Love has been an inspiration to artists for decades, driving them to madness, ruin and sometimes against all odds; success. When it comes to filmakers, they aren’t an exception to this rule. Some of the most touching, highly lauded movies of our lifetime tell stories of love. Love is everywhere in cinema from the passionate romance of lovers, unable to be together to the guilty, sexually charged tale of an illicit affair between two people married to someone else. Even the deepest parts of a marriage, held together by little more than a thread of hope, have been shown on our screens to great effect.
Yet love is so much more than just romance or passion. There’s the love between a family, a father desperate to hold onto his children, two sisters standing shoulder to shoulder, protecting their own. Love is so unique and varied that it’s impossible not to be fascinated by it in each of it’s myriad forms. So in honor of St Valentine’s Day having just passed by let’s celebrate some visually stunning movies that probably wouldn’t exist without the theme that runs through them:
I’ll try to keep the following as spoiler free as possible to allow you the time to see these and judge for yourself. I hope that my descriptions will help you become intrigued enough to want to give them a go!
1. What Dreams May Come
Director: Vincent Ward
Starring: Robin Williams, Cuba Gooding Jr., Annabella Sciorra, Max von Sydow.
An oldie but very much a goodie. What never fails to surprise me is how many Robin Williams fans haven’t seen this movie. As one of my favourite actors and a big part of my childhood, losing him has left many of my favourite films tinged with the sadness of his death. But with What Dreams May Come, there’s a silver lining! This movie will have you reaching for the tissues anyway so William’s presence in it doesn’t affect the mood and it benefits very much from his acting skills here as he brings a sense of deep emotion and likeability to the main character of Chris Nielsen. I’m loathe to mention anything plot wise to the movie as I truly believe the best way to see this movie is to go into it knowing nothing, as I did. (Even the IMDB page for this movie is particularly spoilery.)
Suffice to say it is a movie that deals with deep love, imagination, the subject of death, beauty, art and so many more. What Dreams May Come is not only a beautiful, fantastical movie, it’s also a movie that will set your imagination on fire. This is a visually stunning movie, but the beginning is mired in the realness of tragedy, only taking flight partway through to show breathtaking scenes that can only truly be from the imagination of a lover of art. It’s no surprise that this film won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.
Chris Nielsen’s (Williams) story in the movie is completely different from that of the book it’s based on (which I’ve never read), but I can’t help but feel the changes must have been better as the film is able to delve into the subject and beauty of art in a way the book cannot. (Nielsen’s wife is an artist in the movie, but not so in the novel) If you’ve ever suffered, the pain felt by Annie Nielsen (Sciorra) will resonate with you in a way that you can’t put into words. We live every moment with her. Through the emotions of Chris and Annie’s own portrayal by a talented actress, we are drawn to their relationship and strong love for one another.
It’s true, this movie can get a little bit cheesy at times in a slow motion effect way that only truly 90’s movies can pull off, but the weight of feeling behind it cannot be mistaken. What Dreams May Come is breathtaking, one of my personal favourites and in my very humble opinion, a must-see.
Warning: Movie deals with topics of religion, death, suicide and deep emotions, not for the faint of heart.
You’ll love it if you love: Robin Williams. Movies that explore what it means to love or the human condition. Art. Creativity. Imagination. Analysing films. Love Stories that are about personality and imperfections rather than superficial beauty.
2. Amélie (Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain)
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Starring: Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Rufus.
Where our previous Visually Stunning Movie showed us imagination surrounded by horrific loss and the deep connection of humanity, Amélie is a film that focuses very much on the light-hearted and whimsical world of imagination. The tale focuses on eccentric youngster Amélie Poulain, briefly in the time of childhood and onwards to her time as a young woman. A french language film (subtitled in English) this was what catapulted gracefully chic Audrey Tautou – ingenue star of France – to worldwide fame.
The European style of filmmaking suits the quirky fable of Amélie, drawing us in with interesting facts and sweet little moments that tell us everything of Amélie and the characters surrounding her. The story focuses on Amélie’s efforts to improve the lives of those around her while remaining a mysterious figure in the background who can pass unnoticed. Yet when she falls in love, she must learn to be noticed and therein lies our heroine’s struggle. Thank goodness this is nothing like the US style of movie-making that features a makeover and a won love (Yes, I’m looking at you, She’s all that!)
It also avoids the tired old trope of Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Amélie is an oddball, there’s no mistaking it. However, in the talented hands of Tautou she becomes realistically so; a sweet and strange girl who endears herself to our hearts. Her beau on the otherhand, Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz) lacks the likeability factor of Amélie, becoming the dream man in our eyes only because of Amélie’s affection for him. Many famed stars of French cinema appear, each with their own unique and intriguing characters.
Amélie perfectly balances humour with drama and story with intertwining sub-stories, but as per the title of this list, it is the visually stunning that brings this movie even further. Amélie is awash with saturated, brightness in every scene (it later inspired lauded TV show Pushing Daisies to do the same). The beauty of the colours popping against each other only increases the feeling of ‘otherness’ in Amélie’s world, giving this movie its trademark modern fairytale feel.
Amélie is one of my must-see visually stunning movies because it blends the best of European cinema with the relatability of English language films and beautiful cinematography. With tremendous acting it all works in tangent to make Amélie a great romantic comedy to watch time and time again.
Warning: Movie contains some sex (not graphic) and is a foreign language film.
3. Peter Pan
Director: P.J. Hogan
Starring: Jeremy Sumpter, Jason Isaacs, Olivia Williams.
Another movie that escaped the general notice of many cinema fans, whenever I talk about this movie, people think of the Disney animated adaptation. Yet it’s this live action Peter Pan, starring then unknown Jeremy Sumpter as the titular hero, that holds a special place in my heart. The classic story of Peter Pan is the tale of the boy who never grew up and his adventures in Never Never Land with the Darling family who he generously kidnaps (technically). This version of the classic tale is everything you’d ever want in a rollicking good pirate story, including a non-white Tiger Lily. (Rooney Mara, unwisely squandered the goodwill she got from a great turn in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
The film does do somewhat of a Disneyfication of the original tale, changing Peter’s fay nature to portray a sweet and natural love story between him and Wendy (Rachel Hurd-Wood), but it’s artfully done. Throughout the movie there’s an undercurrent of themes such as the butterflies and excitement of first love, puberty, the fear of growing up and of course, family. Yet on the surface Peter Pan can simply be enjoyed as a very beautiful and fun family movie if you wish to look no deeper.
As per tradition Mr. Darling is played by the same actor as Captain Hook, adding an extra weight to Wendy’s relationship with her somewhat distant father. This is played beautifully by veteran actor Jason Isaacs, who handles both the comedic part of the role and the seriously villanious with practiced ease. Scenes between Hook and Wendy are a treat to watch and while Dustin Hoffman (in Hook) will always be my favourite rendition, Isaacs battles hard and almost steals the trophy for best Hook.
One could argue this film leans a bit heavily on CGI to create the fantastical world of Never, Never Land, but here it works well, bringing a new layer of fantastical feeling to the magical land. Each shot is carefully crafted and swimming with magic and beauty, none moreso than when Wendy and Peter dance amongst the fairies and ultimately, have an argument. The acting is solid here more than anywhere else, turning the scene from an enchanting thrill to a cold knife slipping down your spine.
Peter Pan is a film that is visually stunning, a masterful adaptation of a traditional story that is almost as famous as most fairy tales. It’s a movie that successfully captures all those complicated feelings that come with becoming a teenager, the balance of family’s wants and your own needs, while at the same time it’s a great family movie that entertains and will leave you glowing with happiness.
Warning: None. Some theatrical violence, but can be watched by all ages.
You’ll love it if you love: Peter Pan. Fairy Tales. Hook. Sweet and innocent love stories. Coming of age tales. Magic.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page.
If you’re still with me at this point, hopefully you won’t get too huffy about this one. This movie is insanely popular, yet a certain sub group of people love to hate it. Apparently liking this film makes you too ‘intellectual’ or a ‘hipster’ I guess. I pretty much refuse to change who I am because of someone telling me it’s stupid to like something. If liking Inception is wrong, I don’t want to be right. This is the film that spawned a million memes.
It’s an ensemble thriller, yet the main character is undeniably Cobb (Leonardo Dicaprio) a man well versed in a new technique that allows a thief like himself to enter the mind of another through dreams and steal their secrets. In order to extract himself from trouble, Cobb promises a wealthy businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe) that he will perform the impossible task of ‘Inception’ (inserting an idea inside a dreamer’s head) on the son of a business rival. In return Saito promises to allow Cobb to return home to his children.
In some ways, when you strip it back Inception becomes more of a ‘journey’ story, in which Cobb must collect the others of his cast (each with a unique skill indespensable to the task) in order to complete Inception and maintain his deal with Saito. As the story commences, the stakes become higher than ever, forcing our heroes into more unique and interesting situations which unlock the sheer scope that these dream worlds are capable of.
Each member of Cobb’s group is left deliberately mysterious by Nolan’s writing and direction. They are also infinitely intriguing, drawing us inwards with the desire to know more about them; analysing every line for a clue to their pasts and former relationships to Cobb. Stalwart Arthur (fan favourite Joseph Gordon Levitt) and straightforward Ariadne (Ellen Paige) are the closest to Cobb, but it’s Ariadne who ultimately helps us unlock some of Cobb’s secrets (thankfully not through Hollywood’s overdone use of romantic relationship).
Through each tidbit Nolan tosses us, we learn more about each of these ‘thieves’ and their wants and desires, their motivations. In the hands of a talented director, even Saito’s rival’s son becomes a fully fleshed out character (played by Cillian Murphy). Inception is a film about dreams, desire, loss and time, but more than that it’s a movie about love. The love of family and Cobb’s extreme love for his wife, Mal (French actress Marion Cotillard), which we catch in glimpses through his dreams. As always, Dicaprio bring his A-game, turning Cobb from an extremely private and solitary character into a man haunted by his past and unable to escape from it, desperately trying to move forward.
The cinematography is what really makes Inception one of our visually stunning movies, especially when combined with surreal slow motion scenes and amazing visual effects. Each location in Inception is carefully crafted to reveal hints, portray meaning and leave us questioning everything. Hidden meanings spill from every moment, with even the colours chosen to subtly influence the watcher’s mind.
Ultimately, people get too caught up on the questions and the ‘intellectualness’ of Inception. There’s a lot of complex thinking in there, but what Nolan really excels at is what Inception is at it’s core. A story about humans. The depth of the relationship between Mal and Cobb, intertwined with the question of who is to blame for what went wrong, is what keeps me coming back to this movie time and time again. The chemistry between Dicaprio and Cotillard and the unquestionable emotions they bring to their scenes together are what will leave you haunted for days. Combine that with imaginative scenes that look stunning and Nolan had a winning formula with this one.
Warning: Heavy themes relating to death and father/son relationships. Intellectually heavy.
You’ll love it if you love: Nolan. Leonardo Dicaprio. Questioning Reality. The human mind. Familial relationships. Introspection. Cool thrillers. Ensemble movies.
5. The Fall
Director: Tarsem Singh
Starring: Lee Pace, Catinca Untaru, Justine Waddell.
Nowhere on this list will you find a film that flies as low under the radar as Tarsem Singh’s ‘The Fall’, nor one as polarising. This film is Marmite to critics and viewers alike, you either love it or you hate it and frankly, I adore it. No other movie has captured my imaginations and dreams and placed them so succinctly on the screen in front of me, or melded the realms of fantasy and reality in such a unique and thrilling way. What Dreams May Come came close, the amazing Pan’s Labyrinth (by director Guillermo Del Toro) did it well. The Fall is like Pan’s Labyrinth on acid.
It’s the story of Roy Walker, a 1920’s stuntman who loses the use of his legs on a movie set in LA due to a stunt gone wrong. He ends up in a hospital at the same time as a young foreign girl Alexandria (played realistically by Catinca Untaru) and begins to tell her a story. Where The Fall’s real genius comes in though, is by utilising the childlike imagination of Alexandria, to throw us into the realm of fantasy.
While Roy is in fact telling a simplified version of the movie he was filming, due to Alexandria’s imagination and limited understanding of english words, we see the story through her eyes. This leads to a rather whimsical, magical and wonderfully amazing version of what is otherwise your classic 1920’s ‘Cowboy VS Indians’ tale. Singh takes the story a step further, incorporating elements and people from Alexandria’s everyday life and past experiences, with the story changing to reflect her new understanding of it. This leads to some comedic moments as well as some deeply moving ones.
The friendship between Roy and Alexandria blossoms into a deep familial type bond and while it’s clear he is very fond of her, Roy struggles to deal with his injury and what it means for his life. The Fall deals with questions about change and what it means to love yourself and whether or not the love of a little girl can be enough to save the life of a broken man.
Flitting between moments of fantasy and the cold harsh light of reality, this film is constantly interconnected and overlapping, stuffed with metaphors and similes that will have you clapping with delight when you notice those connections. It’s a movie I recommend you watch multiple times and each time you do, you’ll notice another clever little background detail you missed.
For Tarsem Singh, this movie was a labour of love. Funded by his own money and taking many years to complete, the oft hated director went above and beyond, even paying the actors on a more even scale. One criticism this movie received was an overuse of CGI, but in this case (unlike his Immortals movie) that was a blatantly unfair accusation. Many of the sets and scenes in the movie look unreal, but simply because they are incredibly stunning locations that Singh actually went to, even building large set pieces to make it more realistic.
Even if you’re one of the people who will hate it, this movie is a must see simply because it is hands down the most visually stunning film I have ever seen (and probably ever will) in my whole life. The set locations featured are famed worldwide and to see Roy’s story come to life using these surreal locales in our own world is an uncomparable delight. The costumes for the characters are equally as flamboyant, working perfectly because we are seeing this fable through the eye’s of a child. These are Alexandria’s designs and her world. Nothing comes close to the eccentricity of a child’s brain, they see everything in a totally different way than we do and Singh portrays that perfectly in The Fall.
Lee Pace’s performance as Roy is wonderful to watch and if you’ve only seen him as Thraundil in The Hobbit or Ronan in Guardians of the Galaxy, you owe it to yourself to watch this movie. Here he is allowed to act with a depth those big blockbusters denied him, really coming into his own. However, while the actors, the story and the beauty of it are all great reasons to see this movie. Let me give you one more.
In the immortal words of one of the most lauded movie critics who ever lived:
“You might want to see for no other reason than because it exists. There will never be another like it.” — Roger Ebert.
Warning: Fantasy Violence, Suicide, death and discussion of upsetting subjects.
You’ll love it if you love: Innocent friendships between adults and children. Magic. Fantasy. Fairy Tales. Bright colors. Deep intellectual analysing of movies. The 1920’s. Lee Pace. Surrealism.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and watch some visually arresting movies. Stun your socks off! I’m a huge movie afficionado, so if you have watched any of these movies, or watch them later, come back here and let me know what you thought. I’d love to discuss any of these or others with you in the comments (so beware there could be spoilers there).
Which movie do you consider visually stunning?
All Screencaps taken by me. All opinions are my own, always 100 percent honest. I received no compensation for this review and I just really love film, okaaay. To see more from me and watch me ramble incoherently for thirty minutes about Lee Pace’s arms subscribe to me by email on the left sidebar or via Bloglovin’.