We all remember that scene when Jack holds Rose in Titanic, or that trippy moment during Inception when the city bends into the sky. The “moving picture,” as literal as it sounds, is a rare storytelling medium where the visual element is at least as important as the plot, soundtrack, and characters. Oftentimes, detailed and consistent visuals set the atmosphere of the movie and deliver a truly immersive experience, albeit into the strangest and most imaginative worlds. Here are five movies that you will wish you experienced on the big screen. They are also relatively obscure, so not your Grand Budapest Hotel, Big Fish, Tree of Life and certainly not Avatar.
5. The Fall Offers Impossible Sets With No CGI
Filmed over four years in 20 different countries, Tarsem Singh’s The Fall is a feast of natural and manmade wonders around the world, all wrapped up in the imagination of a paralyzed stuntman and a little girl whose arm was broken in a riot. Given its crazy shots, you’ll be surprised to know that The Fall was filmed with less CGI than true human ingeniousness and careful planning. My favorite interview story — the crew wanted a scene in a blue city, but couldn’t find one blue enough, so they went to the Blue City of Jodhpur, India and gave out free paint. Next time they went back, they started shooting.
Favorite scene (don't worry no spoilers!): The Bandits swear to avenge their dead against Governor Odious. A grand and rather random scene that just won't be like anything you've ever seen.
4. The Handmaiden Explores The Beauty And Horrors Of Japanese Aesthetics
Set in a great mansion occupied by a young Japanese lady, her repressive uncle, a traitorous maid and a suitor with dangerous plans, The Handmaiden reflects these layers of tension through extreme camera attention to detail from the luxurious yet suffocating textures to the meticulous layouts of different rooms in the mansion. The popping colors and rich architectural beauty are only accompanied by equally jaw-dropping plot twists and highly graphic R-rated scenes to bring us one of the most stunning movies of the year, and not just in realm of visuals.
Favorite scene: The secrets of the dungeon is revealed in an intense scene that's aesthetically refined yet perverse in every way possible.
3. Mr. Nobody's Three Destinies and Three Representations
As painstakingly staged and executed as the three possible lives our protagonist is running from, Mr. Nobody deals with the familiar theme of destiny with an abundances of visual metaphors (think everything in the frame) and fantastical cross-futuristic elements. By representing three destinies with three different sets of visual cues, Jaco Van Dormael effectively creates unique feels and textures in one mind-bending movie. This is in essence a love story: The love that defies all odds and the love of life with all its brilliant colors and whacky plans.
Favorite scene: "Then you're all gonna end up drowning with me," she says. "We'll learn to swim," he replies.
2. Painted Skin II Sees CGI Breathe Life Into Ancient Myth
Recent Chinese productions have seen no lack of lavish re-imaginations of the olden days, way back when monsters existed and kung fu masters walked on thin air. Painted Skin II marks its place with well-done CGI and a tactful play of the exotic and ancient, delivering the mythic times in its full glory of exquisite court gowns, shape-shifting creatures and beauties that raised wars and plagued countries.
Favorite scene: The skin change takes place. It will creep you out yet make you want to find out even more.
1. Five Centimeters Per Second Flaunts The Mesmerizing Beauty of Daily Life
Japan in the eyes of lonely, sensitive and complicated teenagers must be unworldly, because there’s always something breathtaking about the quiet, daily scenes Makoto Shinkai creates. “Salty” is my friend’s only comment. Sure this movie sulks at the immense distance between even the cutest high school sweethearts, divided by circumstance, the city’s hustle and bustle and its cold concrete walls. But when life’s the way it is and an animation makes you sigh in both awe and reminiscence, maybe all you have to do is take in its beauty and cruelty and hum along.
Favorite scene: The rocket takes off. Breathtaking and surreal, there’s something immensely touching about this scene in a Tree of Life kind of way.
Are You Ready?
While it may be said of most films that everything in the frame is planned, some films sure make an extra effort to push the limits of visual representation. Now get prepared to be blown away by the best of their kind!