Before Scarlett Johansson became an Avenger and her net worth registered more than £119 million, she took critics by storm as an art-house auteur.
Smaller indie art house movies are perfect springboards for not only up-and-coming artistic talent but a showcase for avant-garde expression. Every once in a while, art-house movies can take pop culture by storm.
Take Get Out, for example. The Jordan Peele helmed horror sensation had a production budget of only £3.2 million. The award-winner for Best Screenplay eventually pulled in £255 million in ticket sales.
On the innovative idea front, Get Out sparked a new wave of socially conscious productions and casting. Its leading man, Daniel Kaluuya, would later take home Best Supporting Actor for his role in Judas and the Black Messiah.
However, viewers should beware. You may find art house films challenging due to their content and how their creators push traditional narrative boundaries.
Here we shine a light on 10 of the best art-house movies, in our opinion, and why we think they are well worth a look!
Memento is a neo-noir thriller like no other
Before Christopher Nolan became a household name by pairing up with Christian Bale as Batman in the director’s Dark Knight trilogy, Nolan made his mark with Memento. The film would demonstrate Nolan’s continuing interest in how characters perceive reality and time constructions.
The thriller follows an investigator, Leonard, played by a superb Guy Pearce. He uses various methods, including tattoos and Polaroid photos, to uncover his wife’s killer. All the while, Leonard deals with a short-term memory that resets every 15 minutes.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Lost in Translation (2003)
Maybe there was a time when Bill Murray wasn’t a sought-after art house actor, but this film changed all that. Sophia Coppola stepped out from her father’s shadow with this character-driven story that she wrote and directed.
Lost in Translation’s exploration of what it means to be present takes place in Tokoyo and details the relationship between an ageing movie star, Murray, and the young wife, played by Scarlett Johansson, of a celebrity photographer.
Furthermore, this odd-ball, intergenerational dramedy helped cement Johansson’s indie cred.
Director: Sophia Coppola
Director Bong Joon Ho could fill a list of best art house films all by himself. Before winning Best Director and Best Picture awards, the Korean filmmaker had already produced a slew of interesting films like Snowpiercer, Okja, and The Host.
Parasite explores the divide between the rich and poor through its disturbingly manipulative Kim family. Alternatively funny and moving, the film demonstrates Bong Joon Ho at his most provocative.
Director: Bong Joon Ho
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
It’s hard to imagine a film like Blair Witch having the same impact today. This shaky, black and white film had people believing that it was actual footage. For a time, the actors involved in the project were listed on IMDB as “missing and presumed dead!”
The low-budget horror film — it was made for around £360,000 — launched an entire genre. Furthermore, The Blair Witch Project also benefited from being a good film. Its cinema veritas style is completely believable, and the ending struck audiences like a hammer’s blow.
Director: Daniel Myrick
The Witch (2015)
Let’s stick to the theme and add Robert Eggers’s disturbing colonial horror film on our best art-house movies list. This depiction of a family descending into despair and paranoia after the sudden disappearance of an infant child is shocking and disturbing.
Director and writer Robert Eggers is praised for his accomplished script and mature camera work. Plus, that evil black goat will give you nightmares.
Director: Robert Eggers
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
What happens when a society loses its moral compass? When do predators and prey determine class? Enter Alex, the bowler hat-wearing “Droog” of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.
Starring Malcolm McDowell and framed out in one startling set piece of violence after another, A Clockwork Orange never relents or lets the audience relax. The film, like so many of Kubrick’s best, stays with you long after you’ve watched it.
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Taxi Driver (1976)
With films like Goodfellas and The Departed in his repertoire, you may struggle thinking of Martin Scorcese as an independent filmmaker. However, with Mean Streets and Taxi Driver, Scorcese was firmly experimenting with his craft and pushing the boundaries of social commentary.
The titular taxi driver, Travis Bickle, grows paranoid and obsessed with cleaning up 1970s New York City. Bickle, played by Robert De Niro, focuses on assassinating a presidential candidate and rescuing a tween prostitute, played by Jodi Foster. Taxi Driver is a compelling descent into insanity.
Director: Martin Scorcese
Being John Malkovitch (1999)
When a struggling puppeteer, John Cusack, finds a portal into the mind and body of actor John Malkovitch, playing a version of himself, their worlds and their lovers get turned upside down.
This surprising film from writer Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jones is visually arresting, unexpected, and charmingly unpredictable.
Director: Spike Jones
A horror movie genre film that will leave your mind churning from its disturbing images and unstoppable dread, Hereditary is the rare art house horror film that won’t leave the audience alone even after the credits roll.
After the death of the family’s matriarch, her daughter, played by the always committed Toni Collette, tries to unravel a series of disturbing and ultimately sinister, supernatural dealings. Hereditary‘s writer and director, Ari Aster, wasn’t done after this feature. His follow-up, Midsommer, also was lauded for its intense visuals and unexpected storytelling.
Director: Ari Aster
L’ Atalante (1934)
Maybe the most heralded art house film of all time, L’Atalante is the simple story of a barge captain in France who meets a woman and quickly marries her. Soon after, in Paris, the captain sees her flirting, and she flees the relationship. The captain, in turn, follows her through the Paris streets.
Its dreamlike cinematography buoys L’Atalante’s simple story. Scenes look like minute fantasies come to life. The film’s major themes about the bonds of marriage and absent lovers are original and thought-provoking.
Director: Jean Vigo
This 10 of the best art-house movies list is only a starting point for cinephiles. There is a wealth of lesser-known independent foreign films from around the world. Also, like Get Out or Blair Witch, independent films aren’t always obscure. You may have already seen one, and not even realized it.
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