Harold and Maude
An early touchstone for me. One of the first art films that showed me at a young age what movies could be. They could make you laugh and also be super odd and eccentric, but there was still room for them to break your heart. It was a huge influence on Garden State. Two oddballs find love and strength within each other’s eccentricities, all set to the music of Cat Stevens. I love this movie.
This is my favorite Wes Anderson movie. He is obviously such an incredible visualist, and there was something about Max Fischer that I really related to—I always felt like an outcast, but I had a ton of ambition. It’s quite a feat to make something so visually arresting while also making you laugh and breaking your heart.
Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Well, I mean, come on. This is a masterpiece. I don’t know what to say that hasn’t already been said by many people way smarter than me, but it set a very high bar for brilliant satire, acting, cinematography, production design, everything.
Malick’s debut! So beautiful. I have the movie poster signed by the cast and the auteur himself.
Being John Malkovich
Spike Jonze is another genius visualist who knows how to stimulate your eyes while breaking your heart. This movie is so weird and beautiful. And what a script by Charlie Kaufman! They are both incredibly talented.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pitched something and said, “It’s like if Terry Gilliam directed ____.” I fell in love with this film and those of Jean-Pierre Jeunet while I was in film school at Northwestern. I would love more than anything to make a film with a Gilliam level of design and art.
I’ve never seen anything like this movie. It’s so sad and lonesome. The way it brilliantly captures despair and loneliness was an inspiration for Garden State. Julianne Moore is incomparably good in this.
Post-college malaise. The quarter-life crisis. Obviously another huge inspiration for Garden State. So beautifully acted and photographed and written and directed. As you can tell from my list, I love movies about lonely people finding people to make themselves feel a little less lonely. That look on both of their faces on the bus at the end . . .
The Ice Storm
I love everything about this film—the script’s tone, the color palette, the production design, the costumes. It’s beautifully directed by Ang Lee, and it’s interesting to me that he so richly captured this specific time period in America without having grown up here. He is a master filmmaker. As a young actor, I wanted so badly to be Tobey Maguire in this film. He was so good! I’ve yet to be invited to a key party.
Jon Dieringer’s Top 10
The founder of the website Screen Slate picks a selection of favorites, including an ’80s indie gem, shockers ranging from Eraserhead to Canoa, and two films that capture the “twilit feeling of childhood.”
Megan Abbott’s Top 10
Megan Abbott is the award-winning author of seven novels, including Dare Me and The Fever. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Guardian, and the Wall Street Journal.
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).