Today is the 532nd birthday of Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (aka just "Michelangelo"), one of the most prolific, documented, celebrated and imitated artists of ... ever. So in honor of his birthday, herewith a top ten list devoted to artists or art related moments in the movies. Art was on my brain anyway, what with having just seen Jake Gyllenhaal's cartoonist in Zodiac (more on this soon) and last night's episode of Heroes still fresh in mind. I don't know about you but that stereotype of drug use enhancing ones artistic abilities is always delightful to see reinforced [/sarcasm] --and every week on Monday nights no less!
Obviously I will be forgetting many great art-centric films in this list (but hey, that's what comments are for --share your own favorites)
Art in the Movies
10 & 09 Max von Sydow as "Frederick" in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) and Julianne Moore as "Maude Lebowski" in The Big Lebowski (1998)
Two great comedies which contain supporting performances of archetypal artist types. Von Sydow is the cranky solitary "pure" artist --he's not just uncomfortable with the business of art, he's infuriated by it. Moore essays the 'artist as avant-garde nutjob' stereotype as a vaginal performance artist. It's her one and only great comedic work.
08 La Belle Noiseuse
Michel Piccoli spends 236 minutes sketching a nude Emmanuelle Béart in this 90s French import and many of those 236 minutes are pleasureable and/or intriguing. Is it Béart's stunning body and performance that make it so? (Previous Béart love here and here) The sheer extended chutzpah of the whole enterprise? The rare almost real time (or as close at you'll get) peek into the craft? Or maybe it's just, simply, a fine film.
07 Michael Beck as "Sonny Malone" in Xanadu (1980)
I know this is a horrible horrible eyesore on an otherwise respectable list but don't you miss painted album covers? That was his job! That used to be an actual profession. I was a kid when this movie came out and oh how I wanted his life when I grew up: painting for a living and romancing Olivia Newton-John. Mmmmm. I miss paintings everywhere: magazine covers, cd covers. Why is it always photography now?
06 Catherine O'Hara as "Delia" in Beetlejuice(1988)
This is my art and it is dangerous!Long before we were familiar with Christopher Guests mockumentary troupe in films like Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show, O'Hara was already spinning comedic gold in the movies. She was in superb form as a narcissistic sculptor in this early Tim Burton hit.
05 the sidewalk paintings in Mary Poppins (1964)
Art is transporting -- in this case literally so. "I draws what I likes and I likes what I drew"Who hasn't wanted to dive into a drawing at one time or another?
04 Scarlett Johansson as the Girl With the Pearl Earring (2003)
In this case the appeal is the subject (Scarjo in her best performance) rather than the artist Colin Firth as "Vermeer". And to be fair it's also the exquisite and painterly cinematography by the talented DP Eduardo Serra
03 Julianne Moore (artist) and Madeline Stowe (subject) in Shortcuts (1993)
Casting siblings is obviously more difficult than not, given how many screen blood ties feel forced or improbable. But I love this duet from Robert Altman's Los Angeles panorama. The two actresses have a great silent rapport. Their modelling session together sends Moore's screen husband (Matthew Modine) into a flustered awkward exit after seeing his sister-in-law naked. The two actresses share a sudden synchronized laugh that's conspiratorial, exclusionary, and entirely sisterly. I love it.
02 Pollock (2000)
Ed Harris and Marcia Gay Harden both wowed in Harris' sturdy biopic. It holds a special place in my Oscar-obsessed heart because it was my first major claim to fame as a pundit: I predicted both of their nominations, which was --I know it's hard to believe now -- not the thing to do at the time: precursors had ignored them. Though Pollock is entirely too conventional to be a great film it's still a solid directorial debut from the great actor and one wonders why Harris hasn't followed it up. The aha! moment of Jackson's splatter painting technique is annoying and historically questionable but there's abundant pleasure in the performances: Harris didn't win the Oscar but his grunting masculinity is, for this moviegoer, far more potent than that of his conqueror (Russell Crowe in Gladiator). Marcia Gay Harden furiously chews scenery as his neglected wife and fellow artist, Lee Krasner. Best of all for art world aficionados Amy Madigan (Harris' real life unneglected wife) is a complete scream as the inimitable Peggy Guggenheim.
01 6 Degrees of Separation (1993)
In this transfer of the hit play Stockard Channing gives a revelatory Oscar nominated performance as "Ouisa" and Donald Sutherland lends her able if eventually incompatible marital support. It's hard to pick a favorite moment in this film about art dealers and a young man (Will Smith) who disrupts their carefully controlled if precarious existence. But two moments that are on loop in my head and have been since 1993 ... spinning the Kandinsky "chaos. control. chaos. control. you like? you like?" and Ouisa's self-startled joy slapping the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. See this movie! you'll like. you'll like.