In this age of technical advancement we’re able to produce what can easily go down in time as the most visually incredible scenes in film history. The spectrum of feelings and emotions continue to grow as we as humans continue to live and find new aspects we’ve never known before.
It’s a hard task to choose what the most beautiful scenes are in film period, naturally my mind would think of the likes of Kubrick, Tarkovsky, etc. But there’s a new generation of minds that deserve to be showcased in all their talent, and it’s easier to round things up to one period. So these are my picks for the Top 20 Most Beautiful Scenes of the 21st Century.
20. Invite Me In – Let the Right One In (2008)
“Let the Right One In” is one of the select few horror films I would describe as beautiful. This is a film that finds lyricism in its horror and uses it to tell a touching gothic story. The key moment in the coming of age between Oskar and Eli comes in which Eli needs to be invited in to a home due to her vampire heritage.
He doesn’t understand this and makes her come in anyway, because this rule has been broken she starts to bleed profusely. Only now does he realize the importance of following rules as he lovingly embraces her. Both of them have a lot to learn and they can only do it by being with each other. It’s a spectacle to the power of adolescent love and continues to be one of the genre’s best.
19. Glass to the Face – Only God Forgives (2013)
“Drive” is definitely a better film overall, but “Only God Forgives” is what catches my attention when it comes to visual poetry. The entire film is lit in a dream like ambiance that paints a beautiful portrait in nearly every shot. The themes of revenge are apparent in its narrative but is told more through implication rather than explanation. This scene is no different, shot and lit with gorgeous color and light design but suddenly explodes with an outburst of violence.
Refn’s in full control of his visual language here, Gosling slowly clenching his fists as he gets up and fights in the streets of Bangkok. If there’s one film on this list that’s visuals over substance this is definitely it, but with that being said my god are the visuals gorgeous to behold.
18. Bamboo Forest Fight – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is a showcase of some of the greatest action ever put to film, its fight scenes use their choreography to greater illustrate the underlying relations between each character. In this scene Li’s calm patience is getting the better of Jen’s childish anger as the relationship between teacher and student is taking center stage.
The forest adding to this effect as it balances, quite literally, the decisions Jen is going to make and where everyone is going to fall. Sewn together with wire-fu to give them more movement but also add a special feeling of mystical skill where they leap above what normal beings are capable of. I think the previous fight scene between Jen and Yu is a better, but this one is certainly more beautiful.
17. Beach Scene – Roma (2018)
This moment is what the film is culminating in, striking a balance between an acceptance of death and the beginning of life. We’ve gone through the turmoil a middle class family has endured in the world of an antagonistic revolution where society is falling, property is being destroyed, and guerilla warfare is in the streets.
But Alfonso Cuarón allows us to be spectators in these chapters of his life rather than be up to our necks in it. Shooting everything from a distance so we see the world around them but feel evert step along the way of the emotion they’re going through.
16. A Married Life – Up (2009)
Well… here’s a change of pace. I think a lot of people were taking back with how poignant the opening images of Pixar’s “Up” were. No dialogue, no words, just a story of an entire life told through visuals and music. There are so many dreams in these few minutes that sadly never get fulfilled. Life gets in the way, stuff happens that’s out of our control, and we settle in for normal lives.
As we get older we reflect back on what we’ve done and feel regret for how much we didn’t accomplish, or at the very least how much we think we didn’t accomplish. Pixar is a lot smarter than what their genre would indicate. With this one scene they weave us through the motions of life that most live and everything we feel with them.
15. Red Leaves – Hero (2002)
“Hero” is one of those films I could choose just about any scene in it and argue it as one of the most beautiful. But I have to be fair here, and the one that strikes more than most is the Red Leaves scene in which Flying Snow fights Moon.
The spectrum of “Hero” is based upon the Wu Xiang color theory which each color represents the elements of fire, wood, water, earth, and metal. Every scene is painted in a specific color palette to separate each story being told, but this in particular uses red in the most eloquent of ways.
The natural environment becomes a character and a story itself with leaves raining down on these two women, wind blowing in the air and brushing their hair and dresses. It starts as a beautiful show of revenge but turns into one of death as blood drips off the blade of a sword. Wonderful stuff.
14. Opening Scene – Under the Skin (2014)
The opening images to Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin” sets up the experience the film is going to take us on. Through metaphorical imagery, selective tones, and a euphoric score by Mica Levi it uses its weary science fiction to create a new life form. A white dot on the screen grows into a pattern of rings that signal birth, a lunar eclipse seen through a telescope lens signaling a disturbing presence that’s landed on earth.
What is all of this, what does it mean, who is this woman, nothing is certain. This is one of many scenes that feel like a figurative experience rather than an actual event, but this is the films strength. The film as a whole is a search for identity and humanity, sexual enticement to lure and discover. This scene, better than any other, creates all of the evocative feelings it’s going to later delve into and serves as the beginning of our journey through space, life, and experiences.
13. Motion Capture – Holy Motors (2012)
“Holy Motors” is a film like nothing I’ve ever seen. It tracks linearly through events we’re led to believe are an actor acting out roles but it resembles more of a stream of sub consciousness.
No recollection of where the thought started and drifting endlessly into obscurity. It does nothing less than encompass the broad strokes of experience that borders on the edge of fantasy and psychedelic. This motion capture scene in particular in an extension of what director Leos Carax is attempting to convey. The importance of art as it pertains to our lives.
The film is a symbol of post modernism, an art style that relishes in the bizarre and uses its methods to deconstruct and evaluate art itself. This motion capture love scene in which two humans simulate sex and then a CGI rendering of animated figures are made from it blends a unique hybrid between fiction and reality. In conclusion it’s a weirdly beautiful scene that puzzles long after you’ve seen it.
12. Opening Scene – Sin City (2005)
My favorite examples of color schemes in film is the ‘less is more’ approach. Selective colors are so amazing to behold because they light up the screen with their striking but take on specific emotional and thematic detail. “Sin City” isn’t a traditionally beautiful film, much of the film takes place in the blood soaked streets of the most violent city known to man. But Robert Rodriguez is the perfect visual extremist to bring the pages of Frank Miller’s noir world to life.
The opening scene is what sticks in my mind more than any other because of how it sets up what we’re about to behold. This is a world where rain is almost always pouring, sins lie around every corner, everyone is cast in shadows, and most have a secret behind them. I’m not always a fan of comic book stylization and the subsequent superhero boom certainly added to this. But nothing, and I repeat, nothing has done it as good as this.
11. Meet Me in Montauk – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Memories are both a blessing and a curse to bear. There are many memories we all have that we’d probably like to erase from our minds. But “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” illustrates the importance of memory and why we need to remember the things that happen to us.
As painful as it may be it’s what makes us who we are, they’re essential chapters in our lives we cannot do without. And as Joel is erasing Clementine for good we feel an entire world crumbling, being erased out of existence.
There a world of regrets burrowed in this scene and everyone can relate to it. Who hasn’t gone through an ordeal where we wish we had done something different or taken a chance we never took. When this is regarded as the greatest romance of the modern age of film scenes like this illustrate why, there very few films that have had such a deep emotional impact with its viewers than this.