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20 Great Postmodernist Films That Are Worth Your Time

08 July 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Kanishka Deo

best postmoedrn films

The term Postmodern is quite an oxymoron. It talks about a period which transcends the present. Notions of time, space, reality and existence are all skewed. This ideology became a part of various art forms. We all live in a world where the concept of time and space has become extremely complicated and disorienting because the way technology has affected all of us. Cinema that represents this alienation in its form as well as content becomes a post-modernist film.

Described below are 20 films that are a foundation of this movement in cinema. Post modernism is any art form that was initially studied only in retrospect. These films intentionally or unintentionally have common features that unite them. They challenge conventional form and are all worth watching if post modernism as a theory excites you.

 

1. Monty Python and The Holy Grail (1975)

Written and performed and directed by the comedy group Monty Python

monty python and holy grail

The film is black humor which takes on King Arthur’s search for the Holy Grail. It has several political and historic references in the film. It has to be one of the funniest films ever made. The most recognizable postmodernist element of the film is that makers constantly draw attention to the fact that it is unreal. It uses elements of meta-fiction and uses it also to add onto the humor of the film.

The film is about irony and has hyper real elements in form of strange characters. The costumes and art design of the film compliment the meta-fiction that the film plans to draw out. It is one cult film which has inspired a form of filmmaking and has become a part of the popular culture. This film was post-modern when the theory of postmodernism was still shaping up and that is what makes this film so exceptional.

 

2. Taxi Driver (1976)

Written by Paul Schrader and Directed by Martin Scorsese

Taxi Driver

Travis Brickle, the protagonist of Taxi Driver, is driven by this extreme urge to cleanse the society. He feels alienated by the urban America. The film in some ways tries to show the downfall of the post modernism. It is about the disorientation of Travis with what has become of New York. His attachment with the Taxi is also symbolic of man and his machine.

The film has elements of western genre in the strangest way. The male protagonist and his journey to righteousness in all the chaos make this film extremely interesting. Taxi Driver came out at a time when post modernism as a theory was still being discussed and its impact was still developing. The film preceded to post modernism in cinema in some way.

 

3. Blade Runner (1982)

Written by Hampton Fancher and Directed by Ridley Scott

bladerunner

Christina Degli-Espoli, a film theorist who in one of her essays claims that Blade Runner was one of the first postmodernist films ever made. One can definitely consider this to be prototype and it in some way established features of postmodernism in cinema. The film is a futuristic dystopia. It is a science fiction film with futuristic sets and action but it combines costumes, offices, punk rock hairstyles of the 1940’s. It is a classic pastiche. One of the prime features of postmodernism is loss of identities.

Blade Runner deals with genetically engineered organic robots which were called replicants. The element of machines being more human than the humans is also present in the film. Harrison Ford’s identity remains a mystery till the end. In fact the most interesting thing about the film was that it released with multiple endings.

One could never decide which the original end was. That is one of the major factors for making this an epic postmodern treat. The film also very well establishes a sense of decay and emptiness in the city life, as well as information technology and surveillance. The usage of mannequins in the film is almost surreal. This film has to be Ridley Scott’s best work ever.

 

4. Blue Velvet (1986)

Written and Directed by David Lynch

blue-velvet

Blue Velvet is an astonishing motion picture. It comes from the insanely talented filmmaker David Lynch. Often spectators and film theorists have compared Lynch’s work with Tarantino’s. Lynch is similar to Tarantino for his over the top action, and high levels of intertextuality. His subtexts are stronger than the plot that plays out on the surface. This particular film’s colour palette, cinematography, production design and music makes it quite an interesting film.

The film opens with a happy and almost ‘perfect’ note and slowly it reveals the dark side of a modern society. Post modernism speaks about this internal decay of an otherwise perfect society. The use of classical elements of film noir in it and how it tries to break Hitchcock’s way of expressing suspense, shock and surprise makes this movie post-modernist. The film is full of pop culture imagery from the 50’s and 60’s with its music and art direction choices.

 

5. Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989)

Written and Directed by Steven Soderbergh

sex lies videotapes

Sex, Lies and Videotape breaks the idea of the perfect world for us. The film is a take on postmodern sex. It also goes beyond the ‘male gaze’ and explores the ‘female gaze’. The film is about a troubled couple and a bohemian man, Graham who comes to stay with them. He videotapes women and asks them about their sexual fantasies.

He suffers from impotency and then there is a scene in the film when Ann finds a cure to Graham’s impotency and she does it by pointing the camera to him.The film is about disoriented people in dysfunctional relationships laying the foundation of postmodernism.

 

6. Pulp Fiction (1994)

Written by Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary and Directed by Quentin Tarantino

pulp-fiction-1

Tarantino can be considered the master of postmodernist cinema. In fact all his films are a pastiche of every kind of films and pop culture he has admired for several years. In his films one can see that he has seen a LOT of films and has tried to take elements from them all and put it all together in an interesting manner. Pulp Fiction is a dark comedy which does not separate the world into good and evil. In fact it tries to disqualify that division completely.

The film is told in chapters and follows a novel like style of telling its story which is also a feature in other Tarantino’s film. Unlike the classical Hollywood films with postmodernist cinema, the lines between the hero and the anti-hero blurred. Tarantino had once said, “I always hope that if one million people see my movie, they see one million different movies”. He is a big sucker for intertextuality and that is why most of his films are a good example for postmodernist cinema.

 

 

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  • Laughingirl

    You guys really, really need an editor. Your evaluations are good, but so poorly written and punctuated as to be unreadable.

  • JackWW

    Most of these are excellent and arguably postmodern films, but the definition of postmodernism that you provide is misleading (although in fairness, so is the word itself). Postmodern art is named for its complicatedly skeptical/indebted/retrospective relationship to modernism… which is almost as difficult to define. For me, their commonalities are more than their differences, and attempts to delineate them always run into contradictions. I like to just say that postmodernism is modernism with its hair down. I’m not sure what you mean by saying that “Post modernism is any art form that was initially studied only in retrospect,” especially since most of these films were immediate sensations when released.

    • Martin Kelleher

      Agreed. Postmodernism has the advantage of looking back at various genres and being able to play with them, without necessarily ‘stealing’, but in one way being conscious of the history of cinema and storytelling and being able to mess with the various forms as a kind of collage – maybe also it could be called Postgenre. Postmodernism does have a tendency to use irony in critiquing the times in which the film is being made but I think the author, while I agree with a lot of his/her points, is not only being misleading but limiting the scope of postmodernism. Incidentally, I think Jonze/Kaufman’s ‘Being John Malkovich is a better example of Postmodernism than the two mentioned here.

  • Gideon

    All great films! Whats postmodern about them? A bit of a misleading title 🙂

  • Alvaro Alsina

    sorry guys, but I think you just tried to fit too big shoes in this article. you say “post-modernist” when you really want to say “pop”. Most of this movies are great, they don’t need to be forced into a label as it is. You want to see cinema messing with time and space and dislocated narrativity? God’s sake, try with Alain Resnais. All this films mentioned above are childish games compared to that…

    • Jérôme Blanchet

      Alain Resnais is legendary and I only know Robert Bresson who dared to talk negatively about him.

    • RingedWithTile

      Sure, they’re all popular films, but they’re also all unmistakably postmodern as well. Given that we’re in an age of postmodernism, isn’t it appropriate that that postmodern entertainment be popular?

      Also Resnais is a modernist. You might be able to make an argument that I Want to Go Home or Wild Grass are postmodern, but I think the rest are clearly modernist works.

  • Veronica Clarke

    Don’t really get the whole ‘postmodern’ thing, but it’s a great list of great movies.

  • Stephen C

    Maybe this was lost in translation, but this article is in bad need of some editing. By “troupe”, the author meant “trope”. A troupe is a group of performers, not an over-used creative element. There are some other parts that were almost unreadable, specifically the section on Her.

    Also, Royal Tenenbaums was released two years before Arrested Development, so it hardly takes from the show. It’s the other way around.

  • Beck Potucek

    Where is Synecdoche, New York?!

    • Stephen C

      Much more postmodern than Eternal Sunshine for sure.

    • devout hedonist

      everything charlie kaufman should be here in my opinon

    • No

      to have synecdoche on here would imply a deeper understanding of what postmodernism is than this article seems to possess.

  • DarylSomers

    These are fucking awful. Like a bad high school essay. How did I get here? What part of the internet even is this?

  • RockyJohan

    Monty Python and The Holy Grail was directed by Terry Jones & Terry Gilliam.

  • Moaaz Hagag

    Where’s Mr Nobody?

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  • Emre Ozkoca

    The Big Lebowski was written by the Coen Bros. but only directed by Joel Coen. Imdb is also incorrect on this particular case.

    It is ‘Eternal Sunshine of THE Spotless Mind’ not ‘…A spotless mind’.

    • Brian Lussier

      True and not true. The official credits list Joel as director and Ethan as producer, true, as was the case with everything they made up until The Ladykillers. But everyone who has worked with the Coens have ALL stated that the actual workload was always split 50/50 in both the directing and the producing. Theoretically, you’re right; in practice, it’s a different story…

  • Stephen Dimig

    Paprika >>>> Inception.

    • Ankur Deb

      All the way….
      Paprika is bold. Not because nudity and stuff but because of the balls to show such ides portrayed so well in film.
      Plus, great music.
      What else do you need in a movie?

  • jojoloco

    You have to see Ex Machina this 2015!

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  • cxnnxr

    Is nobody going to call you out on all the spoilers? You say these films are worth our time and then give away some crucial plot points.

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  • Gines Velazquez

    Eternal sunshine instead of adaptation or Synecdoche? i think you need to re-view Kaufman´s filmography and your posmedernism concepts…

  • Joni Bologna

    You keep using that word, “Post-Modernist”. I do not think it means what you think it means.

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  • Ian Paul

    Wouldn’t Me and Earl and the Dying Girl count as Postmodern?

    • Richard McMuffin

      In actual fact, all movies made after the modern period are “post-modern” by virtue of the very times in which they were made. As an artist of today, one is unable to avoid the post-modern tag because (within the paradigm of artistic theory) artists are deemed to be aware of the past and how their work either breaks from the past (via methods such as meta-concepts, breaking the 4th wall, fucking with narrative, decentering the point of view etc) or makes use of the past via forms of intertextuality (in a knowing way). i.e. all art in our post-modern period, regardless of the artist’s best intentions, is partly concerned with the knowledge that there are no grand narratives.

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  • Laban Chris

    Holy Motors?
    You people use buzzwords and then apply them to the movies only to confuse others.

  • Relf

    You said “great”. So you can exclude anything by Quentin “copy paste” Tarantino