Filmmaker Judd Apatow has been very busy. He’s produced four films that are being released this year (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Pineapple Express, Step Brothers, and Drillbit Taylor, which opens this Friday), and he’s also one of the writers of You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. But he was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about which movies have really influenced him as a filmmaker.
There are certain movies that I always go back to, but before I make a movie, I always find myself watching The Last Detail, the Hal Ashby movie. There’s something about it that’s so alive. It’s one of the first movies to really have frank language. I think it was somewhat shocking at the time. It was the first movie where everyone aggressively cursed, but it was about people in the armed services. It’s also a small story that’s very intimate and you just fall in love with all these characters that are in this terrible situation.
I always watch it because Hal Ashby shot it in such a way that it just feels real. It’s almost like a documentary. I like how he paces the scenes, the coverage, and I always go back to it because it reminds me that the most important thing I can do as a filmmaker is convince the audience that what they’re watching is really happening. I don’t want them to be aware of me. So that’s one movie. It’s both heartbreaking and hilarious, which is always my favorite combination.
Terms of Endearment is always a touchstone movie for me. That’s one of the best acted comedy-dramas that has ever been made.
I can never get enough of Terms of Endearment. I find myself watching it over and over again. It does everything that I want a movie to do. I fall in love with the characters. I care about their journeys. It never does anything easy to make me like the characters. It doesn’t sell out the characters for likeability. They all do things that are awful to each other. The relationships are very complicated. Yet, you root for all of them when you watch the movie.
A large portion of the movie is also about cancer. It’s treated realistically and it is also hilarious in some of those moments. It’s not a maudlin movie. There are moments in that movie that I think about all the time that haunt me. The moment when Shirley MacLaine is yelling at the nurse to give her daughter more medicine… As you get older, you find yourself in those situations. It may be my favorite film of all time.
Being There is one of my favorite movies. It’s much more precise than a movie like The Last Detail. It’s a type of movie I hope one day to be able to attempt to make. It’s brilliant on every level. It is one of movies that I watch and go, “I probably will never be able to get close to this, but I should try.”
The use of television in the movie is spectacular – how what’s happening on the television in the rooms that they’re in reflects or comments on the action. Nobody has ever done that better and people have tried since and always failed. Any time I see something on a TV in a TV show, I know that they’re thinking about how great they did it in Being There. It’s another movie with some of the best performances in comedy history – Jack Warden, Melvyn Douglas, and Shirley MacLaine, so I go back to that a lot.
I’ve always been fascinated by the film Welcome to the Dollhouse, the Todd Solondz film. It’s a really dark comedy. It might be because I grew up in Long Island and it feels like where I grew up. A lot of the strangeness of it feels familiar to me. I love the look of it. I love the tone of it.
When we started working on Freaks and Geeks, I thought a lot about Welcome to the Dollhouse, in terms of how it was lit, the production design, the strange cadences of its comedy, and these kids who feel like they’re in hell, their families and how their parents treat them. She (Heather Matarazzo) and that character (Dawn Wiener) is one of the greatest outcast nerd characters ever created in film or television. So it’s for someone who always loves a great underdog story. That’s one of my favorites and not a movie that makes it a triumphant fantasy for the nerdy girl either. That is never the Todd Solondz way.
I thought about it when we did Freaks and Geeks because we often thought, “This movie is about how you handle failure. It’s not about succeeding. It’s not a show about wish fulfillment.” You see that in a lot of Todd Solondz work. I don’t think we had half the balls that he has.
Tootsie is a perfect movie. I watch that all the time. You know there used to be a commentary track on it. They put it out on laserdisc, and there was a commentary, [but] they keep doing “anniversary editions” and they don’t have the Sydney Pollack commentary track. As a comedy nerd, I’m up in arms.