My favorite film of the past decade. A funny-sad tapestry of slummy British life and a portrait of a striver poking her way up through the concrete. Best dance sequences and best sound design and best use of Nas. See Michael Fassbender begin his reign as resident psychosexual nightmare heartthrob here.
Days of Heaven
Little Linda Manz’s voice-over is enough of a reason to watch this film. Forget the perfect performances by Richard Gere and Sam Shepard, or Brooke Adams’s twisted damsel in distress, or the way the wheat blows at magic hour making you forget the specter of murder that hangs over it all.
I’m obsessed with the fact that production designer Jack Fisk built the farmhouse, which is meant to look as old as time and it really does. Also, while shooting Badlands (the previous Malick), Fisk wooed his future wife, Sissy Spacek, by leaving gifts for her in her character’s drawers. Swoon.
James L. Brooks
No one writes a complex woman like James L. Brooks, and no one embodies her like Holly Hunter.
When we wrapped shooting on This Is 40, Judd Apatow gave me a photo of Brooks directing Hunter that I hung above my desk, and I can hear them drawling and stammering and just being who they are.
This just wrecked me. I went in knowing nothing except that gay men are my target demo and came out stunned by the subtlety and sensitivity of Andrew Haigh’s direction.
This is also what inspired me to show ejaculate on television: there is one scene in which cum is such a central, and lovely, part of the experience of sex with another person.
Messy, happy, lonely sex.
I always say Agnès Varda was to the French New Wave as Eve is to the Ruff Ryders: a ride-or-die bitch, respected by a pack of tough gentlemen. The first film of hers I saw was Cléo from 5 to 7. My mom had just had a routine but unpleasant dental surgery and was all whacked out on pills, and I read all the subtitles to her in different voices.
I was so impressed by how Varda manages to be both deeply emotional and utterly in control of the technical elements of filmmaking. That had seemed to me to be an impossible line to straddle, and she does it so beautifully. Watch The Beaches of Agnès next, a portrait of a rich life in film.
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
I discovered Fassbinder senior year of college, and I couldn’t believe it. Both of these films are perfect to me. Ali tells a grotesque yet delicate love story that, to my dummy liberal arts mind, was an analogy for the challenges of a gay relationship in the repressed Germany of the 1970s (at least that’s what I said in my thesis). Maria Braun is the tragic, triumphant story of a woman who does what she must to get by, but loses herself in the process. They both make you wanna dress up and smoke opium and fuck people you meet late at night in a bodega, even if you’re not into that.
These are both movies I made out to in college and later felt had been inappropriate choices for setting a romantic mood. I will never forget watching one of two Jeremy Ironses finger his satanic gynecological equipment while a guy named Phil sort of touched my boob. Straw Dogs makes you feel really awkward about removing your leggings, so you just don’t.
Through a Glass Darkly
Like for many Americans, incest is a rough area for me. I just have a natural aversion to it. That being said, when I saw this film in my Bergman/Polanski seminar sophomore year, I was so taken with the Bergman way that I forgot to be freaked out by the sex between siblings. I couldn’t stop whispering the last line, “Papa spoke to me,” at everyone I came across, and I think I will start again. Bergman is the king of mood, and his actors give it all to him, free of vanity and therefore crazy beautiful.
The War Room
Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker
My friend Audrey Gelman showed me this film as the beginning of my political education. While it is a documentary that provides a ton of backstory on the Clinton campaign and the art and science of electing a president, it has the pace and power of a good thriller produced by George Clooney with David Strathairn in at least one role with gravitas.
Jennifer Reeder’s Top 10
Jennifer Reeder’s award-winning personal fiction films, which explore relationships, trauma, and coping, have screened at Sundance, Berlin, Rotterdam, and several other festivals.
Ramin Bahrani’s Top 10
Iranian-American writer and director Ramin Bahrani’s feature films include: Man Push Cart (2005), Chop Shop (2007), Goodbye Solo (2009), 99 Homes (2014), and Fahrenheit 451 (2018).