1. The cinematography--the out-of-control sublime beauty of Every. Single. Shot.
2. The show-stealing performance of Romanian child actress Catinca Untaru. She is ten kinds of adorable.
3. Lee Pace like you've never seen him before. I like Lee Pace, he's adorably pretty, and he plays the Pie-maker beautifully in Pushing Daisies, but I never thought he was that great an actor before. He proved me wrong in this, playing a much darker character, in moving fashion.
4. Whimsy! I love a movie with a sense of play and the fantastic--particularly when it's combined with childhood nostalgia and storytelling.
5. Darkness--A children's movie this may be, but it's really dark. While not particularly (overtly) violent, there is a lot of creepiness in the hospital setting, and the plot enters some pretty dark territory. For me, childhood nightmares, or the way that adult truths penetrate children's consciousness, is a fascination, so it played well to me.
6. Filming locations--they could not be more sumptuous or spectacular and include the Maldives, India (Agra Fort, Jodhpur, Ladakh, Kashmir, etc), Brazil, Egypt, Cambodia, Namibia, Prague, Turkey and many more.
7. Imagination--the plot revolves around an injured stuntman who tells stories to a young girl in a hospital. Reality and unreality intersect and I'm a sucker for that stuff.
8. Recurring motifs--horses, oranges, paper messages, pills and butterflies.
9. The birth of cinema--there is a subplot about the development of moving pictures and the 'trickery' they involve.
10. Heartstring-tuggery--the little girl and the stuntman both have something to give to the other and they both harbour sad stories. While these remain in the background, they inform the action of the story in a very moving way.
ETA: This review, which I largely agree with, includes an explanation of the film's origins: "As Tarsem Singh (these days, just "Tarsem") explains it, he first had the idea for The Fall 14 years ago, but was unable to secure funding for a dark, miserablist fantasy shot in more than a dozen countries, based on a Bulgarian drama (1981's Yo Ho Ho), and largely written by the improvisational choices of a 5-year-old girl". Ahem. Yeah, I see how that was a hard sell.
Like all very beautiful things, when I finish it, I feel empty and instantly begin longing for it, or something like it, again. So if anyone wants to rec me any similar movies (ha!), feel free. Otherwise, I'll be on the sofa watching it for the third time in 24 hours...