Talking with Justin Long is kind of like having a chat with your junior Cinema Professor on the history of movie comedy. Seriously — the dude can talk for hours on the art of the “spit take” (he’s even tried to work the gag into every movie he’s appeared in), in between gushing about the Marx Brothers and delivering an uncannily good impersonation of Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs in Almost Famous. The actor’s typically busy this year, having already antagonized Michael Cera in Youth In Revolt and romanced Drew Barrymore in the recent Going the Distance, and this week he lends his voice to the animated comedy Alpha and Omega, co-starring Christina Ricci, Hayden Panettiere and Dennis Hopper. Taking a break from the promo trail, Justin dropped in to discuss his five favorite films of all time. And wow, did he come prepared.
I’m really worried about these five films. It’s such a tough question. I mean, the first one is easy for me, I can do that right off the bat. The first one’s Back to the Future, for so many reasons: sentimental, cinematic; in terms of just a movie that you love, measuring a movie in terms of how often you can see it without getting tired of it — it’s all of those things for me. I think it’s the most perfect movie ever made. It’s like the form of a movie that all other movies, entertainment-wise, should aspire to. It’s something that I’ll always study — just the storytelling, the efficiency of it. The fact that every element works so perfectly in harmony. It’s a thing to behold.
It’s hard for me to narrow it down to my favorite directors and favorite actors, too, but I love Matt Dillon. I love Beautiful Girls and I love Flamingo Kid — he’s responsible for a lot of my favorites, but I’m gonna have to pick Drugstore Cowboy. I saw it when I was a kid and I felt like it was such a different culture than any that I’d ever been exposed to, and I felt like instantly I was a part of it — even though I had no frame of reference. I mean, I wasn’t a “kid,” I was 14 or 15. I had started getting into, you know, that sort of pretentious high school literate phase where you start reading, like, Kerouac and Ginsberg and, I don’t know — I loved that world, that romanticized, thuggy, kind of petty crime world. I really romanticized it myself and just wanted to be a part of that world; there was something exciting about that for me. And I love the way it’s shot. I love the drugged out scenes; I love the way [Gus Van Sant] shoots with cut-outs, those kind of simple, free-floating cut-outs to convey the psychedelic scenes. It was one of my very first exposures to that style of filmmaking that was a lot more patient and took its time and allowed itself to breathe. And from there I got into, like Hal Hartley and the independent movies of the ’90s. But my love of that type of film all started with Drugstore Cowboy.
I think a lot about Martin Scorsese and how heavily influenced Paul Thomas Anderson was by him. I feel like he learned so much from Scorsese in Boogie Nights, and so I feel like picking Boogie Nights is somewhat accounting for my Martin Scorsese love. But I’m also being very honest about a movie that I can watch over and over. Just the epic nature and the grandness of it, and some of the shots and the style of it, and the music — my God, the way he uses music — and that great shot where somebody jumps into the pool and you hear the muffled soundtrack. It’s brilliant. I never get sick of watching it. And the acting is just some of my favorite actors at the top of their game. I love doing impressions and one of my earliest impressions of an actor was Philip Seymour Hoffman in that movie, when he’s saying how much he loves the name and he’s chewing on the pen.
I have to pay my respects to two very influential cinema figures for me. Laurel and Hardy are probably the biggest influence for me, just in terms of sense ofm humour, when I was a kid, and in terms of what I continue to laugh at. If I had to pick one I’d say it would be Way Out West. I watched it recently and it still holds up. The reason why I think I latched on to them so much is because as a team they had such a great balance. Oliver Hardy was such a great anal retentive straight man, but still funny in his own right. They had such different comedic perspectives but when they worked together they created such a perfect synthesis; just a perfect balance of extremes, of odd coupling. I feel like all of my favorite comedy since then in some way draws from that — Planes, Trains and Automobiles comes to mind, and What About Bob?, and Midnight Run; these all employ the same template and they’re my favorites, but I feel like I can trace it all the way to Way Out West.
If I had to do my top 100 movies I think 15 to 20 of them would be Woody Allen movies. This is the toughest one for me to do because the instinct is to say Annie Hall, because it’s undeniably, I think, perfect — in terms of comedy, romantic comedy specifically. It’s one that, the older I get, I feel like I continue to grow with, and I check in with it every once in a while. Depending on where I am in my life and the relationships I’ve had, I can always glean something different from it or recognize some truth in it that I’ve experienced or yet to experience. It changes every time. If I were like an evangelical, crazy born-again it would be my Bible. It’s like having an old sage friend who you don’t see very often, who’s tremendously neurotic. I also relate to him so much just as a neurotic and an over-analyzer. I fell in love with him in junior high school when, you know, you’re going through your formative years and you’re realizing certain qualities about yourself. So when I was introduced to Woody Allen it was such a relief. He made me feel like it was okay; not only could I function with neuroses but I could thrive. And certainly with women you go through so many relationship questions and struggles and it’s just nice to know someone can take all of that and create entertainment and mine those life transitions for such comedy. There’s a lot of solace in that. But I also love him on a simple comedy level — I almost love his physical comedy and his slapstick as much. So if I had to pick just one, I would say “Every movie he made in the ’70s.” [laughs]
Alpha and Omega is in theaters now.