Storyline is traditionally considered one of the most important components of any film. Things like style, acting, and even the writing can hardly rescue a film from the ditch of a boring plot. In fact, we go to the cinema to fully immerse ourselves in someone else’s world – not that explosions and duels aren’t an added plus.
Because of this, there are many choice words that are usually used for films without a plot: boring, disappointing, tiring, soporific… to name a few. However, many of the greatest films ever made lack a recognizable plot. They are not all French black and white films either. Movies without much plot structure serve a unique and much-needed purpose in cinema, often allowing us to devote more time to the characters and their inner turmoil, or to a specific setting, time, or idea. Here are some of our favorite no-story movies that we think are worth watching.
8th Lost in Translation (2003)
One of her earlier and most acclaimed efforts is Sofia Coppola’s Lost in translation is a haunting meditation on modern-day loneliness and its impact on two disparate but united characters. As is Coppola’s trademark, the film follows two people who feel alienated from their own wealth – Scarlett Johansson plays the wife of a hip photographer and Bill Murray, an aging, restless movie star. After a chance encounter in the bar of their Tokyo hotel, the two develop an unlikely but deeply meaningful relationship. Instead of creating a romance based on the book or a melodramatic feature about these characters’ inner struggles, Coppola instead illuminates the intimate relationship between Murray and Johansson. Just like the film itself, their friendship feels so fleeting yet enduring – that’s what makes it so special.
7 Paterson (2016)
In one of his most underrated performances to date, Adam Driver stars in this story about a bus driver with a gift for poetry. Despite Driver’s clear talent in the film, Paterson is no goodwill hunt-similar story; Rather, the film simply focuses on Driver’s structured everyday life. We see him walking his dog, going to work, having a beer at the local bar and writing in his notebook – whenever he can. Instead of focusing on Paterson’s (Driver) potential as a poet, Jim Jarmusch takes a much gentler approach of showing us the smaller moments. Paterson is a warm and gentle film that reminds us to appreciate those ordinary moments in life before they slip away.
6 Before Sunrise (1995)
Richard Linklater’s iconic 1995 film – apparently based on a true story – paints one of the most realistic love stories ever brought to screen. Although the film is only the first in an equally legendary series, Before sunrise single-handedly defying the notion that love is full of ceremony and must look a certain way. The film, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, follows two young people who meet on a train and spend a day together in Vienna. As is Linklater’s gift, the film is filled to the brim with poignant, funny and irreverent talks about everything from music to the afterlife. From their lively conversation alone, we begin to see Hawke and Delpy falling in love.
5 Dazed and Confused (1993)
The hangout movie to quit and watch all hangout movies Dazed and confused for the first time is nothing less than a rite of passage for many young Americans (let’s hope Zoomers pass on this important tradition). Starring Matthew McCounaghey, Ben Affleck and their questionable haircuts, the film follows Austin, Texas teenagers as they celebrate their last day of school in 1976. The widely quotable Stoner Linklater uses these characters to paint a broader picture of high school life at the time. Dazed and confused is no breakfast club; it faces many problems but does not necessarily hope to solve them. But that’s fine… (fine, fine).
4 In Llewyn Davis (2013)
Certainly among the long list of accomplishments the Coen brothers have mastered is inventing memorable plots. A downside to this, however, is that her more low-key work often doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. 2013 In Llevyn Davis serves as a perfect case for it. A masterpiece of atmosphere and restraint, the film follows folksinger Llewyn Davis in early ’60s New York as he struggles to make a name for himself and to make ends meet. The only two constants in the film are Llewyn’s deep unhappiness and the adopted cat he takes with him everywhere. With an all-time performance by Oscar Issac, In Llevyn Davis is a subtle but luminous film whose gray represents a new light for the Coens.
3 Clerk (1994)
Shot in just 21 days with an all-amateur cast, employee is one of the few films that knows what the workplace can do Yes, really be like. Through a black and white lens that gives the film a comical retrospective feel, we follow Dante and Randal, the grocery store clerks, as they chat and do whatever it takes to pass the time. While that premise sounds harmless enough, the substance of the couple’s conversations was enough to originally give the film an NC-17 rating (which was ultimately appealed). employee is full of the grunge and unabashed hilarity that made ’90s movies so great. It’s hard to underestimate the impact this film about nothingness has had on both comedy and workplace media office space to The office.
2 My Dinner with Andre (1981)
Louis Malle is celebrated My dinner with Andre follows Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn as they play two fictionalized versions of themselves as they dine and chat at Manhattan’s Cafe des Artistes. This is the setting for almost the entire film, and indeed the two do converse throughout the film’s runtime. That premise alone – if you could call it that – might sound extraordinarily boring to some viewers, but it’s the intriguing themes and philosophical underbelly of the two’s conversations that make the film a true marvel. My dinner with Andre captures the essence of friendships and how they develop and change over time in a totally artful and candid way. As Wallace listens carefully to Andre’s stories from around the world, we realize that we need nothing more than these stories to understand the film’s characters.
1 The Tree of Life (2011)
Terrence Malick’s experimental masterpiece is about nothing and everything at once. on a superficial level, The Tree of Life revolves around a Texas family in the 1960s, but these characters are used only as vessels to explore the philosophical mysteries of life on earth. Part of what makes Tree of Life, his stunning cinematography of artists like Emmanuel Lubezki is so unforgettably profound. Lubezki and Malick are able to capture the splendor of the universe as it has suffered and continued to grow over time. In this sense, The Tree of Life is less a narrative feature than a cinematic meditation on some of the most stunning human origins – which Malick is able to show us with unrelenting beauty and intrigue in equal measure.