Delphine Seyrig in Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.

Delphine Seyrig in Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.

Recently it struck me that a lot of people call films “pretentious” without appearing to know what the word means. These days it seems to be a synonym for “I don’t understand it” or even “I don’t like it.” With this in mind, I compiled my Top Ten Pretentious Movies for the Telegraph.

Needless to say, I don’t necessarily think all the films I list are pretentious. And hey, what’s so awful about being pretentious anyway?

There’s one every year. Last year it was Holy Motors. This year it’s Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color, a beautifully shot but impenetrable imbroglio of parasitic worms, pigs and dirgelike music. Predictably, it has divided audiences. Some find it mesmeric and challenging. Others call it “pretentious hogwash”, “pretentious and exhausting” and “infuriatingly pretentious.”

My Shorter Oxford Dictionary defines “pretentious” as “making claim to great merit or importance, esp. when unwarranted.” I’m not sure Carruth makes claim to great merit or importance; I think he just made the film he wanted to make, and then put it out there to let audiences, in their turn, make of it what they will. But “pretentious” is a word that now appears to have expanded from its original definition to mean, among other things, “snobby and intellectual”, or “black and white, with subtitles”, or “I don’t understand it, therefore it’s tosh”.

To read on, please click on this picture of Delphine Seyrig sitting around in her living-room in Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles to be whisked in amazingly pretentious fashion to the Telegraph‘s website. As an extra treat (or not), I have added a list of Old Codger’s Films I compiled to help a friend celebrate his 50th birthday. He is a fan of military history, Andrei Tarkovsky (conspicuous by his inexplicable absence from the Pretentious Top Ten) and several other film-makers. See how many of the would-be humorous references to their films you can spot.



Old codger enters Forbidden Zone, wanders about pondering his existence for at least three hours before exiting none the wiser. Long-lost chef d’oeuvre by the late Russian master Andrei Goesonanonski. Rumour has it the legendary Director’s Cut runs for another six hours.

Retired admiral finds new purpose in life constructing a battleship out of cheese in his backyard on the Costa del Sol, but is repeatedly distracted by friends, builders and passing cats. It’s a race against time. Can he finish it before July, when the hot sun will flood the backyard and turn the cheese into rarebit? The action kicks off in February, so it’s a race against time.

Clint Eastwood plays a cop who has a heart transplant. He continues to chase serial killers and women half his age, but does it very very slowly.

Ancient order of intergalactic monks lives on a planet made entirely of wood, but one day their peaceful existence is disrupted when a spaceship crashes in the monastery grounds, bringing with it a new and deadly peril – dry rot.

Road movie in which a retired Battle of Britain pilot drives round and round the M25 in his Fiat Punto with the symphonies of Shostakovich blaring out of his sound system at top volume. The police give chase, but don’t catch up until the fourth movement of Symphony no 15.

Old codger finds new purpose in life tending runner beans in his allotment. Day turns to night. Night turns to day. Seasons change. Years pass without incident, until one day he is forced to face a new and deadly peril – greenfly.

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  1. It was indeed a reference to that! My pal and I were both Vincent Ward fans (though obviously that was before What Dreams May Come – though I should probably revisit that at some point… I think it’s the thought of untrammelled Robin Williams that puts me off).

    • I haven’t plucked up the courage for “What Dreams…” as I am an overt sentimentalist and may not last the opening credits although I should as it was based on a Richard Matheson novel, if I recall correctly.

      As to the reference, sly…most sly ;) I approve and would loved to have seen the original take in Alien 3. I really don’t have time for the Fincher version, sadly.

  2. Amnesia=Stalker?

    Is Lord of the Ringroad meant to be Radio On?

    The Eastwood film is True Crime, i think.

    [btw Anne, any chance of putting MINICRIX back online? I used to spend ages browsing through it and really miss it.]

  3. ‘In like Clint’ could be ‘Blood Work’??, only because of the heart ref. Without that it could be any Eastwood pic post 1970.

  4. I did indeed have Blood Work in mind, but I have always admired the way Eastwood has allowed himself to age on film. I think Ringroad was more a reference to films in which people drive around a lot (eg the films of Abbas Kiarostami).

    As for Minicrix – funny you should mention that neilfc, but am currently preparing it for publication as an ebook. I thought this would take a couple of weeks, tops, but in fact I have been adding to it & editing & proofing since last December. More than 4000 short reviews = a mammoth task! And pretty much Sisyphean, because it still won’t be up to date. But be assured I shall be tweeting/facebooking/googlingplussing about it when it’s finished.

  5. Pingback: 10 Classic Movies That Only Pretentious People Like | Musings of a Mild Mannered Man

    • I actually love Jeanne Dielman, but I agree, it is quite hard to describe its appeal. Once you get into the rhythm, though, it’s hard to tear your eyes away. Of course, it helps that it’s Delphine Seyrig. I’m not sure how many other actresses I’d be prepared to watch sitting motionless in an armchair for five minutes.

  6. Pingback: Holy Motors: The Sickest and Most Brilliant Foreign Film I’ve Ever Seen | The Dangerous Lee News & Entertainment Network

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