After rising through the ranks of music video auteurs in the 1990s, director Antoine Fuqua has carved out a feature career behind the camera on a series of tough action thrillers, including Brooklyn’s Finest, The Replacement Killers and 2001’s Training Day — for which Denzel Washington took home the Best Actor Oscar. This week he’s calling the shots on the year’s first White House invasion epic Olympus Has Fallen, a sort of Die Hard-in Washington actioner starring Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman and Aaron Eckhart. We caught up with Fuqua recently, where he talked about his five all-time favorite movies.
The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972; 100% Tomatometer)
The Godfather was one of those movies where, you know, I didn’t realize what it meant back then when I was younger, and you love it because it’s so gangster, in a way — it’s just as gangster as it gets. But then as you get older you realize it’s about something bigger. The Godfather‘s about choosing business over family; you know [in Part II] when Michael kills his brother in the boat, and you realize what that choice was. It really stuck with me, you know, the bigger picture of what this country was built on and the choices that were made. So that movie I love. And obviously there’s the look of it and everything; that’s just a beautiful film in many ways.
Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979; 99% Tomatometer)
Apocalypse Now, to me, is one of those movies where visually, I still watch that now and go, “How did he pull that off?” I’ve heard all the stories — the heart attacks, the house up for sale, you know, them going into bankruptcy — all the craziness, and I still watch that movie and go, “How the f-ck did they do that?” I mean, you’ve got cows being pulled in the air, and the whole military, helicopters flying everywhere… it’s so amazing. It should be a complete disaster. It’s the best example of “Just stick to it, and keep going,” you know. I just love that movie, and some of the memorable performances were just amazing. And it’s still one of the most beautiful films ever shot — no CG; all real.
I love Scarface. First of all, it’s operatic and it’s funny, to me — Scarface is hilarious. It’s got amazing humor in it. I don’t know if everybody really got the humor when it first came out. It’s about the American Dream. I love the fact that it’s like, if they’re not gonna give it to you, you gotta take it. I’ve grown up watching all the gangster movies and that’s really the essence of all of them: if somebody’s not gonna give it to you, you’ve gotta kick the door down. That’s what that movie is really all about. Both of them [De Palma’s and Howard Hawks’ 1932 original] — both of them were about that. So that’s my love for Scarface; that’s the short answer.
It’s another one of those movies that just feels so real. You watch those scenes and you’ve got tanks and armies, you know. It’s the first film I saw, as far as docudrama film style — you know, hand-held, very real, in the streets, in the world. And if I’m not mistaken, he only made a couple of films; the filmmaker made it and then he disappeared. He stopped making [fiction] movies. He made one with Marlon Brando and then that was kind of it. But the fact that he pulled off this movie — it’s a masterpiece. I remember watching the movie and feeling like it was a documentary, it felt so real. It’s so amazing. The performances of the actors, everything — it’s mind-blowing when you watch it.
I just love Mean Streets, period. I grew up in my own version of that. Scorsese is a hero of mine. The movie’s really about him, you know, as a filmmaker — you watch Harvey’s performance when he goes to the church and he’s there on his knees in his version of praying, and you hear the voice-over. What’s amazing about that movie is — now that I’ve met Scorsese a few times — I can see that he was sort of in that world. He’s said it a few times: “I wasn’t sure if I was gonna become a priest or a gangster.” [Laughs] And when you see the movie, you see him, and you get that. You see Harvey’s character is a little bit of a priest, he’s trying to be a good guy but he’s in a world of mobsters and he needs to be accepted by that world. I love the elements that Scorsese captured. I love, again, that sort of brave filmmaking — they didn’t have any money to do a parade, but he just captured that ceremony, you know. They put cameras on the roof and shot down. They put you in the middle of a world and you felt like you were really in it. And De Niro, of course, is genius. It’s ridiculous how good he is. I could go on and on about why I love those movies, as far as technically, and performance-wise — but that’s the basic essence.
Olympus Has Fallen is in theaters this week.