We try not to ask much of you, dear readers, but if you’ve never taken our movie-going advice before, do this much: see Beasts of the Southern Wild, the extraordinary new drama that opens Wednesday in limited release after triumphs at Sundance (where it won the Grand Jury Prize) and Cannes. It’s an astonishingly unique, unexpectedly moving film, memorable not only for its unorthodox storytelling and remarkable performances, but the jaw-dropping, gorgeous cinematography by Ben Richardson, which has a casual beauty that recalls early Terrence Malick, David Gordon Green, and Charles Burnett. Those echoes got us thinking about some of our most beloved “pretty picture” movies — films that simply knock you out with their visual beauty. After much hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing, we picked our ten favorites. Check them out after the jump, and tell us what we left out (and we know there are plenty) in the comments.
Days of Heaven
DIRECTOR: Terrence Malick
CINEMATOGRAPHERS: Nestor Almendros and Haskell Wexler
Some of the most beautiful motion picture photography occurs at “magic hour,” that indelible time near sunset and at sunrise that produces a warm, soft, and pure light. Cinematographers Almendros and Wexler aimed to give that look to as much of Malick’s 1978 film as possible, though that would prove logistically difficult, since you can’t really shoot a feature film in only two hours a day (less than that, really; Almendros later said “magic hour is a euphemism, because it’s not an hour but around 25 minutes at the most”); the film’s look was also accomplished with a delicate eschewing of artificial light. The filmmaker’s insistence on visual perfection caused the film to go over schedule and over budget, and its critical and financial reception was lackluster enough to prompt Malick’s two decade exile from filmmaking. But the picture is, in retrospect, a tremendous achievement from one of our most visually adept filmmakers.