Brian's Artsy Fartsy Movie List

(Movies rated on a 5 star system)

Let's get it clear from the start that these are my opinions of movies I have seen. You might disagree with my appraisal, or even whether the movie belongs on this list. Well, tough. Go make your own list. Kudos to the Internet Movie Database which helped me as I compiled this list. Check it out if you'd like more unbiased information about these films.



A Brief History of Time
Very intriguing movie about Steven Hawking and his work. This is a documentary, albeit a visually enthralling one, so don't expect much in the way of plot and suspense. But if you're into Einstein, relativity, and cosmology, this is a fascinating movie.


Japanese Anime at its best. Not for the weak of heart. Graphic, violent, occasionally repulsive. A few lulls actionwise, but still the animated equivalent of an epic like 2001. Best on big screen. [Very slick soundtrack available as well] Might go well with 'Ghost in the Shell', another full length anime feature. I've actually seen quite a few anime titles, but most of them are only of interest to the predisposed fan. Akira, at least, is approachable by the anime novice or curious viewer as a film that can stand on its own feet (or tentacles! :)


A supposedly true historical biography of one of the first well-known woman painters. The film does a good job of reminding us of the limitations (which now seem ludicrous) that were placed upon women in that era. There are a few witty "coming-of-age" and "young-artist-fanatical-about-practice" moments sprinkled throughout the movie, which keeps it light and helps to balance the emotional aspects of Artemisia as she finds herself becoming infatuated with her mentor/master. No real surpises in this one, but a fine job overall. Could pair with Vincent and Theo for two painters struggling with their passions or with Tous Les Matins Du Monde for a duo of French films about artists yearning for tutelage from a master...



Bad Lieutenant
Disturbing portrayal of a drug-using, minor-abusing, and otherwise pretty sick guy who just happens to be a cop. Harvey Keitel is the only person I can picture in this role and he fills it well. Recommended double feature with 'The Piano' or 'Clockers'


Bagdad Cafe
This movie tried a little too hard to be artistic. I gave up on it before it was even half over. The movie really didn't seem to be getting anywhere. It wasn't "bad", per se, just very very bland.


Breathtaking imagry from around the world. It's the kind of movie where you come out and just can't think of anything meaningful to say. Great soundtrack as well, featuring tracks from Dead Can Dance. This must be seen on a big screen. Don't bother on a dinky TV.


Very witty movie from the director of Metropolitan and Last Days of Disco. Great banter on whether love can be viewed in a logical fashion. (or an overly logical fashion in this case) Very subtle humor, dry at times, but tied into a well-honed plot for a very enjoyable film. Of these three films, this one was the most enjoyable.


Barton Fink
Bizarre movie. And that says a lot coming from me. A few graphic scenes, but otherwise just a bewildering bigger-than-life what-the- heck-is-happening. This style should appeal to Twin Peaks fans. Good double feature with Naked Lunch for a complete mind-f*ck.


A very disturbing tale, narrated primarily by a Hitler-loving neurotic pit bull. Very intense at times, not for the uneasy. Some violent scenes may offend (as my girlfriend will attest). Still, a movie that makes you both think and feel, something not enough movies seem to do anymore.


Belle Epoque
Wonderfully witty tale of a deserter from the Spanish military who finds refuge in the home of a painter with 4 daughters. Boys will be boys and Fernando quickly finds himself falling in love with them.. all of them.. Lots of originality lets this be a palatable scenario. Best seen with Like Water For Chocolate or Jamon Jamon, the latter also starring Penelope Cruz.


Bitter Moon
(aka Lunes de Fiel) A mediocre melodrama from Roman Polanski. It features well-known actors like Hugh Grant and Peter Coyote, along with Kristin Scott Thomas, who you should recognize from various on- and off-Hollywood films. The story is based on a British couple on a cruise to Istanbul who meet another couple: a sultry French woman and her crippled American husband. It is neither particularly foreign or artsy, and the story isn't captivating enough for me to recommend it. I include it only for the fact that it is a French and British movie, and so should be documented on my movie page. For a better execution of a tryst film, see Last Tango In Paris.


Blood & Concrete
Churning, spotty movie with Billy Zane. Amusing in scenes, overdrawn in others. Soundtrack has a few inventive tracks to it.


(aka Trzy kolory: Niebieski) The first of a trilogy by Krzysztof Kieslowski, this melancholy story revolves around Julie, the wife of a noted composer who grapples with his death (along with their daughter) in a car crash. Very deliberately paced, with superb cinematography and a gripping use of music throughout. Julie exposes herself to some interesting situations and emotions while grieving for her family. Should be followed by the other films in the trilogy, White and Red, named after the colors in the French flag and symbolizing the concepts of "liberty, equality, and fraternity", respectively. (Or for an interesting twist, watch with Ponette which is a girl and her father dealing with the death of her mother in a car crash)


Blue In The Face
The inspired sequel to Smoke, this film continues the profound dialog and offbeat characters that inhabit the same small cigar shop in Brooklyn. This edition is a little choppier than the prior one, with more interview-into-the-camera scenes sprinkled throughout the movie. But it also revolves around a tighter theme. Many of the storylines talk about dealing with transition or moving on. Lots of nostalgic moments abound, with the characters talking about how life might have been different. It seems to capture the vitality of Brooklyn. Lots of (mostly) recognizable faces show up: Madonna, Michael J. Fox, Lily Tomlin, Malik Yoba, Roseanne, Lou Reed, and my fave Jim Jarmusch, who spends the entire movie pontificating about a last Lucky Strike. Also has a great eclectic soundtrack. Should follow seamlessly after Smoke.


Bottle Rocket
First flick by newcomer Wes Anderson (actually a remake of a black and white student film he did two years earlier) Not bad overall, a little wacky, a little unpolished, but otherwise fresh and interesting. This film had much more finesse than the rougher but somewhat similar "Clerks". Pay close attention to the names used throughout the movie and the credits.


The Brave Little Toaster
I include this on my list since it's not your run-of-the-mill animated movie. While certainly appealing to kids, this movie also has a lot to offer to adults. It's an encompasing metaphor about age, abandonment, and usefulness... unfortunately fueled by the over- used plot of a pet (well, appliance in this case) being left behind as the family moves away/moves on/goes home after the summer, etc. Lots of cuteness in the movie and a talented cast of voices make this an enjoyable film in any case.


Burnt By The Sun
Well done, but somewhat opaque movie about a well esteemed Russian colonel and his family in Stalin-era Russia. This movie would probably be much more enjoyable to a viewer enlightened in Lenin and Stalinist Russian politics, but left me a little bewildered trying to understand the actions of the characters. This aside, the film is otherwise superb with the director himself as the lead role and his real-life daughter costarring with him. For the history buffs, this movie would make a sly compliment to When Father Was Away on Business



Cabeza de Vaca
Other than the two Columbus movies that came out almost simultaneously a few years ago, the role of the conquistador is not a common one in movies. Less often is the movie anything more than a PBS afternoon special. This film, however, is a bewildering and enthralling drama. It blurs the line between fact and fantasy. Weird to watch, but good movie overall. Can't think of any good movies to watch along with it, though.. A little too esoteric. Well, maybe Santa Sangre... at least it shares a common language and similar foray into the surreal...


(aka Karakter in its native Dutch) I rented this one because the quotes on the box sounded cool and was really impressed with what a great film this was... It's got all the elements of an epic type film: well done flashback (most of the movie is recounted as the background explanation of a cryptic scene at the beginning), subtle conniving (many of the motives of the main characters do not unravel until late in the movie), beautiful cinematography, historic settings, compelling eccentric characters, and an intriguing premise: Young Katadreuffe struggles to make a successful life for himself, all the while being simultaneously helped and hindered by the father he hates. It's such a full movie that I'm reluctant to recommended a double feature... better to savor this one on its own. (Although in some ways it resembles Ridicule or Colonel Chabert if you want comparison films)


Chungking Express
(aka Chongqing senlin, from Hong Kong) Quentin Tarantino marketed this Kar-Wai Wong film (who is better known for martial arts movies) and spends some time on the video talking about this and Wong's other films. According to Quentin, this was intended to be a trilogy like Mystery Train, that all revolves around a little deli counter, but only two of the parts made it into this film. The third became its own film, 'Fallen Angels'. In any case, Chungking Express is a darling of a film, full of great characters. It starts off like a Hong Kong action film, but settles into a character play about relationships, love, and being lovesick. Lots of charm and quirkiness in everyone, including the two cops that anchor the segments. Would be a nice second feature after an action flick, especially Hard Boiled., which also stars Tony Leung.


Cinema Paradiso
(aka Nuovo Cinema Paradiso) Very enthralling Italian tale, well executed. The humor is genuine, the acting superb, and the characters are lifelike and endearing. Well worth seeing, but avoid the dubbed version, much of the atmosphere is lost. And a movie about movie theaters is clearly not meant for the VCR. For an interesting pairing, watch with The Starmaker which is about a movie talent hunter in nearly the same time and place as this one. In fact both movies were done by the same director (Giuseppe Tornatore) and include several of the same actors.


City Of Lost Children
The cast of characters in this French movie is probably enough to scare the average viewer away: Six identical narcoleptic clones, a female midget, a grinch-looking scientist who cannot dream, a talking brain in an aquarium, a circus strong man named One, and a clan of "cyclops" that have infrared artificial eyes and ultrasensative hearing. Scared yet? If not, you're in for a mindbending fairy tale of a movie from the directors of Delicatessan. Like its predecessor, it is twisted and surreal, and even features many of the same cast. It would make a great match with 'Brazil', '12 Monkeys', or, of course, Delicatessan.


Questionable whether this should appear in the list, but deemed artsy enough and devoid of any name-brand actors/actresses. Unfortunately, this movie had the feel of a college film project with people not entirely confortable with their lines and not very genuine in their acting. A few bright points in the movie, but otherwise disappointing. Sort of like a Slacker-wannabe.


Colonel Chabert
A new twist of a plot is explored in this story of an army colonel who is mistaken for dead during a war but lives and returns home years later to find that his wife has remarried and his identity is denied. Surprisingly, despite Gerard Depardiaeu being the main character of this story, the pert lawyer who represents him steals the show. He's a cocky genius who brilliantly can pit humans again each other and play them like a musician. It's almost hard to confess that I found him likable. For a weird duplex of Gerard doing the historical French military man, follow with, surprise surprise, Cyrano.


The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover
More people express opinions about this movie than have seen it. They're just pretty sure it must be gross. Well, it kinda is. But it's an art movie, and is gross in an artsy kinda way... The film is hyperbole itself: Impossibly decadent, over-saturated, unflinchingly graphic, and designed to offend. I liked it. No, really, I did. It's like steeling yourself up to receive a shot at a doctor's office. You know it's going to hurt, but you brave it. And afterward you pat yourself on the back for voluntarily putting yourself in an uncomfortable position and making it through. The graphical scenes in this movie are truly no worse than a typical horror flick, but it's the callousness of the macabre characters that hits so close to home. Like Greenaway's Drowning by Numbers, life and death become trivial states of existance. This film will lose much of its effect on a tiny tv screen, so see it in a theatre or projection tv, given the chance. Ironicaly this film is much more accessible than his later Prospero's Books which should only be seen if this film turns out to be your cup of tea.


Whimsical Australian movie about a novice stage director who gets his first real job... at a mental institution. As you would expect, chaos ensues. But it's cute chaos and only some of it is predictable. It stars Ben Mendelsohn, who appears in my fave The Year My Voice Broke and also Toni Collette, who played the bride herself (although dramatically heavier) in Muriel's Wedding. It's a nice cheerful film, good for those times when you're not up for a real challenging movie. You could follow it with Muriel for a double-Aussie feature.


Seemingly taken straight from the lyrics to 'Warm Leatherette', this dark movie explores the erotic fetish that develops in James Spader and Holly Hunter following a vicious car wreck. They discover a seedy group of people who seek out this arousal and find themselves drawn to the same macabre desires. Somewhat morbid, this film may prove too intense or distasteful for the casual viewer. Like Safe, the story is plausible and compelling enough to leave you thinking about its possibilities for hours afterward.


The Crying Game
Perhaps a little mainstream for inclusion here, it was still enough of a departure from Hollywood pablum to be mentioned. Great emotional conundrums as Fergus falls in love with a political hostage's sweetheart. If you haven't seen it, just do so. Homophobia is no longer an excuse.


Another epic tale, brought to life by Gerard Depardiaeu. The passion and emotion of this movie left me speechless afterward, and feeling very humble compared to the noble martyr of Cyrano. It's a world apart from 'Roxanne' with Steve Martin... Follow with My Father The Hero for comic relief and ironic parallelism.



One tends to feel a little ethical itch watching Jeremy Irons fall from grace in this movie. A well done movie, with a few immaculate scenes, but just a little shy of being an all-consuming scenario.


Dangerous Beauty
Reminiscent of a forbidden Shakespearean love story, this film tells the tale of Veronica, a middle class woman of 16th century Venice, in love with the well-to-do Marco, whose wealthy family would never allow him to marry such a lowly mate. With few alternatives, the spirited Veronica embarks on a mission to become a courtesan, the socially scorned concubines that slept with nobility yet held impressive power and influence. She finds herself well-suited to the task and is able to build a prosperous life for herself... until the Inquisition arrives. It's something like Restoration meets Artemisia or the flipside of Ridicule. Impressive acting, settings, and cinematography, with only a few weak side characters.


The Dark Backward
I had high hopes for this one as the previews for it could indicate a lot of potential: A man with three arms, trying to fit in as a stand-up comic. I could see a very warped but intelligent yarn getting spun from that. What I got, however, was Bill Paxton hooting and hollering annoyingly through the entire movie, Judd Nelson simpering and whining as an absolute buffoon, Wayne Newton going way overboard as a self-centered talent agent, and a disgusting backdrop that looked like it was a Delicatessan reject. The third arm appeared and then disappears with no explanation whatsoever. Maybe there is some deeper element of farce to this that I just missed, but I just found it to be a dorky movie. "Dark" spelled backwards is "krad", which looks close enough to "krap" to count.


Dead Man
Jim Jarmusch returns to black and white for this eclectic western. Johnny Depp plays a young accountant, William Blake, reporting for a new job in the god-forsaken frontier town of "Machine". Things run afoul and he becomes a fugitive from the law and several hired killers. Jarmusch skips his parallel storytelling style from Mystery Train and Night On Earth and instead develops a single plotline by fading from one scene to the next. Lots of wry wit are tucked into the seams of this movie which can only be faulted for ending with a weak denouement. The highlight of this film is the profound indian "Nobody" who aids William Blake due to a case of mistaken identity.


Very black, nearly perverse, movie that defies easy categorization. Claimed to be produced by Monty Python members, this movie retains much of the feel of 'Brazil' in its eccentric portrayal of an impoverished apartment building that must resort to luring in unsuspecting outsiders that are cannibalized for food. Much is left to the imagination in some scenes while others evolve into cliche-laden slapstick. Surreal myth at its finest. Would make quite the bizarre double feature with The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover or follow with City Of Lost Children.


Robert Rodriguez's multi-million dollar sequel to his low budget action flick El Mariachi both impresses and disappoints. On the bright side, Robbie shows us what he can do when he has a budget for special effects and brand name actors. Full of blazing action, this film almost competes with a John Woo movie for gunfight mayhem. But as a loyalist to his first movie, I was saddened to see our former favorite mariachi (Carlos Gallardo) reduced to a minor cameo role as a buddy of the too-sexy-for-his-own-good Antonio Banderas. Yeah, I'm holding a grudge. But in Antonio's credit, he did a good job playing the role... it's just hard to adjust to changing faces from original to "sequel". Overall, lotsa tongue-in-cheek humor, good guys winning in the end, and an off-the-beaten-path visual style.


Intriguing, but almost likely, tale of a diva-worshiping kid who ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Very sparse settings at times, but a cohesive ambience throughout. The recurring music (Wally's Theme) lingers through the movie, giving you that sunday-afternoon-drifting kinda feeling. Overall, a delightful movie.


Dr. Caligari
Utterly surreal quasi-experimental movie. Would probably be enhanced by mind-altering substances. Includes graphic sexual scenes, an unintelligible plot-line, and soliloquies delivered straight into the camera while assuming different poses.


Drinking Games
Take the cast of Slacker, move them to Portland, and have them re-enact 'The Big Chill'. Actually, this movie gives a nod to each of those with a Slacker poster making a cameo in one of the scenes, and one of the characters mulling over playing the 'Big Chill' soundtrack in another. This indie flick takes a while to get interesting but really becomes fun to watch once it does. A group of twentysomethings are drained after attending the funeral of one of their friends and end up drowning their sorrows in some drinking games, which become more bawdy as the night wears on. Respectable for such a low-budget outing, and sprinkled with some witty and ourageous moments. Pair with either of the above movies for an apropos double feature.


Drowning By Numbers
Very lush and atmospheric movie whose plot can be essentially inferred from the title. Of course, more time is spent searching for the nearly subliminal numbers ensconced throughout the entire movie. Overall the movie kinda leaves you scratching your head wondering what you just saw, but a vague feeling that you think you liked it.



Eat Drink Man Woman
Adorable movie, filmed in Taipei, about an aging gourmet chef and three daughters he cares for. Delightful plot contortions along with humor ranging from subtle innuendo to campy farce and meaningful melodrama make this a great movie. Just be sure you eat before watching this. See with Tampopo for mouthwatering hunger pangs.


As this is the only Henry Jaglom movie I have seen, I am unable to comment on this movie compared to his others. On its own, it stands as a documentary-like view of, I believe, 26 women and how food has shaped their lives. The basis of the movie is 3 women (all of different generations) sharing a joint birthday party. There are no men in the movie, but that's not something that is noticed. The stories run the gamut from typical food associations to acute body image issues.


El Mariachi
I am somewhat biased about this movie have known Robert Rodriguez from college. (He used to be a cartoonist at UT-Austin, and got help making the movie from some friends of mine) El Mariachi was filmed for only $6000 using borrowed movie cameras and friends of Robert as many of the actors. Even with so little, El Mariachi is amazing movie from start to finish. Filmed on the streets in Mexico, using people right off the street, (yes, those are real cops, and real guns) we watch a luckless mariachi caught in a classic wrong-place-wrong-time story. Agents were so impressed with what Robert was able to do with $6000, I last heard he had been offered a 7 movie contract with Columbia or something like that. Support indie movies and see this. It should be followed by its blockbuster sequel Desperado. You could also pair it with its campy alternate-universe equivalent, Six-String Samurai.


Enchanted April
This can be surmised rather easily. If you liked Room With A View and Howards End, you will most likely enjoy this. If you did not, this conservative English story may drag or seem overly verbose. Well cast, well acted, and well done overall.


Hmmm. This is a binary movie. You either gush about it or you hate it. Somehow I ended up in the middle. I suspect I should watch it a few more times, but Lynch's first big outing was more confounding than I was able to follow. Either that or it, like Dr. Caligari, it was not meant to be understood without the assistance of extra substances.


Ethan Frome
Excellent movie of the painful story of Ethan Frome, as portrayed by Liam Nelson. Well-rounded and convincing, capable of eliciting an emotional response from the viewer.


Europa Europa
Dramatic and enthralling story of a young Jewish boy in Germany during WWII. The resourceful boy changes allegences as necessary to stay alive.


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