Big List

50 Essential Films Where Nothing Really Happens

From Tokyo Story to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, here's our guide to the best films in which plot takes a backseat to talking, wandering, and pondering

There is a particular kind of film in which time seems to stand still, where high drama and incident seldom occur, smaller instances take precedence, and life's banal moments are made revelatory and interesting. Asked to describe a film in this vein and you might just find yourself saying: “Well, nothing really happens, but…”

There is, of course, no true or proper way to define a film where “nothing really happens” (at what point, exactly, does the cinema of nothing tip over into the cinema of something?), and so any list like this can only cater to interpretation. But the picks here, at the very least, emphasise a slower kind of cinema: characters before plot, situations told in condensed or real time, concepts hinged on walking and talking, or just hanging out. Pacing is never rushed; big goals are rarely pursued. People have time to sit, and think, and wonder.

Nothing really happens in any of these movies – and so, as in life, it must be that everything happens. Like Miles Davis once said: “It's not the notes you play… it's the notes you don't play.” These just happen to be some of our favourites…

Words by: Ella Kemp, Tom Barnard, Jack Blackwell, Adam Solomons

 

Tokyo Story (1953)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

The films of Yasujirō Ozu often find quiet stories dealing with multi-generational conflict – though conflict seems like too harsh a word. In Tokyo Story, aged parents find their grown-up children can no longer muster any enthusiasm for their visit. The young are busy with their own lives, and so the old are made to feel useless and unwanted. Time passes. No conflicts emerge – at least not outwardly. Tokyo Story tells a specific story, at a specific time, but its themes of loneliness and longing ring universal. “Isn't life disappointing?” comes the film's most devastating line – typical of a film that finds the deepest emotions without even a hint of strain. Tom Barnard

 

Journey to Italy (1954)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

When you're with the wrong person, even the most beautiful locales can seem like the most terrible places on Earth. Roberto Rossellini's Journey to Italy finds British upper-middle class couple Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders on the trip that will break their marriage. Or will the venture unexpectedly save them? The two are in Italy to claim an inherited property – though there is a chance to soak in the scenery, to visit Naples and Pompeii. Quickly it's decided things are not right between them – that they'll explore the country alone, though their solo wanderings prove stilted and empty. The film was derided upon release for its lack of events; now its depiction of married ennui seems like a glimpse into the great future of uneventful cinema. Tom Barnard

 

Good Morning (1959)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Two young boys want a television set, their parents refuse. And so, the children take a vow of silence in protest. This is the major dramatic event in Yasujiro Ozu’s Good Morning, which focuses more on the subtleties of intergenerational dynamics than the events in which they can be studied. There is also the gossiping between neighbouring mothers and the antics of roving salesmen – but the highest stakes come from the smallest gestures, the silliest jokes. Even if things happen, if the eyes of the young protagonists go unchanged, they may as well not. Ella Kemp

 

L'Avventura (1960)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Michelangelo Antonioni’s L'Avventura seems to ask whether a picture can be made from a search in which nobody seems all that interested in actually finding anything. A boating trip around Sicily between rich Italians provides the setting – but when one member, Anna, goes missing, her boyfriend and best friend are compelled to find out what happened. Or so you’d think. Antonioni's film uses the search as a stage for new romance to blossom. What should be the cause of great drama and tension (Iranian remake About Elly renders this idea as the truly traumatic event it should be) comes to feel lax and aloof instead. Characters act without their motivations laid bare and gaps are made to be filled with our own interpretations. Tom Barnard

 

Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962)

Where to watch it: Various streaming platforms

A young woman has time to kill while waiting for the results of a medical test that could be critical. She does things, says things, goes places, but Agnès Varda's heroine is entirely consumed by what will come after – what exists beyond the time in which we’re waiting. It’s 5pm and her results will come at 6:30. So we follow her, in real time, as she tries to keep busy but lets her fears always take precedence. It’s no coincidence that so much dialogue focuses on mortality, narcissism, despair: nothing tangible can possibly matter when your mind is already so far into the future. Ella Kemp

 

Playtime (1967)

Where to watch it: The Criterion Channel (US only)

Welcome to Tativille: the futuristic glass and steel version of Paris created by Jacques Tati for the masterpiece that bankrupted him, Playtime. The film is a sprawling cacophony, a movie about every single one of the hundreds of tourists and Parisians who pass through it. It’s the overwhelming amount of information, the sheer ambition of the project, that pushes it into the realm of nothingness – with so much to pay attention to, it’s far easier to accept the hubbub as an individual event in itself, and let it wash over you. But if you’re really keen for some kind of tether, enjoy the Where’s Wally-type direction that presents up Tati’s alter ego, the beloved Monsieur Hulot, in a whole new world. Ella Kemp

 

Five Easy Pieces (1970)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Jack Nicholson is best known for his bombastic performances in some of the twentieth century's most iconic films, but his subdued turn in Bob Rafaelson's sophomore film proved a memorable enigma of a performance in a film that gives little away. His above all ordinary protagonist travels home to attend his sick, estranged father, and must revisit the tensions of his upbringing that first drove him away. Yet the feelings in Five Easy Pieces are rarely worn on characters'  faces. Ultimately, the film is a statement of softness and sensitivity that would become all too rare in '70s Hollywood. Adam Solomons

 

American Graffiti (1973)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

George Lucas might have made his name with the most plot-driven of sci-fi sagas, but he started his career with the most aimless – and earthbound – of films. American Graffiti paints a picture of '50s California and lets us hang with its best and boldest for a single night. There's nothing else to do here except cruise the streets, grab a milkshake – maybe even score a date. There are no major revelations or plot developments. Instead the night is made of countless musical hits, as American Graffiti quickly comes to feel like the epitome of celluloid cool. And all this from the man who gave us Jar Jar Binks. Tom Barnard

 

Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

Where to watch it: The Criterion Channel (US only)

Three days in one woman’s life are stretched over three hours in Chantal Akerman’s domestic odyssey. There is routine: waking up, making the beds, entertaining clients, cooking dinner. There is little dialogue, forcing you to focus on the sound of footsteps and running water, and no one for Jeanne to talk to beyond her teenage son. It’s a challenging watch, where the camera refuses to cut away from the washing up, or from the peeling of potatoes – but things begin to unravel when the routine is stirred. Monotony demands immense attention here, as in emptiness, in loneliness, there lies the most dangerous manifestation of dissatisfaction you could possibly imagine. Ella Kemp

 

Toute une nuit (1982)

Where to watch it: Home video only

Nameless people roam in wordless scenarios, as the event pushing Chantal Akerman’s Toute une nuit forward is nothing more than the night itself. Time elapses, drinks spill as people run out to kiss one another. Some are fighting, some are sleeping – Akerman draws a tapestry of a people bound by their city, and the same metric that no one can escape. Every individual action probably does matter in each instance, but the network narrative blurs out the details, in favour of a broader impression of all those dreamlike moments of human intimacy, the ones taking place so far into the early hours that it can make you wonder, once the sun rises: did anything really happen at all? Ella Kemp

 

The Big Chill (1983)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

A group of friends from university is brought back together following a tragedy. Lawrence Kasdan’s slice of life starts with the major event, and lets gentle monotony unfold from there. These former friends swap stories, smoke weed, reflect on a friend no longer with them. Death puts their priorities into question, and so existential conversations, during a weekend where everyone is forced to slow down, matter more than factual recollections. Sure, it’s an occasion to catch up – but more importantly, it’s about taking stock of those moments where just being, living, matter more than achieving anything in particular. Ella Kemp

 

Pauline at the Beach (1983)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Watching any Éric Rohmer film feels like consuming the poetry of his writing – his characters have conversations so vivid it feels like time stands still. Pauline at the Beach deploys this on a seaside holiday, in which young teen Pauline and her older cousin, Marion, navigate the minefield of romance and the expectations that come with it. They meet men and talk, and kiss, and talk some more, and what remains is the confessions about these feelings, endless discussions on the implications of such feelings. These words gain greater importance than actions – hindsight is the most stimulating state of mind here. Ella Kemp

 

My Dinner with Andre (1983)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Wallace Shawn is on his way to have dinner with Andre Gregory, he tells us in a voiceover, for about 15 minutes, before the focus swaps over to Andre. My Dinner With Andre stays astoundingly faithful to its promise: the film frames the two men in a restaurant, in real time. It’ll take maybe half an hour for them to order, another before they eat. The conversation moves from anecdotal to existential, as the two men often talk for 20, 30 minutes apiece while the other simply nods. It makes the pauses deafening, a film with such stamina and focus that's utterly mesmerising. Ella Kemp

 

The Green Ray (1986)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

In the cinema of Éric Rohmer, trips and holidays are in service of trying to find one's place in the universe. It's with this intention – though perhaps unknowingly – that Delphine, played by Marie Rivière, heads to the French seaside. She's stood up by a friend and left to take her summer vacation alone – and her sense of ennui, of loneliness and aimlessness, fills every frame. Delphine is pushed to have a good time but cannot escape the sense that something's not right. But is it her, or everybody else? Just when all seems lost, the titular “ray” signals a slight change in outlook: that unexpected moment of happiness when there's a sudden, overwhelming sense that everything might just be alright. Tom Barnard

 

My Neighbour Totoro (1988)

Where to watch it: Netflix

In the Japanese countryside, two sisters and their father relocate to a new house – the girls race around its rooms with boundless enthusiasm, thinking up games, talking of spirits. At night, they bathe, eat supper, and rest up: tomorrow they'll do it all over again. What magic they do find in the woods behind their house is powered only by their imaginations – and even the creature they discover there, the titular Totoro, seems far too tired to create any story momentum. No conflicts; no enemies to fight: Hayao Miyazaki's testament to childhood might be the most uneventful animated film ever conceived. Yet few works come close to capturing the pure comfort and joy that emanate from every one of its meticulously-drawn frames. Tom Barnard

 

Slacker (1990)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Few films about nothing are as proud of the fact as Slacker. But there is something worthwhile, suggests writer-director Richard Linklater, in the actions of those whose lives are perpetually stalled – and so his landmark debut finds its “story” as a series of interconnected vignettes set in his hometown of Austin, Texas. Conspiracy theorists, skateboarders, cab drivers: at its core Slacker is love letter to the oddballs, freaks, and weirdos that lurk on society's peripherals – a tribute to how these people fill their days, and what happens when they cross the threshold, rubbing shoulders with those too busy to take the time to do nothing. Tom Barnard

 

Before Sunrise (1995)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Kicking off Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy in a typically low-key manner, Before Sunrise is a perfect encapsulation of just how important an “uneventful” day can feel to those who are living it. Following young couple Jesse and Celine around Vienna over the course of one night, we see a relationship grow and transform, plot taking a backseat to character. Stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy heavily altered the dialogue (they would receive writers’ credits later in the trilogy), making the film all the more naturalistic and lived in. The end result is so intimate it almost feels intrusive to watch it. Jack Blackwell

 

Taste of Cherry (1995)

Where to watch it: Home video only

Abbas Kiarostami's Palme D'Or winner, widely thought to be the highlight of Iran's impressive New Wave, is also one of the more intense minimalist films ever made. Simply charting a single day in the life of Mr. Badii (Homayoun Ershadi) as he drives around looking for someone to bury his body once he has committed suicide, Taste of Cherry is a profound meditation on loneliness and depression — in large part because there's little else going on. Its striking ending rubbed some the wrong way, but Kiarostami's interest in the angst of the everyday makes for a brilliantly poignant setting for this journey to nowhere. Adam Solomons

 

Beau Travail (1999)

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime Video

Contrary to many Hollywood productions, soldiers spend most of their time in a state of boredom. American films like Jarhead have tackled this unique mix of stupor and terror, but no-one has done it as well as Claire Denis in Beau Travail. As French colonial soldiers go about their daily exercises, the monotony is only broken by trips to the local nightclub. In this oppressive atmosphere, jealousy and sexual tension festers between an officer and a young private, but the film never explodes into a confrontation, instead sitting at an uneasy simmer all the way to its dazzling finale. Jack Blackwell

 

The Station Agent (2003)

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime Video

Spotlight's Tom McCarthy made his debut with this gentle breeze of a film – an affable visit to a rundown town that's waiting at the very end of the line. Mostly The Station Agent finds the uneventful days of train-spotting Fin (Peter Dinklage), who heads to a quiet pocket of New Jersey's backwoods and settles for a life in the slow lane. Here he finds nothing but raw humanity, good people doing their best, exemplified by friendships with Michelle Williams, Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale. The Station Agent simply presents a slice of life and invites you to stick around, if that's your thing – and hey, no worries if not. Tom Barnard

 

Lost in Translation (2003)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Bob (Bill Murray) is in Tokyo to shoot a whiskey commercial. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is tagging along on a work trip with her photographer husband. Here, vibrant, neon-clad Japan comes to exemplify a disconnection from their own lives and relationships. In 2003, Lost in Translation felt like a breakthrough in the “nothing happens” canon: the rare, “plotless” film that garners mainstream acceptance, but whose naysayers seemed intent on deriding its lack of momentum. But Lost in Translation has more to say about life's nuances in its moments of quiet and reflection than most. Hotel bars and empty restaurants soon give way to bustling arcades and vibrant clubs, as Bob and Charlotte – unlikely kindred spirits – experience the lifecycle of a relationship in a few days. The hazy cinematography and soundtrack paint the trip as a dream, as the private world these two inhabit comes to feel like the most personal whisper. Tom Barnard

 

Take Out (2004)

Where to watch it: Home video only

Sean Baker’s reputation was cemented with the one-two punch of Tangerine and The Florida Project – cinema in the slice of life mould, real and deeply felt. But Take Out is perhaps this filmmaker's rawest cut of all: an immigrant story, cheaply made and set in New York's Chinatown – a hectic (but not unusual) day in the life of delivery man and illegal immigrant Ming Ding (Charles Jang) as he struggles to keep his head above the water. Documentary-like, packed with non-professional actors, it offers a dose of pure reality – though Ming lives at the mercy of the debt collectors who brought him to America. A reminder that behind every takeout there's a story. Tom Barnard

 

In the Mood for Love (2004)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Wong Kar-wai's swooning romance about a love affair that never happens exists in a place of purgatory. When they suspect their partners of cheating with one another, Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung's lonely hearts forge a friendship to cope. But their own union never crosses the boundary into physical, these two vowing never to do what their partners have done to them. The gorgeous cinematography and stunning score give the effect of film as a dream, as quiet meals and secret meetings in the rain make up most of a narrative that never takes flight. But that is the film's greatest strength; Wong creates such beauty and melancholy for these betrayed lovers that their resistance has just as much – if not more – power than if they gave in to their feelings. Tom Barnard

 

Before Sunset (2004)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy might involve major decisions, but they rarely depict any major action. The second film makes the most of its romantic setting – the City of Light, the lazy and dreamy Paris. Jesse and Celine walk, and they talk, and they do little else. The intrigue comes in the depth of their words, in the wisdom they find in this second stage of their relationship. Because these feelings aren’t brand new, there’s no need to rush, or to wrestle. Instead, they take in some more sights, and slowly keep learning to figure each other out. Ella Kemp

 

Everyone Else (2005)

Where to watch it: Home video only

What is worse for a dying relationship than the ill-advised holiday that tries to save it? Maren Ade might have made her masterpiece with Toni Erdmann, but so much of that film's DNA can be glimpsed in Everyone Else, in which an Italian vacation becomes a battleground for a couple reaching the end of their story. Idleness and a lack of career momentum are eating away at Chris, whose attitude is taking a toll on his feisty partner Gitta. An encounter with a happier, pregnant couple triggers further discontent. Amongst the pranks and lazy days spent trying to fill the hours lies a complicated look at that point where a breakup seems in order but nobody quite knows how to set it in motion. Tom Barnard

Old Joy (2006)

Where to watch it: The Criterion Channel (US only)

Kelly Reichardt's fascinating, deeply felt story of lost ties finds two friends on a camping trip that never quite comes to fruition. The car ride up, through a dense and beautiful landscape, backed by a wonderfully evocative Yo La Tengo score, is filled only with small talk. There's a bonfire. An extended scene of taking down a tent. And Mark's girlfriend keeps calling – a constant reminder that things have changed. These friends are always talking around something – an event, a memory, a sense of loss. Any other film would end with an eruption, an explosion of feelings. But Reichardt knows that there's more power in the silences. After just 76 minutes the weight of what hasn't happened resonates with an overwhelming power. Tom Barnard

 

Unrelated (2007)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

A holiday, a boyfriend, a decision, a woman without a boyfriend in Tuscany. Joanna Hogg’s Unrelated takes what could have been a melodramatic scenario and performs it with a calm sense of wisdom, showing respect for a woman having to sit with her thoughts, the less clean-cut desires and decisions that led her to holidaying with an old school friend and her family. The woman, Anna, flirts both with the idea and the reality of Oakley, one of the younger family members – but the film’s brilliance lies in the simmering and somewhat incomplete details. No one makes any pivotal mistakes, feelings and worries exist in the unspoken, in the ambiguous. But just because you’re doing nothing, it doesn’t mean you can’t feel the weight of a million different realities. Ella Kemp

 

In the City of Sylvia (2007)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

A man sits at a table in a pleasant, bustling square in Strasbourg. He watches the people – couples, men, attractive woman deep in thought or conversation. But we, too, seem to be watching from afar. For a while we’re observing these people and their interactions, playing voyeur. Time passes. He sketches. But what is this man looking for? In the City of Sylvia charts an attempt to find the woman he met there years ago – to recapture something he’s lost and now can’t live without. The film rejects plot; instead it show us a city at work and play. Somehow the everyday – the same streets, a glimpse of a familiar person we saw in a previous shot – is made gripping and mesmerising. Tom Barnard

 

2 Days in Paris (2007)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

At first glance, Julie Delpy's 2 Days in Paris looks to be following in the footsteps of her most famous filmic forays: a couple wander the streets of a European city – nothing much happens. But what if the couple were not another Jesse and Celine, but totally mismatched instead? Tonally, 2 Days is more playful and far more flippant – a purposeful subversion of the Before films that pulls you in with its similar concept and seems to laugh in your face. Anxiety and insecurities run deep as Delpy and her fed-up partner (Adam Goldberg) visit relatives and attend parties, suddenly aware that even the endless charm of Paris won't save them. Sometimes you have to know when to call it quits – even when the scenery's as lovely as this. Tom Barnard

 

Summer Hours (2007)

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime Video

Olivier Assayas’ quietly devastating meditation on life, art, and death concerns the children (and grandchildren) of a recently deceased mother who must decide what to do with her beautiful country estate and precious belongings after she's gone. Shades of Tokyo Story – the children love their mother, but have been too busy to pay her any real attention – as Summer Hours lingers in the weight of her absence, leaving space for long discussions between these siblings about what to do next. The house we come to love is made so very different by the end of the story, and the film, which once seemed so alive, gives way to a sudden, overwhelming sense that something wonderful has been lost. Tom Barnard

 

Quiet City (2007)

Where to watch it: Home video only

So many films about nothing seem to rely on the idea of a chance encounter – in this case, two people, adrift in life, who find themselves accidentally walking the city streets, getting to know one another as friends – maybe more. Yet low-budget, mumblecore drama Quiet City differs from most films in the walk and talk vein because its characters can barely manage the talking part. Instead of pushing the bombastic dialogue cues so often associated with this sub-genre, writer-director Aaron Katz pulls back and allows the silences and body language to do the talking instead. The journey here is a lot more awkward and uncomfortable, but no less real. Tom Barnard

 

Another Year (2010)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Few filmmakers have mastered the skill of making the uneventful seem eventful more than Mike Leigh. Things occur in Another Year, rather than happen. This is the story of Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen), whose lives we see play out over four indistinct seasons – just another year, not so different from the rest. Friends, like Lesley Manville's perpetually lost soul, drift in and out of the picture. There's an emphasis on the minutia of conversation, the tiny pieces that make up a day. But there is comfort, too, in the rituals of normality. These lives, it turns out, are not so extraordinary: quite the opposite. Yet Leigh has a way of making you feel the weight of even the smallest world. Tom Barnard

 

Archipelago (2010)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Tom Hiddleston's arrival to a house on the archipelago of Tresco, on the Island of Scilly, sets in motion this story of wayward lives and disintegrated family. Joanna Hogg's approach is clinical, and so her camera sits, rarely moving – an indifferent observer. What's not said is more revealing than what it. Days pass beneath a cloudy sky. Tensions begin to swell. A picture of equally dissatisfied lives begins to form amongst the minutia of daily tasks, the rituals of an unsatisfying holiday: forced dinners, bike rides, an excruciating meal out in which somebody decides to make a complaint – and all the time we come to understand from these forced interactions that this middle-class unit is one of deeply felt sadness and regret. A movie in overcast. Tom Barnard

 

Meek's Cutoff (2010)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Kelly Reichardt understands slow cinema by emphasising on walking more than talking. In Meek’s Cutoff, the men talk while the women walk, in a way that lets the viewer notice the squeak of a chariot wheel, the bluster of a horse and the scratch of wood scrapings more than anyone’s remarks. Her take on the Western lingers on detail: the way long dresses sway in the wind, how individual strands of hair catch a golden light. The characters speak of how their genders define them – how men are created on the principle of destruction – but much of the film demonstrates this by focusing on just how little is built, or then destroyed. The deafening truths so often come in silences. Ella Kemp

 

Somewhere (2010)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

In Sofia Coppola’s modest father-daughter story, Johnny and Cleo certainly try to make things happen, but the slow and quietly difficult nature of their relationship, stretched purely due to distance and different priorities, creates a sense of quiet, almost of calm. Whether she’s ice skating to Gwen Stefani or poaching eggs for breakfast, each action feels like a way to fill time, more than a pivotal activity. What matters most will always be the way he looks at her, and she back at him. Ella Kemp

 

Weekend (2011)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

In a quiet pocket of Nottingham, Russell and Glen meet on a Friday and have changed each other’s lives by the Sunday. The two men fall into bed and learn about each other’s worlds, through tape recordings, bike rides, and other people’s parties. While they appear at a carousel of events and occasions, director Andrew Haigh keeps the focus on the growing affection, intense and entirely brand new, between these two men. If it feels like little happens, it’s because to the rest of the world it’s true. What’s a weekend hookup in the grand scheme of things? But the quiet brilliance of Weekend is this exactly: the grand scheme doesn’t matter, an entire world can be lived by two people and seem like nothing to everyone else. Ella Kemp

 

Frances Ha (2012)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Frances Halladay is trying to keep her world spinning as best she can. The 27-year-old dancer finds her life as she knew it turned inside out when her best friend, Sophie, moves out to live with her boyfriend. Technically, Frances does a billion different things in Frances Ha, but Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig (who co-wrote the film, as well as playing the lead) give such vivid detail to Frances’ mind, manifesting in 100mph dialogue in which she vocalises and questions her every given thought. Such specific attention, letting this woman’s erratic and electric uncertainties be so explicit, gives the viewer so much to think about that what physically, literally happens fades away without a sound. Ella Kemp

 

Before Midnight (2012)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

And so it's away from home, once again, where we find Jesse and Celine. But the third – and final? – chapter in Richard Linklater's portrait of a decades-long relationship is not about discovery, or realisation, but the decline of something great. True to the series, the story meanders, this time in Greece: a car ride home, a discussion around a dinner table, a gentle walk. But life gets in the way, Before Midnight seems to be telling us, as we hear of dissatisfaction and crushed dreams, a potential affair. This once idyllic, fateful romance is dealt a dose of reality in an extraordinary scene: a showdown in a hotel room designed to undercut the giddy romance of the previous films. But Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy have pursued truth over ideals. Soberingly, yet perfectly, they find the right place to finish these films about nothing, which – it turns out – have actually been about everything. Tom Barnard

 

Inside Llewyn Davis (2012)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

The life of a rising artist is slow, tiring and unstable at the best of times. How can you fill it full of excitement if no one knows you? Such is the question asked by Oscar Isaac’s gruff folk musician in the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis. The character study sees Llewyn try to save relationships, performances, contracts, records, while ultimately showing his inability to connect the dots sufficiently on any of the above. The music – sung by Isaac – guides the narrative, and acts as more of a throughline than any of the plot developments. As far as Llewyn travels, however many subways or cars he takes, sofas he sleeps on, what remains is his identity, his inability to find stability. And as he roams, so do we. Ella Kemp

 

Boyhood (2014)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Perhaps the pinnacle of the sub-genre that is “Richard Linklater” or at least the purest distillation of his technique, Boyhood, by its very nature, has to be about nothing. Shot over the course of 12 years, it tells the story of a life in 12 chapters, Linklater skilfully using the passage of time to tell the most normal of stories, with new characters, locations, and styles helping the audience fill in the gaps as much as the dialogue does. It’s a very honest look at growing up and becoming your own person – a process of millions of tiny events rather than a few major ones. Jack Blackwell

 

Chef (2012)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

A semi-autobiographical ode to director Jon Favreau's own unfailing love of fatherhood and creativity, Chef takes a turn around the midpoint, transitioning from a movie with very little plot to a movie with pretty much none at all. Watching Favreau's Carl Casper and John Leguizamo's trusty sous chef as they drive a food truck around America to the sound of assorted Latin pop anthems makes for an experience that's refreshingly free of incident – a celebration of life in all its shades. Adam Solomons

 

Right Now, Wrong Then (2015)

Where to watch it: Home video only

The films of Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo have been compared to those of Éric Rohmer – bare bones narratives, stories of people floating about, searching for love and meaning. His Right Now, Wrong Then finds a dissatisfied film director in a quiet town, awaiting a retrospective of his work. Not a lot happens: He wanders, encounters a young woman – but by the end their relationship is soured. Halfway through, Hong pulls a unique twist: the narrative resets, and we see the whole thing play out again, this time with minor differences. The result is ever-so-slightly more optimistic. Even in the quiet of normal life, Hong seems to be saying, the smallest decisions can create the widest ripples. Tom Barnard

 

Paterson (2016)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

One calendar week elapses in the town of Paterson, for a man named Paterson, in the contemplative, subdued world of Jim Jarmusch. The filmmaker is notorious for the sense of haziness, of people moving at their own pace – and the seven-day framing here stresses this even further. Adam Driver feels like the perfect man to lead proceedings; a wide frame and deep voice create a feeling of gravity, a weight forcing the viewer to stop, inhale his poetry, adapt to the way this man sees the world – rather than demanding it moves any faster. Ella Kemp

 

Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

The first weekend before college might entail a whole cavalcade of drama and intrigue, and there’s certainly plenty of entertainment of that variety in Everybody Wants Some!!. But if anything it's this abundance of fun – of carefree introductions and initiations – that makes the landscape seem less dramatic. The parties don’t stop: these boys begin baseball training, they meet girls, they smoke, they dance. But life doesn’t suddenly fork from one context into another. The film relishes atmosphere over intrigue, building these teenagers’ worlds through the sensations rather than the statistics. Ella Kemp

 

The Florida Project (2017)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

A wholesome kind of chaos reigns in Sean Baker’s masterful The Florida Project, which sees the world through the eyes of precocious six-year-old Moonee, who spends her days running rings around adults in the motel in which she lives with her young mum. Quests are launched to locate ice cream, while manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe) concerns himself with impromptu childcare and occasional boiler replacements. There is a core of sadness within The Florida Project, dealing with poverty and flawed people, but the unique, sparkling prism through which it tells its minimalist story keeps it from ever being a grim, quasi-Loachian slog. Jack Blackwell

 

Song to Song (2017)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

“I thought we could just roll and tumble, live from song to song, kiss to kiss.” This is what Rooney Mara’s character Faye says in Terrence Malick’s swirling love story set against the music scene in Austin, Texas. In this world, things don’t happen – people do. A starry roster of actors, and musicians, create a maelstrom of desire and fear, dancing around one another until time runs out. Malick thrives when at his most contemplative – and such existential musings here, as people touch and twirl and listen out for what it all means, are made captivating in their elusiveness. Ella Kemp

 

Columbus (2017)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

A love of architecture and a frustration at the state of society beyond buildings pushes Kogonada’s Columbus calmly forward. Here, the way the world moves you matters more than the way you move within it. Whether dealing with an impending death or a nervous future, its protagonists process such titanic emotions by walking, slowly, and talking, carefully, to a person they don’t know well enough to disappoint. There’s something of Richard Linklater’s affinity for philosophy, taken for a wander, while geometric backdrops create a sense of order amidst all the heartache. Ella Kemp

 

A Ghost Story (2017)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

That a film about the eternal soul can also be about nothing is testament to the wholly original ambition of David Lowery. Made for a paltry $30,000, Lowery’s lo-fi take on the afterlife is a haunting more melancholic than scary. The ghost (Casey Affleck, sporting a bedsheet) watches powerlessly as his wife mourns him and moves on, and other families come to live in the Texas bungalow he once called home. Bound to the place, the ghost intrudes upon family dinners and annoying party conversations. A profound take on “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” A Ghost Story is a film that teaches you to cherish the mundane. Jack Blackwell

 

Call Me by Your Name (2017)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

A restless, privileged and precocious teenage boy plans on respecting his annual traditions of doing nothing over the summer holidays in his family home in Italy. This is Elio, who, as we know, will have his world changed by Oliver. The arrival of the mature graduate student, working for the summer with Professor Perlman, Elio’s father, is certainly quite the event – but in Elio and Oliver’s lazy days reading books, drinking apricot juice, lying in the warm grass and swimming in fresh waters, we see the most enviable examples of slow, hazy days of focusing on as little as possible. After all, when your entire mind is taken up by the thought of another person, it’s hard to physically be moved to do much else. Ella Kemp

 

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

That Quentin Tarantino's ninth feature was probably the most overtly stylish of his career tells you all you need to know about where its focus lay. Has less ever happened in a Tarantino film? With a retro production design that recreated entire Hollywood streets and a winning soundtrack to boot, the director created the perfect setting for Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth's lengthy – but always satisfying – hangouts. Similar care was evidently taken in telling the story of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), who drives around, buys books, watches herself at the movies and parties at the Playboy mansion. The ending might be brutal, but the journey is a breeze. Adam Solomons

Artwork for this article was created by Braulio Kuwabara. You can follow his work here.

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