Few filmmakers working today have an aesthetic that’s as instantly recognizable as Wes Anderson’s. His filmography has taken viewers from roadside motels in Texas to lavish European resorts and on the occasional detour to animated worlds where dogs and foxes can talk. But no matter where Anderson sets a movie, you can always tell you’re watching one of his films from the attention to detail, twee color palettes, and impeccable interior design.
Anderson’s indie film superstardom has prompted many fans to inquire about his influences. And while Anderson isn’t as outspoken about his cinephilia as some of his fellow auteurs, he has been known to occasionally opine about his favorite movies when asked — and tends to surprise when he does.
Interestingly, Anderson’s list of films that shaped him isn’t filled with the kind of whimsical movies that you might expect him to like. In some cases (looking at you, Quentin Tarantino), it’s easy to connect the dots and reverse engineer a filmmaker’s aesthetic based on the films that they love. But Anderson’s interests are extremely well-rounded, to the point where it almost seems like his visual panache and his taste in films were completely separate developments. That doesn’t change the fact that Anderson has largely excellent taste, of course. From classic films by legendary directors to relatively obscure recent works, his favorite movies are clearly the picks of somebody who takes cinema seriously.
Fans got a deeper look at Anderson’s taste last year when he submitted a ballot for Sight & Sound’s once-a-decade Best Films of All Time Poll. Rather than choosing his 10 favorite movies, he decided to focus on films made in France. He accompanied his picks with the kind of adorable note that his characters have written out on vintage stationary on countless occasions.
“Like most of us (I think?), I don’t actually have ten favorite movies,” Anderson wrote. “I thought I would pick ten favorite French ones (because I am listing this list in France).”
Rather than representing Anderson’s definitive ranking, this updating list tracks the films that he has singled out as noteworthy. Anyone looking to tide themselves over until “Asteroid City” and “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” premiere later this year should dive in.
With editorial contribution by William Earl.
Jean Renoir’s World War I drama is one of the cornerstones of global cinema: the kind of film that’s mandatory viewing for anyone attempting to understand the art form. The class conscious story about prisoners of war plotting an escape has been cited as a classic by everyone from Orson Welles to Martin Scorsese, and Anderson joined the chorus of supporters when he added the film to his France-centric Sight & Sound ballot. —CZ
“It All Starts Today”
When Anderson listed his favorite French films for Sight & Sound, the list was understandably heavy on French New Wave classics. But he also found room to include a couple of modern selections, including this 1999 drama about a principal trying to obtain funding for the elementary school in his poor rural community. —CZ
“Olivier, Olivier” is one of Agnieszka Holland’s lesser known works, but the story about a young boy who disappears only to reemerge in Paris as a teenager charmed Anderson enough for him to include it on his Sight & Sound ballot. —CZ
One of the most refreshing aspects of Anderson’s Sight & Sound ballot is his appreciation for the work that French New Wave directors did well beyond their 1960s heydays. He paid tribute to Agnes Varda by selecting her 1985 drama “Vagabond,” which stars Sandrine Bonnaire as a woman who spends a winter wandering the French countryside. The film is notable for its stylized approach that combines conventional narrative scenes with documentary-style interviews with its fictional characters in its attempt to paint a nuanced portrait of its protagonist. —CZ
“Quai des Orfevres”
Henri-Georges Clouzot’s story about a jealous husband who finds himself roped into a convoluted murder triangle after attempting to kill his wife’s lover is one of France’s greatest contributions to the film noir genre, so it’s fitting that Anderson included it on his Sight & Sound ballot. Clouzot famously adapted the film from a crime novel that had gone out of print, so he was forced to rely on his hazy memory of reading the book five years earlier to write the script. —CZ
“My Life to Live”
Jean-Luc Godard’s portrait of a woman who leaves her family to pursue an acting career before gradually turning into a full-time sex worker is one of the quintessential works of the French New Wave. The film is notable for its episodic structure, abrupt and unsentimental ending, and verite-influenced realism. It was the only Godard film that Anderson included on his all-French Sight & Sound ballot. —CZ
“The Man Who Loved Women”
Another late period work from a French New Wave auteur, Francois Truffaut’s 1977 satire “The Man Who Loved Women,” also made its way onto Anderson’s Sight & Sound list. One of the funnier entries in Truffaut’s filmography, the film takes place at a promiscuous man’s funeral as many of his former lovers pay their respects and recall past romances with him. It’s more “Shoot the Piano Player” than “The 400 Blows,” but it’s yet another reminder of Truffaut’s incredible range as a filmmaker. Anderson’s opinion on the maligned American remake starring Burt Reynolds remains tragically unknown. —CZ
Nobody makes movies about marital infidelity like the French, so Anderson’s Sight & Sound list had to include a few good cheating stories. He singled out “Loulou,” Maurice Pialat’s 1980 story of a young woman who throws her stability away to pursue an irresistibly charming deadbeat, as one of his favorites. —CZ
“Kings and Queen”
The lone film from the 21st century to crack Anderson’s Sight & Sound list is “Kings and Queen,” Arnaud Desplechin’s 2004 drama about a woman who tries to balance caring for her dying father with her hidden desire to reunite with her ex-husband. It’s a bleak portrait of the ways that elder care and child care can often conflict and lead to a midlife crisis, and a fitting conclusion to Anderson’s eclectic ballot. —CZ
“Au hasard Balthazar”
Robert Bresson’s masterpiece of French film touched Anderson’s heart, as he told The Criterion Collection.
“We watched ‘Au hasard Balthazar’ last night and loved it and also Donald Richie,” he said. “You hate to see that poor donkey die. He takes a beating and presses on, and your heart goes out to him.” —WE
“The Earrings of Madame De…”
Max Ophuls’ French classic left Anderson spellbound, as he told The Criterion Collection: “Max Ophuls made a perfect film.” He echoed those sentiments when he put the film on his 2022 Sight & Sound list. —WE
Billy Wilder’s Oscar-winning romantic comedy has a fan in Anderson, who raved to the New York Daily News, “I love this movie very much. It’s such a good Billy Wilder movie.” —WE
Roman Polanski’s epic New York City horror story won high praise from Anderson, who told Rotten Tomatoes, “Tthis has always been a big influence on me, or a source of ideas; and it’s always been one of my favorites.” —WE
“New York Stories”
This lesser-seen anthology brought together Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola, and Martin Scorsese. Anderson cited Scorsese’s chapter, “Life Lessons,” as a favorite to Goop. —WE
“Hannah and Her Sisters”
Anderson minced few words when raving about this classic dramedy, telling the New York Daily News it’s “easily my favorite Woody Allen movie.” —WE
“Sweet Smell of Success”
Anderson raved about Alexander Mackendrick’s classic newsroom noir, telling the New York Daily News, “Here’s a classic staple of New York movies. The look of it is this distilled black-and-white New York and Clifford Odets writes great dialogue.” —WE
“A Clockwork Orange”
Anderson was in awe of Stanley Kubrick’s dystopian nightmare, telling Rotten Tomatoes, “It’s a movie that’s very particularly designed and, you know, conjures up this world that you’ve never seen quite this way in a movie before.” —WE
Norman Jewison’s romantic comedy was an ’80s Oscar darling that won Anderson over, as he told the New York Daily News.
“I’ve always loved this script,” the filmmaker said. “It’s a very well-done Hollywood take on New York. Nicolas Cage, John Mahoney, Cher, Olympia Dukakis and Vincent Gardenia are great in it.” —WE
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