The 2015 Toronto International Film Festival recently came to a close after screening nearly 400 movies over the course of 11 days.
Year after year, TIFF showcases some of the world’s greatest stories and visuals, offering inspiration to creators in the film, photography, and design industries. We’ve selected 10 movies from this year’s festival that had especially impressive visuals — add them to your list of must-see films for the fall.
This Taiwanese wuxia martial arts film (think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) from Hou Hsiao-hsien certainly has a compelling story — set in the ninth century, it follows a deadly assassin sent to kill her ex-fiancé. But it’s the cinematography from Mark Ping Bing Lee that by all accounts is the real star of the film. Again and again, viewers used one word to describe The Assassin: beautiful.
Russian action flick Hardcore would be worth seeing just for its gonzo story about a cybernetic super soldier who must defeat a powerful psychic bent on world domination. But here’s the real kicker: it’s shot in the style of a first-person Call of Duty video game, and everything is from the hero’s point of view. Watching his POV as he kicks and fights his way through his enemies makes Hardcore a truly unique visual experience.
This creepy Halloween tale, about a pregnant teenager who finds her home attacked by a gang of monstrous kids who want her child, is most notable for being shot largely in infrared. It shows off the possibilities of infrared photography by casting an otherworldly and nightmarish shadow over the film’s look and feel, perfectly complementing the unsettling story.
Alfred Hitchcock, one of the greatest filmmakers who ever lived, has much to teach anyone working in a visual medium. This documentary (adapted loosely from the famous book where The 400 Blows director Francois Truffaut interviewed Hitchcock) looks at what made the Master of Suspense great. Filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, and Wes Anderson all appear in the documentary to discuss why Hitchcock’s movies (especially Psycho and Vertigo) were so visually and narratively inspiring. It’s impossible to walk away from this movie without feeling inspired to either put Hitchcock’s tricks to use, or start a marathon screening of his movies.
Cinematographer Christopher Doyle has been responsible for some of cinema’s most beautiful films (In The Mood For Love, Hero). Hong Kong Trilogy finds him both directing and shooting a documentary/fiction hybrid that looks closely — and beautifully — at the city of Hong Kong and the generations that live in it.
Close-ups are one of the most powerful tools a filmmaker or designer can use. James White was one of the most noteworthy films at TIFF, not just because of its look at an aimless twentysomething trying to pull himself together to take care of his cancer-stricken mother. It was noteworthy because it demonstrated the ultimate power of close-ups, which can allow us to really see a person or character by putting us intimately close to them.
Gaspar Noé’s Love, about a love triangle, is not for the unadventurous. Not only does the film feature graphic, unsimulated sex, but it’s also in 3D. It’s a provocative movie, to be sure, but that’s what makes it worth seeing: to witness the melding of beautiful and challenging imagery, and the results of doing something visually unexpected and unique.
Roger Deakins is one of the world’s best cinematographers, which is what makes Sicario a must-see for anyone who’s visually oriented. Yes, the compelling story about the U.S. drug wars with Mexican cartels and the performances from Emily Blunt and Benecio Del Toro are a major draw. But Deakins’ command of composition and camera movement draws you in even more as he shows us everything from a Mexican desert, to a crying face, to the horrifying aftermaths of extreme violence.
There’s one major reason to seek out Victoria — it’s a single, 138-minute shot. Seriously. This story about a young Spanish girl in Berlin who gets roped into a bank heist is all in real-time. The camera never, ever stops. It’s a thrilling technical accomplishment, but it also transcends mere visual gimmickry. It illustrates the importance of not just doing something visually clever, but also making it relevant to the story, character, and message.
Robert Eggers’ debut film, set in 17th-century New England, follows an exiled family who moves to the edge of a forest. Strange things begin to happen and the family slowly unravels. It’s a really unsettling horror movie, and because of the tremendous confidence in how it’s shot, it’s also one of the prettiest horror films you’ve ever seen. The Witch feels almost like a gothic or pastoral painting that has terrifyingly come to life.
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Top image: Promotional still from Love courtesy of Les Cinémas de la Zone