Dustin O’Halloran’s Top10
Dustin O’Halloran is an Emmy-winning pianist and composer with four acclaimed solo albums under his own name. He’s also a member of the band A Winged Victory for the Sullen, with Adam Wiltzie. His film and television career began with Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette (2006), and he has since been nominated for an Oscar, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA, and a Critics Choice Award for his score to Lion (2016), which was written in collaboration with Volker Bertelmann (a.k.a. Hauschka). His new album, Silfur, was released this June. O’Halloran currently lives in Los Angeles and Reykjavik.
I love many Fellini films, but the one I’ve grown to love more and more is Amarcord. I love Italy, and this was actually filmed in (and takes place in) an area that’s close to the village where I lived about ten years ago. After living there the film has taken on an even deeper meaning for me and reminds me of that time in my life. It begins and ends with these falling plumes of white seeds, almost like dandelions, which is something that you see there every year. The trees blow off these flowers, and the whole city becomes covered in them. It’s such a special moment because you know this means that spring is around the corner. The villages still look exactly the same as they did when Amarcord was shot. They’re stuck in time. So much of Italian life is exuberant, which you feel when you’re there. That quality is represented in Fellini’s film. I love that it isn’t about the plot so much as it’s about the experience of falling into the world of these characters and getting inside their lives. You become attached to everyone and their little stories. It makes me nostalgic and want to go back to Italy.
Contempt is another one that I connect with Italy, and I always return to it. There are those comfort films you just put on—even if you don’t want to fully engage, they’re there for you. I love Georges Delerue’s score and how it’s repeated throughout the film. The main theme is beautiful. It’s a melody that’s filled with so much heartache and nostalgia. I love when one piece of music becomes iconic in a film.
I like how Godard always deconstructs the act of filmmaking within his films. There’s always some kind of juxtaposition that pulls you out of the narrative. He did this so confidently that it feels effortless. I also love his hard edits and the roughness of the filmmaking. There’s a spontaneity that feels natural and improvised, but it’s mixed in with a kind of dry comedy that’s always present. The characters in his films are typically a bit tough, which I like, but they’re also often searching for a connection that’s never fully realized. Everyone is a little aloof and trying to figure each other out, which he presents through this beautiful internal dialogue. It feels very relatable. But he never takes his films to a super dramatic place; they’re always playful.
Barry Lyndon is a masterpiece, and I can watch it over and over. It’s a great story, a sweeping epic. I love slow films that take their time and don’t rush anything, and this is one where, once you get into the pace of it, you never want it to end. You get lost in it. I also love the music, especially the recurring Schubert piece. Again, I’m a big fan of the repeated motif—especially when it’s something as great as this. It anchors the film. When you connect a piece of music to a film in this way, you can never escape it. When it’s perfectly used it becomes symbiotic.
Stanley Kubrick’s use of music borders on kitsch. The film is a hyper-stylized drama but done in a tasteful way. It’s so easy to step over that line. And as is the case with all of his movies, if you don’t watch them for a while and then return to them, you’ll find there is so much left to discover. They’re rich in detail, and it’s incredible how handmade they feel. Now that I’ve had the experience of working on many films, I’ve started to appreciate the almost random luck of when a film turns out great. Many directors have managed to do this once, but when a director is able to continually create perfect films, it’s impressive. Kubrick did it so many times! It’s mind-blowing.
Belle de jour
Belle de jour is such a beautiful and erotic film. Catherine Deneuve is so good and at the height of her powers in it. For me, it’s almost more of a mood piece. There’s a primal aspect to it. I love films that explore eroticism, sexuality, desire, and freedom, because these are such human things. In European society, even if it may seem more open than American society in terms of sexuality, there’s still a ton of repression. Belle de jour explores the idea of fantasy and the guilt that people feel because of their desires. I also love how Buñuel crafts the surreal imagery of her imagination and creates these moments that are so striking.
Antonioni’s films are often serious and dramatic—but they also get a bit kooky. In La notte, the ensemble cast of Marcello Mastroianni, Jeanne Moreau, and Monica Vitta is perfect. They’re some of my favorite European actors. Their style is restrained and can convey so much with just a look, yet they’ll often have these explosions of emotion that hit you. What I love most about La notte, apart from the acting, is the camera work and the way Antonioni captures light. The black-and-white cinematography by Gianni Di Venanzo is beautiful. I’m always drawn in by its drama. Every frame is like a beautiful still photograph with depth, even if it’s just a shot of a building. He finds beauty in everyday objects, which connects to my love of design and architecture. Something simple can be beautiful if it’s captured the right way.
I love road movies. There’s something quintessentially American about them. But Paris, Texas is seen through Wim Wenders’s European lens, which gives it a more nostalgic feel. So much of it is about the atmosphere of a broken-down, bygone America that’s rusting away. There isn’t much of a plot, but it works—especially with Ry Cooder’s evocative score, which pulls you along. Harry Dean Stanton is that rare actor who barely says anything yet holds the film together effortlessly. It’s a tricky balancing act to make this kind of slow cinema that draws you in and takes you on a journey. It’s rare nowadays. This film feels like a hypnosis involving lost love and searching. The peep booth scenes with Natstassja Kinski are visually iconic, and they create such slow-burn tension. They just break my heart. Also, a fun fact: Natstassja’s brother, Nikolai, starred in our A Winged Victory for the Sullen video for “Aqualung, Motherfucker.”
Wong Kar Wai
In the Mood for Love
In the Mood for Love is so stunningly filmed. It’s gorgeous and has such a strong atmosphere. It has many scenes of people eating, which captures the romantic nature of food and the pleasures of life. It’s so restrained, but I think that actually makes you feel so much more. You get inside these characters and this idea of people searching for another possibility in life. And it captures the small build-up to falling in love when you become hypersensitive to every little thing.
I love so many David Lynch films that it’s always hard to pick a favorite, and they can change a lot for you over time. But Mulholland Dr. is the one I’ve seen the most. It is such a hauntingly gorgeous film, full of darkness and desire and mystery. Naomi Watts and Laura Harring are beautiful together, and their relationship is so tactile. Then there are these absurd characters who pop up out of nowhere and create these little episodes inside the film. Somehow Lynch manages to pull it all together. It’s one of those films that you feel okay not completely understanding. It has the perfect balance of encouraging you to let go while having a story that pushes you to try to figure it out. And that element of not knowing—having to piece it together every time—is what I love about it. It’s abstract and also captures the subconscious.
I love Tarkovsky. His films are full of existential questions and ideas that run deep. I love the characters in Stalker, these rough and raw people searching for happiness in this futuristic dystopia. I’m fascinated by the quality of the sound. It has these ASMR moments that tickle your brain. I wonder if he captured the sound in the space or rerecorded it. The cinematography is both brutal and beautiful. Even a shot of dripping water in a factory is dark and poetic. I love the simplicity of it. There’s the world outside and the world that’s described in the film, but everything outside of nature and this old factory is left purely up to the imagination. There’s something beautiful about that. You’re also waiting to find out what the Zone is exactly, and what’s clever is that the film leaves you with the same questions that these men are on a journey to find the answers to. Nobody makes films like this anymore—nobody can! The existential knife cuts a little too deep.
A lot of the films on this list are ones I saw when I was young, before I’d ever traveled to Europe. When I was growing up in California, Europe was romanticized and seemed so far away. But I imagined it as a place of freedom. At that time, European films felt more liberated than American films, and Betty Blue—with its raw sensuality, beauty, and desire—made me want to travel. I love Gabriel Yared’s score. It has this eighties vibe to it that fits perfectly. Once when I was recording a score at AIR Studios in London, Gabriel was recording a score right next to me. I got to meet him, and it was one of those moments when you realize how people can become mythical to you. But then here he was, just this guy recording his score and eating in the cafeteria with me.