Movie Elegance: Lost or Found?


Elegance in the movies may seem like something from a bygone era, when stars like Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Clark Gable and Marlene Dietrich personified wit, charm, and a fabulous sense of style.

Since the sexual revolution of the ‘60s and the gritty realism of the ‘70s, Hollywood has stopped delivering that kind of elegance — except at awards shows like the Oscars, where the stars fall all over themselves trying to deliver the high fashion glamour that their films typically don’t.

But there’s more to elegance than tuxedos and couture. According to, elements that define “elegance” include; 1) refinement, grace, and beauty in movement, appearance, or manners; 2) tasteful opulence in form, decoration, or presentation; and 3) scientific exactness and precision.

There are many relatively recent films in which the storytelling itself is elegant, unfolding with a sense of refinement and inevitability, featuring characters you care about. And with the scientific precision of 21st Century visual effects, they are often visually elegant as well.

Say what you like about the derivative plot of “Avatar,” but there’s no denying the opulent elegance of James Cameron’s futuristic vision. The most memorable image of his epic “Titanic” is not of the great ship sinking, but the elegant sunset image of lovers Jack and Rose at the prow of the ship.

In “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Peter Jackson and company spun a sprawling tale that proved that hobbits, elves, warriors and monsters can have an elegance all their own. Speaking of epic fantasy, the “Harry Potter” films have grown increasingly elegant, both emotionally and visually, as the young wizard reaches towards the height of his powers.

But modern movie elegance is not confined to stunning CGI effects. Johnny Depp is the most inherently elegant actor of our time, and “Finding Neverland” (the fictionalized story of J.M. Barrie creating “Peter Pan”) is a warm, gentle and emotionally rich example of film elegance.

Depp also lends his talent to the elegant gem “Chocolat,” as the love interest to Juliette Binoche, who teaches a provincial French town to enjoy the pleasures of life through the joys of her homemade chocolates.

These are but some of the ways that recent movies continue to dazzle our eyes and imaginations with elegance. What are some of your favorite examples of cinematic elegance?

About The Author

Adam Sandel is a playwright, screenwriter, lyricist, journalist and film critic living in San Francisco, California. He's the film writer for dot429 Magazine and is the host of the internet radio show "Happy Hour" on

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