These Visually Stunning Movies Will Leave You Speechless

By Robert Silva

Why Dunkirk, Last Days and Blade Runner 2049 are perfect examples of show, don?t tell.

Some experiences go beyond words. Dunkirk, Last Days and Blade Runner 2049 (2018?s Oscar-winner for Best Cinematography) are visual storytelling at its finest, using the primal power of imagery to take viewers places that dialogue just can?t go. They?re movies you don?t grasp with your mind, so much as feel through your pores. Distinct in their approach to camera framing, lighting and set design, all three films achieve a similar impact. They?re a literal trip ? transporting audiences to new worlds, bygone eras, and unspeakable psychological landscapes. Find out how these movies take us there.


Explosions rippling across a beachside. Planes spinning like compass needles. Dunkirk?s story of 400,000 Allied soldiers trapped on a French beach unreels with a minimum of dialogue and a torrent of breathtaking imagery. The movie is all climax, disposing of three acts in favor of one gripping set piece after another. Christopher Nolan?s World War II triptych isn?t exactly a silent film ? although, as a recent fan edit demonstrated, it could have been. Still, despite all its visual chutzpah, Nolan knows, as did directors of the silent films before him, there?s no special effect like the human face. Some of Dunkirk?s most profound moments are merely registering the emotions of its characters, largely unnamed, who are confronting death and hanging onto life. As much as it pushes the boundaries of spectacle, Dunkirk is a film that makes those stakes feel real. Every frame feels alive.

Last Days

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there?s Last Days, about a Kurt Cobain-esque rocker (Michael Pitt), in the final curl of a downward spiral. He?s barely intelligible for much of the film, and the camera observes from a distance his drugged-out wanderings and hazy interactions with a string of visitors (played by rocker Kim Gordon, director Harmony Korine). Like Gus Van Sant?s earlier Elephant, Last Days is heavily influenced by the visual style of Hungarian auteur Bela Tarr, with its long takes and roaming tracking shots. That introspective approach yields an effect that, depending on the viewer, will be either tedious or transcendent. For those that submit, Last Days hypnotically captures the hollowed-out psychological landscape of depression, turning what could be a cliched tale of doomed celebrity into a haunting ghost story. We?re watching someone whose heart may be beating, but who passed on a long time ago.

Blade Runner 2049

Some filmmakers build worlds of the imagination. The original Blade Runner?s flame-spouting, neon-drenched cityscapes were astonishing in 1982 ? and remain darkly iconic. The 2017 sequel starring Ryan Gosling takes a gamble by moving away from that urban wasteland. The world of Blade Runner 2049 is less dystopic and monotonous, more apocalyptic and vast. The rust-colored dust of a radioactive Las Vegas. The white, hygienic spaces of a laboratory. The detritus of a junkyard shantytown. It?s at times dusty, overcast, amber-infused, rigidly clean, and even snowy. Courtesy of director Denis Villeneuve, CGI-averse production designer Dennis Gassner and legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, it?s an environment that feels even more real than the original. Wide-angle lenses capture finely wrought details to fill the screen, hinting at a larger world off its edges. Intriguing visual motifs ? the blocks of sunlight moving through the lair of Jared Leto?s replicant designer and the symbolic use of yellow ? reward repeat reviewing. Environmental apocalypse aside, it?s a world that seems like it will have a future.