achieving more by complementing image with contemporary Rome in a timeless style.

Considered a reinvention of Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita”, it captures the city like it hasn’t been done in recent memory. The details help making it unique, too, and the near three-hour film gives just enough time for the audience to fully comprehend how meticulously it was done, especially in the hands of cinematographer Luca Bigazzi – who continues to use tilting and panning at the same time as a common feature in Sorrentino’s films.

 

5. Frances Ha (2012)

Frances+Ha

Director Noah Baumbach’s debut in digital filmmaking is a monochromatic experience. With a small crew and minimal equipment, shot in subdued black and white, Baumbach followed the production style of the French New Wave.

Using the Canon 5D as a tool, experienced black-and-white cinematographer Sam Levy (also known for his work in “Wendy and Lucy”) adjusted the camera’s midtones and gave weight to its inherent video noise, resembling actual film grain. This makes more sense given that the director typically enjoys visual spectacles and natural-looking images, therefore not minding the 5D’s imperfections and enjoying the sometimes underexposed scenes. There were a lot of consequences, mostly the amount of time spent studying how the camera would work with different lighting elements and textures.

While this is a great film to look at, the fact that Baumbach used black and white meant he wouldn’t have to worry about color temperature aspects, certain shades, etc., which made for both practicality and to give emphasis to the story, making it an even more sensitive comedy.

 

6. Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013)

Blue-Is-The-Warmest-Color

In this film, it was essential that the visuals reflected the various stages of falling in and out of love. The continuous hand held shots follow the characters around like a documentary piece, and the constant use of close up shots are not only used to get the audience’s attention, but to better portray emotions – which on its own is wonderful to watch.

Light is very natural, as mostly windows and doors are used as sources. The English translation of the title has a bigger motif: it’s common sense that blue is usually a “cold” color, and never used as a representation of love. There’s a deep connection between this fact and how the narrative plays out, when it’s used in so many elements involving the two main characters.

We see this color – primarily associated with positive things in the beginning – vanish as the mood of the film becomes darker and problems and doubts arise. Loaded with symbolism and powerful cinematography, it is one of the most visually singular films in recent memory.

 

7. The Tree of Life (2011)

The Tree of Life

Terrence Malick is a known artist, a philosopher turned filmmaker that focuses on style and turns into substance. Over the years, his work has become an inspiration for young filmmakers, though most fail miserably in achieving the same. Even the more shallow “To The Wonder” (2012) was equally magnificent, but didn’t impact quite as much.

The chosen DP was cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who used very little lighting besides natural light. He even mentioned that if they were inside a house and the lighting wasn’t working, Terrence would rewrite it and make it outside or shoot it another day when it was sunnier.

It also helped that they installed windows in specific places, becoming the main sources of light. Using a mix of 35mm film and regular 65mm, Malick’s need to express himself through stunning images results once again in a cinematic marvel, exhilarating and epic, while telling the dramatic story of a Texas family.

 

8. Gravity (2013)

Gravity-film-Sandra-Bullock

Instead of the usual film stock, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki opted by the digital and proved himself again as one of the best in the business. Even though almost everything on screen is fake, the CGI and everything about it is impressive. The complex junction of paradox realism and animation techniques made Alfonso Cuarón (director) and his team pre-visualize the film shot-for-shot way before starting to film.

Lubezki, and his talent for lighting, made being in space seem natural through the use of sun as main light source, with deep shadows and high contrasts. Contributing to the sucessful visuals was also the fact that he created a box with a LED screen, and the actors were shot inside it while projecting the backgrounds of the scenes and giving them visual references for acting.

The camera never stops moving, floating around the characters and giving the impression that it is also lacking gravity, angles pivoting fully through three dimensions. While we can argue whether or not it is a good film, it certainly is a stunner.

 

 

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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?

  • Pingback: Las 25 películas más increíbles visualmente de los últimos 5 añosT.T()

  • 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????

  • Andrew Hubbard

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

  • 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

  • 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?’

  • Pingback: The 25 Most Visually Stunning Films of The Past...()

  • 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.

    • 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.