Watching: The Steal of the Art

Two compelling films about the ways we value art.

By The Watching Team

New Year’s Eve is almost here, and with it … more couch time? Maybe you always watch the ball drop from home, which isn’t the worst thing. Or maybe staying in will be a new experience this year. Either way, even with J-Lo, there’s only so much joy to be gleaned from a relatively empty Times Square.

Luckily, you’ll have movies to stream, lots and lots of them. Below, we’re suggesting two, the latest of our weekly double-feature recommendations. We think the movies will pair well — with each other and with you.

Party safe. See you next year.


Your weekly double feature: The steal of the art

Karl-Bertil Nordland and Barbora Kysilkova in a scene from “The Painter and the Thief.”Neon

‘American Animals’ and ‘The Painter and the Thief’

“We don’t discuss the worth of our books, but I can assure you that Mr. Audubon would never have imagined that his book would be the most valuable in existence.”


When Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan), an art student at Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky., hears those words from the librarian (Ann Dowd) during a tour of the rare book collection in “American Animals” (2018), he stops seeing Audubon’s illustrations in “The Birds of America” as art and starts to see dollar signs instead. Based on a calamitous real-life heist in 2004 — and featuring documentary-style appearances from the people involved — the film, now streaming on Hulu, is like life imitating a Coen Brothers movie. But it’s also about what art is and isn’t worth to different people, and the folly of trying to put a price on it.

That theme is also central to this year’s mesmerizing Norwegian documentary “The Painter and the Thief,” about the relationship between the Czech artist Barbora Kysilkova and Karl-Bertil Nordland, one of two crooks caught stealing two of her paintings from an Oslo art gallery in 2015. At trial, Kysilkova persuaded Nordland to sit for a portrait, and their collaboration, caught movingly on film by the director Benjamin Ree, leads to an unlikely and volatile friendship. The more time Ree spends around them, the more obvious it becomes that painter and thief have many things in common, not least a self-destructive streak. Kysilkova’s art suggests hidden insights about them both. — Scott Tobias

Stream “American Animals” on Hulu. Buy it on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube.

Stream “The Painter and the Thief” on Hulu. Rent it on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube.


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Modern Love binge list

It’s been a year of isolation and grief, but there’s always room for love. Here are 10 episodes of the Modern Love podcast for easy listening through the holidays.

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