Arthouse films are a lively, imaginative genre which seems, with the state of Hollywood at the moment, to be the only film genre we can completely rely on. Over the course of the last year, I’ve come to rely on them. I love them, even more than mainstream movies, and here are ten films that any fan of arthouse movies must see, and anyone who’s looking to get into the arthouse genre should check out.
Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Sergei Eisenstein’s brilliant, amazing, revolutionary movie has had such an unfathomable effect on cinema that to this day filmmakers still owe a hell of a lot to its use of montages for effect. A powerful, gripping and brilliant movie.
Un Chien Andalou (1929)
When Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali teamed up to make a film of Surrealist art, they had no idea the consequences it would have on the film industry. Arthouse lovers adore it, filmmakers praise it, and even though no one knows what the fuck is going on in it, people still love it.
The 400 Blows (1959)
Francois Truffaut made this film, one of the defining masterpieces of the French New Wave, on the heels of movies like Elevator to the Gallows and Breathless. It was his debut, and one of the best breakthrough movies for a filmmaker and a genre ever made. Antoine Doinel’s story is compelling and unforgettable from the Parisian streets in the opening scene to his face, frozen in an instant of miraculous emotion, in the final frame.
If I had to pick only one Ingmar Bergman movie for this list, it would have to be my favourite, and the most artistically significant, in my opinion. In terms of cinematography, Persona is unforgettable. Bergman and his cinematographer Sven Nykvist use black-and-white in a manner that exceeds any use of color that might have followed it, and the acting performances of Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann are just as compelling.
Au Hasard Balthazar (1967)
A strong allegory and a compelling story, Robert Bresson’s famous film about a donkey who passively observes madness around him aims not to make the audience cry, nor to make them feel sorry for a mistreated animal, but rather to force them to see through its eyes without putting them in its position. Saddening, beautiful and sublimely shot, this is an unmistakable masterpiece.
El Topo (1971)
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s movies make more sense when they’re not making sense, is what I say. And none embody this feel of senslessness more than El Topo, which is actually one of the most deeply meaningful movies ever made. Religious references and symbols are splattered all throughout this film to an almost achingly unmistakable degree, but Jodorowsky still manages to make it bearable, though his films are definitely not for the casual viewer.
Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972)
Werner Herzog’s breakthrough movie, a wondrous journey down rivers and through forests that preceded and exceeded the yet-to-come Apocalypse Now, is a stunning portrait of the loss of sanity of one narcissistic man who usurps the position of his leaders on a ship and, in a fit of mad insanity, heads it into a deathtrap in the futile hope of finding a fabled city.
Au Revoir les Enfants (1987)
One of the more accessible movies on this list, Louis Malle’s semi-autobiographical masterpiece tells of the relationship between two boys during World War II who are kept sheltered from the war in a school; but one of them is a Jew, secretly in hiding. An amazing movie which has had a strong effect on me.
Three Colours: Red (1993)
Krzysztof Kieslowski’s final film, Red is a stunning, quite literally breathtaking look at Parisian life that is impossible to match in any other film. When a young model meets a voyeuristic judge, unexpected things happen as they discover more about the world around him. I can’t say any film has ever made me feel quite the same way as this. Utterly extraordinary.
Russian Ark (2002)
Aleksandr Sokurov’s magnificent, stunningly beautiful 100 minute movie was shot entirely in one completely unedited take. You heard me. One take only. As the camera peacefully glides through thirty-three rooms of the Hermitage museum, culminating in a dance sequence which is shot so stunningly beautiful that it is impossible to forget. A magnificent movie that must be seen, along with all the films on this list.
Well, there you go, my ten best arthouse movies. This list was incredibly difficult to cut down, so a lot of movies didn’t make it, but I only had time to make it a Top Ten list, rather than something bigger. I hope arthouse fans enjoyed and mostly agreed with it, and people who aren’t that familiar with arthouse films learned something about the movies they should see. If there’s anything you’d like to add, please leave a comment below. Thanks.