(Click on the movie poster or title to go to the Internet Movie Database's web site. There
you'll find a more complete description of each film.)
Charlton Heston brings his booming "Moses" voice to the story of Michelangelo. Although you see Heston on his back, painting the Sistine ceiling, we now know that Michelangelo painted while standing. Still, a great movie. Rex Harrison (Dr. Doolittle, the ORIGINAL one, not Eddie Murphy) plays Michelangelo's tempermental match, Pope Julius II. Look for the scene where Michelangelo receives his inspiration for the Creation of Adam section of the ceiling.
I know...it's hard to get past Colin Farrell in a really bad blond wig. And with Oliver Stone directing, I kept looking for a second gunman over the grassy knoll during the climactic battle scene ("...back...and to the right...."). But, there are some nice, art historical tid-bits: the Ishtar Gate in ancient Babylon is shown (the real one is now in Berlin) and we also get a quick peek at the Ram and Tree offering stand from Ur, which is now in Philadelphia.
Ben Stiller (Reuben) and Jennifer Aniston (Polly) meet at an art gallery opening, where Stiller knocks down an oversized modern sculpture. Stiller has to leave the gallery early because his buddy who he came with, Philip Seymour Hoffman (Sandy), had a poo-poo accident in his big boy underwear. High-brow high-jinks ensue.
I haven't seen it (yet), but it's a highly regarded film. It tells the story of the famous 15th century Russian icon painter, Andrei Rublev. "Sight and Sound" magazine called it "one of the top 15 films of all time."
The story of the Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi. The movie was critically condemned because it glosses over her rape by Agostino Tassi, making it seem like more of a consentual affair. Aside from that, it's an interesting look into a painter's life.
From the diretor of "Ghost World" (see below). I've seen the preview, which looks great, but not the movie...yet. My sister just saw it and was disappointed. Follows the story of a kid at art school, with all the neurotic students you'd expect to find there: masochistic performance artists, ceramic students making bongs, etc. John Malkovich is an art professor who does "triangles."
Directed by Julian Schnabel, a real artist who knew Basquiat before his early death, this film tells the story of the graffiti artist who became the darling of the '80s New York art world. Look for David Bowie as Andy Warhol.
Not a lot of art stuff, but if you've studied Roman art, you'll love the chariot race scene in a recreation of an ancient Roman circus (like the Circus Maximus in Rome). That scene is one of the greatest "chases" ever put on film. Stunt guys REALLY got hurt making this.
One of my favorite movies. Fantastic cinematography and Gary Oldman does a great job as Dracula (young and old). There's a scene with Keanu Reeves (who acts as wooden as Al Gore) and Dracula inside the Count's castle. They sit at a large table and in the background, above the fireplace, is Albrecht Durer's Self-Portrait, but with Gary Oldman's (Dracula's) features. You gotta look quick so you don't miss it. Also stars Winona Ryder and Anthony Hopkins.
Sarah Wynter plays Alma Mahler, a woman in turn of the century Vienna who was romantically linked with some of the most famous artists and musicians of her day. She was married to the composer Gustav Mahler (Jonathan Pryce) and later had an affair with the troubled painter Oskar Kokoschka (Vincent Perez), whose painting The Bride of the Wind is the source for the film's title.
Another one of my favorite movies. Camille Claudel's relationship with the older, and more famous, Auguste Rodin (played by Gerard Depardieu) is the centerpiece of this film. It's in French, with subtitles, but I was so engrossed by the story and performances that I didn't realize I was "reading" and watching. Isabelle Adjani says as much with her eyes and facial expressions as most actors do with pages of dialogue. Claudel was gifted and her life was tragic. What more could you ask for in an art movie?
In this post-apocolyptic, chaotic (and infertile) world, Clive Owen's uncle, a top Ministry man in the British government, has stashed away a few of the world's great art treasures: in his luxurious home are Picasso's Guernica and Michelangelo's David. The uncle comments to Clive: "I tried to save the Pieta...." Added bonus: look for graffiti artwork by Banksy in the background of some shots.
Ron Howard directs and Tom Hanks stars in this film based on the best-selling book of the same title. The book deals with clues imbedded in Leonardo's paintings that unlock "secrets" of Christianity.
This TV movie (HBO) starred James Woods as Cincinnati Museum of Art director James Barrie. In 1990, Barrie went on trial for an exhibition of explicit photographs of homosexual erotica (Mapplethorpe's X Portfolio). This was at the height of the American "art censorship" controversy. Barrie was acquitted, but the trial was a national event. Also stars Craig T. Nelson (Coach!).
Stars Kate Hudson and Naomi Watts as American sisters in Paris. Part of the story involves a painting by the French painter Georges de la Tour that the sisters' family owns. Bebe Neuwirth plays a Getty curator who wants the painting displayed at the museum.
Oliver Stone's movie about the famous band, with Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison and Meg Ryan as his girlfriend. Look for a great cameo by Crispin Glover as Andy Warhol in a groovy party scene.
A work by Kandinsky (20th century Russian painter) is one of the key points to this movie. Ashley Judd is the determined mother out to find her son and get even with her evil husband. But, give the hubby points for good taste in art.
The story of an artist who is contracted to draw different views of an English countryside manor. He is employed by the owner's wife, whose relationship with the draughtsman becomes more than just "employer/employee."
Legendary director Akira Kurosawa's film includes a segment with Martin Scorsese (another legend) as Vincent van Gogh.
Cate Blanchett stars as Elizabeth I of England. A great movie, which includes an "art history moment": Elizabeth talking to the famous Holbein portrait of her father, Henry VIII.
Kind of lame, especially since Sean Connery looks more like Catherine Zeta-Jones' grandfather rather than her love interest. But, you get to see Rembrandt's Bathsheba stolen, as well as a chase scene in, and on, the Petronas Towers in Malaysia (tallest building in the world).
An adaptation of the Cinderella story set in the Renaissance and starring Drew Barrymore. One of her confidants/advisors is Leonardo da Vinci. See if you can pick out what's wrong with the scene involving Leonardo and the Mona Lisa.
Salma Hayek stars in this Miramax movie about the famous 20th century Mexican painter who was married to Diego Rivera, was almost killed in a bus and trolley accident, and yet was able to create beautiful, personal works of art. The film also stars Antonio Banderas as David Siqueiros (a fellow painter), Edward Norton as Nelson Rockefeller, Ashley Judd as Tina Modotti (an Italian photographer) and Alfred Molina as Diego Rivera.
Nicole Kidman plays the famous photographer Diane Arbus, who came to prominence in the 1960s. (She committed suicide in 1971...hope that didn't ruin the ending for anyone.) Robert Downey, Jr., also stars as a...very...hairy...guy.
Thora Birch (Enid) and Scarlett Johansson (Rebecca) are two outcasts just out of high school. At graduation, Enid learns she has to take an art class during summer school in order to receive her diploma. The art class is great. The teacher (Ileana Douglas) is the earthy, feel-good type who looks for "controversy" in every piece.
Oscar nominee Tom Wilkinson is in this film about the Dutch Baroque painter Jan Vermeer (played by Colin Firth) and his famous painting, Girl With a Pearl Earring. The film is based on the novel by Tracy Chevalier, in which Vermeer's maid, a peasant girl (played by Scarlett Johansson of Lost In Translation), poses for the famous work. Wilkinson plays Van Ruijven, a wealthy buyer of Vermeer's work. The film is beautifully shot, with light and camera angles imitating Vermeer's paintings.
Russell Crowe is the title character in this summer 2000 movie. About a third of the film is set in ancient Rome, so you get some great computer reconstructions of the Roman Forum and Flavian Amphitheater (a.k.a. Colosseum). A few minor historical problems are apparent ("thumbs down" didn't mean "death" in the Colosseum), but the set designers do a good job of making you feel like you're in the 2nd cent. A.D.
Stars Nick Nolte as an older thief out for one last score on the French Riviera. The heist involves stealing a vault full of Picassos, Gauguins, Van Goghs, Modiglianis, etc. To help finance the theft, Nolte tries to sell his own Picasso through a shady art dealer (Ralph Fiennes). Fiennes feels double-crossed by Nolte and warns him he'll use a knife to do something "Cubist" to his face.
Look for the sculpture by Rodin and the painting (or print) by Van Gogh at the end of the film that help Russell Crowe decide whether to follow his dreams or his career.
The life of the famous Spanish painter is told through flashbacks. I haven't seen this one yet, but it has received good reviews, especially for its cinematography.
Stellan Skarsgard stars as Goya, with Natalie Portman as his teenage muse who is framed for heresy by a monk (Javier Bardem) aligned with the Spanish Inquisition. The film is set in Spain, circa 1792. Milos Forman (Amadeus, The People vs. Larry Flint) directs.
Alec Guiness is a crazy mural painter obsessed with his artistic vision. I haven't seen this one, but Entertainment Weekly puts it on its "10 Best Movies About Artists" list.
Documentary about the artist Ray Johnson, which includes interviews with Chuck Close, Roy Lichtenstein, Christo, James Rosenquist, and more. (Recommended by Marisa...thanks!)
Jason Patric is a master Rembrandt forger, who also has issues with his father.
The last of the Jones trilogy finds Indiana, and his dad Sean Connery, in search of the Holy Grail. The quest leads to a "lost city," which is actually the site of Petra. Petra was swallowed up by the Roman Empire and her classical architecture shows influence from the Romans and earlier Greeks.
Lili Taylor plays Valerie Solanas, member of S.C.U.M. (Society for the Cutting Up of Men) and Warhol groupie. She tries to get Andy to film one of her scripts, he won't, so she shoots him. Jared Harris plays Warhol. True story.
John Malkovich stars as the dynamic Austrian painter of the late nineteenth-century, whose most famous work is The Kiss. I'm hoping that Klimt/Malkovich will travel into his own head in this movie, but I doubt it.
Kirk Douglas as Vincent van Gogh and Anthony Quinn as Paul Gauguin. Look for Kirk's veins to start popping out of his head when Vincent has to deal with his inner demons. Definately worth a rental.
Look for the painting of Marie and her kids by Vigée-Lebrun, the court painter to the queen. Two versions are shown in the film: one before her youngest child died, the other after. And of course Sophia Coppola (director) got special permission to film at the Palace of Versailles...a rarity. Rip Torn (!!) plays Louis XV, while Marie's husband is Louix XVI (Jason Schwartzman).
John Cusack ("Max," the title character) is a Post-WWI/German/Jewish art dealer who represents a pre-Fuhrer/artist Hitler. Shows the madness that Hitler couldn't funnel through his art eventually making its way into his politics.
Andy Garcia stars as the 20th century artist Amadeo Modigliani. The film touches on the rivalry between Modigliani and Picasso in 1919.
Julia Roberts stars as a UC Berkeley graduate who takes a position as an art history instructor at Wellesley College in the 1950s. Co-stars Julia Stiles and Kirsten Dunst.
Jose Ferrer stars as Toulouse-Lautrec, doing the whole movie on his knees (!!) to mimic the artist's short stature. Talk about suffering for your art. Even better, Zsa Zsa Gabor (the cop-slapper) plays the dancer (and former child prostitute) Jane Avril, who in turn was the subject of one of Toulouse-Lautrec's famous prints. And the cherry on top: it's directed by John Huston.
Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor (Obi-wan) are in this film about the famous Parisian nightspot during the late 19th century. John Leguizamo plays the artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
No visual art history references here, although I think some art hanging on walls does get blown up or shot in a few scenes. But, after Mr. Smith (Brad Pitt) and Mrs. Smith (Angelina Jolie) reveal their true, assassin-identities to each other, they come clean about their past lives. Mr. Smith reveals he didn't really go to MIT, but rather to Notre Dame...and he was an ART HISTORY MAJOR! Yeah. So one of your career options, if you follow through with the art history degree, is to become a secret government killer.
Film by Nathaniel Kahn in which he tries to make sense of his father's life. "Father" was the famous architect Louis Kahn, who, among other buildings, designed the Jonas Salk Institute of Biological Studies in nearby La Jolla. The film includes interviews with other famous architects: Frank Gehry (Walt Disney Concert Hall in L.A.; Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, etc.), Philip Johnson (the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California), I.M. Pei (the Louvre's "pyramid"), Moshde Safdie (Habitat '67), and others. I haven't seen it, but this film was recommended to me by an architect (Frank...thanks!).
Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Christy Brown. Born with cerebral palsy, Brown was thought to be retarded for the first 10 years of his life. His mother recognizes and nurtures his talent, and her boy, using the one limb he can control (his left foot), becomes a talented writer and painter. Day-Lewis won the best actor Oscar for this role in 1990.
Documentary in which Picasso paints onto a specially-designed surface. As he paints, a camera behind the surface captures his strokes. You get to see a Picasso "come to life" before your eyes. A truly amazing experience. This is a must-see. Go to my Art History Movies page for the trailer.
This film is made up of three short films, each by a different director. Martin Scorsese's contribution, "Life Lessons," stars Nick Nolte as the proverbial obsessive, drunk, self-destructive painter. Nolte is great in this.
I liked this one. John Malkovich and Andie MacDowell are a couple living beyond their means in London. Hard up for cash, he wants to sell her little Henry Moore sculpture. When the work disappears, they suspect each other and the hunt for the missing masterpiece begins.
Stars Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow and Viggo Mortensen in a love triangle. Of art note: Viggo, an artist in real life (painter, photographer, poet), plays a painter in the movie, and you get to see his original work.
Ed Harris directs and stars in this movie about the famous Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock. He was the most famous of the American "action painters," who lived hard and died young. The film also features Val Kilmer as Willem de Kooning.
This Italian film stars Joe Mantegna as the disturbed Mannerist painter Pontormo (he of "Deposition" fame). Not sure who his love is, or why it was heretical, but the credits also list "Bronzino," another famous Mannerist painter (best known for his "Allegory of Venus.") Thanks to a colleague of mine in Hawaii (an art professor at Leeward Community College) who emailed me about this film.
In the memorable opening sequence, Indiana Jones makes it past several booby-traps to arrive at a small, gold sculpture of a squatting woman. The work is based on a stone, Aztec sculpture from the late 15th century showing a woman squatting and giving birth. Indiana could have saved himself some trouble and just gone to the Dunbarton Oaks collection in Washington, D.C., which is where the real sculpture resides. (Of course, that wouldn't have been as much fun to watch. There aren't any tarantualas or poison darts in D.C.)
An oldie, but a goodie, with the respected Charles Laughton in the title role. Hard to find, but worth the search.
Academy-award winning director Syndey Pollack (Out of Africa) made this documentary about architect Frank Gehry, of Walt Disney Music Hall (L.A.) and Guggenheim Museum (Bilbao, Spain) fame. Among who discuss Gehry's art and life: Dennis Hopper (actor/photographer), Julian Schnabel (painter/director), Edward Ruscha (painter), Michael Eisner (former Disney CEO), and Michael Ovitz (former head of CAA).
This film centers on the relationship between an art museum guard (Paul Rudd) and the woman/artist who manipulates him (Rachel Weisz).
Stockard Channing and Donald Sutherland are New York City art dealers with a son in Harvard. Will Smith shows up at their doorstep, convinces them he's a friend of their son's from college, and worms his way into their lives. Good movie. Someone emailed me to say that there's a two-sided Kandinsky painting in the film and a Sistine Chapel scene. I saw the movie a long time ago, and liked it, but I don't remember either scene (which doesn't mean they're not there...I just have to re-rent it).
Alfred Hitchcock's film, starring Gregory Peck and Ingmar Bergman, includes a dream sequence designed by Salvador Dali. Tune in, turn on and trip out.
This was one was referred to me by a former student. She said it was horrible...and not even in a funny way. But, any movie in which Vincent van Gogh is brought into the 20th century via a magic potato potion deserves a mention here. As an added bonus, the troubled Dutchman (who apparently has an Irish accent) gets run over by a float at the Rose Parade. Sounds more like a Surrealist movie than one about a Post-Impressionist.
A female detective, who suffers from Stendahl Syndrome, tracks a serial killing rapist. Her affliction (an actual, medical one) causes her to hallucinate, get dizzy, and sweat when she's in the presence of great art. Naturally, the bad guy lures her into the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, home to Botticelli's Birth of Venus. Uh-oh. (Hey, I've got an idea for a movie: an ART HISTORY professor who suffers from Stendahl Syndrome! He freaks out every time he lectures! Hmmm. Maybe not.)
Anthony Hopkins, with brown contact lenses and an English accent that peeks through once in a while, stars as the Spanish master. A little boring, but Sir Anthony is always worth watching. No, Hopkins' Picasso doesn't drink chianti or eat fava beans, Clarice.
FBI agent Angelina Jolie (we are to believe she went into law enforcement...not modeling?) meets up with Ethan Kawke, an artist and gallery owner, who shows her some "disturbing" art. I didn't see this one, but it was referred to me.
Antonio Banderas and a band of Vikings do battle with the "eaters of the dead." The eaters live in an underground cave where they worship a HUGE female fertility figurine that looks like the "Venus" of Willendorf (who in real life is a few inches tall).
Paintings (or forgeries?) by Monet, Pisarro, and Magritte are featured. Great theft scenes in a recreated Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Pierce Brosnan is the art loving thief and Rene Russo is the insurance claims investigator on his tail.
On board the Titanic, Rose (Kate Winslet) has brought her collection of "modern" art: a Picasso and some Impressionist pieces, which we get a glimpse of. Plus, she feels comfortable posing in the nude for almost-total stranger Leonardo di Caprio, because he's an "artist." "Take off your clothes, I'm an artist," never works with the ladies in real life. Unless, of course, you're Leonardo di Caprio.
Wolfgang Petersen directs the Hulk (Eric Bana), Lawrence of Arabia (Peter O'Toole), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and that guy who makes soap blow up (Brad Pitt) in this uber-epic of love and war, Greek style. Buried in there is a story by some up-and-coming Hollywood writer: Homer something. Still, for our purposes, you get a sense of what those warlike Mycenaean guys were like.
It's a Schwarzennegger flick, so lots of stuff blows up...real good. For budding art historians, see if you can identify the objects in which the bad guys, helped by bad girl Tia Carrere, hide their weapons.
Directed by Robert Altman, Tim Roth (of "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction" fame) plays van Gogh. This movie concentrates on Vincent's relationship with his brother Theo, one of the few people who both empathized and cared for Vincent. Vincent's death scene is a memorable one.
Robin Williams journeys into the afterlife to meet up with his recently deceased wife (Annabella Sciorra). She was a painter, so heaven looks like one of her works of art: the flowers, the grass...they're all literally made of big globs of colorful paint. Kind of cool. Plus, an art professor colleague in Hawaii pointed out that above the couple's bed is Bosch's "Garden of Delights."
Donald Sutherland stars in this great examination of Paul Gauguin's life. Max von Sydow is also in this.
Near the beginning of this 007 flick, Bond walks out of a building in Spain and in the background is artist Jeff Koons' Puppy. It's a 38 foot tall sculpture made of flowers (and supporting elements). You can't miss it. Plus, it's standing in front of Gehry's Guggenheim Museum...an architectural work of art.