A decade ago, Robert Rodriguez’s living comic book—Sin City—came out of left field and showed our eyes something new. Never before had someone so effectively (and respectfully) translated the comic panel and page into a moving image. Many of us will never forget the experience of watching it for the first time.
Film fans crave the feeling that accompanies the witnessing of a new cinematic feat. Once in a blue moon, a film will roll around and assert itself as a turning point in the history of the medium, and occasionally set a new benchmark from which the industry takes its cue.
Here are some of the dazzling films that had our eyes dancing:
Director Alfonso Cuarón’s space-set two-hander didn’t get there first in terms of 3D technologies, but this was a situation where the technology was changing so rapidly that most of the film was re-shot.
Thankfully it was, as Cuaron captured what it’s like to move through space like nobody that came before him.
Stop-motion is an age-old technique, but Coraline’s creators reinvented the wheel by MacGyver’ing up the whole process. Director Henry Selick (The Night Before Christmas alumni), embraced the freedom of DIY construction—using a quarter-million pieces of popcorn to make cherry blossoms, superglue and baking soda to create snow, and black fishing line to make chest hair.
Coraline came with 200,000 facial expressions, which means that Selick had 350 plates for the top half of her face (mainly the eyebrows and forehead), and 700 plates for the bottom half (mainly the mouth).
Each day of production yielded roughly 2-to-4 seconds of footage.
A poor story can render a visually gorgeous film unwatchable, which makes Avatar’s visuals that more impressive, as I was glued to the screen for most of the film despite that collection of scenes masquerading as a story.
The first feature film shot with 3D cameras, which is even more significant considering Cameron wrote the script in the 90s but couldn’t make it due to the restrictions of existing technology.
Look Both Ways (2005)
An Aussie film makes the list, and although Sarah Watt’s personal indie wasn’t entirely new, it juxtaposed live-action and animation in her own unique fashion. .
Funny and heartbreaking, Look Both Ways remains a reminder to Aussie filmmakers that unique visual style and good screenplays are not mutually exclusive.
Waking Life (2001)
Playing with an image outlining technique known as ‘rotoscoping’, eclectic director Richard Linklater built on 1970’s filmmaker Ralph Bakshi’s experiments to produce a truly unique viewing experience.
Linklater shot live-action scenes then animated over the top of the image, creating a painfully real, yet dream-like feel to the proceedings.
In the Mood for Love (2000)
Hong Kong’s modern master Won Kar Wai’s technique of slow motion storytelling shouldn’t have worked as well as it did, but no other film has captured the sensuality of falling in love with such conviction.
Lush colours and meticulously composed, Wai went on to unleash another visual beast with a sequel - 2004’s 2046 .
The Matrix (1999)
Gravity-defying gymnastics of the highest order. Beat a bullet by bending backwards. Fight a thousand pairs of identical Hugo Weaving twins.
Toy Story (1995)
The film that changed animated cinema forever going forward, exposing audiences to the first feature-length CGI film.
It was also the first Pixar feature, which considering the company’s influence on animation in general, only heightens the film’s relevance.
City of Lost Children (1995)
While Delicatessen came before and Amelie after, its Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s most visually memorable work. Jeunet’s openly revealed his films are heavily influenced by Terry Gilliam, and more specifically his seminal work Brazil (1985), but don’t let that dissuade you.
The dark, painterly visuals are something out of a banned, though beautifully illustrated children’s book, and sends us off to experience on-screen surreality like never before.
The visual feast that is Sin City is streaming now on SBS On Demand: