Welcome to Arthouse Bootcamp. Grab a tasty beverage and let’s get started.
If you’re interested in getting more involved with the world of arthouse films (AKA art films, snooty movies, Oscar bait), then Netflix is a great place to get started.
In the past, Netflix has generally avoided including many arthouse films. But then, recently, the streaming giant signed the Coen Brothers on for the Netflix original, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.
They also have plans to produce films from Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water). They’ve also released Alfonso Cuaron’s latest feature film, Roma.
In other words, Netflix is on its way to becoming a major hub for high-minded filmmakers in the near future.
But since we’re not quite there yet, we’ve picked some of the best art films on Netflix right now that will whet your appetite for high quality movies from visionary directors and writers.
A Serious Man
This 2009 modern classic from the above-mentioned Coen Brothers (The Big Lebowski, Fargo) is an exploration of the search for meaning in modern life.
With that said, don’t expect the movie to give you too many definitive answers. Instead, it focuses on several lively characters who are all hoping to find something more.
Our protagonist, Larry Gopnik, a math teacher and overall just a regular guy, watches helplessly as his life falls apart around him. Somehow, the movie is able to stay lighthearted throughout, with the Coen Brothers’ signature dark humor.
With tornadoes, violent dream sequences, and surreal stories from elderly rabbis, A Serious Man is a fun introduction to highly allegorical and symbolic movies.
Yorgos Lanthimos directed this strange story set in an alternate reality where every living person must find a lifelong romantic partner, or else.
Or else what, you might be asking. Or else the powers that be will turn you into an animal of your choice.
Colin Farrell stars alongside Rachel Weisz. Both do their best to deliver emotion through incredibly deadpan speech and a limited range of action.
The social commentary in The Lobster is perhaps a little obvious and overbearing, but it never feels heavy-handed.
This movie is an opportunity to take another look at love and relationships, and how important they’ve become to contemporary society.
If you’re looking to weird out friends and family, it’s hard to go wrong with The Lobster.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
I’ll just go ahead and say it: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is Michel Gondry’s best movie. And while his projects that came before and after this masterpiece are still fun and inventive movies on their own (Mood Indigo, The Science of Sleep), this emotional sci-fi extravaganza hits it right out of the park.
Jim Carrey stars as Joel Barish, a lonely Long Islander whose spontaneous trip to the beach starts off a mind-bending journey into his past.
And while I won’t say that this is Carrey’s greatest dramatic performance, it’s definitely somewhere in the top 3.
The movie’s special effects were shot practically (meaning computer graphics, or CG, were not used) and the disjointed storyline suddenly comes into focus during the third act.
From Spike Jonez, the guy who made those Jackass movies, comes an unexpectedly gorgeous story about a man in the near future who, essentially, falls in love with his operating system, voiced by Scarlett Johansson.
This could have been a terrible movie. It could have been some sci-fi action schlock that made the intelligent OS’s a violent force working toward world domination and enslavement of humans.
But that movie has already been made, several times.
Instead, her is a love story, arguably one of the best in modern history. The dialogue is just plain realistic, and as a result, the arguments and moments of joy feel real. They make you think of your own arguments, your own moments of joy with past romantic partners.
Pair all that with a score from then-impressive Arcade Fire and the end result is a meditative piece that hypnotizes the viewer.
This is another film that wonder at the possibilities (and dangers) of artificial intelligence. But I’ll say up front that this one is not a love story, so don’t expect a spiritual sequel to the movie, her.
It’s a showcase of powerful performances from Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Alicia Vikander. Isaac plays a tech mogul/prodigy who’s been making world-changing inventions and programs since he was a child.
Gleeson is one of his employees, who’s been invited out for a long visit. He slowly gets to know Isaac and better understand the elaborate inner workings of his overpowered brain.
Vikander plays a thoughtful, intelligent robot that lives in a glass room, waiting to be spoken to, waiting to be tested. And when Gleeson first meets her, she’s just starting to have original ideas of her own, many of them about getting out of this place.
Lots of twists and turns in this minimalist sci-fi stunner. Even expecting the unexpected won’t do you much good.
Martin McDonagh used to be a playwright in his native Ireland. All of a sudden, he decided to start writing movies. In Bruges was his first feature length film, and it doesn’t show one bit.
This is a first-time screenwriter who also served as a first-time director, and it feels like a movie from an old pro.
Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson play objectively bad guys who sort of kind of try to do the right thing as the plot progresses.
The name of the game here is dark humor, very dark. The dialogue is razor sharp but never hard to keep up with.
And the third act is a masterpiece of its own, one that makes you want to rewatch the whole thing again, right away. And maybe that’s just what you should do.
Y Tu Mama Tambien
This is one of Alfonso Cuaron’s most famous pre-Harry Potter movies (for those who don’t know, he directed The Prisoner of Azkaban).
It tells the story of two teenage friends on their way out of childhood. Nothing can tear them apart, not until they both befriend and take a road trip with a beautiful older woman.
And as their relationship with their female companion changes, so does their long-held friendship.
Y Tu Mama Tambien is definitely not suitable for younger viewers, so save this one for a watch with some mature friends who want to enjoy the story, lively characters, and unbelievable cinematography.