La Cinetek’s request was simple, but brilliant: 50 movies, no particular order, made before 2000.
These broad guidelines were sent to directors around the world, and resulted in a fascinating and immensely varied collection of responses. La Cinetek, a new streaming service in France, thus compiled its movie library. There were the mainstays you’d expect, such as Truffaut, Ozu, Hitchcock, Hsiao-Hsien, and other such established greats occupying the lists. But there’s no shortage of surprises, like Jacques Audiard’s inclusion of Steven Spielberg’s DUEL, the movie about a man chased by a stalker-demon-truck.
Most importantly, however, these lists allow us a look even into the minds of directors who’ve made efforts to keep us out. For example, the impenetrable enigma that is Apichatpong Weerasethakul – the Thai director who weaves fantastical mythology and muted drama into INCREDIBLY slow cinematic tapestries – has contributed his choice of fifty films.
We’ve taken a look at the lists returned by the Asian directors who responded, and shared the biggest revelations we found:
Bong Joon-ho Certainly Loves His Genre Fare
While this one isn’t terribly surprising, it’s still nice to get a definitive confirmation. Turns out the man who gained worldwide attention with a monster movie – and whose first international effort adapted a French comic about a perpetually moving train serving as refuge for the remnants of mankind – is happy to place classic genre features alongside arthouse films when organizing his personal canon. Kubrick’s THE SHINING and Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY proudly represent horror amidst all the highbrow selections (with Solondz’s WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE repping its own brand of terror). These lists are in no particular order, meaning he places John Carpenter’s THE THING on the same level as Fellini’s NIGHTS OF CABIRIA; Kiyoshi Kurosawa stands shoulder to shoulder with Chabrol and Herzog. It’s not just traditional genre Joon-ho admires, however…
Bong Joon-ho Respects the Weirdness, too
When people discuss the Coen Brothers, the conversation usually revolves around their hits: FARGO, THE BIG LEBOWSKI, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Joon-ho of course recognizes the greatness of FARGO, but the other Coens movie on his list warms the cockles of my heart: BARTON FINK. Often dismissed as a lesser effort, FINK is a morbidly funny nightmare of a film about a screenwriter who holes up in hotel to write a wrestling movie during Hollywood’s Golden Age. It’s one of those movies that funnels all the supposed glamour of that time and place into a sweaty, nervous claustrophobia. Alongside his inclusion of two movies by David Lynch, as well as Tim Burton’s b-movie love letter, ED WOOD, it’s safe to say Joon-ho’s got a soft spot for the weirdos.
Hirokazu Kore-eda Stays Conservative, Until He Doesn’t
At first glance, Kore-eda seemed to have picked the most conservative list of his peers, with selections that hopped across the top ranks of each countries’ filmmaking elite. Bresson and Truffaut in France, Bertolucci and De Sica in Italy, Kurosawa and Ozu in Japan, and Cassavetes and Wilder in the United States. A director of several sensitive films examining family, Kore-eda also chooses several films with the similar interests. It’s a conservative list, until you see the exception: Robert Zemeckis’s ambitious sci-fi blockbuster CONTACT. It’s not that it’s a reviled movie, but it’s probably ended more than one friendship. It’s a divisive movie that, depending who you ask, is either a brilliant exploration of science and religion, or a convoluted meandering mess that takes too long to get to a cop-out of an ending. It’s an interesting pick, made all the more notable by the movies surrounding it.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul Rejects Your Mainstream
Apichatpong Weerasethakul, or Joe as he’s more simply called, seemed to have approached this knowing that others would speak up for Hitchcock, for Truffaut, for all those filmmakers who’ve become institutions. When talking about great films, Joe’s not thinking about GODFATHER II or CITIZEN KANE because he knows that people who love film have already had that conversation. So when he was asked for his list of 50 films, he said “Sure, Andy Warhol’s EMPIRE!” He then decided he needed another movie that tops eight hours, and included Béla Tarr’s Sátántangó. His entire list reads like an alternate canon to the mainstream, but in a way that seems personal rather than show-offy deep-cut. With each film, Weerasethakul is sharing something that’s clearly had a real impact. A gay, experimental, and wholly uncompromising director, Joe’s sensibilities are clearly reflected in his picks: Kenneth Anger, George Kuchar, and Martin Arnold are all present. He makes it clear he’s happy to go lowbrow, though, with grimy classics such as John Waters’ PINK FLAMINGOS, Russ Meyer’s exploitation classic FASTER PUSSYCAT, KILL, KILL, and Tobe Hooper’s iconic TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.
And now I want to get a beer with him.
It’s a fascinating undertaking La Cinetek has set off on, and though it looks like they’re still acquiring many of the movies listed by the directors to whom they reached out, we’re excited to see this project grow. It’s an impressive start, but there are so many more filmmakers we’d love to see given a chance to add to this. Imagine the list Kim Ki-duk might assemble! Or what if Kazuo Komizu had a chance to share his inspiration?
On a second thought, maybe there are some heads we’d rather stay out of.