Your Favorite Filmmakers’ Favorite Films


One of the most intriguing (and unexpected) pop culture discoveries of the last week was this post from Studio 360, which revealed that they had acquired Steven Soderbergh’s “cultural diet” for the past year — a detailed, day-by-day account of the films, television, and books that the Oscar-winning filmmaker ingested from last April to this March. It’s full of interesting nuggets: his almost-obsessive viewing of The Social Network (four times), his appreciation for low culture (hello, The Room), his AMC fandom (both Mad Men and Breaking Bad pop up frequently), his programmer’s sense of pairing (he apparently prepared for the Coen Brothers’ True Grit remake by revisiting Miller’s Crossing), and his apparent speed-reading skills (dude’s knocking out dense books in a day or two). Also worth noting are his three Christmas week viewings of Raiders of the Lost Ark — each, he takes pains to note, in black and white (which we’re totally going to do now).

Soderbergh’s list got us wondering about the cultural appetites of some of his fellow filmmakers. Some are fairly easy to pinpoint, via interviews and the like; others require a bit of creative guesswork. Both are after the jump.

Quentin Tarantino

CONFIRMED: Few filmmakers have tastes more transparent than QT — and not just from the countless homages and influences clear in his own work. He programs an annual festival at the New Beverly Theater (which he now owns), and this year’s program included a Paul Mazursky double feature, Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, and the Johnny Cash vehicle Five Minutes to Live. He also frequently releases lists of his favorite films of the year; last year’s included not only expected choices like Toy Story 3 (his number one), The Social Network, True Grit, and The King’s Speech, but popcorn movies like Knight and Day and Tangled. And around the time of Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino made the above video, listing his favorite films since 1992 (the year he started making movies).

SUSPECTED: Tarantino may never quite have owned up to how much he liked the 1987 Hong Kong action movie City on Fire .

Martin Scorsese

CONFIRMED: Scorsese, too, has always been an open book when it comes to his influences. His extended television documentaries A Personal Journey Through American Cinema with Martin Scorsese and My Voyage to Italy painstakingly analyzed his favorite films, and his years of work for the cause of film restoration have frequently given him the opportunity to spotlight some of his favorites. In 2005, he named his favorite color films of all time (highlights include Barry Lyndon, The Searchers, The Red Shoes, In The Mood For Love, and Cries and Whispers), and in 2000, Scorsese appeared on Roger Ebert & The Movies to select his favorite films of the 1990s (his picks included The Thin Red Line, Bottle Rocket, Eyes Wide Shut, Fargo, Malcolm X, and Heat). In the new interview book Conversations with Scorsese, he talks about his admiration for the films of Paul Thomas Anderson and David Fincher. His MySpace profile — set up to promote his Rolling Stones concert film Shine A Light and clearly not updated since — goes into other realms as well: not surprisingly, his music tastes run towards classic rock (“The Beatles, Cream (and all of Eric Clapton), The Band, Bob Dylan, The Stones of course”), while he watches “Turner Classic Movies, history and documentaries” on television and reads “a lot of history — particularly about the ancient world — and I find myself reading mostly pre-20th century fiction.”

SUSPECTED: We can probably presume Scorsese watches Boardwalk Empire, if only to see if it ever topped his near-perfect pilot episode. (It didn’t.)

Christopher Nolan

CONFIRMED: Nolan is a huge fan of Blade Runner — not a shock, considering how much of that film’s look made its way into Nolan’s Gotham. “Blade Runner just blew me away because they created these extraordinary worlds that were just completely immersive,” he said. “I was also an enormous Stanley Kubrick fan for similar reasons,” and he names 2001 as his #1 Kubrick films. Other favorites include Chinatown, Lawrence of Arabia, The Man Who Would Be King, and Star Wars (“marvelous escapist entertainment on a grand scale”). In 2001, Nolan assembled a list of his favorite “guilty pleasures,” which include The Hitcher, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and The Black Hole (“it boasts one of the most unexpectedly weird climaxes in cinema history. I actually had to rent it as an adult just to check that I hadn’t made up the whole ending”).

SUSPECTED: Seeing’s how he cast both Heath Ledger and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in his films, we like to think that Nolan shares our rather embarrassing fondness for 10 Things I Hate About You.

Woody Allen

CONFIRMED: In 2001, Allen sat down with The New York Times for their “Watching Movies With” series. Allen acknowledged some of his favorite films, American (Citizen Kane, White Heat, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Double Indemnity, The Informer, The Hill) and foreign (Rashomon, The Bicycle Thief, Grand Illusion, Wild Strawberries, The Seventh Seal, The 400 Blows, Los Olvidados, Throne of Blood), before settling on Shane — a film “in a class by itself.” He gives a wider sense of his cultural menu in a famous scene in Manhattan (above), running down the list of things that “make life worth living,” which include Groucho Marx, Louie Armstrong (“Potato Head Blues,” specifically), Frank Sinatra, the Second Movement of the Juniper Symphony, and Flaubert’s Sentimental Education.

SUSPECTED: Though he frequently acknowledges his favorite filmmakers, and several of his films clearly reflect his influences (Stardust Memories = Fellini, Interiors = Bergman, etc.) we must not forget that weird period in the mid-’90s when he was making handheld, doc-style relationship films in a style clearly swayed by the work of John Cassavetes.

Spike Lee

CONFIRMED: In a 2004 BBC interview, Lee names four of his favorite films: On the Waterfront (“because of the acting, the story, the dialogue, the score by Leonard Bernstein”), Pixote (“it just shows you this whole other world of kids trying to survive in the ghettos of Brazil”), A Face in the Crowd (which clearly influenced his own Bamboozled), and Ace in the Hole (“I’m a fan of Kirk Douglas”). Other favorites include Lawrence of Arabia (he and cinematographer Ernest Dickerson screened it before making Do The Right Thing), The Deer Hunter, and — as seen in the rather awkward clip above — Chinatown.

SUSPECTED: If Lee were to make a day-to-day diary like Soderbergh, we’ve got the feeling it would be about 50 percent films and about 50 percent Knicks games.

Kathryn Bigelow

CONFIRMED: While promoting her Oscar winner The Hurt Locker, Bigelow ran down her five favorite films for Rotten Tomatoes — though she cheated a little, in making one of them “the collected works” of Alfred Hitchcock. Her other picks included Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (“his muscularity, his immediacy, his sheer genius in his storytelling and characters. I was knocked out”), Scorsese’s Mean Streets, ex-husband James Cameron’s The Terminator, and Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (“I’m constantly looking at that film for its sheer bravado, magnificence, scale, scope, and having just shot [The Hurt Locker] in Jordan in the summer of 2007, I visited Wadi Rum, which is the desert in which they shot Lawrence of Arabia, just about two hours outside of Amman”).

SUSPECTED: Many noted The Hurt Locker’s almost-complete reliance on action to convey story, with a minimum of backstory and exposition. The film seems, in this regard at least, greatly influenced by The Seven Samurai — which, as Pauline Kael wrote, “(pours) all its energies into the extremities of human experience — into conflict itself.”

Richard Linklater

CONFIRMED: Like his buddy Tarantino, Linklater has always pushed his favorite films. In fact, he founded the Austin Film Society and programmed it before making pictures of his own. In his list for the 2002 Sight & Sound poll, he mixed familiar titles like Citizen Kane and 2001 with lesser-known titles, including Fassbinder’s In a Year with Thirteen Moons and Eustache’s La Mama et la Putain. His favorite film is Minelli’s Some Came Running; he loved the classic low-budget noir film Detour so much, he named his production company after it.

SUSPECTED: Our favorite Linklater movies are Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, which have a definite My Dinner with Andre influence. Others prefer Dazed and Confused, which owes a clear debt to American Grafitti.

Paul Thomas Anderson

CONFIRMED: From the his breakthrough film Boogie Nights, critics were eager to pin Anderson as the next Martin Scorsese — particularly in his use of long dolley shots, similar to the famous “Copacabana scene” in Goodfellas. On the film’s commentary track, he acknowledged his debt to Scorsese, but noted that those comparisons overshadowed how much he “stole” from Jonathan Demme. His next film, Magnolia, was clearly influenced by the multi-character ensemble films of Robert Altman, particularly Nashville and Short Cuts (it also featured Henry Gibson and Julianne Moore, both of whom appeared in multiple Altman efforts). In a 2008 interview with David Carr, as part of There Will Be Blood’s Oscar campaign, Anderson expressed his admiration for competitors Juno, Michael Clayton, and Atonement — though not, significantly, for the film that beat his, No Country for Old Men (“You really think No Country for Old Men… that movie was better than ours? C’mon, do you really believe that?”).

SUSPECTED: Watch the first ten minutes of Punch Drunk Love and try to say that Anderson hasn’t spent some time watching Buster Keaton movies.

Michael Mann

CONFIRMED: The talented director of Heat and Collateral participated in Sight & Sound’s 2002 poll of directors and critics; his ten favorite films were solid if unsurprising (Apocalypse Now, Citizen Kane, Dr. Strangelove, Raging Bull, and The Passion of Joan of Arc among them).

SUSPECTED: Based on the cinematography of Public Enemies, Mann seems to spend a lot of time watching YouTube videos.

Michael Bay

SUSPECTED: Michael Bay draws all of his inspiration from being Michael Bay and having the ability to blow things up. He doesn’t watch other movies, because there aren’t enough awesome explosions in anyone’s films but his. He doesn’t read books, because books are for nerds. Boom!