David and Nathan Zellner’s Top 10

David and Nathan Zellner’s Top10

Austin-based duo David and Nathan Zellner are the directors of the new film Damsel. They have also worked together on the films Kid-Thing (2012) and Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2014). Their selections below are listed in no particular order.

Jun 27, 2018
  • 1 (tie)

    The Passion of Joan of Arc

    Carl Th. Dreyer

    I saw this last year for the first time. Can’t believe I’d waited so long. It was the most euphoric moviegoing experience I’ve had in forever. So progressive and singular—the performances, the editing, the compositions, the production design. Just absolutely perfect in every way. —DZ

  • Time Bandits

    Terry Gilliam

    One of those dark, epic children’s movies we grew up watching over and over again that exposed us at a young age to cinema magic, grown-up humor, and nihilistic endings. —NZ

  • 2 (tie)

    Watership Down

    Martin Rosen

    A rare animated film that has the agility to balance melancholy, terror, beauty, and heart with grace. Has more to say about the human condition using hand-drawn rabbits than most live-action films do with flesh-and-blood homo sapiens. They used to show this around Easter on CBS—I love that. The dreamy impressionistic backdrops. The wonderfully gratifying finale. The song “Bright Eyes” gets me every time. —DZ

  • Fishing with John

    John Lurie

    Underrated TV show from the early nineties where John Lurie goes “fishing” in exotic locations with his cool famous friends. Every episode a master class in deadpan humor. —NZ

  • 3 (tie)


    Paul Verhoeven

    I was thirteen when I saw this on opening weekend, and I remember leaving the theater walking on air. This had everything I’d wanted in a film. I was expecting just another fun action movie, and it was so much more. I was blown away by Verhoeven’s skillful hand with bleak absurdist satire, action, and genuine pathos. Somehow the film’s ludicrous extremes were able to make a perfect in-the-moment statement about the Regan-era eighties without the benefit of hindsight. Amazing script, amazing cast, and Peter Weller should’ve gotten an Oscar. So many memorable lines. Rob Bottin’s iconic designs of Robocop and the nuclear waste victim. Phil Tippet’s brilliant stop-motion wonder ED-209, so hilariously anthropomorphized through its beastly sound design and hurky movement—and I’ve yet to see something like that executed as perfectly with CGI. Some truly great, subversive physical comedy. When this was first released on Criterion I was so excited it was getting the reverence it deserved among the other classics. I believe it’s on the commentary track where Verhoeven talks about the sequel he pitched that was inevitably turned down. Instead of simply repeating himself, he proposed a love story with RoboCop falling for a cyborg that was little more than a floating brain in a jar. I would love to see that. —DZ

  • Throne of Blood

    Akira Kurosawa

    My second exposure to Kurosawa (I saw Ran in the theaters and was way too young to appreciate it). My favorite performance by Toshiro Mifune and my favorite death-by-1,000-arrows sequence. And one of the first DVDs I ever bought. —NZ

  • 4 (tie)


    Kaneto Shindo

    More a fever dream than a ghost story but deeply haunting with its imagery, sound design, and raw emotion. —DZ

  • Two-Lane Blacktop

    Monte Hellman

    Was fortunate to first see this at a special screening with Monte Hellman speaking afterward. I’ll watch anything with Warren Oates, and he is classic in this one. —NZ

  • 5 (tie)

    Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

    Chantal Akerman

    What a gutsy, fully realized piece of art this is. Sure, a bit of patience is required to get into the groove, but what a truly gratifying experience once you surrender to it. I dig this film so much that my brother and I made a tribute for a Criterion contest several years back. —DZ

  • Drive, He Said

    Jack Nicholson

    The directorial debut of Jack Nicholson. It may be rough around the edges, but that’s what makes it work. Felt like a very honest depiction of college life in the sixties and seventies, yet anyone in any decade dealing with that early-twenties malaise can identify with it. —NZ

  • 6 (tie)

    Life Is Sweet

    Mike Leigh

    This film is so damn smart and funny, such a great combination of humor and pathos. I wish Mike Leigh did more comedies. The performances are incredible and the dialogue is solid gold. Some all-time great portrayals of sloppy drunk shenanigans. I could watch a dozen sequels with Timothy Spall’s character. In an alternate (and more just) universe, instead of Mr. Bean movies we would have an endless number of Life Is Sweet sequels starring Timothy Spall. —DZ

  • Shock Corridor

    Samuel Fuller

    Several Sam Fuller films to choose from on Criterion. I love this one because it is as dark and gritty and pertinent as his others but has an extra level of weirdness. —NZ

  • 7 (tie)

    Pather Panchali

    Satyajit Ray

    I can’t think of a film as human and humane as this one. About as beautiful as it gets. Makes me weepy every time. Incredible score by Ravi Shankar. —DZ

  • Nashville

    Robert Altman

    Altman always handled ensemble casts effortlessly, juggling multiple storylines and naturalistic characters while being completely coherent and relatable. So many great things going on in this film, plus the added bonus of the actors performing their songs live. —NZ

  • 8 (tie)

    Burden of Dreams

    Les Blank

    Les Blank’s films resonate deeply with me, as do those of Werner Herzog, who is the subject of Burden of Dreams. One of the best films about filmmaking. —DZ

  • All That Jazz

    Bob Fosse

    A kinetic masterpiece by Bob Fosse. One of the best-edited films of all time. Roy Scheider deserves more recognition for his work. First saw this in a double feature with Lenny, which every art-house theater programmer should schedule. —NZ

  • 9 (tie)

    Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom

    Pier Paolo Pasolini

    This coming-of-age tale is near and dear to me, since my brother and I were featured extras in it while on a family trip to Italy. Our parts were cut in the end, and being toddlers we didn’t remember much, but it seemed like fun at the time and craft services was amazing. —DZ

  • The Black Stallion

    Carroll Ballard

    Another beautifully shot childhood favorite. Still amazing how they pulled off the shipwreck scene and how the horse and the boy really connect in the aftermath the way they do. Storytelling without a lot of dialogue, and with a dash of Hoyt Axton. —NZ

  • 10 (tie)


    Ken Loach

    I’m a sucker for films of the “boy/girl and his/her dog (lion/bear/whatever)” variety. I love gritty British kitchen-sink dramas of the sixties. I love a good angry-kid coming-of-age film. Kes has it all, minus the sentimentality and anthropomorphism of so many animal films. My heart aches for the kid and his bird—I just want their companionship, his only form of stability, to last forever. Fantastic, bittersweet score by John Cameron. My favorite Ken Loach film. —DZ

  • Dead Man

    Jim Jarmusch

    Highly influential western by Jim Jarmusch with gorgeous black-and-white cinematography and a haunting, minimalist electric guitar score by Neil Young. All these ingredients make this one of my all-time favorites. —NZ