Some films are just plain beautiful - whether it is the directing, cinematography, art direction, plush set design, or costumes, they provide a treat for the eyes. Here are some visually stunning productions of the modern era that are a must-see for anyone who enjoys stylised cinematography.
Monica Bellucci stars in this romance/drama set in Sicily, during World War II when Italy is entering the war. As the wife of a soldier, Malena is left to fend for herself when her husband is called into service. She also finds herself the victim of her own beauty, becoming the hot topic of local gossip-mongers, as well as the object of lust for many of her neighbours. Malena stands out due to its photography, with sweeping panoramic views of the Sicilian town, and sultry, warm colours that create a very romantic atmosphere.
The screen adaptation of Frank Miller’s popular graphic novel series, Sin City is a neo-noir crime drama with a surreal twist. The film was directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez, with special guest director Quentin Tarantino. Many of the stylistic elements of the graphic novels are maintained such as the stark contrasts and harsh lines, and several storylines are intertwined to create an engaging experience.
Sukiyaki Western Django
Takashi Miike’s Sukiyaki Western Django brings to screen a tale of rival gangs who are in search of a hidden treasure. Set in a remote town, the gangs square off in typical spaghetti-western style. The film’s fast pace, action sequences, futuristic look and feel, and great costumes all add up to one very entertaining production. Also watch out for Quentin Tarantino in a small role!
The Alien Series
The classic Alien series - a deep-space mining ship is travelling through deep space when it receives an SOS signal. The ship’s crew is woken up from their stasis, and find that the signal is coming from a derelict alien spacecraft. At first the ship appears deserted, but it is not long before the humans discover they are not alone. Alien won acclaim for many reasons, including Ridley Scott’s directing, Sigourney Weaver’s role as Ripley, and its special effects. The contribution of artist H.R. Giger in designing the Alien and other aspects of the set gives this film series its distinctive artistic edge.
Sakuran is the story of a young girl who is sold into a red light district of Tokyo. She is taken into a brothel, and placed under the wing of a superior, ready to be trained as a prostitute. Her beauty makes her popular, creating competition with the other courtesans, while her talent and personality give her the prospect of one day rising to power within her industry. Director Mika Ninagawa delivers a plush visual experience, complete with rich colours and elaborate costumes. Also notable is artist Ringo Shiina’s music contribution.
Fans of Jean-Pierre Jeunet won’t be surprised at his inclusion in a list such as this. His original storytelling, quirky humour, creative directing, and attention to detail in costume and set design tick all the boxes in providing the viewer with a delightful experience. Audiences were wowed with Amelie, the story of an innocent girl and her charming world of odd and comical characters. Jeunet repeated the feat with Micmacs, following one man’s vendetta against weapons manufacturing companies, once again furnishing his film with memorable characters and his trademark humour.
Another Jeunet classic, The City of Lost Children (La Cité Des Enfants Perdus) is a surreal, slightly noir fantasy about a scientist who kidnaps young children to steal their dreams. Jeunet allows us to be immersed in this alternative world, with its rustic sets and enchanting cinematogaphy. To top it all off, the costumes are nothing short of stunning, and were designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier.
Survive Style 5+
An action packed feature with multiple parallel storylines, Survive Style 5+ incorporates bizarre plots and even more bizarre characters. A man keeps killing his wife, but she won’t stay dead. A father is hypnotised into thinking he is a bird. Then there are the three youths who occupy their time breaking into houses. And what about the British hitman and his interpreter? This is a highly original film, with lavish and colourful set design, and eye-catching costumes, guaranteed to leave a lasting impression.
The Fifth Element
Set in the future, The Fifth Element follows Bruce Willis as cab driver Korben Dallas who accidentally picks up a supernatural being. The being, known as Leeloo, is considered the ‘fifth element’ and is the key to stopping a powerful evil force. Upon learning of Leeloo’s destiny, Korben joins her crusade to save humanity. However, there are many obstacles in their path including the wealthy businessman Zorg, who plans to help the evil force for his own gain. The imagery, rich visual style, and special effects make The Fifth Element a memorable experience. Add to this the film’s outrageous, hair, make-up, and costumes, and you have one very entertaining package. Costumes were once again courtesy of Jean-Paul Gaultier.