A Woman Under the Influence
Gena Rowlands is a force of nature and John Cassavetes’s greatest muse. I saw this movie straight out of theater school and it shook me to the core. Her performance is electric. It was everything I love about acting: raw, dangerous, unpredictable, shocking, alive. You can’t keep your eyes off of her. It’s difficult to explain, but I didn’t know that films could do what Cassavetes does with this film. It was the film that made me see the potential that the medium could have. And it seriously made me want to be in one.
Y tu mamá también
This came out right around the time that a new wave of Mexican filmmakers were making a splash on the global cinema market. It was a very exciting time, I think. And no film exemplifies that period to me more than Alfonso Cuarón’s beautifully intimate Y tu mamá también. It felt like he really captured Mexico, and the complexities of male friendship and intimacy. And those moments in our lives that change us forever. I just saw Roma at the Savannah Film Festival and was blown away. It feels like he’s come full circle. I see an artist really contemplating life, and it’s very inspiring.
To prepare our auditions for Looking, we were advised by casting to watch Andrew Haigh’s 2011 film, in order to get an idea of the tone for the show. Truly one of the most beautiful love stories I’ve seen. It felt like the filmmaker was trying to capture true intimacy and not some bloated, storybook version of it. Tom Cullen and Chris New do truly compelling work. I love this film so much.
I pretty much could have picked any Kurosawa film. They’re all masterful. But the first time I saw Toshiro Mifune in Drunken Angel it was an absolute revelation: I want to do what that guy’s doing! He did it with style throughout his career, and I love him in all of his collaborations with Kurosawa (High and Low, Seven Samurai, Stray Dog, etc.), but his performance in this film, as a small-time gangster with tuberculosis, is badass. I love film noir.
Jeremiah Zagar, the director of We the Animals, gave us some films to watch to prepare for our shoot. This was one of them. I fell in love with it. I remember thinking Lynne Ramsay really captured boyhood and youth. The cast, full of first-time actors, is incredible, especially the young leads. I want to see more films like this in the world.
Do the Right Thing
I would have picked Crooklyn but you guys haven’t put it out (yet), which I really do believe is one of Spike Lee’s most undervalued films. But Do the Right Thing had a similar influence on me growing up. It’s Brooklyn, it’s beautiful, it’s got a cast that is absolutely flawless—too many great performances to mention—and it was revolutionary and in-your-face. The cinematography by Ernest Dickerson is stunning and iconic. I felt so alive the first time I saw this film in high school and have in every subsequent viewing.
In the Mood for Love
My buddy Cruz Angeles first turned me on to the films of Wong Kar-wai in my early years in New York City. In the Mood for Love is just flawless. The performance are restrained and yet so full of deep internal life. A glance, a gesture, carries so much weight. You can say so much with what you don’t say. The performances by Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung are wonderful. And the cinematography, the visual language of the film, is stunning.
Night of the Living Dead
George A. Romero
Growing up, I had a poster of the mid-nineties Tony Todd remake of Night of the Living Dead hanging on my bedroom wall that I had gotten it from the local video store when they were planning on tossing it. I love the remake, but it was the original George Romero black-and-white film that made me want to be a storyteller. It made me want to be a horror movie makeup artist. Making movies looked like fun! And looking back, aside from all that, the film has a racial and social component that I think elevated it beyond the typical horror film. And it was cool to see a Latino last name in the credits, quite frankly.
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Another running theme in this list is the films that challenged my notion of what I thought a film could be. This is one of them. It was my intro to Buñuel. When the couples are trying to have dinner and the wall goes up and it’s a curtain and they are on stage and the stage manager starts prompting them with lines, I absolutely lost it.
Jonathan Caouette’s Top 10
Jonathan Caouette is the director of several feature-length documentaries: the award-winning personal diary film Tarnation (2004), produced by John Cameron Mitchell and Gus Van Sant; All Tomorrow’s Parties (2009), about the music festival; and Walk…
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