Five Favorite Films

Alexandre Aja's Five Favorite Films

The Oxygen and Crawl director pays tribute to Spielberg, Kubrick, and a 1950s classic that may surprise some fans still traumatized by his early work.

by | May 12, 2021 | Comments

Alexandre Aja on the set of Oxygen

(Photo by Shanna Besson, © Netflix)

Modern master of horror Alexandre Aja – who counts among his nightmare-inducing credits films like The Hill Have Eyes, Crawl, and Piranha 3D – is getting cerebral in his latest film – and claustrophobic. Oxygen, a long-in-development sci-fi thriller from France, sees a young woman (Melanie Laurent) waking up in a strange, futuristic-seeming medical cryo unit, trapped and alone with no idea how she got there or who she is, and oxygen in short supply. Her only company and source of information is the pod’s computer, voiced by iconic French actor Mathieu Amalric; like most Artificial Intelligence in movies with a premise like this, he cannot be trusted.

Ahead of the movie’s release on Netflix, Aja shared his five favorite films with Rotten Tomatoes, and spoke about his passion for science-fiction, the challenges of shooting in a confined space – and making the material compelling – and his desire to get back to his brutal career beginnings.


The Shining (1980)

84%

I’m going to start with the most obvious for me: The Shining. For one reason, it was my first real cinematic shock when I was a kid. I accidentally watched The Shining at age seven and it was the most traumatic experience and maybe one of the reasons why I’m doing what I’m doing today. Then, year after year, it’s that movie that I can watch again and again. I’m obsessed with every shot that they cut, every bit of dialogue, every emotion. I think there is a perfection for me in this movie.

Joel Meares for Rotten Tomatoes: Is there a particular scene or shot that you love the most?

Yes, for me it’s that moment when Jack is entering the ballroom and sitting at the bar and everything is empty. The camera turns around after he says he would like a glass of… I don’t remember, some beer or whatever, and the bartender, Lloyd, appears. It’s that Faustian deal that I think is the most beautifully made and elegant deal with the devil that has ever existed on camera or even in literature. In that one scene, everything is said from the reason why Stephen King wrote the book in the first place – because he wanted to kill his son, because he drew on the manuscript – to everything in that scene; what Jack is going through is talking about creation, talking about who we are as humans. It’s just that devilish figure that just watches over him. It’s just maybe one of the most beautiful scenes in cinema.

Sunset Blvd. (1950)

98%

It’s very different but also something about creation, about Hollywood, about human nature, about the darkness of the spirit. For me, obviously there are so many amazing shots, from the first one to the last one, but for me, that ending, I remember the first time I discovered it – it’s just so insane and twisted. The addiction of fame. The addiction of that city. You know, I’m from Europe and there is a fascination for America but also for Hollywood. You know, I’m working there but that movie has this kind of echo. You see that maybe this movie would have been completely different made by another American filmmaker and not someone coming from Europe. I think it delivers a really broad European view on what Hollywood means.

Alien (1979)

98%

The whole Alien franchise! Can I say a franchise? The big one, the one that ends with Covenant – I was kind of blown away by it. I know that people might have some frustration and stuff [with that film], but I thought it was so crazy that he managed to close, to go back to the first one. That first film may be the best survival film of all. Her character, Ripley, for me is that one character that I always go back to in every movie. She represents everything I feel as a human being. You see a character that is not a superhero, that’s not a super human being, but is someone who managed to get that instinct to fight and keep fighting and find the resources to always stand again and defeat what is the most perfect enemy.

RT: It’s interesting you say that because when you look at the films you’ve made, particularly the last two, Crawl and Oxygen, you also have amazing women, strong and almost Ripley-esque, having to tap into that survival instinct. Do you think that Ripley had an impact on your choice in projects?

Yes. I mean I’m sure that when I did Crawl, beyond the character, obviously, that crawlspace for me was like somehow I was thinking about an alien spaceship. It is not, it’s just a crawlspace. There is always an exploration. I think the Alien fascination, growing up watching it, brought me to have a real fascination for mythology and especially the whole Minotaur and the maze, and that led me to a certain kind of movie where I really like to… You have that journey where you have to find the way out. Where you have to be with the character. In High Tension, the quest is to survive to the morning. In Crawl, it’s just survive the storm and get out of the house. There is always a maze that you have to escape from.

I mean, I could put Once Upon a Time in the West or The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. I feel that there is something visually so groundbreaking with Sergio Leone’s style and directing. Something that almost reaches perfection shot after shot, and the use of the music. I say this is one of the most surreal and at the same time hyper-real immersive cinema, if that can exist. Everything is hyper, everything is bigger, everything is kind of like a version of the West that I think never really existed. At the same time, it just gets to your gut and you really feel that you are sitting at that table. Then that long silence, with the shot going from extreme close-up to super wide, and bringing in with the music… I don’t know, there is something quite powerful, at least for me, in this one.

Jaws (1975)

98%

Let’s stay classic. Jaws: it’s obvious what effect it has had on my cinema. I think Jaws, at the same time, from the behind-the-scenes, from the creativeness that’s behind-the-scenes, it’s almost like a cautionary tale for every filmmaker. Just the perfection of the directing… I could have said Raiders of the Lost Ark as well, I could have talked about E.T. or Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I mean: Kubrick and Spielberg. I can never stop being surprised by where he finds a way to put his camera, where he finds a way to tell the story – from his storytelling to his use of every tool in the toolbox to create the perfect grammatical syntax of images. So Jaws is maybe like the one, the first perfect one, from a very long list of masterpieces.


Joel Meares for Rotten Tomatoes: When you were talking about where to place the camera, I thought, that’s a good segue into asking about Oxygen because you have a single location here, and it’s a tight location. In Crawl, at least you had the whole area under the house, right? Here you have just this tight pod that’s essentially as big as Melanie. What was the greatest challenge of shooting in what appears to be a tiny space – and keeping things interesting for the audience?

Alexandre Aja: So I think the biggest challenge was obvious, because it was a very small cryo unit, almost like the size of a coffin. We took that challenge and we turned it into, I think, an advantage. I realized early on in the script that I had an obvious continuity of locations in that pod and I had a continuity of character with her, with Melanie, who was in every single shot and was so fun to direct, and who is carrying the emotion. So I thought about this as, okay, I’m going to in fact do something that I never even think about doing in other movies. I’m going to list down on a piece of paper all the different styles of directing, styles of framing, styles of effects, of types of lenses, of types of gadgets…

In fact, that kind of continuity with her and the location gave me the opportunity of going completely in different places scene after scene. So I avoid repeating myself and, most important, ensure that the audience doesn’t get bored of the same location. Also, not only to avoid repeating myself, but also trying to underline in better ways every single emotion. I think in another movie, if you do that, it becomes like a very bad taste or bad style, because you will just get out of the experience and you stop watching because you will see the camera movement every time. But because we had that perfect storytelling inside the box, I don’t think that you feel it. Then the camera becomes more like something that comes to underline every feeling or every new obstacle or nightmare that she’s going through.

Oxygen

(Photo by Shanna Besson, © Netflix)

RT: It’s interesting too that you mention Spielberg and Kubrick in your film selections, because watching this, just design-wise and also in some of the framing, I couldn’t help thinking of the Precogs in Minority Report and the tentacle things in War of the Worlds. And then obviously there’s the voice of HAL 9000. Were they direct influences on you?

Aja: I love science-fiction, and grew up reading a lot. I still read a lot of science-fiction, I’m watching a lot of science-fiction. I unfortunately didn’t have the opportunity until this movie to work on a science-fiction movie. I did develop many of them that either didn’t get made or will get made at some point – I hope. But yes, all the references that you were talking about, they all were in my mind. Of course, when you read a script and you have an AI talking, and it’s going to be a really important one, you cannot help but think about HAL 9000. And the same with Minority Report. I would say Philip K. Dick in general. There is not a real link between Oxygen and Philip K. Dick. But it was really in mind as I was doing it for a strange reason. But yes, I definitely love sci-fi. I think sci-fi at its best has a mission to think about the world we’re living in and what our position is within it and what we’re supposed to be doing or not. There is a very big “cautionary tale” aspect of sci-fi. I think it’s one of the things that really got me in and interested in the script when I read it the first time.

RT: Just finally, you mentioned sci-fi as a genre you love, but I think I fell in love with your work, and many others did, with your sort of hardcore slasher material like High Tension and The Hills Have Eyes. I loved Piranha 3D as well. I’m wondering: will you return to that genre? I think a lot of fans would love to see a really terrorizing horror film from you at some point in the future.

Aja: I have them. I have a lot of them! With the traffic jam created by the pandemic, suddenly I have no idea which one is going to get done first. I still love the more extreme survival experience as well. I have a couple [of those films] that I’m developing that I really want to make. Going back to Alien – Alien is the perfect mix between very smart and sophisticated sci-fi, and is a very brutal film as well.


Oxygen is available on Netflix from May 12, 2021.


On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

Thumbnail image: Marc Piasecki/WireImage, © 20th Century Fox, © Warner Bros., © Universal

Tag Cloud

Emmys Spring TV miniseries Cartoon Network Pet Sematary politics docudrama natural history Best and Worst Star Trek ID Britbox TLC sitcom news marvel cinematic universe Mary poppins Cosplay Rom-Com dogs 99% LGBTQ Marvel Studios emmy awards The Witch action-comedy Hear Us Out children's TV Pop Superheroes blockbuster Marvel Television trophy 90s Western The Walt Disney Company The Academy monster movies Mary Tyler Moore Spectrum Originals australia dceu godzilla archives YouTube Red GoT scary sag awards ratings dreamworks hollywood supernatural Disney Plus jamie lee curtis Fall TV Countdown Turner 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards SDCC Brie Larson independent movies video stop motion cinemax See It Skip It Instagram Live CW Seed Rocketman cancelled TV series strong female leads police drama BBC America composers hispanic heritage month FOX Lucasfilm book mcc Paramount Plus Premiere Dates spy thriller TV movies space stoner Superheroe venice A24 debate Apple TV Plus trailers art house Ellie Kemper 20th Century Fox Mystery Discovery Channel cancelled Arrowverse biopic BAFTA Freeform Masterpiece Family Heroines tv talk TruTV harry potter spider-man movie transformers Comics on TV SXSW versus black MCU justice league PaleyFest ViacomCBS Awards TV One Pride Month E! Animation unscripted The Arrangement History First Look Apple casting Film Festival aapi christmas movies 71st Emmy Awards renewed TV shows south america Red Carpet hidden camera TCA Winter 2020 scorecard Image Comics crime thriller Song of Ice and Fire Infographic finale Comedy medical drama BET Awards sopranos screen actors guild 93rd Oscars Comic-Con@Home 2021 halloween tv NYCC mission: impossible Disney+ Disney Plus NBC MTV ghosts 73rd Emmy Awards disaster king arthur WarnerMedia IMDb TV diversity mockumentary Pirates Travel Channel The Purge directors Creative Arts Emmys Apple TV+ Character Guide canceled TV shows Netflix Christmas movies serial killer Star Wars Winter TV TCM Nat Geo Sundance Now comic kong HBO Max comic book movie Nickelodeon Television Critics Association AMC Plus gangster 2018 The CW travel animated RT History Esquire 2015 Watching Series series revenge critics boxoffice Winners 007 jurassic park mob cooking anime Neflix universal monsters Horror Cannes Hallmark Christmas movies richard e. Grant Hulu Marathons laika joker Ghostbusters king kong DGA festivals pirates of the caribbean Biopics Musical Country Black Mirror New York Comic Con toronto Comic Book Drama Kids & Family nfl CMT Legendary spanish language Showtime Photos 2020 X-Men cartoon a nightmare on elm street historical drama TIFF Martial Arts period drama Christmas theme song dark 24 frames Syfy Shudder FXX USA award winner VICE video on demand binge Lionsgate VOD foreign fresh Dark Horse Comics HBO CBS All Access Rock Classic Film prank Certified Fresh Crackle OneApp romantic comedy elevated horror Warner Bros. comic book movies El Rey robots saw OWN cancelled television SundanceTV IFC Films Thanksgiving rt labs Endgame doctor who basketball Grammys TV Land LGBT Stephen King spanish Tokyo Olympics 72 Emmy Awards aliens rotten movies we love black comedy blaxploitation Amazon adenture zombies superhero deadpool crime drama adaptation GLAAD Podcast dexter Box Office Trailer scary movies DC Comics films cops Extras Television Academy Chilling Adventures of Sabrina streaming movies CNN free movies Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt BBC Sci-Fi Fargo genre vampires kaiju comics teaser scene in color Year in Review anthology true crime biography indie Comedy Central Musicals dragons suspense concert Fantasy based on movie international Elton John talk show WGN YouTube DC Universe National Geographic festival posters American Society of Cinematographers Sneak Peek Tubi Amazon Prime live action asian-american documentaries Epix PBS worst comic books MSNBC indiana jones Paramount Trivia Pixar Chernobyl slasher PlayStation BBC One Mindy Kaling lord of the rings young adult Shondaland heist movie spider-verse zombie japanese all-time Pop TV Mudbound Video Games VH1 sequel Nominations TCA Awards Holiday Quiz singing competition TCA Disney Channel GIFs twilight TCA 2017 latino spain 21st Century Fox green book sequels popular japan blockbusters Marvel Fox Searchlight golden globes satire Logo San Diego Comic-Con die hard Oscars Anna Paquin worst movies Teen ABC Signature toy story italian TV renewals 1990s royal family obituary television cats USA Network Pacific Islander 45 2021 game of thrones superman AMC fast and furious rotten Academy Awards nature adventure Fox News Black History Month comedies kids game show TV high school name the review psychological thriller boxing NBA Captain marvel cars canceled Bravo golden globe awards batman Opinion social media Sundance TV Adult Swim psycho what to watch new star wars movies feel good FX Disney streaming service First Reviews thriller Music Election Calendar classics Holidays reviews cults Binge Guide nbcuniversal APB war Polls and Games Wes Anderson FX on Hulu Sony Pictures rt labs critics edition target Summer political drama spinoff Paramount Network Reality Competition TBS Interview Tumblr french breaking bad discovery Valentine's Day 2016 screenings Acorn TV Amazon Studios Schedule slashers A&E Peacock wonder woman facebook new zealand documentary Mary Poppins Returns E3 live event TNT RT21 legend Avengers docuseries streaming vs. Set visit 2019 parents razzies Reality quibi Rocky child's play Netflix Broadway Walt Disney Pictures DC streaming service Universal Women's History Month 2017 CBS critic resources Film ESPN HBO Go crime IFC reboot comiccon know your critic Vudu Ovation Spike book adaptation best Crunchyroll Food Network Columbia Pictures telelvision Baby Yoda Awards Tour Lifetime Christmas movies halloween Sundance Super Bowl President new york ABC Family women crossover zero dark thirty stand-up comedy Emmy Nominations dc ITV Tomatazos football remakes DirecTV franchise technology Lifetime james bond criterion leaderboard The Walking Dead Action Hallmark Alien Universal Pictures 4/20 romance rom-coms dramedy YouTube Premium Starz hispanic hist chucky Exclusive Video marvel comics rt archives Amazon Prime Video Disney Toys cancelled TV shows Funimation YA Writers Guild of America ABC mutant science fiction Turner Classic Movies Tarantino werewolf Trophy Talk sports BET witnail olympics