Cartoonist, filmmaker, and animator Bill Plympton, whose illustrations have appeared in the pages of the New York Times, the Village Voice, and Vanity Fair, and whose short films became famous on MTV in the eighties, directed the documentary Walt Curtis: The Peckerneck Poet, featured on Criterion’s release of Gus Van Sant’s Mala Noche.
1. Along with The Producers (the original), this film makes me laugh the loudest and the longest. Every scene is totally hilarious, and so many of the gags are now classic—the amplifier that “goes to 11”; “It’s okay—Boston’s not a big college town”; and “Yes, I could sell hats —what size are you?”
2. I heard this film was the biggest flop of Billy Wilder’s career. It’s too bad, because I think it’s his best. I saw it on TV at the age of fifteen, when it was called The Big Carnival and I realized this is what film could be.
3. This is Terry Gilliam’s classic—his best film. The music, the visuals, the fantasy, the dark surrealism. It all works to make a haunting masterpiece. A bit of trivia: the hero’s boss, H. Kurtzman, is named after Harvey Kurtzman, the originator of Mad magazine, and Terry’s boss at Help magazine.
4. Carol Reed’s classic Iron Curtain murder-mystery—very dark, very visual and gritty. And of course, the famous zither music is perfect.
5. Alec Guinness at his peak, as a mad, misanthropic artist living on a houseboat. Very funny satire on the “art” industry.
6. Another very dark, cynical film that keeps you sweating all the way through. The most horrific film I’ve ever seen, right up there with Jaws.
7. A lot of my critics say my films lack strong, concise storylines. They complain that they ramble—I say, look at all the W.C. Fields classics; that’s his trademark. He goes off on these crazy, hilarious tangents that make no sense whatsoever. And that’s what makes this film so much more interesting and screwball.
8. I saw this film in college, and I’ve never been the same since. It’s a bit slow in parts, but the imagery is so surreal and magical that I copied the look many times in some of my own films. The art direction is a masterpiece.
9. One of the most cynical films ever made, a French mockumentary about a serial killer with the complicity of a camera crew—hilarious, the darkest of humor..
10. Jacques Tati is one of my heroes, and this film, I believe, is his best. It parodies the influence of modern architecture and design in the late 50s. Also, Mr. Tati used just the visuals to tell a story and make people laugh. Very deadpan. I also generally discard dialogue to make the imagery carry the plot and humor.