While it’s debatable whether a film can ever truly convey an artist’s creative process, there have been many great movies made about artists who paint. Here are 10 critically acclaimed biopics about famous painters. While the biopics on this list were chosen on the basis of personal taste, the films are ordered according to their critical rankings on Rotten Tomatoes, from lowest to highest.
10. Basquiat (1996)
Directed by fellow artist Julian Schnabel, Basquiat chronicles the life of New York-based painter and musician Jean-Michel Basquiat. The film traces Basquiat’s evolution from graffiti street artist to world-renowned painter before his death of a drug overdose in 1988. Jeffrey Wright stars as the title character while David Bowie plays Andy Warhol. The impressive all-star cast also includes Benicio Del Toro, Gary Oldman, Michael Wincott, Claire Forlani, Dennis Hopper, Tatum O’Neal, Courtney Love, Christopher Walken, Willem Dafoe, Parker Posey, and Sam Rockwell.
Basquiat was well received by most critics, including Roger Ebert, who gave the film 3.5 stars and called it a “confident, poetic filmmaking debut.” The film currently has a 70% approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
9. Frida (2002)
Surrealist Mexican painter Frida Kahlo is the subject of this Julie Taymor-directed biopic that depicts Frida’s upbringing in Mexico City, her tumultuous marriage to fellow artist Diego Rivera, and her ultimate recognition as a prominent artist. Salma Hayek stars as Frida, while Alfred Molina plays Diego Rivera. Frida also features Mia Maestro, Antonio Banderas, Geoffrey Rush, Valeria Golino, Ashley Judd, Roger Rees, and Edward Norton.
The critics at Rotten Tomatoes called Frida a “passionate, visually striking biopic” and gave the film a 76% “Certified Fresh” rating. Hayek’s portrayal of Frida garnered her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role and the film went on to win two Oscars for Best Music, Original Score and Best Makeup.
8. Pollock (2000)
Ed Harris directs and stars in this biopic about famed abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock. The film depicts Pollock’s lifelong struggle with alcoholism, his turbulent marriage to fellow painter Lee Krasner, and his tragic death in a car accident in 1956.
Pollock received mostly positive reviews from the critics and earned Marcia Gay Harden a Best Actress in a Supporting Role Oscar for her portrayal of Lee Krasner, while Harris was nominated for a Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscar. The film currently has an 81% “Certified Fresh” rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
7. Chi-hwa-seon aka Painted Fire (2003)
Set in the politically turbulent time period of nineteenth-century Korea, this biographical drama concerns the life and career of renowned artist Oh-won. Choi Min-Sik, who may be most familiar to Western audiences for his starring role in 2003’s Oldboy, plays the role of Oh-won. Ahn Sung-Ki plays Oh-won’s wealthy patron and You Ho-Jeong plays the artist’s love interest.
Chi-hwa-seon was almost universally acclaimed by the critics and garnered director Im Kwon-Taek a Best Director Award at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival (tied with director Paul Thomas Anderson). The film currently has an 83% “Certified Fresh” rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
6. The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965)
Based on a biographical novel of the same name by Irving Stone, this Carol Reed-directed film depicts the contentious relationship between Michelangelo and Pope Julius II as the renowned Renaissance artist painted the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. Michelangelo is played by Charlton Heston, while Pope Julius II is played by Rex Harrison.
Although the film was considered a commercial failure at the time of its release, it was acclaimed by the critics and garnered five Academy Award nominations. The Agony and the Ecstasy currently has an 86% approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
5. Séraphine (2008)
Yolande Moreau stars as French painter Séraphine Louis aka Séraphine de Senlis in this biopic directed by Martin Provost. Despite having no formal art education or access to proper paints, Séraphine created amazing artworks that went largely undiscovered and unappreciated throughout most of her life. Although she garnered some recognition thanks to the efforts of German art critic Wilhelm Uhde (Ulrich Tukur), Séraphine tragically spent the last years of her life in obscurity in an asylum.
Séraphine dominated France’s prestigious César Awards in 2009 with seven wins, including the award for Best Film. The film currently has an 89% “Certified Fresh” rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
4. Andrei Rublev (1966)
Renowned Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky helmed this eponymous biopic about famed fifteenth-century icon painter Andrei Rublev. In the film, Rublev (Anatoly Solonitsyn) deals with the political and religious conflicts plaguing Russia, all while creating his famous icon paintings. Created in 1966, the film premiered at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival where it earned Tarkovsky the FIPRESCI Prize.
Andrei Rublev is highly regarded by most film critics and The Guardian’s Michael McNay called it “one of the most convincing portrayals in art of an artist.” The film currently has a 96% approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
3. Mr. Turner (2014)
This biographical drama film is about the life of J. M. W. Turner, who is widely considered one of Great Britain’s greatest painters. Directed by Mike Leigh and starring Timothy Spall in the titular role, this film has garnered critical acclaim and awards at various film festivals around the world. The film premiered at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, where it secured multiple honors, including a Best Actor Award for Spall.
Unfortunately, Mr. Turner was also one of the films that was leaked in the aftermath of the hacking attack on Sony Pictures’ computer systems, reports Forbes. Mr. Turner currently has a 96% approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes who called it a “superior Hollywood biopic.”
2. Lust for Life (1956)
Vincente Minnelli directed this biopic about Vincent van Gogh that focuses on the renowned painter’s relationship with his art dealer brother Theo. Kirk Douglas stars as the tormented artist, while James Donald plays his supportive brother. The film garnered three Academy Award nominations and a Best Actor in a Supporting Role Oscar for Anthony Quinn, who has a minor role as fellow artist Paul Gaugin.
As noted by Rotten Tomatoes the film’s story was based on actual correspondence between Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo and almost 200 original Van Gogh paintings were used in the film. Lust for Life was well received by most critics and the film currently has a 100% approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes, although it lacks the required number of reviews to garner the “Certified Fresh” seal.
1. Edvard Munch (1976)
Director Peter Watkins employed a unique docudrama approach to this biopic about famed Norwegian painter Edvard Munch. Geir Westby plays the role of Munch, while Gro Fraas plays his married lover Mrs. Heilberg. Like Van Gogh, Munch’s unusual style of painting was not widely appreciated at the time. Today, his painting titled “The Scream” is one of the world’s most recognizable works of art.
Edvard Munch is highly regarded by many film critics and as noted by The Guardian’s Rob Mackie, renowned Swedish director Ingmar Bergman called the film a “masterpiece.” The film currently has a 100% approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
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