Whether it’s coming up with an original topic for your grad school application essay or working on that great American novel socked away in your closet, sometimes your creative well runs dry. When that happens, I like to pop on a movie and lose myself in a story that piques my creative side, or at the very least embraces my creative struggle.
It can be a linear plot about fulfilling an artistic vision or just have a character with an artistic job, without it playing a major role in the plot at all. It can even just be a situation where I get to see someone going after their dreams with everything they’ve got, so I can visualize myself doing the same. Either way, it inevitably ends up motivating me to finish whatever project I’m working on.
However you approach it, here are 11 movies you can watch on Netflix right now to spark your creativity:
1. Frances Ha
Directed and written by Noah Baumbach and staring indie darling Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha tells the story of twenty-seven-year-old Frances, who aspires to be a professional dancer. It follows her journey from apartment to apartment in New York City as she looks for love, tries preserving her friendships as she veers into adulthood, and searches for a job. Dance and cultural references abound, and you’ll just feel like here’s someone who finally gets what it’s like to be young, creative, and hopeful.
2. Bill Cunningham New York
NYC serves as the backdrop for this documentary centered on Bill Cunningham, widely regarded as a type of cultural anthropologist who had made a career from taking pictures of strangers’ outfits and writing about their personal style. The movie brings together an eclectic mix of people ranging from high fashion, like Anna Wintour, to complete nobodies, exposing the viewer to different ways of life and thinking. It’s people watching for people who don’t want to leave their house. I don’t know about you, but people watching always give me new ideas.
3. Planet Earth: The Complete Collection
Nothing makes you sit back and ponder the deeper, more important parts of life and human existence like learning about the wider world.
4. I’m Still Here
Joaquin Phoenix took a lot of flak for I’m Still Here. Remember when he announced her was quitting acting so he could start a rap career? Well, that’s all documented here. The premise of the whole movie revolves around Phoenix trying desperately to fulfill his wild rap dream against all odds and disbelief. Phoenix and Casey Affleck came up for the idea for the mockumentary after thinking about celebrity culture and wondering just how far once could go before people stopped caring or intervening. He does an amazing job playing himself at the end of his rope.
5. HitRECord on TV
Okay, not a movie. Instead, it’s a TV show that features original content from the hitRECord community which embraces collaboration among different artists, musicians, filmmakers, and actors all with different styles and aesthetics.
6. Green Porno Live!
If you’re someone who is more into theater, then this might be a good choice for you. Award-winning actress Isabella Rossellini makes animal reproduction come alive with the use of a black box theater and various props and puppetry. It’s a contemporary and avant-garde take on your traditional nature documentary.
7. Me and You and Everyone We Know
If you’re a fan of Miranda July’s short stories, you’ll fall in love with this movie, which really feels like her written works. That makes sense since she wrote and directed it. Filled with quirky and irreverent characters, the plot lines overlap and intertwine the characters.
8. Holy Motors
If you’re into surrealism or avant-garde style, this is a solid pick for you. The movie is dripping with bizarre interactions, blurred plot lines, and provocative imagery.
9. My Life Directed By Nicolas Winding Refn
Personally, I think anything written/directed by Refn (Drive, Bronson) is great for igniting your creative juices, but being a documentary about his own life, this one is particularly poignant. It casts light on the creative process and its impact on one’s life through a creative person’s eyes.
10. The Shining
When I’m in a creative slump, nothing quite captures the pain of putting pen to paper for any creative endeavor quite like The Shining. Bonus: nothing makes me feel like I’ve got a good head on my shoulders than knowing that while I could get all Jack Nicholson-level crazy when the writer’s block just won’t subside, I choose not to.
11. Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present
Documenting the preparations and creation of her retrospective show at the Museum of Modern Art, this film is interjected with moments of Abramovic’s contemplation and memories of her childhood and early career, which planted the roots of her becoming the “Grandmother of Performance Art”. There is also a few celebrity cameos from the likes of Jay-Z.
Alternatively, here are a couple of movies you should definitely not watch when trying to feel creatively inspired:
Nothing will make you feel more like an artistic and creative failure than watching professional-level high school dancers, actors, and singers audition for roles and projects you could only dream of.
Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon
While this is an amazing movie and famous manager Shep Gordon has navigated the careers of many a superstar (i.e. Alice Cooper, Emeril Lagasse), his natural knack for the entertainment business and ability to skyrocket careers from complete obscurity will leave you feeling inadequate.