Culture / Film

The arthouse films on our watch list that should be on yours too

Considering that at this point, most of us live in deep caves of the Internet and succumb to some truly sombre pop-culture-fuelled watches (AKA Emily in Paris) in an attempt to stay amongst the zeitgeist, carving out time to indulge in arthouse films can be a rare occasion, one that we need to do more of. If not for ourselves, for the culture that is morphing into an unrecognisable beast at warp speed.

Of course, indulging in trash television is part of the way we live, and settling into a three-hour-long subtitled dissection of how deeply we can feel is not always what sounds most relaxing, but in the instance you're feeling as though it's time to dive into the latter, these are our top picks for the arthouse films we're looking forward to indulging in.


1. How to Have Sex (2023)

The 2023 coming-of-age drama was writer and director Molly Manning's directorial debut, and stars Mia McKenna-Bruce, Lara Peake, Samuel Bottomley, Shaun Thomas, Enva Lewis and Laura Ambler as a group of British 16-year-old friends headed to Crete for a rite-of-passage holiday partying, drinking and hooking up. But what should be the 'best summer of their lives' ends up being a grating portrayal of female coming of age, consent and the joys and pains of girlhood.


2. Talk to Me (2023)

While it may have been picked up by A24 and gained unprecedented popularity, this film started out as a low-budget Aussie horror flick by Adelaide brothers Danny and Michael Philippou (also known as RackaRacka). After taking their flick – starring Aussies up-and-comers like Sophie Wilde and Zoe Terakes – to Sundance, it became the talk of the festival, and quickly became the centre of a bidding war for distribution. Regardless, this terrifying tale of a group of teenagers, hooked on the thrill of a high-stakes party game that summons spirits, has quickly entered the echelons of all-time great indie horror flicks.


3. Aftersun (2022)

Again A24 has done well to pick up some of these arthouse films and propel them to audiences through their well-established distribution channels, but this one also remains to be an indie flick through-and-through. Aftersun is a haunting epitaph to a now 30-year-old Sophie's father, whom she remembers throughout the film through the vignettes of a Turkish holiday they spent together twenty years earlier. It's a story that hits like a gut-punch about loving, grieving, time and parenthood. You'll never hear David Bowie's Under Pressure the same way again.


4. Shiva Baby (2020)

Emma Seligman's seminal film about a young college student who has a run-in with her sugar daddy – and his wife and child – at a Jewish funeral service with her parents is equal parts hilarious and sobering. Seligman wrote the film as her thesis project while studying film at NYU, and cast fellow student Rachel Sennott in her breakout lead role. The film probably best falls into the niche of indie black comedy; at once claustrophobic and frantically funny.


5. The Lobster (2015)

Yorgos Lanthimos' film catalogue is finally reaching the eye-line of the masses, with Oscar-winning hits like The Favourite and more recently Poor ThingsBut some of his earlier work is just as delightfully weird and suffocatingly strange – most notably his classic film The Lobster. Starring Colin Farrell as 'David', the film centres on a near, dystopian future where single people are obliged to find a romantic partner or risk being turned into the animal of their choice (David's choice obviously being a lobster). What entails is a fantastical, surreal and dark sci-fi comedy that leaves you questioning the culture of modern romance.


6. Benedetta (2021)

Paul Verhoeven delivers the lesbian nun thriller of practically everyone's dreams with Benedetta. Based on Judith C. Brown’s erotic non-fiction Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy, starring Virginie Efira as Benedetta Carlini, a novice nun in the 17th century who joins an Italian convent and has a very horny love affair with another nun. If the nuns in question are headed straight to hell, we'll be following closely behind.


7. The Lost Daughter (2021)

Maggie Gyllenhaal's directorial debut, The Lost Daughter, based on a novel by Elena Ferrante, follows a college professor (Olivia Coleman) and mother who, while on holiday, is confronted by her past when she meets a young woman (Dakota Johnson) and her daughter on holiday. She forms a sort-of obsession with the young mother, while she grapples with the guilt of having lived on her own terms while the responsibility of motherhood bore down on her.

8. Memoria (2021)

Tilda Swinton stars in Memoria, the english language debut of Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Shot in Colombia, Swinton plays Jessica, an insomniac Scottish woman who, while travelling to visit her sister in Bogotá, meets a number of people who could cure her insomnia.


9. Summer of 85 (2020)

French director Francoise Ozon's 19th film in 22 years of directing sees Summer of 85 come to life at a seaside resort in Normandy. When teenage Alexis' boat capsizes and almost drowns before being rescued by David, the two enter the entanglement of Alexis' dreams. Think Call Me By Your Name with a dark twist, and without Armie Hammer.


10. Great Freedom (2021)

Premiering at Cannes film festival last year, Great Freedom is set in post-World War II Germany, where a queer man’s liberation from Auschwitz takes him directly to prison for violating the country’s anti-LGBTQ+ laws. Directed by Sebastian Meise, the film touches on repression, liberation, and that each can be found within the other.


11. The French Exit (2020)

Initially premiering at the New York Film Festival, Michelle Pfieffer plays a widowed socialite who moves from Manhattan to Paris to rinse the last of her dead husband's inheritance with her strangely attached son by her side. The film deals with grief, love, death and delusion.


12. The Scary of Sixty First (2020)

A thriller built on the Jeffery Epstein case. Two girls move into a strangely affordable New York apartment. In an attempt to understand the reason behind its rock-bottom price, they discover it's an old residence of Jeffrey Epstein. Disturbed by their findings, the “Epstein Didn't Kill Himself” theory spirals as a result of their DIY investigation.


13. An Easy Girl (2019)

Set in the ever-aspirational Cannes, An Easy Girl stars tabloid sensation Zahia Dehar who plays Sofia - a wealthy and glamourous 22-year-old who is visiting her 16-year-old cousin. A classic sexy French coming of age trope with underpinnings of transcending stereotypes, and many Chanel bags.


14. A Cop Movie (2021)

Directed by Alonso Ruizpalacios, A Cop Movie sees two Mexican actors go through the process of enlisting for the country's police force. Dealing with the nuances of pride of service and being part of a broken system, the film has been described by the Berlinale as “an audacious experiment at the blurry boundary between fiction and reality”.


15. Kajillionaire (2020)

Part-comedy, part-satire, Miranda July's Third film looks at a dysfunctional family of scam artists, played by Evan Rachel Wood, Debra Winger and Richard Jenkins. When they invite a stranger to accompany them on their next major heist, things start to get rocky. A heist film with character and depth.


16. Petite Maman (2021)

Brought to you by Portrait of a Lady on Fire's Celine Sciamma, Petite Maman follows a girl who begins to explore the back garden of her grandmother's home. When her mother mysteriously disappears one day, a girl similar to her mother appears in the treehouse in the back garden that her mother used to play in.


17. Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (2021)

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn follows Emi, a school teacher who finds her career and reputation under threat after a personal sex tape is leaked on the Internet. Forced to meet the parents demanding her dismissal, Emi refuses to surrender to their pressure.


18. Night Nursery (2021)

A documentary set in the district town of Bobo-Dioulasso, near Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou, where each night, sex workers leave their children to Mrs. Coda, an elderly woman who watches the children while the mothers work. Strolling through the “Black,” a lively alley in the city centre for work until dawn, when they return to pick up their children.


19. All Eyes Off Me (2021)

A film that takes place in contemporary Tel Aviv, All Eyes Off Me follows three stories that are woven together portraying Tel Aviv’s youth. The plot revolves around Danny who is searching for Max at a party to tell him that she’s pregnant with his child. But Max  has just started a new relationship with the wild Avishag, who all the while has someone else in mind.


20. Amélie

One of the most universally beloved flicks to have been swept into the cannon of 21st century arthouse films is French film Amélie, which premiered back in 2001. For all its flaws, it remains a perfectly imperfect tale of everyday romanticism and lighthearted fantasy – following a strange and childlike character, from whom the film takes its name, that decides her new calling in life is to make other people happy.


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Cover image via IMDb.