Mustang, written and directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven, 2015. This is one of the best movies I’ve seen in several years. It is beautifully written, acted and directed. By that I don’t mean it is “pretty”. Great skill and care went into crafting the film which examines the lives of 5 young sisters living in a rural area in contemporary Turkey. It is extremely intimate and finely observed and has a power that sometimes comes with a slice of a sharp scalpel and sometimes with the blow of a fist. Part of the power comes from the fact that Erguven laces the film with moments of humor and profound, mysterious beauty.
Zero Motivation, written and directed by Talya Lavie, 2014. This is another of my favorite films over the past several years–also like Mustang, directed by a woman. This film focuses on a group of Israeli women soldiers stationed in a remote army camp. Their primary function is to serve their male counterparts. The sexism is simply observed, not judged; but the consequences are fascinating. The film combines an absurd humor with sharp drama and a touch of the surreal; kind of like MASH meets Kafka.
Sweet Smell of Success, directed by Alexander Mackendrick, starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis. This film is a must see for many reasons; the superior writing, direction and cinematography as well as the astonishingly courageous performances of Lancaster and Curtis. Lancaster was one of the film’s producers. He plays a gossip columnist based on Walter Winchell; one of the most powerful and destructive journalists of this century. For a star of Lancaster’s stature to undertake such a risky role at the peak his career is beyond comprehension when one considers the dull blanket of safety that cushions the careers of most big stars today. Curtis’ performance is equally daring. There is no trace of the pretty boy matinee idol here. He plays a toady for Lancaster, willing to debase himself in any way to gain his favor. The love story is the weakest element and doesn’t quite hold up. But the rest of it is like a jolt of raw, tawdry electricity.
Midnight Cowboy, directed by John Schlesinger, starring Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voigt. When one looks at this film, made in 1968, it is impossible not to regard the state of cinema today without cringing in embarassment and depression. Cowboyhas more truly original filmic ideas than any breakout independent film of the past 20 years. In its use of music, jump-cutting and disjointed camera movement it was 30 years ahead of anything on MTV. Although Hoffman is incredible after at least 12 viewings I find it is Voigt’s performance that resonates the strongest with me. The idea of the lost, confused innocent has inspired characters in several of my films.
A Hard Day’s Night, directed by Richard Lester, starring the Beatles. If you haven’t seen this film recently buy the fucking DVD. In a completely different way (comic absurdity) it is as refreshingly original as Midnight Cowboy. The wealth of visual ideas, the storytelling leaps and risks and the pure joy of filmmaking are absolutely unmatched, even today.
La Strada, director Federico Fellini.
The Conformist, director Bernardo Bertolucci.
A Place In The Sun, director George Stevens.
Mulholland Drive, written and directed by David Lynch.
Drugstore Cowboy, written and directed by Gus Van Sandt.
Pan’s Labrynth, written and directed by Guillermo del Toro.
The Asphalt Jungle, directed by John Huston.
Shortcuts, directed by Robert Altman.
Viridiana, written and directed by Luis Bunuel.
Rashoman, directed by Akira Kurosawa
Two Lane Blacktop, written and directed by Monty Hellman.
Naked, written and directed by Mike Leigh.
Aguirre, The Wrath of God, written and directed by Werner Herzog.
Red River, directed by Howard Hawks.
Dr. Strangelove, written and directed by Stanley Kubrick.
Little Big Man, directed by Arthur Penn.
Notorious, Alfred Hitchcock.
The Graduate, directed by Mike Nichols.
Husbands and Wives, written and directed by Woody Allen.
Sunset Boulevard, directed by Billy Wilder.
Key Largo, directed by John Huston.
The Thin Red Line, directed by Terrence Mallick.
Fargo,written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen.
Weekend, Jean Luc Godard.
Sexy Beast, directed by Jonathan Glazer
Night of the Hunter, directed by Charles Laughton.