At Large  February 21, 2024  Cynthia Close

7 Art Films to Beat the Winter Weather

Still from Youtube

Still from the trailer for Wim Wenders' 2023 film, Anselm.

There's no limit to the ways filmmakers envision artists and their lives. Perhaps creativity sparks creativity, or artists are simply the most interesting people on the planet and audiences are inspired by those occasionally tortured fellow humans who manage to see the beauty around them no matter their circumstances. As we slog through the remaining dark and chilly days of winter, Art & Object offers a selection of interesting films to watch about artists and the art world. Enjoy!

1. Made in Italy, 2020

In Made in Italy, the always debonaire Liam Neeson stars as a widowed artist who returns to the aging family villa in glorious Tuscany with his estranged son in the hopes of repairing their relationship. Neeson sees the world through his creative vision as this family drama, touched with comedy, plays out. This is the most recently released film on the list, having debuted on Netflix on February 7, 2024. It is also widely available on Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, AMC Plus Apple TV Channel, DIRECTV, and IFC Films Unlimited, making it hard to avoid. 

2. Upgraded, 2024

Upgraded is another new (February 2024) artist-focused rom-com released on Amazon Prime featuring the adorable Camila Mendes as Ana, an aspiring art intern. Marisa Tomei as Claire Dupont, the imperious head of a Sotheby’s-like auction house who channels Meryl Streep in the 2006 film The Devil Wears Prada. Upgraded pokes fun at the pretentious gatekeepers at the art world’s most elite level who lord over their employees with high-handed disdain.

3. The Kill Room, 2023

The Kill Room reunites Pulp Fiction stars Uma Thurman and Samuel L. Jackson in this dark comedy that takes a look at underworld criminality in the art trade. The logline for the film is: Crime is an art form. The film is shot largely in the unlikely New Jersey locations of Hoboken and Jersey City, and features Thurman as an art dealer in a money laundering scheme that goes awry.    

4. Inside, 2023

This art-world crime drama features Willem Dafoe as Nemo, an art thief who finds himself trapped in an upscale New York penthouse owned by a wealthy, and unseen, collector. Surrounded by the blue chip art collection—the producers rounded up actual art works by Egon Schiele and contemporary art-world darlings Joanna Piotrowska and Petrit Halilaj—Dafoe gradually unravels. The art is the antagonist, a stand-in, for the collector and makes for an enthralling art-centered film.  

5. Basquiat, 1996

Basquiat, a 1996 slightly fictionalized biopic of the Brooklyn-born artist Jean-Michel Basquiat was produced by fellow artist Julian Schnabel and features a cornucopia of A-list actors including Jeffrey Wright as Basquiat along with Gary Oldman, Benicio Del Toro, David Bowie as Andy Warhol, and Dennis Hopper as the art dealer Bruno Bischofberger. The sad drama of Basquiat’s short life—he died of a heroin overdose in 1988 at the age of 27—makes him ideal fodder for filmmakers, perhaps only equal to Vincent van Gogh, another beloved subject for filmmakers.  

6. Anselm, 2023

Wim Wenders’s stunning 2023 documentary, Anselm was shot in 3-D, offering the closest we mortals might come to visiting the studio of German-born Anselm Kiefer, one of the most monumental artists of our time. Shot over a two-year span at Kiefer's home, which is situated on 200-acres in the South of France, and where the artist lives and works, this poetic film captures the breathtaking scale that mirrors the equally awe-inspiring vision of this iconic artist. Wenders and Kiefer have been friends for over thirty years, a closeness that equipped the filmmaker with extraordinary access and enabled him to create a moving portrayal with great depth. “The driving force of Anselm’s life and work is the fight against forgetting," said Wenders in an interview at Film at Lincoln Center. A standard version is also available for conventional viewing.     

7. Basquiat: Rage to Riches, 2017

If you can’t get enough Basquiat, try the PBS American Masters documentary Basquiat: Rage to Riches made more than a decade after the feature film. In his early 20s, Basquiat was the youngest artist ever (at the time) to be included in the Whitney Biennial as well as Documenta, the prestigious exhibition that takes place every five years in Germany. This 90-minute fact-based film features family members as well as art world professionals reflecting on the young artist’s legacy.    

About the Author

Cynthia Close

Cynthia Close holds a MFA from Boston University, was an instructor in drawing and painting, Dean of Admissions at The Art Institute of Boston, founder of ARTWORKS Consulting, and former executive director/president of Documentary Educational Resources, a film company. She was the inaugural art editor for the literary and art journal Mud Season Review. She now writes about art and culture for several publications.

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