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It’s probably the most popular medium of creative expression in the world today: the film is an indispensable part of our entertainment experience and it’s given rise to some wonderfully memorable and imaginative worlds. Here is but a sample of outstanding visual design in films.
Based on Frank Miller’s graphic novels of the same name, Sin City is a neo-noir film that follows the exploits of several characters: an aging police officer trying to stop a serial killer, a man framed for the murder of a prostitute, a young woman trying to escape an abusive ex-boyfriend…the film was highly received when it first came out, especially for its distinctive visual style: the film is mostly in black-and-white, but key objects are highlighted in splashes of colour. It’s a treat.
This deliciously dark animation is based on the story by Neil Gaiman, and directed by Henry Selick (also known for his work on James and the Giant Peach and The Nightmare before Christmas.) Headstrong young girl Coraline has moved house with her parents, much to her chagrin. But things take an interesting turn after she discovers a door to a parallel world in her living room. As a stop-motion animation, the film really pushes the “handmade” angle, from the trees made of popcorn to the clothes made entirely by hand. Sample its delights as soon as you can.
Even if this film didn’t live up to the critical reception its source material warrants, you can’t deny the flair and imagination in it. The classic story of love and betrayal takes place, for the most part, in a theatre with exceptionally clever use of the space to represent many different scenes. And as for the costumes…need we say more? What we wouldn’t give to have access to Anna’s (or Count Vronski’s) tailors.
Pixar’s legendary robot love story is part of a rich tradition of giving robots a soul, but it’s rare for that robot to be so cuddly. It’s hundreds of years in the future, and on a planet Earth strewn with rubbish, a lonely trash compactor on wheels is tidying up the planet and hoarding the curious human artefacts he discovers. When a second robot, EVE, arrives, WALL-E swiftly falls in love with her, and so begins a journey that could change both the fate of WALL-E and the humans that left Earth so long ago.
WALL-E himself is adorable, his clumsy nature and puppy-dog eyes melting even the frostiest of hearts. But the outer-space scenes are just as lovely: if you’ve seen the film yourself, you’ll know what we mean when we say “outer-space dancing.”
Animation is a rich art form, and films like Persepolis demonstrate it isn’t just for children. Based on the autobiographical novel by Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis follows the early life of Marji as she grows up in Iran during the 1980s, followed by her travels in Europe and her subsequent return. Frequently horrifying, but also surprisingly funny, Persepolis is almost entirely animated in stark, black-and-white visuals. Unlike Sin City, however, its cartoonish and expressive art direction lend a softness and a humour to an otherwise bleak and hopeless situation.
The Darjeeling Limited
Director Wes Anderson has gained a reputation for his quirky, subdued filmmaking, but if we had to pick one film to focus on we’re going to go with The Darjeeling Limited. A trio of brothers- Francis, Peter and Jack- reunite for a train journey across India, but family tensions and phantoms of the past threaten to derail the trip before its conclusion. Its vivid colour scheme and interesting transitions make The Darjeeling Limited a memorable film, so jump on board when you get the chance.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Scott Pilgrim is in many respects a videogame in a film’s body, but we mean that as a compliment. Charismatic slacker Scott Pilgrim falls in love with the enigmatic Ramona Flowers…but he must defeat her Seven Evil Exes if they want to be together. Interspersed with everything from goofy, Batman-esque visuals to actual videogame sound effects, Scott Pilgrim is a kinetic, madcap visual experience and in our opinion better than the graphic novels that inspired it.
Honourable Mention: Tron
Okay, compared to the other films in this list the original Tron hasn’t aged amazingly well. But the look of Tron is still a striking one, and its pioneering use of animation and live-action went on to inspire the likes of Toy Story, so its legacy is certainly nothing to sniff at.
Progammer Kevin Flynn breaks into his former employer, Encom, to prove he was the mastermind behind a series of highly successful videogames… a series fellow engineer Ed Dillinger passed off as his own. Flynn is subsequently transported into the company’s mainframe by the draconian Master Control Program and must navigate a bizarre virtual world with the aid of Tron, a principled security programme.
Even though the dialogue and costumes are often embarrassing, Tron is still interesting. If you’re in the mood for a film that tries to do something very different, you could do much worse than this one.