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An introduction to the modern American arthouse (in five films)

Does arthouse film sound pretentious and impenetrable?  These films should help to change your mind.


Arthouse film is often characterised as challenging, dense and grim.  But it is also the genre that allows for the most originality, experimentation and creative expression. It is a genre that every film enthusiast holds in the highest regard, but where to start? Here are five recent American films that exemplify everything that makes the arthouse worth a visit.


Blue Valentine

Blue valentine gives the viewer a very invasive look into a couple’s relationship, chopping and changing between time spans and highlighting the ups and downs they face. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are utterly convincing as Dean and Cindy. They are a passionate young couple whose spark grows dimmer with each trial and tribulation they face.  It is a wise and sombre meditation on how feelings can so quickly fade.

Quote: “I never want to be like my parents. I know they must’ve loved each other at one time, right? To just get it all out of the way before they had me. How do you trust your feelings when they can just disappear like that?”


Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

This film is simply brilliant. The concept of getting over an ex by having all memories of them erased is an interesting one. Jim Carrey is on top form as the shy and heartbroken Joel, whose realisation that he doesn’t want to lose the love of his life, Clementine, played by the ever talented Kate Winslet, comes a little too late. The film is kooky and strange, with screenplay that could double as a great work of literature. It is also novel to see Jim Carrey play a serious role, which he excels in.

Quote: “Random thoughts for Valentine’s day, 2004. Today is a holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people feel like crap.”


Being John Malkovich

This is a perfect introduction to the bizzare world of independent film.  Being John Malkovich gives viewers and characters the chance to see inside the mind of actor John Malkovich: quite literally. When puppeteer John Cusack discovers a secret portal that leads you inside the mind of John Malkovich, he uses the body to fulfil his own goals and dreams, with some interesting consequences. If not only to see how this film’s storyline works, this film is worth viewing just to see Cameron Diaz as a crazy wire-haired monkey keeper, rather than her usual glamorous self! It is disturbingly odd and very clever, a fantastic hybrid of comedy and drama from Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman.

Quote: “You see the world through John Malkovich’s eyes. Then after about 15 minutes, you’re spit out into a ditch on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike!”


American Beauty

An enthralling story starring Kevin Spacey as a husband going through a mid-life crisis as he struggles to control his infatuation with his teen daughter’s high school friend. Kevin Spacey, as always, provides an award-winning performance, and with the likes of Annette Benning playing the uptight, materialistic suburban wife and director Sam Mendes creating this stunning film, you just can’t go wrong. The beautiful score created by the genius Thomas Newman, known for the music of The Shawshank Redemption and Meet Joe Black, makes this film a must-see classic.

Quote: “I had always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn’t a second at all, it stretches on forever, like an ocean of time.”



Of course no one can beat the brilliantly brutal late 90’s classic that is Se7en. With its dark cinematography and even darker plot line, Se7en is a crime thriller that will keep you thinking ‘What next?’ until the very end. This film is probably not for the squeamish, as there is certainly plenty of violence and gore to wince at.  The legendary Morgan Freeman plays a veteran cop partnered with new recruit Brad Pitt. Although an unlikely union, they make great viewing and play the parts fantastically, delivering a hard hitting film with plenty of twists, turns, and a few decapitations.

Quote: “Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.” I agree with the second part.”

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