A Woman Under the Influence
Gena Rowlands is one of my heroes. She and Cassavetes mean a lot to me, and the two have influenced my career and my understanding of acting in countless ways. Because this is the first Cassavetes movie I ever saw, I feel obligated to put it at the top.
I feel a personal connection to Rowlands because, like she was, I’m married to a director and we’ve collaborated on several movies—and I understand how complicated things can get when the relationship between actor and director and the relationship between husband and wife bleed into one another. Before shooting Black Bear, I watched tons of Cassavetes films, but this one really stood out and spoke to my character’s situation, and the psychologically messy space between fiction and reality that you’re often in when you’re making a movie or putting on a show. In Opening Night, there’s a part when Cassavetes, who plays the other actor in the show Gena’s character is in, has to slap her onstage. She doesn’t want him to do it, but her character needs him to. That scene is so painful to me because it says everything about how complicated the job of an actor can be and how easy it is for people to cross boundaries and dive off the deep end, even when it might jeopardize your mental health or well-being. It’s gnarly.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
When I was in film school at NYU, I remember being introduced to Fassbinder with The Marriage of Maria Braun, which I had to study in a more academic context. I only recently watched Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, and it immediately became one of my favorites. It’s a delicious movie—the performances, the love story, the sense of tragedy, the delicate way he shoots the scenes of them sitting in the kitchen. It’s just so lovely. There’s no point in intellectualizing it; you feel the movie on a gut level.
Vittorio De Sica
I watched this years ago with Michael Cera. Bicycle Thieves reminds me of the many beautiful things he showed me. I also love Italian movies, especially ones that show you a grittier, more honest side of the country. Normally, when I think of Italy, I think of sparkling waters, beautiful old buildings, and glamour. But Bicycle Thieves is about real people who are completely broken down by society, and about how deeply unfair that is. The movie captures the big issues of inequality but conveys them with something so simple and seemingly small—the loss of a bike.
Fanny and Alexander Box Set
Scenes from a Marriage
I watch Fanny and Alexander every year. There’s obviously some dark stuff in it, but it’s a great comfort movie to me. Whenever I’m shooting a film and I have to go live in some weird hotel in a far-off location for a month or two, I put Fanny and Alexander on while I’m unpacking and trying to settle in. I don’t speak fluent Swedish, but I have a decent command of it. I’ve picked up a lot of Swedish from watching Fanny so many times. I’m sort of obsessed with Scandinavia and love to travel around the region.
From an acting perspective, Scenes from a Marriage is particularly mind-blowing. Most of it is simply conversations between two people who talk and argue, yet it’s so compelling. I can’t believe they tried to remake it. No shade on the people involved with that show—I just can’t imagine it. I love Bergman, and I really want to go to Fårö—how do you get invited to the annual Bergman festival there? I need to go.
I saw Lucrecia Martel speak after a screening of Zama at Lincoln Center a while ago—Zama should be in the Criterion Collection! At that Q&A, my mouth was open the whole time. She talked about how, before the film was fully completed, she was diagnosed with cancer. She finished and released Zama despite that, which is so badass. La Ciénaga is beautiful and fun to watch because the world Martel builds is so realistic, it’s almost like you’re a fly on the wall spending time with this family in a country home in Argentina. There’s nothing performative about it; it feels almost naked. I think women directors are the coolest, and I’m always fascinated to find out what they’re like as people. Lucrecia carries herself with so much style, which suffuses her movies. I want to be her friend. This is why I need to get better at Spanish; I can speak, but I want it to be perfect so I can throw myself at her and get her to work with me.
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!
I’m always drawn to movies about obsession and movies about love, and this is a dark, twisted union of both of those things. Almodóvar’s movies are like candy in that they’re so pleasurable to watch. I love how uncanny his visuals are and how he doesn’t take himself too seriously. His movies don’t feel pretentious; they’re entertaining, but they’re also substantial, and they always have a sense of joy, silliness, and weirdness to them. Almodóvar is another reason I need to work on my Spanish . . .
Mikey and Nicky
Elaine May is another one of my heroes. I’m desperate to play her in a biopic or something like one. Mikey and Nicky isn’t my favorite May movie—that’d be A New Leaf or The Heartbreak Kid—but I had to put her on my list. It’s crazy to me how many people don’t know who she is. She’s a legendary comedian who has been around since the ’60s and one of the first great performers doing long-form improv. The fact that she became a filmmaker at a time when there were so few women behind the camera is incredible—and she was going up against huge studios and getting into massive legal battles. She was this tiny, funny woman who didn’t give a fuck. With Mikey and Nicky, I just love to imagine her directing these big guys and how much fun they must’ve had. It’s cool as shit.
Barbara Loden is fascinating, and Wanda is the kind of movie I’d love to make one day. She wrote, directed, and starred in it, and she plays a woman who gives up her children—all of that makes for a powerful statement. It’s also set in a coal-mining town relatively near to where I grew up in Delaware, so the locations feel familiar. In the film, her character comes off as impressionable, not so smart, and unhinged, and yet Loden is also behind the camera, controlling her image. The fact that she takes on both of these opposite-seeming roles is inspiring.
Maybe this is an unoriginal choice, but this film never gets old. Plus, I just spent five months in Italy, so the country is fresh on my mind. I shot a movie and season two of The White Lotus there, and I thought a lot about Fellini because, at times, we were somewhat close to Cinecittà. 8½ captures the magic and insanity of making movies—and there’s nothing I love more.
Christa Lang-Fuller’s Top 10
Author and actor Christa Lang-Fuller married director Samuel Fuller in 1967. In 1981, they founded Chrisam Films, which Lang-Fuller has continued to run since her husband’s death, in 1997. She coedited Fuller’s autobiography, A Third Face, for Ra…
Hossein Amini’s Top 10
The Iranian-British Hossein Amini received an Academy Award nomination for his 1997 screenplay adaptation of Henry James’s The Wings of the Dove and wrote the screenplays for Jude (1995), The Four Feathers (2002), and Drive (2011).
Dustin O’Halloran’s Top 10
On the heels of the release of his latest album, Silfur, the Emmy-winning composer and pianist shares a selection of his favorite films and some thoughts on the power of a good musical score.
Robin Wood’s Top 10
This month we asked critic Robin Wood—whose books include Hitchcock’s Films and Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan and who recently wrote essays for the Criterion releases The Furies and Le plaisir—to pick his ten favorite films in the collection…