Nanook of the North
. . . because I started out as a documentary filmmaker and looked at all of Robert Flaherty’s films, including Louisiana Story, while I was preparing Overlord. Also because The Innocent Eye: The Life of Robert J. Flaherty is a must-read for anyone interested in the birth of documentary filmmaking.
. . . because in 1959 it showed the power of visual narrative. It exploded across the screen and was an international success. I liked the originality of setting this legend against the Rio Carnival.
Cries and Whispers
. . . because it was so disturbing and beautiful at the same moment. Photographed by Sven Nykvist, whose work came the closest to John Alcott’s brilliant use of available light. Alcott photographed my films Overlord, Little Malcolm, and The Disappearance.
. . . because it’s Don Siegel and film noir at its best. And because Lee Marvin is outstanding in it. Marvin became a friend after The Dirty Dozen [in which Cooper was one of the dozen]. Sadly, I failed to make a political thriller that Lee and I wanted to do, which had been coscripted by Christopher Hudson, with whom I co-wrote Overlord.
Night and Fog
. . . which I first viewed at the Imperial War Museum while ensconced in the film archive researching for Overlord. It had a huge effect on me at the time, and I still regard it as one of the most profound films about the holocaust. Particularly in light of the fact that it was made so soon after World War II and was hauntingly structured by Resnais as a documentary.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
In 1974, when I was at the Berlin International Film Festival with Little Malcolm, I met Fassbinder. He was then making Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, which I think is one of his best films. It’s a wonderful observation of social and racial prejudice, and of youth and age.
. . . because it’s Visconti, one of my favorite directors and one I wish I had met. Brilliantly acted by Burt Lancaster, who modeled his performance on his nobleman director, Visconti.
The Battle of Algiers
. . . for its originality, objectivity, and political power. I studied it while I was preparing Overlord. I admired a quote of Pontecorvo’s: “Technically U.S. directors keep improving. But this technical expertise hides an emptiness that keeps getting bigger. They’re very good at saying nothing.”
Ashes and Diamonds
Andrzej Wajda’s films had an enormous influence on me as I began writing and directing. I had lunch with him at the National Film Theatre in London, after he had just made Everything for Sale, a film I loved. It was Wajda’s tribute to Zbigniew Cybulski, his friend and the star of Ashes and Diamonds, who died young. In Ashes, Cybulski plays a resistance fighter stranded by a sellout peace. His broodiness and manner seemed to mourn James Dean.
Jonathan Lethem’s Top 10
Winner of a 2005 MacArthur Foundation Fellows Program genius grant, Jonathan Lethem is one of America's premier contemporary writers. His works include the novels The Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn.