Style & Design

14 Iconic Art Movies You Need To Stream This Year

By Tim Piccione
7th Mar 2022

We’re all in when it comes to bringing art to life through film.

From period dramas exploring the lives of famous painters and exploratory documentaries to romance, comedy, horror and drama films set around artists and artworks–there are plenty of iconic art movies you can watch right now.

Here are all the art flicks to tick off your list. 

Portrait Of A Lady On Fire

From French director Céline Sciamma, Portrait Of A Lady On Fire (or Portrait De La Jeune Fille En Feu) tells a story of forbidden love between the daughter of a wealthy family and the young artist commissioned to paint her portrait promised to a future husband. We love any premise of forbidden love in 18th Century France as much as you do–but this movie brings more depth than the expected formula. The deeply intimate film is scored only by the natural sounds of waves, crackling fire, and paint brushing against a coarse canvas (some deep ASMR going on for anyone interested). It turns out painting someone you're falling in love with can be both profoundly charming and tragic at the same time. 

At Eternity's Gate

If you're a fan of Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh, this is the film for you. Led by an incredible (and Oscar-nominated) performance from Willem Dafoe, At Eternity's Gate follows the final years of Van Gogh's life as a mostly unappreciated artist living in France. Filmed up close and roughly, we watch the post-impressionist's gradual descent into madness as his world becomes blurrier. The film explores Van Gogh's eternal love of art, famed ear cutting, mysterious death and sole relationships with his brother Theo (Rupert Friend) and fellow painter Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac). 

Frida

Portrayed by the incredibly talented Salma Hayek, Frida follows the private and professional life of famed Mexican painter Frida Kahlo in Mexico City. Through her triumphs, she became one of the most talented and revered surrealist artists of the 20th century. Navigating through her political views and relationships with Diego Rivera and Leon Trotsky, viewers are witness to the incredible hardships she suffered during her short life.

Midnight In Paris

When nostalgic novelist Gil wanders around the streets of Paris late at night for inspiration, he finds himself taken back through time and away from his fiancée to Paris' roaring 1920s. There, he meets a few historical figures and a life he aspires to. If Owen Wilson (in the most charmingly Owen Wilson performance ever) is Midnight In Paris' lead character, the incredible tapestry of Paris is his co-star. The city is even re-imagined as Van Gogh's Starry Night blues and yellows in the movie poster. After that, the behind-the-scenes time travel insight into artists like Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Henri Matisse and Man Ray solidify this as an iconic art film. 

 

Loving Vincent

Loving Vincent is the world's first feature-length painting animation. It explores the suspicious death of Vincent Van Gogh through the fictional story of the protagonist, Armand. Tasked with delivering Van Gogh's last letter to his brother Theo, Armand discovers stories of the painter's life by speaking to those who knew him. The film brilliantly uses Van Gogh's art for background and people he painted as its characters, re-imagined as modern actors (Chris O'Dowd with a giant beard as postman Joseph Roulin is a standout). To create this effect, the animators painted 66,960 frames of oil artworks. It's really worth checking out the visual ingenuity and creativity used to build the animation of this film for yourself. 

Mr. Turner

From British director Mike Leigh, Mr. Turner explores the final 25 years of famed British painter JMW Turner. The biopic drama delves into the flaws and brilliance of the growling romantic painter and watercolourist. Timothy Spall turns in a mesmerising and nuanced lead performance as the unconventional Victorian painter. The film's visually gripping cinematography also makes this a very worthy watch. 

The French Dispatch

Although he's never directly made a film about art up to now, you could argue Wes Anderson has purposefully painted visually spectacular and colourful movies in the past–think The Grand Budapest Hotel or Fantastic Mr Fox. But it's with The French Dispatch, Anderson's anthological love letter to The New Yorker set in the fictitious French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé, that the quirky and symmetrical director lands on this list. Specifically, with "The Concrete Masterpiece" story about a brilliant but unstable incarcerated painter (Benicio del Toro) and his prison guard muse (Léa Seydoux). The first act explores love and the commodification of art. 

Art and Craft

For those of us who find the world of art alienating and highbrow in ways, there's something satisfying about a story of someone expertly duping it. Art and Craft is a documentary about Mark Landis, one of the world's most prolific art forgers. But instead of forging masterpieces for financial gain, Landis donates his fakes to museums and galleries. The engrossing film captures a real-life character and story that's truly stranger than fiction. 

National Gallery

Don't immediately lose interest when we say this, but you should absolutely watch this three-hour documentary about London's National Gallery that uses no voice over, sound effects or music of any kind. First of all, it comes from the mind of seasoned documentarian Frederick Wiseman. The César Award for Best Documentary winning film takes us behind the scenes of one of the art world's most important institutions, redefining our understanding of a museum's inner workings and appreciation for art on a wall. 

Candyman

You probably weren't expecting a social slasher movie produced by modern master of suspense Jordan Peele on this list, and yet, here is Candyman. When a painter (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) begins investigating the legend of Candyman for artistic inspiration, he unknowingly brings the hook-handed killer back. But more than just horror, the Nia DaCosta directed spiritual sequel explores urban gentrification, police brutality and racial violence, with art playing a pivotal role in this storytelling. This is definitely the goriest, most frightening and most thought-provoking art-centric film you'll add to your watch list. Just don't say "Candyman" five times in the mirror..

Saving Banksy

What happens when the very artworks intended to scathingly subvert and criticise the world of art collection, greed and capitalism become commodified and sold into that very system? That's what Saving Banksy aims to explore. With insight from artistic peers, the documentary follows art collectors attempting to save "Haight Street Rat", the work of notorious and anonymous British graffiti artist Banksy. 

Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child

Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child shows never-before-seen footage of the famous artist two years before he passed away in 1988. The influential neo-expressionist painter and Andy Warhol collaborator collided with jazz and Manhattan's early hip-hop culture of the 70s and 80s. With unprecedented insight, the film revolves around an interview between a 25-year-old Basquiat and director Tamra Davis, exploring the young painter's relationship with fame, acclaim and the art world.

Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present

This documentary follows contemporary artist Marina Abramović during her 2010 MoMA performance exhibition The Artist Is Present. In it, Abramović sat silently at a table across from an empty chair, inviting (and challenging) one and all to sit down across from her and lock into her gaze. Over 1,000 strangers sat down in a three-month period, evoking surprisingly emotional reactions and exploring an artists' complex relationship with audience. 

 
 

Girl With A Pearl Earring

​Based on Johannes Vermeer's famous work, Girl with a Pearl Earring is a fictionalised account of the painting's creation. Set in the 1600s, the film follows Vermeer's (Colin Firth) relationship with his muse, a housemaid named Griet (Scarlett Johansson). Hiding their friendship from Vermeer's wife, the pair are commissioned to work together to create one of history's most famous paintings.

Inspired by these art films? Head here to find out where you can get yourself some art.

Image Credit: Neon

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