Did you ever notice that...
May 16, 2012 11:57 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for movies with such rich production/set/etc. design that you can watch them repeatedly and always find something new. Examples inside.

I'm looking for movies with incredibly rich detail in their production design, the work of true obsessives. I myself am an eccentric obsessive, and I love the "Where's Waldo?" experience of re-watching a film for the umpteenth time and noticing a new detail that I had never before seen.

Examples would include:

Any Wes Anderson movie (e.g., reading the "unaccompanied minor" pass that Kristofferson wears when we meet him, or reading Mr. Fox's column in the paper--each in The Fantastic Mr. Fox).

The Fifth Element (What does it say on a Multipass, anyway? And as noted in the recent thread, Leeloo's futuristic makeup box bears the Chanel mark)

Good movies preferred (any genre, any language), but a really lovingly made bad movie is OK.

However, I'm not looking for:
- Very subtle performances, plot twists, or stories open to interpretation (e.g., Inception, Rashomon)
- Incredibly accurate/inaccurate historical films notable solely for their accuracy or inaccuracy (I want to play "spot the awesome detail," not "French bayonets really were longer in WWI"; I am also not an expert in how many buttons someone's coat should have had, so the fact that the buttons are absolutely authentic is going to be lost on me).
- Cult classics or just movies that people love to watch over and over, but don't have subtle details (e.g., I'd be more interested in pausing a Star Trek movie to read a LCARs display than I might be to watch Star Wars again--a great design, but not a lot of detail you can pause and digest).
- Great cinematography / composition

Just the little details that make you go, I cannot believe I missed that the first, second, third, tenth time I watched that movie.
posted by Admiral Haddock to Media & Arts (53 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Kubrick, too of course! Another great example of the kind of crazy I'm looking for.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:58 AM on May 16, 2012

There are a group of movies I can watch every single time they're on:

The Godfather
Gone With The Wind

Mostly because the text is so rich and the characters are so intricate. Every time I watch I feel like I get a new piece of understanding.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:03 PM on May 16, 2012

I see you mention Kubrick. I was going to suggest The Shining. It's a movie I can watch many times just for the fun of pressing pause to enjoy and rediscover the set design elements.
posted by dchrssyr at 12:07 PM on May 16, 2012

This is sort of a dopey example but I find that every time I watch Idiocracy I find new visual jokes woven in to the scene settings. I felt the same thing was true with Airplane! for a long time and I think I have finally seen all there is to see in that movie, but it's worth several watches.
posted by jessamyn at 12:09 PM on May 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

Check out Blade Runner: The Final Cut. Ridley Scott went back and lovingly re-composited the sets with new digital backdrops, the effect is seamless and it looks gorgeous.
posted by Oktober at 12:10 PM on May 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

Raising Arizona - this is a movie that actually requires repeated viewing, it's almost impossible to get all the jokes in one viewing.
posted by any major dude at 12:11 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Play Time
posted by RobotHero at 12:11 PM on May 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Probably a decent number of Gilliam's films would fit into this rubric (Brazil definitely, probably 12 Monkeys). I'd also toss in everything by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World).
posted by shakespeherian at 12:12 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ruthless Bunny I totally agree--those are great films, and I watch them frequently too. But to be clear, I'm not looking for text or characters. More like--did you ever notice that (made up example), Vito, Sonny, and Michael always are wearing the same color tie, but Fredo's tie never matches? (again, made up).

On preview--Jessamyn, I've heard good things about Idiocracy, and jokes/visual gags are definitely what I'm looking for, too. And Oktober--absolutely right, and Alien (and Cameron's Aliens), are rich this way too!

More more more! I hunger for details! nomnomnom
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:12 PM on May 16, 2012

How about Sophia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, more for the crazy details and less for the content? I remember watching it in the theater and wishing I could pause and rewind to take in all the visuals.
posted by stellaluna at 12:14 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Synecdoche, New York is one that comes to mind for me. There's all kinds of details that you can miss which are not necessary to the story but that add color to it if you try to absorb them. E.g., the time on clocks, what's occurring on a TV in the background, what's in a Newspaper story, etc. (For a taste, see here). There are so many changing details from cut to cut that it makes it impossible to figure out what is intentional and why.
posted by dios at 12:15 PM on May 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

I came in to say Airplane!

Team America: World Police. Visual gags in the background. France's streets paved with croissants, Michael Moore exploding and being filled with ham. Lots of stuff like that.
posted by bondcliff at 12:15 PM on May 16, 2012

Absolutely Jacques Tati's Playtime. Tati went bankrupt building the enormous set (dubbed Tativille). There's hardly any plot but it's so loaded with visual puns that you have to see it "several times, each from a different seat in the auditorium" as the critic Gilbert Adair said.
posted by hydrophonic at 12:16 PM on May 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, dir. Peter Greenaway.
posted by macadamiaranch at 12:17 PM on May 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

Citizen Kane. Roger Ebert wrote something ~recently (past 5 years?) about how he watched it for the zillionth time, and STILL found things he hadn't noticed before. It was something about a camera on a track near a table that he hadn't noticed before; argh, can't find it now.
posted by Melismata at 12:21 PM on May 16, 2012

The first Iron Man. Hunt for Red October. Futurama movies (except Beast, can't rewatch that one, too weirdly boring).
posted by tilde at 12:21 PM on May 16, 2012

Seconding Playtime. Also: Barry Lyndon.
posted by trip and a half at 12:21 PM on May 16, 2012

The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen
posted by xingcat at 12:22 PM on May 16, 2012

Thirding or fourthing Playtime. Watch it on the biggest screen you can find.
posted by MsMolly at 12:29 PM on May 16, 2012

Response by poster: Also, Labyrinth is a good one--e.g., to see where the fantasy world characters come from in the real world, etc. Great answers so far!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:30 PM on May 16, 2012

I never saw Austrailia! (or whatever it was called), but the rest of Baz Luhrman's films are gorgeous visually; I believe his wife is his production designer, and she is brilliant.
posted by smirkette at 12:35 PM on May 16, 2012

Speaking of details, when did "Served!" become a thing/zing? Noted on my last full-attention watching of The Fifth Element that when the 'hapless' cops slammed into the McD train, it just had the golden arches and the word Served on it.
posted by tilde at 12:36 PM on May 16, 2012

People are going to slam me for this but ... The Matrix trilogy and associated materials, like the video games and animated features.

Take this scene as an example. All of the extras in this scene are actually identically dressed twins. There's two nuns, two sailors, two cops, etc. Through editing tricks, there are also repeated flows of people -- the same twins appearing to walk past the camera twice. They're trying to express the artificiality of the construct training programs of the Matrix, which is itself artificial.

There are lots of little asides and in-jokes. The evil Agent Smith, dressed in black, pulls up in a car with the license plate "IS 5416." Well, the Bible book of Isaiah 54:16 is "Behold, I have created the blacksmith that blows the coals in the fire, and that brings forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the destroyer to destroy."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:41 PM on May 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you're looking for a film where it's evident that someone spent an enormous amount of time thinking about design, check out A Single Man. It's not just an elegant, stylish film, but one in which the design actually matters, and rewards (over)thinking by the type of person who loved the documentary Objectified.

Possibly more along the lines of what you're looking for, though, Artificial Intelligence is pretty dense with detail -- the kind of movie where you spend as much time looking around at the spaces around the characters as the characters themselves.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 12:41 PM on May 16, 2012

The Truman Show is definitely conducive to the "Where's Waldo" experience because of the way the same "extras" are reused and keep reappearing in different outfits in the background. Every time I watch it I notice something new -- an extra watching Truman out of the corner of his eye or waiting for a cue or trying to keep Truman framed in one of the hidden cameras. The color coordination of the various costumes and sets (lots of dark red and green accents) is pretty amazing too. Lots of little details to look for.
posted by Cortes at 12:42 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

No one has mentioned David Lynch yet? There's is a ton of stuff I never noticed before every single time I watch Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway...
posted by rabbitrabbit at 12:48 PM on May 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

I loved the recent "Tinker Tailor" for this very quality, among its other merits. Same thing for "Let The Right One In" - I'm thinking about that '70's era record player right now.

The director Albert Lewin had a real appreciation for art of all types: his films "The Picture of Dorian Gray" and "Pandora and the Flying Dutchman" might appeal to you on the level you want. "Pandora" also has the virtue of having had Jack Cardiff as cinematographer, as well as Ava Gardner in gorgeous outfits.

Nthing Playtime. During the restaurant sequence, there is something different going on in every inch of that frame.

Also try Eric Rohmer's "The Lady and the Duke."
posted by Currer Belfry at 12:53 PM on May 16, 2012

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
The Fall
posted by evilbeck at 1:02 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Several Hitchcock films have these elements. But Hitch is much more "cinematic" than other directors, so the issues are sometimes difficult to pick up, subtle, you know they are there, and a light bulb goes off when you pick up on them. e.g. in Psycho before her 'crime' Marion wears a white bra, afterwards it is black. He also has some more obvious trademarks like filming people through vertical slats or vertical shadows to well, foreshadow jail bars.
posted by Gungho at 1:04 PM on May 16, 2012

Citizen Kane. Roger Ebert wrote something ~recently (past 5 years?) about how he watched it for the zillionth time, and STILL found things he hadn't noticed before. It was something about a camera on a track near a table that he hadn't noticed before; argh, can't find it now.

Here is Ebert talking about the chair that moves.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:11 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Alfred Hitchcock was famously obsessive with the details in his films. Everything in his films, down to set decorations and extras, were there for a reason whether as a clue, a red herring, or part of another story intersecting the main narrative. This pasted together time lapse from Rear Window illustrates this wonderfully.

The Coen Brothers are also know for putting in repeated themes that may of may not be symbolize something larger. For example, in Barton Fink may be about facism or high culture treatment of the working class or writing or nothing at all. Rewatch the Big Lebowski and listen for the times the Dude repeats stuff he heard earlier in the film. Or evidence that Donny is just in Walter's imagination. (how many times does someone other than Walter talk to him?)

In the first Sam Raimi Spiderman, the characters wear combinations of colors (Spiderman=red and blue/ Green Goblin=green and yellow) based on the current state of their relationship to Peter Parker and Norman Osborn. Sometimes Aunt May, Harry Osborn, and Mary Jane will wear one Spiderman color and one Green Goblin color when they are feeling conflicted.
posted by chrisulonic at 1:16 PM on May 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

If Labyrinth fits then maybe someone can confirm/deny The Dark Crystal which seemed equally detailed and equally awesome to me. They were both Henson after all... (weren't they?)

In a tangential note: Being Elmo featured some great insight into the construction details, problems, advances, and puppeteering that really makes me look at a bunch of Jim Henson's productions and the puppet's movements in a new, revised light.

That might be a bit of what you weren't looking for but it is stuff that makes you go "Ahhhhhhaaa!" (in Fozzie Bear voice of course) when you see the things that were mentioned/focused on in the documentary in a consistent stylistic theme, choice, setpiece, or movement.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:17 PM on May 16, 2012

posted by elizardbits at 1:19 PM on May 16, 2012

Anything by Jodorowski. Almost anything by Greenaway (particularly Prospero's Books, or The Cook The Thief The Etcetera). On the less snooty end of the spectrum, Moulin Rouge.
posted by ook at 1:19 PM on May 16, 2012

On second thought maybe I'll revise "anything by Jodorowski" to "El Topo or Holy Mountain".
posted by ook at 1:25 PM on May 16, 2012

Films by Luchino Visconti, specifically Le Notti Bianche. He created a small Italian villa on a set. When he needed to shoot a foggy night scene, he used huge sheets of translucent material hanging from the rafters to create the effect. But the actors needed to be walking through the shot, so he had to stagger them so they wouldn't brush up against the material.
posted by perhapses at 1:28 PM on May 16, 2012

12 Monkeys. Watching the details to try and figure out if he's crazy or not. I get a different meaning on just what is happening every time I watch it, and I think there is some great detail in it.

The Duchess. I wanted to pause every scene so I could study the clothes and backgrounds.

Lord of the Rings, the details they put in that film in everything from a simple button, or type of material in the clothing to the weapons and scenery.
posted by wwax at 1:31 PM on May 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Guy Maddin, particularly Archangel, Careful, and Brand Upon the Brain!.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:50 PM on May 16, 2012

Amelie is so beautifully concocted. COLORS. Oh, the colors of each shot were meticulously put together. I equally love Delicatessan and City of Lost Children, also by Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
posted by jillithd at 1:51 PM on May 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Children of Men has a lot of interesting backdrops & advertisements in the background.
Blade Runner
posted by trixare4kids at 2:01 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hugo. They built a train station for the set.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:26 PM on May 16, 2012

Not a movie, but please tell me you've watched "Arrested Development"? I've seen that show an uncountable number of times, and yet I am STILL finding new things in it. Full enjoyment of "AD" is predicated on having seen it more than once; there's actually a joke in the pilot that gets its punchline in the final episode.
posted by fiercecupcake at 3:13 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

All of Michelangelo Antonioni's films are constructed out of meticulously framed details. Famously, for his first color film, Red Desert, he painted trees to get them the exact color he wanted.

Francis Ford Coppola's One From The Heart recreated the Las Vegas Strip on a soundstage. The film is virtually nothing except set design.
posted by Trurl at 3:47 PM on May 16, 2012

And among Greenaway's work, even more than CTWL, Prospero's Books.

It may be the most densely designed film ever made.
posted by Trurl at 3:51 PM on May 16, 2012

posted by HMSSM at 5:13 PM on May 16, 2012

Stephen Spielberg's Minority Report has a lot of intentional tangents from the plot and details that require very careful notice---I love the mag lev system and the iris ads. Even the time stamp of the movie matches the narrative.
posted by effluvia at 6:32 PM on May 16, 2012

The Pirates! Band of Misfits, the stop-motion animated film from Aardman Studios.

They crammed so much detail into this film that they show you a lot of it up-close again during the credits. It's a riot.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:16 PM on May 16, 2012

Fight Club has a twist, but it's also crammed with a lovingly obsessive detail, down to newspaper clippings and brand-names and semi-subliminal single-frame shots. It's almost unfortunate how many angry young straight men latched onto the violence in it: they managed to miss the careful details and the giant, throbbing homoeroticism.

I will (hesitantly) second effluvia's recommendation of Minority Report. I only saw it once, but it struck me as an incredibly careful film. I didn't like it, really, but I loved it for having the sense to build high-stakes Hollywood chase scenes where all the bit players are very deliberately left alive.
posted by catalytics at 7:19 AM on May 17, 2012

Secret of Kells
posted by HMSSM at 2:51 AM on May 18, 2012

The BBC/HBO Rome series had great production design (360-degree tour ); it won Art Directors Guild and BAFTA awards for production design.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:47 PM on May 18, 2012

Response by poster: So many great answers--thanks to all.

I watched Idiocracy and Playtime over the weekend, and they were precisely the kind of density of design cues I was looking for. I can't wait to watch Playtime again--Idiocracy was a little frustrating to watch, as it does seem like we're heading in that direction.

I can't wait to watch more!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:03 AM on May 29, 2012

I'm going to add BBC's Sherlock to this list. There are two seasons of three episodes each so far and they abound with little details, especially in the set decoration for 221B Baker Street. I've found myself pausing the episodes to read the headlines on newspapers that the characters are reading.
posted by MsMolly at 8:26 AM on June 5, 2012

I just saw Men in Black III this weekend and I think all of those movies have a lot of visual niftiness going on in the background, particularly in the Men in Black HQ where you see them keeping track of "aliens" on the planet who include people like Lady Gaga and &c.
posted by jessamyn at 9:01 AM on June 5, 2012

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