12 Artist Movies Worth Watching

I have always loved movies.

They have been a favorite pastime for most of my life, and for a few short years (1989 – 1994) I was even in the movie industry of sorts. As Art Director and Muralist for the Hollywood Video stores, I had the pleasure of creating larger-than-life murals of movie stars and Hollywood elite… and of course access to a large library of movies de jour.

Naturally, most of my favorite artist-inspired movies have been created since my Hollywood Video days – after all, that was some time ago and several great movies have been created in just the past several years.

In celebration of a creative 2012, following is a list of my top dozen favorite movies about art and artists – listed newest to oldest – along with the corresponding IMDB (International Movie Data Base) links for more information.

01) (Untitled) (2009)

A fashionable contemporary art gallerist in Chelsea, New York falls for a brooding new music composer in this comic satire of the state of contemporary art and art community. The art world in (untitled) is accurately portrayed as an absurd game in which there are several definitions of victory and loss. Ultimately, it’s up to the artists to invent their own versions of success. Directed by Jonathan Parker. Starring Adam Goldberg, Marley Shelton and Eion Bailey – imdb.com/title/tt1132193

02) Nightwatching (2007)

An extravagant, exotic and moving look at Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn’s romantic and professional life, and the controversy he created by the identification of a murderer in one of his most famous paintings “The Night Watch”, a dark-hued painting filled with richly, colorfully dressed soldiers. “Nightwatching” is a beautiful movie with a solid plot and plenty of period earthiness to keep it grounded. Directed by Peter Greenaway. Starring Martin Freeman, Emily Holmes, and Eva Birthistle – imdb.com/title/tt0446750

03) Klimt (2006)

A loose biopic portrait of tortured and controversial Austrian artist Gustav Klimt whose lavish, sensual paintings came to symbolize the art nouveau style of the late 19th and early 20th century. Directed by Raoul Ruiz. Starring John Malkovich, Veronica Ferres and Stephen Dillane – imdb.com/title/tt0417871

04) Art School Confidential (2006)

Bitter, yet funny. Starting from childhood attempts at illustration, the protagonist pursues his true obsession to go to art school in the hopes of having his genuine ability recognized and cherished. But as he learns how the art world really works, he finds that he must adapt his vision to the reality that confronts him. The crime-thriller plot of “Art School Confidential”, however, is merely a contrivance to string together a series of caustic digs at the shallow, narcissistic, talentless hacks who go to art school in the vain hope of achieving fame, wealth, and sexual abundance with little or no effort. Directed by Terry Zwigoff. Starring Max Minghella, Sophia Myles, and John Malkovich – imdb.com/title/tt0364955

05) Frida (2002)

A biography of artist Frida Kahlo, who channeled the pain of a crippling injury and her tempestuous marriage with her unfaithful husband, muralist Diego Rivera into her work. “Frida” features a wealth of gorgeous visuals including their trip to New York City, where Rivera’s political learnings ruptured a commission from the Rockefeller family and a nice representation of Frida’s art throughout. Directed by Julie Taymor. Starring Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Antonio Banderas, Geoffrey Rush, and Edward Norton – imdb.com/title/tt0120679

06) Goya’s Ghosts (2006)

Painter Francisco Goya faces a scandal involving his muse, who is labeled a heretic by a monk. Far from upbeat, this movie is fascinating to watch in its representation of the church and artist’s relationship for the period. Directed by Milos Forman. Starring Javier Bardem, Natalie Portman, and Stellan Skarsgård – imdb.com/title/tt0455957

07) Pollock (2000)

A film about the life and career of the American painter, Jackson Pollock, honoring the artist’s achievement in abstract expressionism while acknowledging that Pollock was a tormented, manic-depressive alcoholic whose death at 44 also claimed the life of an innocent woman. Directed by Ed Harris. Starring Ed Harris, Maria Gay Harden, and Tom Bower – imdb.com/title/tt0183659

08) The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

A very rich and successful man of industry, playboy Thomas Crown amuses himself by stealing artwork but may have met his match in a seductive detective. Directed by John McTiernan. Starring Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo, Denis Leary, and Faye Dunaway – imdb.com/title/tt0155267

09) Sirens (1993)

When a painting is termed blasphemous, an idealistic young minister and his wife visit the artist, intent on delivering salvation, are seduced by the sensuality that surrounds a controversial artist and his three sexually playful nude models living with him. I could watch this movie repeatedly just for the phenomenally beautiful Elle MacPherson alone. Directed by John Duigun. Starring Hugh Grant, Tara Fitzgerald, Sam Neill, and Elle MacPherson – imdb.com/title/tt0111201

10) Vincent & Theo (1990)

Beautiful, disturbing, and powerful… the eternal struggle between madness and genius takes its toll in the familiar tragic story of Vincent van Gogh, broadened by focusing as well on his brother Theodore, who helped support Vincent. The movie also provides a nice view of the locations which Vincent painted. Directed by Robert Altman. Starring Tim Roth, Paul Rhys, and Adrian Brine – imdb.com/title/tt0100873

11) The Moderns (1988)

This witty, elegant, and clever film stunningly evokes the legendary milieu of Paris café society. Nick Hart is a struggling American artist who lives in the expatriate community in 1920s Paris. He spends most of his time drinking and socializing in local cafés and pestering gallery owner Libby Valentin to sell his paintings. He becomes involved in a plot by wealthy art patroness Nathalie de Ville to forge three paintings. This leads to several run-ins with American rubber magnate Bertram Stone, who happens to be married to Hart’s seductive and beautiful ex-wife Rachel. Directed by Alan Rudolpf. Starring Keith Carradine, Linda Fiorentino, and Wallace Shawn – imdb.com/title/tt0095649

12) Lust For Life (1956)

One of the greatest films ever made about the madness and creative genius of brilliant but tortured artist Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). Often described as a biodrama of the troubled artist, from his first painting to his death. Kirk Douglas delivers an Oscar-nominated performance as the tragic Dutch painter. Directed by Vicente Minnelli and George Cukor. Starring Kirk Douglas, Anthony Quinn and James Donald – imdb.com/title/tt0049456

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