Arts

Here are the movies about art that will lift you out of your self-isolation pod

Revel in Ed Harris's Jackson Pollock impression and delight in the Brothers Quay popping up in the middle of a Frida Kahlo biopic.

Revel in Ed Harris's Jackson Pollock impression! Be shook by Derek Jacobi's resemblance to Francis Bacon!

Basquiat. (Miramax)

Friends, let's face it — we're not going out for a while. (At least, if you're being nice about it.) And the streaming options can leave you scanning every single genre for hours without landing on a single one. Yeah, I too know how an afternoon plays out in front of your devices.

So here are some of the movies about art that will legitimately whisk you away for a couple of hours. You can revel in Ed Harris dripping and flicking paint onto a canvas (he genuinely does a pretty good Jackson Pollock impression), delight in the Brothers Quay popping up in the middle of a Frida Kahlo biopic and be definitively shook by HOW DOES THAT ACTOR LOOK EXACTLY LIKE FRANCIS BACON? It's uncanny.

Here are the movies about art to while away the COVID-soaked afternoons (ew, gross, forget I said that). They're not in a hierarchy and I can't tell you where to watch them — how you hack the internet is entirely up to you.

1. Pollock (2000)

Pollock. (Sony Pictures Classics)

Listen, all biopics are flawed and this is no exception. The story of Pollock (played by Ed Harris) and his relationship with his wife, Lee Krasner (played by Marcia Gay Harden), is fraught with ambition, alcoholism, paint splatters and cigarettes. But watching Harris re-create Pollock's signature style is mesmerizing. It's worth the urge to tell Pollock to be a better guy.

2. I Shot Andy Warhol (1996)

In 1968, Andy Warhol was shot by a woman named Valerie Solanas, a self-proclaimed radical who wrote her own "SCUM Manifesto." (A bit of trivia: the man shot alongside Warhol was Mario Amaya, who went on to be chief curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario.) I Shot Andy Warhol focuses on Solanas, played by Lili Taylor. It's not a perfect film, but watching Jared Harris play Warhol and Taylor lose her shit as Solanas makes this pretty riveting.

3. Basquiat (1996)

I could talk about this movie for hours, and my dear CBC Arts colleague Amanda Parris has. But besides the fact that it's an incredibly biased film by Julian Schnabel that places his own character at the centre of the action and invisibilizes other major players like Francesco Clemente, this film is highly watchable and you will probably cry. Highlights: David Bowie mumbling a lot as Andy Warhol (how many people have played Warhol, anyway?); Courtney Love, well...being peak Courtney Love; Dennis Hopper looking generally confused that he's in a movie about Jean-Michel Basquiat. And of course, Jeffrey Wright playing the titular character is stunning.

4. Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present (2012)

Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present. (Music Box Films)

This documentary gives you a pretty comprehensive tour of the work of Abramovic, culminating in her performance at the MoMA that ran from March to May, 2010. I don't want to say too much, except that it wraps in a love story, includes a lot of crying with direct eye contact and you should watch it. Maybe first. I don't know.

5. High Art (1998)

Ally Sheedy made a momentous return from her John Hughes days in this movie where she plays a suspiciously Nan Goldin-esque, drugged out but alluring photographer who seduces (or is seduced by) her young neighbour. I love everything about this movie and you should watch it 15 times. Highlights: Patricia Clarkson as Sheedy's girlfriend Greta; Anh Duong as the chief editor of Frame magazine; and every way this film sends up the art world.

6. Love is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon (1998)

I'm just noticing that the 90s were the heyday of artist biopics. But this one is pretty spectacular. It's directed by John Maybury and stars Derek Jacobi, an actor who looks unsettlingly like Francis Bacon. As you might expect if you're familiar with Bacon, this movie is dark. Maybe watch it and then watch Home Alone or something. Highlights: Tilda Swinton and Daniel Craig. That's all you need to know.

7. The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

The Thomas Crown Affair. (MGM)

Oh wow, we're still in pre-millenium. But this movie is so fun, it can't be left out. Basically, Pierce Brosnan steals a painting. I'm not saying any more.

8. The Cell (2000)

Before Hustlers, J. Lo starred alongside Vincent D'Onofrio in his pre-Law and Order days in this surreal thriller/horror that quotes basically every contemporary artist of the time. It's fun to watch, plus you get to see how Tarsem Singh quoted the work of Damien Hirst and Odd Nerdrum. You'll even catch a short clip of my favourite movie, Fantastic Planet.

9. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

Set in the late 18th century, this is the story of a young painter who arrives on an island in Brittany to paint the portrait of a woman about to be married. The catch: she is not allowed to reveal she's an artist, as the young woman refuses to be painted. It's a brilliant film directed by Celine Sciamma, and our own Peter Knegt did it justice in this article. Watch it 18 times.

10. Frida (2002)

Frida. (Miramax)

Julie Taymor directed this wild ride through the life of Frida Kahlo (played by Salma Hayek) that details the accident mythologized as the genesis of her art career, as well as the spiralling decades that witnessed her tumultuous relationship with Diego Rivera, the development of her unmistakable style and her eventual declining health. It's a surreal film — fitting for Kahlo's life — and it's punctuated with a tiny short by The Brothers Quay that is worth rewinding over and over. Fun fact: Salma Hayek and Edward Norton used to be a thing. Just take that in for a second.

11. Art, Death & Taxes (2020)

OK, this is a series, not a movie. I'm cheating a little. But our own CBC Arts friends Priscilla Galvez and Jeff Pavlopoulos came up with this series for our times, detailing just how vital money is for any artist's practice. I get it — none of us have any. But we will, again. And this series may give you some ideas about how to use it wisely, once we emerge from our bunkers.

CBC Arts understands that this is an incredibly difficult time for artists and arts organizations across this country. We will do our best to provide valuable information, share inspiring stories of communities rising up and make us all feel as (virtually) connected as possible as we get through this together. If there's something you think we should be talking about, let us know by emailing us at cbcarts@cbc.ca. See more of our COVID-related coverage here.

About the Author

Lise Hosein is a producer at CBC Arts. Before that, she was an arts reporter at JazzFM 91, an interview producer at George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight and a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto. When she's not at her CBC Arts desk she's sometimes an art history instructor and is always quite terrified of bees.

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