THE PLOT THINS… (15 GREAT MOVIES IN WHICH NOTHING MUCH HAPPENS)

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HAVE you seen ‘The Dark Knight’ yet?’ That’s what everyone keeps asking. Well, no. I hated “Batman Begins” and I’m in no rush to see yet another overstuffed superhero movie. I decided to go another way this week.

I watched a little-known 1971 film called “Two-Lane Blacktop” instead. There’s no villain, no real plot, minimal dialogue, only one real actor — hell, the characters don’t even have names — and yet I was mesmerized from beginning to end (and this film has one of the coolest movie endings ever). I could tell you what it’s “about” but that doesn’t matter — and that’s why I enjoyed it.

A lot of people complain about films like this — “There was no plot!” — but these are the films that amaze me. Like life (which also doesn’t have a plot), they can move you, sometimes to tears, and you never see it coming.

As a rule, if a movie’s characters are interesting, I’ll follow them anywhere — no plot necessary. Some movies get it half right — I remember watching “Sideways” a few years ago and being really pissed when the contrived plot devices intruded midway through and spoiled the ride. And then there’s “No Country For Old Men,” a film that tricks you into believing the plot is important when it really isn’t.

Unfortunately, summer movies are all about plot. But if you’re burned out from the sensory overload of all the season’s blockbusters and you want to cleanse you’re palate, here’s a list of 15 of my favorite movies of the past 15 years that have little or no plot, just interesting characters connecting in interesting ways. If you see some movies you already like, then you’ll probably want to check out some of the others. Click on the titles to see each film’s imdb.com page.

(Disclaimer: I’m not a film snob — I love my share of trashy movies too, like “Armageddon” and “The Fast and the Furious,” so back off. And I’m not listing stuff by directors like Cassavetes, who paved the way — the films below are all fairly recent and easy to get into. Also, I’m not including excellent movies like “Jackie Brown” and “The Big Lebowski” that are more enjoyable when you just ignore the plot. Fourth, while I liked “The Savages” and the way it rambled on, it does kinda have a plot, so that should serve as a guideline here. Finally, three of the films listed are by Richard Linklater, one of my all-time favorite directors and a big fan of “Two-Lane Blacktop.”)

15 Great (Relatively) Plotless Movies

Bonus: If you really like your movies without a plot, check out director Aaron Katz’s “Quiet City” and “Dance Party, USA” — two fine examples of mumblecore (and if you don’t know what that is, you will after you watch them.)

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12 Responses to “THE PLOT THINS… (15 GREAT MOVIES IN WHICH NOTHING MUCH HAPPENS)”

  1. outlandinstitute Says:

    That’s a great list. Curiously, I love some of those films – The Station Agent, Lost In Translation, Before Sunrise – and hate some of the others – Jesus’s Son, for example. Just found that tedious. ‘Cos… you know… nothing happens.

    There’s an Australian film called Noise which I would heartily recommend. While it’s OSTENSIBLY plot based – cops trying to find a killer – the truth is that the plot is totally irrelevant, and the film is really a character study of one man who is left alone to sit in a police caravan in case anyone has any clues to give. (I also love the fact that none of the police investigation seems to have any influence on the outcome of the plot – things just happen).

    http://outlandinstitute.wordpress.com

  2. It’s funny, at first I hated “Jesus’ Son” too and almost bailed midway through. But I stuck with it, and by the end I was completely hooked. Don’t know how to explain that — did the movie get better, or did I just give into it?

    And Noise looks intriguing — I’ll be checking it out. Thanks!!

  3. While I’m pleased to see Dazed and Confused on your list, it did have a plot. A group of jocks, cool kids and losers celebrating summer vacation, looking forward to their senior year, and fighting the esatblishment. OK, mostly the characters were drinking beer, smoking pot and getting laid – and to that I say “Alright, Alright” – but I’m pretty sure there was a plot. Maybe I was just Dazed and/or Confused when I was watching it.

  4. 45vinyljunkie Says:

    When it ‘comes’ to plotless movies, some of my favorites are “When Harry Ate Sally,” “Pulp Friction,” “Forrest Hump” and “Easy Ride Her.”

  5. Hmmm… my titles aren’t as colorful as vinyljunkie, but if I might add my plot-free favorites: “Stranger than Paradise” (directed by Jim Jarmusch) and “Trees Lounge” (written by, directed and starring Steve Buscemi). “Broken Flowers” does have a plot, but it still achieves the meandering plot-free effect, so I’ll submit that for the quasi-plot category occupied by The Savages.

  6. Tod: Sorry, but “Dazed and Confused” had more pot than plot.

    Susan: I enjoyed “Broken Flowers” too, and you’re exactly right about its there’s-a-plot-but-really-not feel. I didn’t like (or get?) “Stranger Than Paradise”, and I don’t remember much about “Trees Lounge,” other than I saw it and I think there was a Baldwin brother in it (always a safe bet when talking about ’90s movies).

    45vinyljunkie: Which is bigger, your record collection or your “plotless” movie collection?

  7. Fred Ebert Says:

    Tree’s Lounge good. Don’t remember much either, just that I enjoyed it. And speaking of plotless movies, nobody mentioned “Clerks” or “Slackers” … Plotless is one thing but that shit was just stupid and effortless.

  8. I am sorry but The Station Agent, The Straight Story, You Can Count On Me, and Into The Wild ALL have a plot that threads throughout the film.

  9. Stephen B. Says:

    Website NERVE has posted a 10 Best with no plot – which seems to crib from your idea. This topic, too, brings to mind Jim Jarmusch, Ingmar Bergman, and probably Robert Bresson with some rather experimental and other non-plot films.

  10. What about Southland Tales? I actually enjoyed that movie.

  11. Daniel Gonzalez Says:

    Hey jerkoff, the dark knight was amazing you have NO right to tell people not to see it you would not believe the stuff I go through.

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