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Credit: Anders Jensen-Urstad


From Jim Jarmusch to Jean-Luc Godard: Sonic Youth pick their top 12 arthouse films of all time

One of the leading lights in creativity and artistry in the 1980s and 1990s, Sonic Youth quickly made themselves a band known across every coffee shop in America. Their new movement of ‘no wave’ not only set them apart as creators but gained them an avid following.

Their work on seminal albums Goo and Daydream Nation quickly made them darlings of the alt-rock scene. However, while some artists would’ve taken that fame and ran with it, Sonic Youth always kept authentically to their own ethos of always evolving and always challenging each other creatively.

The band, having since split, have always had artistic endeavour at the forefront of their work both in Sonic Youth and throughout the separate solo careers. Whether it is through poetry, writing, music, Sonic Youth have a keen eye for the avant-garde.

Now, at a time when millions of people are forced into self-isolation amid strict social distancing regulations, we’re revisiting a list of the band’s favourite arthouse films to help us through a culture-lacking quarantine period. Made for Criterion Collection, band members Lee Ranaldo, Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon and Steve Shelley pick their 12 favourite arthouse films of all time. Unsurprisingly it is an incredible list filled with the undulating tastes of the band members.

Ranaldo picks three impeccable titles, choosing Yasurijo Ozu’s Floating Weeds, Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, which the guitarist describes as “near perfect” and the acclaimed film from Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman, Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. The latter of which Ranaldo describes as only a real film buff would: “This amazing, epic film put the Belgian director Akerman on the map. Three hours of static shots and Robbe-Grillet-style repetitive minimalism, revolving around a middle-aged prostitute in a suburban house.”

Thurston Moore’s selections begin with one film we’re all likely to be familiar with, Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculin Féminin, which is a famously radical piece of filmmaking from the 1960s. Moore says of the French filmmaker: “Godard’s films are the ultimate (even when I have a hard time sitting through one). They are among the greatest works in cinema.” He continues: “All are worth seeing; this is one of my favourites from his early years.”

The unsung hero of the band, Steve Shelley, also picks some classic titles. He nods his hat to Camus’ Black Orpheus and Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole before finishing his picks with an arthouse classic, Jim Jarmusch’s Night on Earth. Shelley puts it succinctly, stating: “One of my favourite films by one of my favourite directors.” He continues, “The soundtrack is by Tom Waits. You’ve seen it already, right?”

Though Kim Gordon only has two selections on the 12 film list, they are two corkers from the pioneering bassist. She picks Terrence Malik’s Days of Heaven and even picks a film she hasn’t seen in Fat Girl because of her love for director Catherine Breillat, saying: “I haven’t seen this, but I really liked A Very Young Girl and The Last Mistress, with Asia Argento, which I thought was brilliant and hilarious,” we’re assuming she’s seen it by now.

Below you can find the complete list of Sonic Youth’s 12 favourite arthouse films of all time. If you were in need of something credible to watch, now you have it.

Sonic Youth’s 12 favourite arthouse films:

  • Yasurijo Ozu – Floating Weeds (Lee Ranaldo)
  • Chantal Akerman – Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Lee Ranaldo)
  • Rainer Werner Fassbinder – Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Lee Ranaldo)
  • Jean-Luc Godard – Masculin féminin (Thurston Moore)
  • Masahiro Sinoda – Double Suicide (Thurston Moore)
  • George Sluizer – The Vanishing (Thurston Moore)
  • Pier Paolo Pasolini – Mamma Roma (Thurston Moore)
  • Marcel Camus – Black Orpheus (Steve Shelley)
  • Billy Wilder – Ace in the Hole (Steve Shelley)
  • Jim Jarmusch – Night on Earth (Steve Shelley)
  • Catherine Breillat – Fat Girl (Kim Gordon)
  • Terrence Malick – Days of Heaven (Kim Gordon)

[MORE] – The Sounds that shaped Sonic Youth: Lee Ranaldo’s 13 favourite records