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The Ultimate List of Art Movies & Documentaries

Art Lovers | 29 December 2023

The Ultimate List of Art Movies and Documentaries about artists, art, and the art world is a carefully curated collection by Art Lovers Australia.

This list showcases, not just some of our team’s favourite films, but some of the most acclaimed films and documentaries that delve into the world of art and artists. From biopics, to dramas, to behind-the-scenes insights, this collection offers a diverse range of perspectives on the creative process, struggles, and triumphs of artists. Whether you are an art lover, a budding artist, or simply curious about the world of art, this list is a must-watch for anyone looking to gain a better understanding and appreciation for the artistic world.

So, grab your popcorn and get ready for a journey through artistic expression, intrigue, controversy, and inspiration.

Showing Up

Starring: Michelle Williams Directed by: Kellie Reichardt

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This comedy-drama starring Michelle Williams follows a sculptor called Lizzy. An artist on the verge of a career-changing exhibition has to navigate family, friends and colleagues in the lead-up to her show and finds that the chaos of life becomes the inspiration for more great art.

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The Price of Everything

Directed by: Nathaniel Kahn

Starring: Jeff Koons, Paul Schimmel, Larry Poons & Jerry Saltz

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With unprecedented access to pivotal artists and the white-hot market surrounding them, this film dives deep into the contemporary art world, holding a fun-house mirror up to our values and our times — where everything can be bought and sold.

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Frida

Starring: Salma Hayek & Alfred Molina Directed by: Julie Taymor

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This is the true story of Frida Kahlo (Salma Hayek) and her husband Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina), the larger-than-life painters who became the most acclaimed artists in Mexican history, and whose tempestuous love affair, landmark journeys to America, and outrageous personalities made them legendary.

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Whiteley

Directed by: James Bogle

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Whiteley is a visual journey into the private life and creative legacy of Australia’s most iconic artist, Brett Whiteley, told “in his own words” using personal letters, notebooks and photographs, interwoven with reconstructions, animations, archival interviews and rare footage.

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Pollock

Starring: Ed Harris, Marcia Gay Harden & Jennifer Connelly

Directed by: Ed Harris

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The film is a look back into the life of an extraordinary man, a man who has fittingly been called “an artist dedicated to concealment, a celebrity who nobody knew.” As he struggled with self-doubt, engaging in a lonely tug-of-war between needing to express himself and wanting to shut the world out, Pollock began a downward spiral.

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National Gallery

Directed by: Frederick Wiseman

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A documentary that goes inside one of the great museums of the world: The National Gallery in London. Frederick Wiseman takes the audience on a journey to the heart of the world-famous museum, revealing the secrets within its corridors and its Western art masterpieces. This portrait of the National Gallery shows its way of working and relations with the world, its staff and public and its paintings.

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The Last Vermeer

Starring: Guy Pearce Directed by: Dan Friedkin

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The Last Vermeer follows “Dutch folk hero Han van Meegeren who swindled millions of dollars from the art world including the Nazis by selling them forgeries of Johannes Vermeer paintings and is considered the most successful art forger of all time.

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Big Eyes

Starring: Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz Directed by: Tim Burton

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The film is about the life of American artist Margaret Keane, famous for painting and drawing portraits of people with big eyes. It follows the story of Margaret and her husband, Walter Keane, who took credit for Margaret’s phenomenally successful and popular paintings in the 1950s and 1960s.

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Banksy Does New York

Directed by: Chris Moukarbel

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On Oct. 1, 2013, the elusive British street artist known as Banksy launched a self-proclaimed month-long residency in New York City, posting one unique exhibit a day in an unannounced location, sparking a 31-day scavenger hunt both online and on the streets for Banksy’s work.
Capturing this month of madness, Banksy Does New York incorporates user-generated content, from YouTube videos to Instagram photos, from New Yorkers and Banksy hunters alike, whose responses became part of the work itself, for an exhilarating, detailed account of the uproar created by the mysterious artist.

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Final Portrait

Starring: Geoffrey Rush & Armie Hammer Directed by: Stanley Tucci

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In Paris 1964, famed painter Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) bumps into his old friend James Lord (Armie Hammer), the American critic, and asks him to be a model for his latest portrait in his studio for a couple of days. Flattered by the request, Lord complies and as the days turn into weeks and so on, he realizes his entire life has been wasted by this erratic genius. The men’s time together jumps between joy and frustration, as we witness the chaotic genius of Giacometti as he completes one of his last masterpieces.

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Basquiat

Starring: Jeffrey Wright, Gary Oldman, Benicio del Toro & David Bowie Directed by: Julian Schnabel

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Despite living a life of extreme poverty in Brooklyn, graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (Jeffrey Wright) strives to rise up through the heady New York art scene of the 1970s and 1980s. He becomes the brightest star of neo-Expressionist painting and one of the most successful painters of his time, and even develops a friendship with Andy Warhol (David Bowie). But Basquiat’s tumultuous life, specifically his addiction to heroin, overshadows his rise to fame, threatening all.

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Kusama

Infinity ~ The Life and Art of Yayoi Kusama

Directed by: Heather Lenz

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KusamaInfinity is a biographical documentary film covering the life and art of Japan’s painter Yayoi Kusama, now one of the best-selling painters in the world, who earned her recognition despite sexism, racism, and a stigma of mental illness.

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At Eternity’s Gate

Starring: Willem Dafoe Directed by: Julian Schnabel

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At Eternity’s Gate is a 2018 biographical drama film about the final years of painter Vincent van Gogh’s life. The film dramatizes the controversial theory put forward by Van Gogh biographers Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, in which they speculate that Van Gogh’s death was caused by mischief rather than it being a suicide.

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The Danish Girl

Starring: Eddie Redmayne & Alicia Vikander Directed by: Tom Hooper

The Danish Girl

The Danish Girl is a 2015 biographical romantic drama film based on the 2000 novel of the same name by David Ebershoff, and loosely inspired by the lives of Danish painters Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener. The film stars Eddie Redmayne as Elbe, one of the first known recipients of gender-affirming surgery.

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Cutie and the Boxer

Starring: Noriko Shinohara and Ushio  Directed by: Zachary Heinzerling

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This documentary focuses on the chaotic 40-year marriage of two artists, Noriko Shinohara and her husband the boxing painter Ushio, featuring original artwork by the couple. Director Heinzerling said of the couple: “When I first met [the Shinoharas], I was just struck by the raw spirit and beauty that emanates from their faces, their lifestyle, their art, everything about them has so much purpose and character. Even if you don’t speak Japanese, even if you have no previous knowledge of their artwork or who they are, you’re immediately captivated by their presence. They live in a world that’s kind of a time warp that hearkens back to the ‘70s New York SoHo art scene that is sort of canonized in history, certainly from my point of view.”

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Mr. Turner

Starring: Timothy Spall, Dorothy Atkinson, Paul Jesson and Marion Bailey  Directed by: Mike Leigh

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Spanning the last 25 years in the life of Britain’s most revered, and eccentric, painter J.M.W. Turner (Timothy Spall), the film Mr. Turner is a rich portrait of a complex, contradictory man. Living his last years with gusto he secretly becomes involved with a seaside landlady, while his faithful housekeeper bears an unrequited love for him.

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Paper & Glue

Directed by: JR

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Using unexpected canvasses, artist JR intends to give a global voice to everyday people through a genre-blending combination of public art, photography and large format spectacle.

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Renoir

Starring: Michel Bouquet, Christa Théret, & Vincent Rottiers

Directed by: Gilles Bourdos

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The film tells the forgotten story of Andrée Heuschling, also known as Catherine Hessling, who was the last model of impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir and the first actress in the films of his son, the film director Jean Renoir. Andrée was the link between two famous and widely acclaimed artists, a father and son. While the father is at the end of his brilliant career, the son is still searching for himself, his great career as one of the most celebrated movie directors having not yet begun.

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The Best Offer

Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Donald Sutherland & Jim Sturgess

Directed by: Giuseppe Tornatore

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In the world of high-end art auctions and antiques, Virgil Oldman is an elderly and esteemed but eccentric genius art-expert, known and appreciated by the world. Oldman is hired by solitary young heiress Claire Ibbetson to auction off the large collection of art and antiques left to her by her parents. For some reason, Claire always refuses to be seen in person.

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Maudie

Starring: Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke  Directed by: Aisling Walsh

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Maudie is a film about the life of Maud Lewis, one of the most beloved folk artists of 20th century Canada.

Maud who suffers from severe arthritis, is hired as a housekeeper by reclusive local fish peddler Everett Lewis. Despite her crippled hands, Maud yearns to be independent and to live away from her overprotective family, but most of all, she wants to create art. An unlikely romance blossoms between herself and Everett, as she determinedly hones her skills despite her pain, and overcomes the physical challenge of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. She eventually rises to become one of Canada’s premier folk artists, whose paintings hang in The White House.

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Loving Vincent

Starring: Robert Gulaczyk, Douglas Booth, Saoirse Ronan & Chris O’Dowd

Directed by: Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman

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Loving Vincent is a biographical drama film about the life of painter Vincent van Gogh. It is the world’s first fully oil painted animated film and brings his artwork to life in an exploration of the death of one of history’s most celebrated artists. A true labour of love, written and directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, each of the film’s 65,000 frames is an oil painting on canvas, using the same technique as Van Gogh, created by a team of 115 painters.

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The Electrical Life of Louis Wain

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy, Andrea Riseborough and Toby Jones

Directed by: Will Sharpe

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The extraordinary true story of eccentric British artist Louis Wain (Benedict Cumberbatch), whose playful, sometimes even psychedelic pictures helped to transform the public’s perception of cats forever. Moving from the late 1800s through to the 1930s, we follow the incredible adventures of this inspiring, unsung hero, as he seeks to unlock the “electrical” mysteries of the world and, in so doing, to better understand his own life and the profound love he shared with his wife Emily Richardson (Claire Foy).

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Marina Abramovic – The Artist Is Present

Starring: Marina Abramovic  Directed by: Matthew Akers

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An incredibly fascinating look at the life and work of Yugoslav performance artist Marina Abramovic as she prepares for her landmark solo show at MoMA New York. The show itself featured 50 works spanning four decades, many of which ere collaborations with former lover and co-creator Ulay (Uwe Laysiepen). One of the most moving scenes from the film features Ulay appearing before Marina on the opening night – footage of which has been viewed close to 30 million times. The documentary also serves as a critique on performance art itself and its often misunderstood relationship with society and culture.

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Séraphine

Starring: Yolande Moreau  Directed by: Martin Provost

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The film follows the life of a middle-aged housekeeper, Séraphine Louis, who has a remarkable talent for painting.  A shepherdess, Séraphine uses crude materials like dirt and animal blood to create paintings. A German art critic notices her work and helps her pave her path to success.

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Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski

Directed by: Irek Dobrowolski

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From Producer Leonardo DiCaprio comes a documentary film about Stanislaw Szukalski, an eccentric artist and self proclaimed genius from Poland. After gaining fame leading up to WW2 he fell into obscurity only to be re-discovered late in life. He’s one of the greatest artists you’ve never heard of.

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Daliland

Starring: Ben Kingsley Directed by: Mary Harron

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In 1973, a young gallery assistant is drawn into the wild, never-ending party that is artist Salvador Dalí’s life in New York City. As he helps the aging genius prepare for an important show, he discovers not everything is as it seems.

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I Shot Andy Warhol

Starring: Lili Taylor, Jared Harris & Stephen Dorff Directed by: Mary Harron

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I Shot Andy Warhol is a 1996 biographical drama film about the life of Valerie Solanas and her relationship with the artist Andy Warhol. Valerie Solanas was a ’60s radical who preached misandry in her “Scum” manifesto. She wrote a screenplay for a film that she wanted Andy Warhol to produce, but after he repeatedly ignored her, she shot him.

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The Cool School

Narrated by: Jeff Bridges  Directed by: Morgan Neville

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The Cool School is an abject lesson in how to build an art scene from scratch and what to avoid in the process. The film focuses on the seminal Ferus Gallery, which groomed the LA art scene from a loose band of idealistic beatniks into a coterie of competitive, often brilliant artists, including Ed Kienholz, Ed Ruscha, Craig Kauffman, Wallace Berman, Ed Moses and Robert Irwin. The Ferus also served as launching point for New York imports, Andy Warhol (hosting his first Soup Can show), Jasper Johns, and Roy Lichtenstein, as well as leading to the first Pop Art show and Marcel Duchamp’s first retrospective.

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Goya’s Ghost

Starring: Javier Bardem, Natalie Portman and Stellan Skarsgård  Directed by: Miloš Forman

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Goya’s Ghosts is a 2006 biographical drama film, directed by Miloš Forman and written by him and Jean-Claude Carrière.

The painter Goya becomes involved with the Spanish Inquisition when his muse, Ines, is arrested by the church for heresy. Her father, Thomas, comes to him hoping that his connection with Brother Lorenzo, whom he is painting, can secure the release of his daughter.

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Artemisia

Starring: Valentina Cervi and Michel Serrault  Directed by: Agnès Merlet

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Artemesia is a film that portrays the life and career of seventeenth century painter Artemisia Gentileschi (Valentina Cervi). Breaking the boundaries of both artistic and social conventions in terms of what it was possible for a woman to do, she becomes the victim of a notorious legal battle.

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Waste Land

Starring: Vik Muniz  Directed by: Lucy Walker

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Located just outside Rio de Janeiro, Jardim Gramacho, Brazil, is the world’s largest garbage landfill. Modern artist Vik Muniz works with the so-called catadores, the men and women who pick through the refuse, to create art out of recycled materials. Muniz selects six of the garbage pickers to pose as subjects in a series of photographs mimicking famous paintings. In his desire to assist the catadores and change their lives, Muniz finds himself changed as well.

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The Art of the Steal

Directed by: Don Argott

Creator: Gd Jpeg V1.0 (using Ijg Jpeg V62), Quality = 85This 2009 film looks at the controversy surrounding the art collection of Dr. Albert C. Barnes, a millionaire who amassed a remarkable selection of significant works during the early 20th century. Barnes sought to keep his priceless pieces together as part of his foundation even after his death, but the involvement of numerous parties led to the scattering of his collection. This documentary sheds light on how his wishes were violated by a handful of opportunistic individuals.

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Girl with a Pearl Earring

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Colin Firth, Tom Wilkinson and Cillian Murphy  Directed by: Peter Webber

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When her father goes blind, Griet (Scarlett Johansson) must go to work as a maid for painter Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth). While cleaning the house, Griet strikes up an unlikely friendship with Vermeer, which both agree to keep secret for fear of provoking the painter’s jealous wife, Catharina (Essie Davis). When wealthy patron Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson) begins to lust after Griet, and commissions a painting of her, Vermeer and Griet are obliged to spend long hours alone together.

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Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child

Directed by: Tamra Davis

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A portrait of a renowned artist this documentary shines the spotlight on New York City painter Jean-Michel Basquiat. Featuring extensive interviews conducted by Basquiat’s friend filmmaker Tamra Davis the production reveals how he dealt with being a black artist in a predominantly white field.

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