We’re All About Art Movies

32 Art-Related Movies to Watch (Plus a Tournament!)

We’ve compiled a list of 32 films about art and artists, which may come in handy during these quarantine days. Whether you’re a frontline worker looking for a few hours of escapism, a stay-at-home parent looking for some semi-educational content for the kids (it’s history, right?) or are simply a lover of art, we hope we can provide you with some recommendations.

We will also be running a “March Madness” style tournament in our Instagram Stories, pitting these films against each other to determine the Ultimate Art Movie. Will a classic like “Camille Claudel” triumph? Or will it be a visual masterpiece like “Loving Vincent”? We’re not discounting recent favourites like “Exit Through the Gift Shop” or homegrown heroes like “Maudie”!

The tournament begins on Monday, May 4  and we hope you’ll join us to vote on your favourites. Please be sure to follow us @waddingtons275 to vote daily. The bracket on this page will be updated as results are finalized. The films have been seeded according to the aggregate of their critical score and are listed here according to those rankings.

Camille Claudel (1988)
(available on Kanopy and iTunes)

The film revolves around the intense relationship between 19th century sculptors Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin, played by Isabelle Adjani and Gérard Depardieu. Based on a book by Reine-Marie Paris, the granddaughter of Claudel’s brother, the film presents Claudel as a formidable talent in her own right, rather than as her usual position as a footnote in the career of Rodin. Adjani was nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards, while the film was nominated in Best Foreign film category.

La Belle Noiseuse (1991)
(available on Kanopy)

Often translated as “The Beautiful Troublemaker,” this film stars Michel Piccoli, Jane Birkin and Emmanuelle Béart. The film tells the story of a formerly great painter who resumes an abandoned project when he meets a new muse, and the complex evolution of their relationship as artist and subject. The film is recognized for its insider glimpse into the artistic process: long stretches of the film are dedicated to watching the artist’s hand and brush. Director Jacques Rivette was certainly in no rush to tell the story, which clocks in around four hours. For family audiences, it is worth noting that Béart spends much of the film nude.

Lust for Life (1956)
(available on iTunes)

Kirk Douglas portrays the tortured genius Vincent van Gogh from youth to death. Douglas won the Golden Globe for Best Actor, while Anthony Quinn won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his turn as Paul Gaugin.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
(available on iTunes)

A slow burn of a period piece set in the 18th century, this is the story of a forbidden affair between a young painter, Marianne, and her subject, the aristocratic Héloïse. Marianne has been commissioned to do a painting of Héloïse’s by the latter’s mother, which will be sent to Héloïse’s husband-to-be. The catch? Héloïse cannot know she is being painted.

Mr. Turner (2014)
(available on iTunes and Amazon Prime)

Following the last 25 years of British painter J.M.W. Turner’s life, writer and director Mick Leigh explained, “I felt there was scope for a film examining the tension between this very mortal, flawed individual, and the epic work, the spiritual way he had of distilling the world.” Timothy Spall plays the titular artist, winning Best Actor at Cannes for his performance.

My Left Foot (1989)
(available on iTunes and Amazon Prime)

Listed as one of the top British films of all time, “My Left Foot” tells the story of Christy Brown, played by Daniel Day-Lewis. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Christy is unable to walk or talk, but finds solace in painting, which he does using his left foot—the only appendage he can control fully. Roger Ebert writes, “It is not an inspirational movie, although it inspires. It is not a sympathetic movie, although it inspires sympathy. It is the story of a stubborn, difficult, blessed and gifted man who was dealt a bad hand, who played it brilliantly, and who left us some good books, some good paintings and the example of his courage.”

Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
(available on iTunes, Amazon Prime and Kanopy)

Whether you believe the film to be documentary or mockumentary, it is the story of Thierry Guetta, a French immigrant to Los Angeles, and his transformation from street art dilettante into the famous artist know as Mr. Brainwash. With appearances by street art superstars including Invader, Shepard Fairey and the film’s director, Banksy, the film is an amusing look at the world of underground art and art market madness.

Cutie and the Boxer (2013)
(available on iTunes)

“Cutie and the Boxer” is a documentary about the 40-year marriage between two Brooklyn-based Japanese artists, Ushio and Noriko Shinohara. The film’s title is a reference to Ushio, who gained a level of fame for his artwork made by punching canvas repeatedly with paint-soaked boxing gloves, and Noriko, who draws autobiographical comic-book style illustrations about a character named Cutie.

While ostensibly about their difficult relationship, the film sheds light on the elusive nature of success, confidence and stability within the art world.

Maudie (2016)
(available on iTunes and Kanopy)

We’re no strangers to the work of Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis here at Waddington’s, which is why we were thrilled that Aisling Walsh made this moving biopic. The film follows Lewis, played by Sally Hawkins, as she moves in with the brusque fisher peddler Everett so as to act as his housekeeper. Lewis begins to paint the walls of his small cabin in an effort to add beauty to their spartan home. Her signature paintings emerge from these efforts; the film follows her relationship with Everett as well as her emerging career. The film was shot in Newfoundland and Labrador, sparking controversy in Lewis’ native province of Nova Scotia. “Maudie” sparked a resurgence of interest in the artist’s work, and is a touching piece of Canadian history to be shared with the whole family.

Tim’s Vermeer (2014)
(available on iTunes)

It might not be a sweeping epic or a costume drama, but “Tim’s Vermeer” is an engrossing watch for fans of Johannes Vermeer and/or anyone interested in the history of painting. Directed by Teller (of Penn and Teller fame), the documentary follows entrepreneur Tim Jenison in his quest to recreate a Vermeer painting. Jenison grabs hold of the theory that Vermeer used optical devices to help create his jewel-like paintings, and sets out to see if he can combine 17th century technology with his own meagre artistic talent to replicate the master’s work.

Séraphine (2008)
(available on Amazon Prime USA)

Yolande Moreau stars as the painter Séraphine Louis, a French painter known for her naïve style. Louis worked as a housekeeper, painting by candlelight during her hours off. It is in the role of servant that she meets art critic Wilhelm Uhde, who, impressed by her paintings, begins to buy and sell them on her behalf. Spanning several decades, themes of art, religion and mental illness are examined.

The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965)
(available on iTunes and Amazon Prime)

Charlton Heston as Michelangelo? Now that’s something you’ve got to see! Based on Irving Stone’s novel of the same name, the film revolves around the conflict between Michelangelo and Pope Julius II around the painting of the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel.

Loving Vincent (2017)
(available on Kanopy and iTunes)

Billed as the world’s first fully-painted film, this biopic was initially conceived as a short and was expanded (with help from Kickstarter) into a feature-length film. Director Dorota Kobiela worked with 125 classically trained oil painters—rather than animators—to tell the story of the death of the beloved Dutch artist. Each frame is beautifully rendered, and brings van Gogh’s work to life.

Pollock (2000)
(available on iTunes)

Ed Harris does double-duty in this film, which he both directs and stars in. The film follows Pollock’s life from struggling artist through his rise to superstardom and ultimate death. Marcia Gay Harden plays Lee Krasner, Pollock’s wife, for which she won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. The film was a passion project for Harris, who did all of the painting in the film himself.

At Eternity’s Gate (2018)
(available on iTunes, Amazon Prime and Crave)

Directed by artworld superstar Julian Schnabel, this film stars Willem Dafoe at Vincent van Gogh, and dramatizes the controversial opinion that the artist’s death was a result of mischief rather than suicide. The film was shot on location in France in Arles, Bouches-du-Rhône and Auvers-sur-Oise, locations where van Gogh spent his final years. As always, Schnabel lends his painterly eye to his movies, which makes for a visually stunning experience.

The Mill and the Cross (2011)
(available on iTunes and Kanopy)

Blending live action with CGI, the film brings Pieter Breughel’s painting, “The Way to Cavalry,” to life. Focussing on a handful of the 500 characters in Breughel’s painting, the film unfolds through a series of vignettes. The story of the Crucifixion is told against the backdrop of the brutal Spanish religious persecution of occupied Flanders in 16th century. Rutger Hauer plays the artist, and Charlotte Rampling plays the Virgin Mary.

Never Look Away (2018)
(available on iTunes)

Inspired by the life of Gerhard Richter, the film follows the protagonist from a childhood spent in Nazi Germany to post-war East Berlin to an escape to the West during the fall of the Berlin Wall. Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, it is a riveting movie that received excellent reviews—except from Richter himself.

Nightwatching (2007)
(available on the BFI website)

Directed by Peter Greenaway, this movie stars Martin Freeman as Rembrandt van Rijn. The film centers around the creation of “The Night Watch,” and suggests that the painting may contain a dark mystery. Due to the director’s signature use of raw sexuality, this isn’t one for the whole family.

Frida (2002)
(available on iTunes)

Following the artist from schoolgirl to celebrated artist, “Frida” is a lush biopic that languished for years before being scooped up by Salma Hayek, who starred in and produced the film, and Julie Taymor, who directed. An intensely personal film, fans of the Mexican superstar will delight in seeing her courageous life brought to the silver screen. Alfred Molina’s warm portrayal of muralist Diego Rivera is another reason to watch.

Final Portrait (2017)
(available on iTunes and Amazon Prime)

The friendship between legendary sculptor Alberto Giacometti and James Lord, an American critic, serves as the foundation for this film. In Paris in 1964, Giacometti asks Lord to pose for him, a task that will supposedly only last for a few days. Directed by Stanley Tucci, the movie depicts the creation of one of the artist’s last masterpieces.

Big Eyes (2014)
(available on iTunes and Amazon Prime)

Directed by Tim Burton, “Big Eyes” is based on the true story of Walter Keane, a successful artist of the 1950s and 60s who was known for his portraits of waifish girls with huge eyes. However, the paintings were all created by Keane’s wife Margaret—the film is about her artistic awakening, her troubled relationship with her husband, and a lie that got much bigger than expected.

Girl with a Pearl Earring (2004)
(available on iTunes, Amazon Prime and Crave)

Scarlett Johansson might have been born to play the fictionalized Griet, the subject of Vermeer’s iconic painting—that face! Director Peter Webber takes a peek into the painter’s chaotic household and rarified studio. The film isn’t plot driven—indeed, not much happens—but the elegant use of light and setting makes the entire movie look like a painting.

Renoir (2013)
(available on iTunes and Amazon Prime)

Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s son returns to his father’s home to convalesce after being wounded in World War I. Cue the entrance of a young girl, Andrée, who captivates both father and son, while acting as the last model for Renoir Senior before his death. Critics seem to agree that it is the lush visuals of the film that make it worth a watch.

Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
(available on iTunes and Amazon Prime)

A staff favourite at Waddington’s, this is a sexy thriller about a multimillionaire playboy who steals art for fun. Based on the 1968 neo-noir of the same name, the titular role is played by Pierce Brosnan, who is being pursued by a sophisticated investigator played by Rene Russo. Fans of the original will be charmed by a cameo by Faye Dunaway, who played the investigator in the 1968 version. Expect a stylish caper set in New York City, a behind-the-scenes look into the Metropolitan Museum, and a didn’t-see-that-coming conclusion.

Basquiat (1996)
(available on Amazon USA)

The second film directed by Schnabel on this list, the film follows Basquiat’s rise from homeless street artist to art world darling. David Bowie takes a turn at playing Andy Warhol, which makes this film essential viewing for anyone wishing to enter an argument about who played Warhol best on the silver screen.

The Danish Girl (2015)
(available on iTunes)

Loosely based on the lives of married artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener. Elbe was one of the first known recipients of sex-reassignment surgery, having begun life as a man. The film traces the evolution of their lives and careers, and garnered much praise for the two lead actors, Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander.

Velvet Buzzsaw (2019)
(available on Netflix)

“Velvet Buzzsaw” is a satirical horror film that delights in poking fun at the pretentiousness of the rarified upper echelons of the art world. With a strong ensemble cast, the film stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Toni Collette and John Malkovich.

Woman in Gold (2015)
(available on iTunes, Amazon Prime and Crave)

Another staff favourite at Waddington’s, this film is based on the true story of Maria Altmann, who began a decade-long battle to reclaim Gustav Klimt’s painting of her aunt, “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I.” The painting had been taken from Altmann’s Jewish family by the Nazis prior to World War II, and despite these unfortunate origins, had gone on to become one of Austria’s most iconic pieces of art—“Austria’s “Mona Lisa.”” Altmann, who had emigrated to Los Angeles, fought the government of Austria in order to reclaim her birthright, a case that ultimately ended up in the US Supreme Court. Helen Mirren stars as Altmann, with Ryan Reynolds playing her determined lawyer.

Surviving Picasso (1996)
(available on iTunes)

A Merchant Ivory film about—you guessed it—Picasso, the movie is told through the eyes of his lover, Françoise Gilot. The film focuses more on the master’s personal life than his art; the production was unable to secure the right to show Picasso’s more famous works, so much is implied rather than shown. Picasso is played by Anthony Hopkins, with Natascha McElhone as Gilot, and Julianne Moore as Dora Maar.

Goya’s Ghosts (2006)
(available on iTunes, Amazon Prime and Kanopy)

Set against the backdrop of the Spanish Inquisition, the film is told through the eyes of Francisco Goya. Directed by Milos Forman, the film tells the fictional story of Ines, a teenage muse of Goya’s, who catches the eye of Brother Lorenzo, a high-ranking member of the Inquisition. Stellan Skarsgard stars as Goya; Javier Bardem and Natalie Portman play Brother Lorenzo and Ines, respectively.

Rodin (2017)
(available on iTunes)

Set in Paris in 1880, the film revolves around Rodin receiving his first state commission, “The Gates of Hell,” which will include his famous sculptures, “The Kiss” and “The Thinker.” Rodin’s tumultuous relationships with his lifelong companion, Rose Beuret, and his mistress, Camille Claudel are explored. This film has drawn comparison to “La Belle Noiseuse” in terms of the amount of screen time that focuses on the act of creation.

Factory Girl (2007)
(available on Amazon Prime)

A story about the rapid rise and fall of Edie Sedgwick, a model, artist, socialite who was known primarily for starring in several of Andy Warhol’s underground films. Sedgwick is brought to life by Sienna Miller, while Guy Pearce takes his turn as Warhol. “Factory Girl” ruffled some feathers after it was released, drawing criticism from Lou Reed and Bob Dylan, that latter who threatened to sue over his thinly-veiled portrayal in the film.

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