I'm now teaching Visual Storytelling at CCA in Oakland. As part of that course I maintain a list of recommended movies. I'm going to start keeping that here for various reasons. Expect this blog post to get updated as we go along.
Films that are good examples of visual storytelling
Lawrence of Arabia — one of the best ever at almost everything. Try to see it on a big screen if you can.
The Apartment — Classic comedy from Billy Wilder
Sunset Boulevard — Another Billy Wilder movie that had a disastrous test screening and went on to be a seminal work. Beautifully structured storytelling, super clear staging and cinematography.
El Orfanato (The Orphanage) — Probably the best genre screenplay ever written. One of the scariest scenes is accomplished entirely via blocking and camera operation. A gem. Have a hanky handy for the climax.
Blancanieves (Snow White) — A silent film from Spain that's just beautifully crafted.
Pixar Shorts — Starting around Knickknack we got pretty good at it. Check out the student films Next Door, Somewhere in the Arctic, and Palm Springs.
Better Call Saul (TV Series) — I love the way this show (at least Season 1) was shot. The use of dark areas, slashes of light, and framing are terrific.
The Elephant Man — Possibly David Lynch's best film. It's masterfully shot and staged, and the sound design puts Lynch's touch on it.
The Last Emperor — Stunning evidence of how good an episodic film can be. The cinematography by Vitorio Storaro is masterful, and the use of color to mark where you are in the protagonist's story is wonderful. See it on a big screen if you can. Not for nothing did it win 9 Oscars.
Films that are bad examples of visual storytelling
You can learn a lot from bad examples. I talk about an overall geographical stage line to keep the viewer oriented. Try watching the 1998 feature film version of Lost in Space. There isn't a single line the movie doesn't cross in confusing ways at least a few times.