10 Best Avant Garde Movies Of All Time (According To IMDb)

In an article appearing in a 2018 issue of The New York Times, film critic J. Hoberman argued that understanding a cinematic undertaking is entirely separate from enjoying it. In his words, "the visual language of some movies is so personal and hermetic that interpreting it could be compared to reading a novel written in hieroglyphics."

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Yet, artistic ambiguity is what draws many to the genre. Far removed from the cut-and-dry, easily-anticipated narratives of most popular movies, experimental films ask viewers to dissect and determine their own understandings. While it's not a genre for everyone, a film should not be passed up simply due to its avant-garde nature.

10 Wax, Or The Discovery Of Television Among The Bees (7.0)

What might vaguely be construed as a film made to protest the onset of the Gulf War, Wax, or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees is a strange experimental film that holds the distinction of being the very first film made available to stream on the internet, an accolade it was awarded all the way back in 1993.

The film centers on a beekeeper who believes his colony of bees to have planted a crystal in his head that allows him to speak with the souls of the dead. The film-made use of standout computer-generated special effects which see the on-screen image frequently warble in distort in ways very rarely seen in traditional cinema.

9 Eraserhead (7.3)

David Lynch may be the most notorious avant-garde filmmaker of all time, and his 1977 effort Eraserhead is perhaps his most recognized. Considered to be a depiction of how one's waking fears and anxieties can be reflected in dreams, Eraserhead is a bizarre exploration of the strange ways in which worries can manifest and contaminate the subconscious.

Of course, that's only one interpretation, and, with scenes of a man raising a grotesque child, a creepy woman living in a radiator, and the protagonist's head being severed and used to create pencil erasers, there's really no definite explanation for the movie's events.

8 The Color Of Pomegranates (7.6)

The Color of Pomegranates is a 1969 experimental film that was intended to serve as a visual representation of the life and writings of Armenian poet Sayat-nova. The beginning of the film implores viewers not to search for narrative in the film's scenes, placing an emphasis instead on the emotional value of the movie and the poems from which it was loosely adapted.

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A long procession of very abstract imagery, it's certainly a tough film for audiences - particularly Western audiences - to parse. However, it serves as a unique celebration of Armenian culture, and it's a late example of the Soviet avant-garde movement.

7 Blue Velvet (7.7)

Another standout from director David Lynch's bizarre filmography, 1986's Blue Velvet concerns a wayward college student named Jeffrey who stumbles across a major criminal conspiracy after discovering a severed human ear in a field. The film is an examination of the very troubling things that go on in otherwise urbane society.

Lynch is said to have started planning for Blue Velvet in 1973, more than a decade before it would debut. While it ultimately earned him an Academy Award for Best Director, the film divided critics with audiences alike. Critic Roger Ebert likely summed up public sentiment best when he said that some reviewers called it a "masterpiece," while others called it "sick and depraved," and still others called it a "sick and depraved masterpiece."

6 Last Year At Marienbad (7.7)

Last Year At Marienbad is a 1961 French-Italian film that serves as an excellent example of the Left Bank arthouse movement that began in France in the 1950s. The film concerns a man meeting a woman whom he is convinced he's met before, though she doesn't remember meeting him. The film then pulls, stretches, and contorts as blurry memories and half-forgotten dreams coalesce into a decidedly unreliable narrative.

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A bit like David Lynch's Eraserhead, Last Year At Marienbad is an excellent depiction of the strange nature of dreams and faulty memory. It's perhaps as close as one might ever come to seeing a person's memory displayed in film form.

5 The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie (7.8)

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is a 1972 surrealist film that's likely meant as a striking rebuke of oligarchic society. It involves a group of upper-class individuals repeatedly attempting to sit down for a meal only to be interrupted in increasingly strange ways.

Ultimately, the film comes across as a commentary regarding the warmongering tendencies of the upper class and the desperation and misery this forces on the lower classes. The film's most poignant examination stems from its depictions of the very different fears of each class; while the lower class fears death and war, the upper classes fear transparency and scrutiny.

4 Meshes Of The Afternoon (7.9)

Maya Deren is a celebrated avant-garde film director who was most active in the mid-1940s and is perhaps best remembered for the wildly-experimental 1943 short film Meshes of the Afternoon. The film is a dizzyingly-weird examination of the distorted, intangible nature of dreams and has been cited as an early inspiration for the work of David Lynch.

Featuring a selection of repeated scenes, innovative, off-kilter camerawork, and a terrifying robed figure with a mirror for a face, Meshes of the Afternoon was undeniably out-there, especially given the time period in which it was filmed.

3 Mirror (8.0)

Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky's Mirror, while not explicitly intended to be an autobiography, is nonetheless a deeply personal film that chronicles the struggles and hardships of those who grew up in the Soviet Union during the 1930s and 1940s. Exploring the life of a mysterious narrator who is rarely seen on-screen, it's an audiovisual event that can't really be digested fully in just one viewing.

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While the narrative is undeniably sentimental and thought-provoking, the cinematography on display is almost unparalleled. While critics were divided when the film first debuted, Mirror has since gained a cult following and is considered by some to be one of the best art films ever made.

2 Soy Cuba (8.2)

Soy Cuba, otherwise known as I Am Cuba, is a 1964 propaganda film developed as a collaboration between filmmakers from Cuba and the Soviet Union. A series of four short stories, Soy Cuba glorifies the Cuban communist revolution of 1959 and was partially a product of the strengthening ties between Cuba and the U.S.S.R. at the time.

Oddly enough, it was panned by audiences when it originally debut, and it might have been forgotten completely were it not rediscovered decades later. The film features groundbreaking cinematography including long, unbroken ariel and underwater shots, and, in that regard, it's considered to have been far ahead of its time.

1 La Jetée (8.2)

La Jetée or The Jetty is likely the most well-known product of the French Left Bank movement. Shot entirely in black-and-white, La Jetée is made up of a series of still images which convey a convoluted and high-concept sci-fi narrative.

A prisoner undergoes extensive training to travel to the past in order to prevent an apocalyptic event. Afterward, he is sent to the future, where he encounters a hyper-advanced civilization that gives him the means to save the people of his timeline. Althewhile, he's tortured by a strange memory of a man being killed on a jetty, and, upon returning to the past, he comes to realize that this memory was of his own murder.

NEXT: 2001 A Space Odyssey & 9 Other Avant-Garde Films Fans Need To Check Out

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