Sep 18, 2011

My Top Ten Film Influences

Films which have inspired me to make films, rethink the way they can be made, and just plain motivated me to get up every morning and try to make them. Here are my Top Ten All Time Film Influences (in biographical order):

1) Jurassic Park

An unlikely first entry you may think, but when I was just a young’un I borrowed this film on VHS from a neighbour and watched it more times than I had hot dinners (I wasn’t neglected as a child, I just watched the film a lot). Most people remember the first time they visited the cinema and experienced the magic of film but for me there are no lasting impressions from watching Disney films as first experiences. The first time I remember a film affecting me in a big way was this film. In the cinema, the fear I felt at the opening sequence, the wonder felt as Sam Neil sees the park inhabitants for the first time, the incredible awe I felt throughout the film as Steven Spielberg made me wonder ‘how can all this be possible?’ As time has passed, my tastes have somewhat matured and I’m more than aware how such a thing is possible, but I’ll never forget the wonder that ‘Jurassic Park’ inspired in me at such a young age (I was five).

2) Magnolia

This film still remains one of my favourites of all time. I saw this when I was a teenager, retreating to my room for hours, watching as many films as I could get my hands on, soaking up all the information I could about film, preparing myself for some day when I’d be able to make films myself. The first time I watched this I was flawed. Not because the opening fifteen minutes were the most audacious opening minutes I’d ever seen, not because the ensemble were giving the finest performances I’d ever seen, or because the editing, cinematography, music and epic script, which interweaves several stories were all fantastic, but because it spoke to me. It’s not a film I can easily explain because there’s so much to it. Suffice to say, Paul Thomas Anderson’s follow up to the equally masterful ‘Boogie Nights’ shows great humanity, incredible direction and without a doubt one of the most beautiful endings of all time. It showed me a film can speak to a person rather than merely entertain them.

3) Once Upon a Time in the West

Having grown up watching hundreds of westerns, mostly starring John Wayne as the hero, watching Sergio Leone’s masterpiece was something special. On first viewing it was hard not to be gripped by the near dialogue-free sequences, the lack of guns-a-blazing shootouts which I’d grown accustomed to, and the stunning vision of a mythical time now past. ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ showed Sergio Leone as a master on the top of his game. His deconstruction of the western was not only radical, but as time has passed, has proved to be THE quintessential western. Ennio Morricone’s haunting score, the incredible cast, the epic story, the stunning visuals, and of course the director’s flawless vision show that a perfectionist attitude can really pay off.

4) Annie hall

Can a romantic comedy be true to life and be allowed to incorporate a director’s point of view of the world? Can it be literate as well as funny? Can it be about more than the sum of its parts? Surely not! Romantic comedies are films which boast big names, set unrealistic expectations for human relationships, aren’t funny, and are sickeningly bland. So seeing ‘Annie Hall’ for the first time was not only a shock but a welcomed surprise. A film which made me want to make comedy.

5) Naked

Bleak but beautiful. Raw power is possibly the best way to describe it. The nihilistic tone will be off putting (if the opening rape scene isn’t) for most, but there’s more to Mike Leigh’s masterpiece than the darkness at the surface. It shows people lost in a pre-millennial haze, struggling to believe their actions are of any consequence. Plot-free it reinstated my belief that character and performance are enough to make a great film. The philosophical themes hit home hard, if you invest the time. David Thewlis’ character at the centre tears apart the lives around him; ‘Naked’ was one of the key inspirations for ‘Ennui’.

6) Fight Club

A scathing review of how we live our lives in the modern world, hidden beneath a beat ’em up fantasy. If you haven’t seen it, you need to. Fight Club proved to me that a film can be smart and engaging at the same time. Something I aspire to always (it should be noted, I’m not claiming to have made, or be able to make a film this great).

7) Half Nelson

A beautifully honest portrayal of flawed humans struggling to find a connection. Far from sensationalist, the recognisable main character stuck in a cycle of self-destructive behaviour, is played with so many layers by Ryan Gosling, that after watching it hundreds of times since its release, I’m still finding new angles to the story and characters. The acting in ‘Half Nelson’ is so natural it’s incredibly encouraging to see. I often watch it before a production to remind me of what to aspire to.

8) Hunger

The most powerful film you’re ever likely to see. A de-politicized story of human sacrifice, which in the hands of any other director would have been a poor film. ‘Hunger’ is possibly the finest example of contemporary cinema doing what it should – show rather than tell, and use sound to further reinforce the power of the images. Speech is minimal, visual impact is phenomenal. The acting’s superb, and the style profound. It has to be seen to be experienced. It’s made me really think about what information is necessary in a film, and what can be cut out.

9) Taxi Driver

Edit styles, performance, social commentary, stylistic directorial flourishes, bravado camerawork, music, mood, character. The first time I watched this, I had to watch it again. I didn’t know what I had just seen. I still struggle to believe how someone can make a film so incredible. Watch it now!

10) Tree of Life

The most recent entry; Terrance Malick’s (epic doesn’t cover it) exploration of life, family, memory, time, life, and more, has reignited within me something which I only thought I could feel by watching dinosaur films – it filled me with awe. It made me rethink what a film could be. People often forget that cinema is still in its infancy compared to other art forms (and it is an art form). A century and a bit is not that long. And there’s still more to come obviously. We’ve become so used to expecting certain plot-points, character arcs, climaxes, action sequences that we forget it can be more than that. Film is a medium which is unlike any other. Creative teams have at their disposal, aspects of all art forms; literature, photography, sound design, and if you add to this that film is most likely the only form to be able to show you what someone is thinking, it’s something to be cherished, rather than exploited.
*Films which didn’t quite make the list – ‘The Graduate’, ‘Clockwork Orange’, ‘Rebel Without a Cause’, ‘I Heart Huckabees’, ‘Kes’*

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