First off, if you haven’t read Part 1 of this blog post, check it out for a little context on the films I’m about to list below. On Tuesday, I talked about three of my favorite films and why they inspired me to want to make movies. There was something in each of them that reinvigorated my drive to be a filmmaker, despite the challenges that lay ahead. They helped me summon the fickle, mysterious energy I’m calling “inspiration” that can sometimes go missing.
As promised, here are a few more films that inspired me during the last several years, and my thoughts on why that might be:
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)
Why it inspired me: Like a lot of people, I didn’t think much of this movie when I saw the posters and advertisements popping up around LA. “Oh, just another Michael Cera movie,” I thought (it seemed like there were a lot at the time). But then, fellow Finite co-founder Michael Tucker gushed about it on Facebook, saying it was one of the best movies he’d seen in a long time. I was still skeptical, but decided to give it a chance, and saw it at the wonderful Vista Theater in Los Feliz, which still projects films on 35mm and has booming, seat-shaking sound. And then I proceeded to have some of the most fun I’ve ever had watching a movie.
It’s rare for me to watch a movie and really lose myself (I’m often conscious about what goes into making movies while I’m watching them), but oh boy did I get swept along for the ride by Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. This movie is funny. This movie has legitimately awesome kung-fu fight scenes. This movie has some of the most brilliant and creative use of visual effects I’ve ever seen. It’s got a rockin’ soundtrack. It’s got a great ensemble cast. This movie basically has everything.
But most importantly, director Edgar Wright makes it all look effortless. The comic-book fight scenes and classic video game elements are all seamlessly integrated into the live-action material using a brilliant “augmented reality” style so original and fresh I can’t really explain it in words here. You just have to see it. As a director, I marveled at the skill and confidence it must have taken to pull off this film: every scene transitions seamlessly into the next, jumping through time and space like magic. Some serious love went into making Scott Pilgrim.
It’s a shame this film went so under the radar when it came out—it’s since garnered a cult following, spearheaded by director Guillermo del Toro, who likes to say, “Anyone who hasn’t seen Scott Pilgrim is a motherf**ker.” Even if you don’t connect with the hipster/20-something satire, it’s still an incredible visual feast and also just really clever. Watch it on a good screen, and watch it loud.
The Shining (1980)
Why it inspired me: I think it’s really hard make a truly scary movie. Sure, it’s easy to make something bloody and gross-out and shocking. But a film that is actually scary on a fundamental level, that gets under your skin in a way you can’t quite explain—that to me is the sign of a really great horror movie. The Shining, of course, was directed by Stanley Kubrick, and this may be my favorite film of his (although 2001: A Space Odyssey—especially when watched in a big, loud movie theater—may still hold that spot).
The Shining is known for its iconic sequences, and Jack Nicholson’s brilliantly, terrifyingly unhinged performance. But every single minute of this film is absolutely great to watch and study. Kubrick doesn’t bash you over the head with clichéd, obvious horror techniques—he just slowly, steadily puts you on edge by making inspired choices. As we glide behind Jack’s son racing on his tricycle through the empty hallways of the hotel, we feel dread—the wheels against the floor create a deep, ominous rumble, and the repeating, identical hallways give us a sense of isolation and disorientation. When something truly scary happens, the music doesn’t always “BANG!” on cue…that would make things too clean, too obvious. Instead, the score leaves us feeling that at any moment horror can strike, with no crescendo to give us warning.
But what really got me about this movie was Shelley Duvall as Jack Nicholson’s barely-holding-it-together wife. It’s rare to see characters in any movie—particularly horror flicks—reacting how you or I actually would if we were being threatened by an axe murderer. Kubrick was apparently ruthless with Shelley Duvall on set, criticizing her relentlessly, never offering her the slightest praise. I don’t know if I can 100% get behind that kind of directorial strategy myself, but man, whatever came out of that dysfunctional relationship is one of the most raw, desperate portrayals of helplessness and pure fear that I’ve ever seen in a movie. I think this scene essentially sums up everything that makes the performances and filmmaking in The Shining so special (and inspiring):
I Heart Huckabees (2004)
Why it inspired me: I think I’m starting to see a pattern here. I Heart Huckabees, like all the other films I’ve listed, inspired me because I’d never seen anything quite like it…and yet it totally worked (for me, at least). I get a lot of happy feelings when I watch this film. First off, it’s got a killer ensemble cast, and they’re all a joy to watch: Jason Schwartzman, Lily Tomlin, Dustin Hoffman, Mark Wahlberg, Jude Law, Naomi Watts…the list goes on. They’re pitch-perfect in their roles. The comedic timing, the fantastic overlapping dialogue (some of which must have been improvised), it’s all spot on. Comedy may be the most subjective of all genres; what two people find funny can differ vastly. Director David O’Russell‘s sense of humor in this movie is utterly unique, but whatever it’s doing, I totally dig it.
More importantly, this film is as profound as it is funny. It took multiple viewings to take it all in (another pattern I’m sensing here), and with each viewing I further realized how freaking brilliant Huckabees is. It’s overtly about philosophy (Tomlin and Hoffman play “existential detectives”), and each role in the cast of characters embodies a range of opposing ideals, values, and perspectives which clash in hilarious ways. Some people might complain that it’s all “too heady,” but I’d argue that it’s also got a lot of heart, revealing the humanity in each of the wonderfully flawed characters. This quirky, oddball film manages to be about literally everything while also being intimate and specific at the same time.
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So there it is—the six films that (for some reason or another) really inspired me during the past several years. Movies that directly led to a deep urge to make a movie myself. As many writers and artists have reported, you can’t rely upon this urge, this “flow state,” to appear whenever you’d like it. In the end, the only thing an uninspired writer can do is just work on something anyway, and have faith that at some point or another, that mysterious intuitive energy will return (and help steer said work in the direction it needs to go).
But it also helps to see a really good movie. The kind that reminds you why you’re doing this in the first place. I said it on Tuesday and I’ll say it again: I’d really, seriously love to hear what films inspire you and make you want to make movies. Leave a comment here or on our Facebook page with your most-inspiring list!