I was in film school when I first saw this film. I didn't understand it. Or, more specifically, I watched it and then couldn't grasp what had happened in any linear sense. I had conversations with film school friends about it, but I just couldn't really remember anything except a girl-on-girl love scene and an audition. I watched it twenty-two times this way, not really remembering. Then one night, on an MDMA comedown, I couldn't sleep and it was 8:00 a.m. and the movie was coming on. And suddenly I was able to process every second. It's interesting, because a fever dream is a hard thing to grasp, and I like Lynch's films because they induce these dreams. That morning I was living a fever dream, so the film was suddenly apparent. And it's such a complete portrait of the agony of Hollywood.
The Fisher King
No other movie has turned the landscape of New York into something this magical. The cast is so fucking perfect. Gilliam uses cinema to force people to use their imaginations like a kid does.
Au hasard Balthazar
In film school, I took a critical-studies course on Bresson. He's a filmmaker I'm certain I would never have experienced if I hadn't been forced to. And I really fell in love. This is my favorite of his films. There's a distance in his filmmaking, an artifice in his staging, that makes it feel mythic. This story felt so familiar to me, like it echoed my own teenage experience of being a girl, the terror of sex, puberty, love, industrialization, cultural apathy.
Lars von Trier
When this came out, the hysteria over the clit-scissors scene was all I heard about, and when I watched the film, that was the least shocking thing for me. That scene with the crow in the foxhole and Dafoe beating on it trying to get it to die—that reminded me of an anxiety dream I've had, like a déjà vu from my own emotions. It's comforting when someone else’s darkness mirrors your own. Lars is brave with how intimate he is in his films. He goes off and says things that get him in trouble, and his bravery gets overshadowed. I see him as wonderfully vulnerable and brave. This is one of my top-five favorite films of all time.
Dazed and Confused
One word: McConaughey.
Being John Malkovich
A midget-sized floor in an office building is something that is possible. John Cusack doing puppetry and Cameron Diaz looking frumpy and taking care of monkeys are possible. A portal to a person’s mind is possible. This kind of limitless potential is what makes films magical.
Fantastic Mr. Fox
I made a stop-motion film once. It was ten minutes long. It took twenty-one days to shoot, and I spent six months making it, from creating the creatures to finishing the edit. Stop-motion is one of the most miserable, torturous art forms. It’s hard to process the human effort it took to make this film . . . In my mind, this film is one of the seven wonders of the world.
Polanski was so inventive in this film. The black and white, the music mixed with the images of her walking through London. The rabbit. Hands coming through the walls. Polanski is a master of tension in unexpected details. Like when she's giving the manicure and cuts the woman’s cuticles . . . I'm pretty sure Aronofsky was huffing these fumes with Black Swan.
The first time I saw this film I thought there’s no way Tarantino wasn’t influenced in some way by Repo Man when he was making Pulp Fiction. This type of genre mash-up, a film that has unapologetic fun and is blissfully self-aware, is the kind of vibe I am always pulled to as a filmmaker. It's also insane that he made the film—as a student, for no money. The Criterion packaging for this one, with the comic inside, is one of my favorites. I showed it to the distributors when I was packaging A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.
And God Created Woman
In the anthropology of my mind, the idea of a movie star can be traced back to James Dean and Brigitte Bardot. If Bardot is always doing Bardot, then this film is the best of her. Her wild, feral sexiness, culminating in that final dance scene—by that point I'm dizzy from her.
Iron and Wine’s Top 10
Samuel Beam is an American singer-songwriter (and former film studies professor!) better known by the stage name Iron and Wine. His last album was 2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog, and a follow-up is in the works.