Visually gorgeous movies that don't overuse closeups
May 9, 2018 4:08 PM   Subscribe

Lately it seems like every movie I watch consists solely of close-ups of people talking in uninspired settings designed half-heartedly. Please recommend movies that feature (1) incredibly gorgeous, detailed, distinctive visuals and scenery (like The Handmaiden, Inception, In the Mood for Love, or any Wes Anderson film), and (2) a directorial style that shows off those visuals through long shots and excellent mise-en-scene (like Playtime or A Brighter Summer Day).
posted by perplexion to Media & Arts (79 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
How do you feel about Terrence Malick? The New World or The Tree of Life feel like they would fit your bill.
posted by Johnny Assay at 4:14 PM on May 9, 2018 [8 favorites]

Last Year at Marienbad
posted by griphus at 4:15 PM on May 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

Wind River
I found Moonlight to be heartbreakingly beautiful, visually and otherwise, but not in a traditional sense
posted by tatiana wishbone at 4:17 PM on May 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Of course The Fall.
posted by mochapickle at 4:27 PM on May 9, 2018 [23 favorites]

The Fall
posted by FakePalindrome at 4:28 PM on May 9, 2018 [6 favorites]

Are you only interested in live-action movies? I was blown away at the gorgeous, intricate "cinematography" and design in Coco.

I had mixed feelings about I, Tonya, but it had a very strong point of view, visually speaking.

And then of course there's Black Panther. The art direction, especially in the Wakanda scenes, is just gorgeous.
posted by lunasol at 4:29 PM on May 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

Thirding The Fall. It's all the more amazing because the improbably gorgeous locations are real and not computer generated.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 4:33 PM on May 9, 2018 [6 favorites]

Please check out the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger, many of which you can find on FilmStruck's Criterion Channel. Start with "Black Narcissus". Also the films of Val Lewton. There are so many others I could name.

The extreme closeup/shot/reverse shot convention you speak of is television-influenced, of relatively recent origin, and boring af. You'll find that older films are blessedly free of it.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 4:37 PM on May 9, 2018 [5 favorites]

The Fountain.
posted by The Deej at 4:41 PM on May 9, 2018 [7 favorites]

The Witch (2016) is absolutely gorgeous and mesmerizing to watch.
posted by hydra77 at 4:47 PM on May 9, 2018 [10 favorites]

If you’re OK with older movies, try Lawrence of Arabia.
posted by FencingGal at 4:47 PM on May 9, 2018 [8 favorites]

Days of Heaven
posted by beccaj at 4:52 PM on May 9, 2018 [10 favorites]

The Third Man. If you liked how In the Mood for Love looked you might have a look at the films shot by Christopher Doyle (he was the cinematographer for In the Mood for Love).
posted by Ashwagandha at 4:57 PM on May 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

posted by octothorpe at 5:01 PM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

I came in here to suggest The Fall

Ran, others by Kurosawa
O Brother Where Art Thou
The Seventh Seal
The Mad Max series would fit the bill I think
The Last Samurai has some good shots.
I don't know if Koyaanisqatsi is too out there for this question.
If animated films are on the table probably most of the stuff done by Miyazaki
posted by Query at 5:02 PM on May 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

Damn it, I missed In the Mood for Love In your question. It’s silly, Hollywood serial killer story, but The Cell has very fancy visuals, and Immortals, equally silly, is also visually striking.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:03 PM on May 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

The Last Emperor (1987)
posted by AFABulous at 5:10 PM on May 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

The Rider is a gorgeous "docufiction" inspired by Terrence Malick and Wong Kar-Wai, set in the Badlands of South Dakota (in theaters now, so you can see it on a big beautiful screen).
Faces Places has a lot of long, wide shots to show off the art.
The Love Witch is a sublime visual feast. Not so much outdoor scenery but interiors/makeup/costume.
The Florida Project has a lot of candy-colored shots that feel very Wes Anderson-y, despite being a completely different type of movie.
I Am Not A Witch, my favorite movie of the last few years, has really striking visuals, most involving giant spools of ribbon set across the Zambian landscape.
posted by acidic at 5:11 PM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

I also came to suggest The Fall.
posted by Dolley at 5:12 PM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Letter Never Sent - it was shot in Siberia in the late 1950s. Rian Johnson mentioned it as one of the inspirations for some aspects of the most recent Star Wars.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:18 PM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Well, it's a different type of movie but Baraka, Samsara and The Qatsi Trilogy are visual feasts. Not much of a plot, I admit, but gorgeous.
posted by Fortran at 5:25 PM on May 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

I loved "Black Narcissus" for its sweep and grandeur, and was mightily disappointed to discover much later that all the Asia scenes were filmed at Pinewood Studios. Drat.
posted by MovableBookLady at 5:29 PM on May 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

Barry Lyndon
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 5:38 PM on May 9, 2018 [10 favorites]

The Great Beauty
posted by jasper411 at 5:40 PM on May 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
posted by littlesq at 5:41 PM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've watched The Eagle Huntress a couple of times; it's incredibly gorgeous.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:56 PM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Blade Runner 2049
posted by castlebravo at 5:58 PM on May 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Far From The Madding Crowd.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:02 PM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you can handle going back to 1986 - The Mission is drop-dead spectacular. Of course the problem with this is that you'll have to watch in on a television/display which won't give you much of the feel of seeing it in a theater. I actually think that is why movies ARE trending more towards closeups - because so few are seen in theaters anymore!
posted by plumdumplings at 6:14 PM on May 9, 2018 [6 favorites]

The films of Jacques Tati, especially Mon Oncle (delightfully witty use of wide shots!) and Playtime.
posted by apparently at 6:20 PM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover has a lot of the splendor you seek (juxtaposed with some pretty squalid imagery). Peter Greenaway is known for inserting a lot of really painterly tableaux in his films.
posted by cakelite at 6:21 PM on May 9, 2018 [7 favorites]

A lot of great suggestions here, but you should also watch both Spirited Away and Akira, which both feature interesting stories set in unusual, very detailed, complex worlds.
posted by Rinku at 6:27 PM on May 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

Sally Potter's Orlando

Almost anything by Peter Greenaway or Wim Wenders.
posted by vers at 6:40 PM on May 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

I Am Love is full of attractive rich people masterfully suppressing their emotions in scenic Italy. The cinematography is beautiful and the score is by John Adams.
posted by mrmurbles at 6:45 PM on May 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

Legion is a tv show not a movie but my gosh it scratches this itch for me. The trailers don't do the show justice at all. There has obviously been a lot of thought and love put into the locations, sets, costumes, cinematography, music, everything. It has a very Wes Anderson / Pushing Daisies aesthetic (which makes sense, because after reading the article I linked above I see that their Production Designer previously worked on Pushing Daisies).
posted by Secret Sparrow at 7:18 PM on May 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

Russian Ark
posted by the duck by the oboe at 7:32 PM on May 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

In the Malick vein, Badlands. (Add Thin Red Line and nearly all of his films have been suggested.)

Maybe Last Picture Show?
posted by vunder at 8:20 PM on May 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Auteur theory is your friend here. Based on your question, you should first be checking out other movies by Park, Nolan, Wong, Tati and Yang. Their other films will share many visual and editorial characteristics of the ones you list, especially since the folks you listed tend to collaborate with the same DPs, production designers, etc from film to film.

Beyond that, it is to me an impossibly broad question. As Sheydem-tants noted, the style of close-ups and shot/reverse-shot you describe is informed by television. Most pre-1980s cinema, as well as much contemporary “art film’ (for lack of a better term) will be blessedly free of it.

That said there are great recommendations in this thread. Malick yes. Kurosawa yes. Powell and Pressburger yes. Greenaway yes. (Fun fact: Last Year at Marienbad and The Cook, the Thief share the same wildly talented cinematographer.) I could mention that Hitchcock, De Palma, and even classic film noir and most movie musicals fit the bill as well depending on your definition of gorgeous visuals. It depends on what you’re into. But the good news is there is no shortage of films like the ones you describe! Just follow the auteurs. }
posted by Mothlight at 8:38 PM on May 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

posted by liet at 8:41 PM on May 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

Top of the Lake
Les Revenants (the French original- I haven't seen the version in English so can't vouch)

(On edit, just noticed you are looking for movies specifically, but these are both at least mini series rather than ongoing series)
posted by Tandem Affinity at 8:57 PM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Love in the Time of Cholera
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:24 PM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

A Wrinkle in Time was very beautiful. (It's also a distinctly young adult movie, FYI.)
posted by snorkmaiden at 9:48 PM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Peter Greenaway, particularly The Draughtsman's Contract and The Belly of an Architect.
posted by N-stoff at 10:22 PM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Definitely ditto The Fall & Greenaway.
Adding Mysteries of Lisbon which is a lush, Dickensian pastiche type thing.
posted by juv3nal at 10:28 PM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's been a while since I saw it, but I think Once Upon a Time in Anatolia might work for you. Here's a still.
posted by actionstations at 10:28 PM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Give Terry Gilliam a try!
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 10:53 PM on May 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

The Florida Project
posted by cda at 11:03 PM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Kind of an acquired taste, but Robert Altman's Popeye.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:09 AM on May 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935) looks gorgeous and has some lovely airy-fairy backdrops. Ditto Cocteau's La Belle et La Bete.

You might like the mise en scene of various Busby Berkeley films - 42nd Street, for eg.

Meet me in St Louis is v. pretty and makes the most of its old timey backdrop.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 12:49 AM on May 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

Tree of Wooden Clogs.

Gorgeous. Painterly. Actors in the movie were not professional actors, just real local people.
posted by Ella Megalast at 1:30 AM on May 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Far From Heaven
The Shape of Water
posted by thetarium at 1:35 AM on May 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

seconding anything Gilliam. He's the best
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:49 AM on May 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Krzysztof Kieslowski's three colors trilogy
posted by Desertshore at 2:17 AM on May 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

The Mirror (1974)
posted by runcifex at 3:01 AM on May 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Through The Olive Trees by Abbas Kiaraostami. Especially, literally, the final shot.
posted by Morpeth at 3:43 AM on May 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you don't mind over-the-top martial arts and eyebrow-raising plots, Hero and House of Flying Daggers, both by Zhang Yimou, are two of the most gorgeous films I've had the pleasure to watch.
posted by The Nutmeg of Consolation at 5:55 AM on May 10, 2018 [7 favorites]

There are some scenes from Call Me By Your Name that do this.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:17 AM on May 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

Dead Man, The Limits of Control
Golden Kingdom
posted by BeHereNow at 6:29 AM on May 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

I just re-watched The Valley of the Dolls and I had forgotten how delightfully visual it is.

Also: See the Quay Bros' Institute Benjamenta which is so beautiful and sleepy and dreamy.

and Definitely Robert Altman's Dreamy masterpiece (fight me!) 3 Women
posted by Dressed to Kill at 6:29 AM on May 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

What Dreams May Come, a Robin Williams movie from the 90s, is absolutely beautiful. Note: the story line is quite sad.
posted by wg at 6:32 AM on May 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you would like a lot of long, gorgeous shots of the Mongolian steppes, and a slow-paced, chill movie, I would recommend Mongolian Ping Pong.
posted by chainsofreedom at 6:38 AM on May 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Legends of the Fall
posted by jgirl at 6:45 AM on May 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

John Ford's movies:
She wore a Yellow Ribbon, and its two cousins.

The Searchers (also Ford).
posted by mule98J at 9:24 AM on May 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Not sure if these totally meet your requirements, but both The Age of Adeline and Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola) were beautiful to my eyes.
Also, maybe Seven Years in Tibet?
posted by Orange and gray at 10:07 AM on May 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

Yasujiro Ozu. Beautiful, thoughtful composition that subtly defies Hollywood/western convention but is never showy. It's his own internally consistent style that meshes well with the intensity of feeling in his simple-seeming stories. His films reward repeat viewings like few others will.

David Bordwell has lots to say about Ozu.
posted by conscious matter at 10:59 AM on May 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Red Sun is a Samurai-Western crossover with Toshiro Mifune, Charles Bronson, Alain Delon, Ursula Andress, Capucine, and more. Filmed in Andalucia Spain with sweeping vistas from Oscar-nominated cinematographer Henri Alekan. Lots of fun, too (though the plot is what you might call a little messy).
posted by MovableBookLady at 12:22 PM on May 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Anything by Peter Greenaway.

Also Hero
posted by ananci at 1:27 PM on May 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

Anna and the King, a remake of The King and I, had some really great shots of the backgrounds during many scenes.
posted by BenevolentActor at 2:22 PM on May 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Whoa, thank you for all the answers! Apparently I really need to watch The Fall and something by Greenaway.

For anyone also interested in movies of this type, I have another recommendation- The Assassin by Hou Hsiao-Hsien. I just finished it. I was only half paying attention to the plot the whole time, it was so beautiful.
posted by perplexion at 2:53 PM on May 10, 2018

posted by D.Billy at 4:08 PM on May 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

True Grit.
posted by praemunire at 5:28 PM on May 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Children of Men, maybe. I don't remember it having many close-ups.
posted by gucci mane at 8:27 PM on May 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Vertical Ray of the Sun (YT trailer link)
posted by Monday Morning Sgriob at 10:00 PM on May 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Gordon Willis shot Manhattan better than anyone before or since. The film is in Glorious Black & White. Unfortunately can't recommend the film Mahattan because it was directed by Woody Allen.
posted by Homer42 at 4:07 AM on May 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Sheltering Sky (weirdly the trailer is all close-ups but that's not what I remember about it)
The Last of the Mohicans
The Lover
posted by DarthDuckie at 8:26 AM on May 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Brokeback Mountain is gorgeous.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:48 AM on May 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Seconding Wind River, it's beautiful and harsh. I think there should be fair warning of a couple scenes with both physical and sexual violence, it's a good movie but not an easy one.

Dead Man An interesting black & white western from the 90's with a kickass play along/soundtrack with Neil Young.
posted by nenequesadilla at 8:53 PM on May 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

I would say Ivory's Remains of the Day would fit this bill.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:55 PM on May 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

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