I just re-watched the first Transformers movie and now find myself completely overwhelmed and kind of craving something with a bit more of a soft touch. I know that my question is something of a corollary of Films to Study for Excellence in Sound Design, but either I've seen them, or they look to have a bit too much of a WOW factor for what I'm interested in focusing on for the time being.

I've recently started a self-directed course of study in sound design where I'm actually stopping, taking notes, and re-watching sections until I figure out what's happening in the sound; of which Transformers was the first. It was quite the job too. It's one of those hypnotic flicks where you tend to drift off into space somewhere in the middle and get jolted back in for the final epic fight-battle-save-the-world. Very difficult to keep track of what's going on.

Anyway, I have put together something of a list for myself, but I thought I'd solicit some recommendations from you fine folks.

What I'm looking for are kind of 'anti-sound' movies, if you take my meaning. Very much along the lines of a No Country for Old Men or There Will be Blood. Basically, no guns, no explosions, no car chases, no laser weapons or force shields. Nothing big and nothing BLAOW!

Please don't get me wrong, I absolutely adore that stuff and always find myself amazed at the innate ability that some guys/gals have for making amazing sounding things. But I currently have a desire for fragility, subtlety, and quiet. I'm finding myself more and more fascinated with texture and composition and the subtext that a well-placed gust of wind can carry into a scene.

That's the stuff that I want to learn how to do. Motion without moving, push without shove, air without wind, and various other poetical sounding near-clichés.

Any non-North American and non-English movies you can think of would be most welcome as well. Reading subtitles is to me the perfect marriage of my three favourite things in the world, words, pictures, and sounds. I saw an amazing flick from Thailand a couple of years ago and am saddened by the fact that I can't remember its title, I'd love to see more.

Here are a few from my list.

  • Eyes Wide Shut
  • Solaris (The Soderbergh version, though I do intend to see the original)
  • Three Colours Trilogy and the Decalogue (two series by the same director)
  • Amelie
  • Delicatessen

I suppose if I wanted to be terribly pretentious I could say that I'm looking for Films not movies, but I won't even get into that one, : ).

Thanks Kindly


You guys are awesome, keep 'em comin'. More = merrier.

14 Answers 14


The Tree of Life (you have to wait for it)

True Grit

The Assassination of Jesse James...

The New World

The Thin Red Line (between the fight scenes)

The Social Network

The Shining


The English Patient

Panic Room

Vanilla Sky

The King's Speech

The Hurt Locker (how foley and ambient sounds add to the suspense of the story)

Shutter Island

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Memoirs of a Geisha

I want a full report tomorrow. 5,000 words.

  • @utopia, Don't tempt me, I'm overly verbose as it is...
    – g.a.harry
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 5:38
  • @g.a.harry I hope those movies are sort of what you're looking for. It was difficult to conjure up.
    – Utopia
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 5:40
  • @utopia, Absolutely. You get the checkmark, I don't have any prizes for you, but I'd give you one if I did.
    – g.a.harry
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 20:21

Elephant by Gus Van Sant is a great example of a film whose impact heavily relies on the sound design, yet the soundtrack is very organic! I think it's a masterpiece!



  • +1 for Elephant. That film sticks in my head like a knife…really hard to forget the imagery. Although I can't say I remember much about the sound... Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 9:22
  • @Jay - Just added a video. In particular, check out the scene from 2.19 onwards (great uses of calming atmospheres in what is actually an insanely tense situation) then from 6.30 where the soundtrack develops elements such as a trickling stream and birdsong. Awesome, awesome sound design by Leslie Shatz. Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 16:41
  • @Colin and @Jay, Next on the list for certain.
    – g.a.harry
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 16:49
  • The film left me numb when I watched it a few years ago without knowing anything about it beforehand. I rate it among one of the best movies with sound realism.
    – Rishi Dani
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 19:27
  • Van Sants whole trilogy of death films are very good: Elephant, Gerry & Last Days, as is Paranoid Park
    – user49
    Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 23:49

I'm surprised Amelie is on your list; that film sticks in my mind as leaning heavily on "design"-type sound effects to support the visual style.

I heartily recommend Road To Perdition. It is a striking film, beautifully shot and designed, with a soundtrack that is refreshingly sparse and effective and chock full of tasty details and nuances.

  • @Jay, You may be right about Amelie. I included it because I remember loving the music feel of it, but I don't recall much of the actual sound (it was long before I really got into SD). It'll definitely be an interesting re-watch though, if only because it's so fantastic.
    – g.a.harry
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 20:20

Another one which seems to fit your bill would be The Lives of Others (German: Das Leben der Anderen). It's a great film, with great sound and I can't recommend it enough. Go check it out ;)


Sunshine, amazing, brooding atmosphere.

  • @EMV, one of my all time favorites. In fact it's pretty much the reason I'm here.
    – g.a.harry
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 13:30
  • house of flying daggers
  • do no country for old men twice
  • oh brother where art thou
  • dead poets society
  • good will hunting
  • book of Eli

2001: A space odyssey

Julien Donkeyboy


Children of men

The Conversation




Enter the void





Inland Empire


Micmacs definitely, and La Haine - very subversive at times..

  • +1 on both. La Haine is a classic! Not overly intrusive on the sound design but very affective all the same! Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 16:42
  • The Proposition - Great subtle ambiances and an amazing soundtrack by Nick Cave.

  • Atonement - A masterpiece of sound design, I say it every time as well.

  • 127 Hours - Brilliant


Try 'Old Boy'. Might be something similar to what you're looking for.



Great answers so far. I will add...

Once Upon a Time in the West - The quieter moments of this film have always struck me as very well sound designed. I love the shot towards the beginning where the fly is buzzing around a guy's head for over a minute on a steady shot.


There is a sequence near the end of Children Of Men where the hero is trying to make his way thru a battle into a building that is under siege in order to save someone, and it is truly stunning. 5 minutes or so with almost no dialog, the music is very sound designy and everything else is sound and fear. AWESOME!

I kinda like the 1st matrix movie as well, but that's more like the Transformer's sound track.

  • @David, I just rewatched COM two months ago. Played that sequence through at least 5 times, there's only one cut all the way up and down. Crazy.
    – g.a.harry
    Commented Apr 10, 2011 at 4:06

For use of silence:

Cure (1997)

Tokyo Sonata (2008)

For delicate atmospheres and interesting foley (or vice versa):

Humanité (Humanity) (1999)

Silent Light (2007)

Dans Ma Peau (In My Skin) (2002)

And just because i really liked them for no specific reason i can give right now (and they're not over the top sound design films):

Noise (2007)

Michael Clayton (2007)

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