Five Favorite Films

Bruce Dern's Five Favorite Films

The Hollywood veteran, Tarantino favorite, and co-star of The Mustang shares his love for epic biographies and respect for the people who inspired them.

by | April 4, 2019 | Comments

The Mustang

(Photo by Tara Violet Niami / Focus Features)

At 82, Bruce Dern remains one of the in-demand actors in Hollywood. The multiple Oscar nominee, who over 60 years has worked with the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Hal Ashby, Brian De Palma, Eliza Kazan, Alexander Payne, and Patty Jenkins, has more than 10 projects currently in development, most of which hit theaters and streaming this year. The highest-profile of those will be Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, which marks his third time working with director Quentin Tarantino, and in which he plays George Spahn, owner of the Spahn Ranch, which was the onetime home of Charles Manson and his followers. But perhaps Dern’s most celebrated role of 2019, when the year is done with, will be his performance in The Mustang. In the film, Dern plays horse wrangler Myles, who leads an equine therapy program at a Nevada prison and who takes an interest in the rehabilitation of the movie’s central character, Roman (Matthias Schoenaerts). The drama has been in limited release for a few weeks, earning plaudits for Dern’s work and rave reviews all around – it’s Certified Fresh at 95%. As The Mustang expands into more theaters, we spoke with Dern about his Five Favorite Films, and what drew him to his latest role.


Lawrence of Arabia (1962) 94%

First of all, [for something to be great] there’s magnificence in every single department. Whether it’s genre, whether it’s locations, whether it’s cinematography, whether it’s performances, whether it’s script, whether it’s sound – that’s number one. I saw Lawrence of Arabia in theaters. I’d been an actor for about a year and a half; I was under contract to Elia Kazan. I went to the movie and I was absolutely blown away. But the thing that blew me away more than anything else was that the guy did that. I mean this isn’t “once upon a time;” a guy did that. A guy wrote the book, Seven Pillars of Wisdom. He was there, he did it, and I don’t think he ever saw 40 years old. Excuse my language, but I’ve always been quite impressed with people that got s—t done. And he got stuff done.

Amadeus (1984) 93%

The second movie that stuck with me more than any others was Amadeus. Because that guy did that. You know what I mean? I remember when Prince died a few years ago, I had a Twitter at that time (I don’t have it anymore). But all I put out on my little Twitter was, “We lost our Mozart today.” And I think that’s true. I look at Bohemian Rhapsody and they did a very nice job with it — the kid is very good, this Rami Malek. It was a good movie, but [Freddie Mercury’s] not Mozart. I think [with Amadeus] they did as good a job [as they could] without doing a documentary in the era of 400 years ago or, actually, however many years ago it was.

I go back to when Lawrence climbed on a motorcycle at the end of Lawrence of Arabia. And that’s the same thing [with Amadeus]: When Mozart is writing the piece at the end of the movie and Salieri cannot even keep up with him. He’s that quick and he’s that ahead and Salieri says, “No, no, you go too fast, you go too fast, you have to slow down, slow down.” But there’s no slowing down. “Are you with me, are you with me?” And he says, “Yes, yes, I think I get it.” And Mozart says, “And now … 400 voices,” and Salieri just drops the pen and says, “Well that can’t be done. We can’t do that.” And then within five minutes, we see him lying in a potter’s field grave at 26 years old.

The Godfather, Part II (1974) 96%

I’d say Godfather 2 was up there. (And I did a movie for Francis…) After Godfather 1, I wouldn’t know how he would make a Godfather 2, but he did it. Because of the time span and what it covered, it’s an opera. I mean, there are acts, and it just worked, and I hadn’t seen that done really well. I’ll go see a movie because of moments, and I’ll go to see that movie again. I mean, like The Killing, the movie that Kubrick made when he began. Sterling Hayden is in it, where they robbed the racetrack, you know? And Sterling Hayden is in the locker room getting ready, putting the mask on, and realizing they’re not flowers in the box but a machine gun. It’s just before kick-off and he takes a long deep breath, and Stanley Kubrick was there for him.

Nebraska (2013) 91%

I’m very proud of my movie, Nebraska. I don’t really know what a great film is. I don’t know what the ingredients should be. But I certainly think Nebraska is a credit to the industry of filmmaking and it’s done very, very well. And both he [director Alexander Payne] and Quentin [Tarantino, with whom Dern has worked three times] can make a f–king movie, trust me. Alexander said to me the first morning, “Do you see anything here, you’ve never seen before?” I went looking around – we were in Nebraska in some little town in the middle of October, cold, freezing – and I said, “Yes I do.” I said, “It seems like everybody here is putting their oar in before 8am.” And he said, “Well hopefully, that’s because we have 91 crew members here and 78 have worked every day on every film I’ve ever made.” He put his hand on my shoulder and he said, “So you, sir, can go take a risk.” And he said, “This is Phedon Papamichael; he’s your cameraman.” I met him the day before. And he said, “I wonder if you’d do something for Phedon and I, that we’re not sure you ever did in your career.” I said, “Well what’s that?” And he said, “Never show us anything. Let us find it.” And I knew for the first time in my life I had a partner.

Al Pacino came up to me — I’d never met him — at a party and said, “You know, I’ve not seen your movie yet, Nebraska. But everybody back at the Actors Studio – ’cause we’re both members – is talking about your performance.” So Brad Grey is at the party, and he ran Paramount then, and I said, “You know, Al Pacino has not got a screener,” ’cause it was Christmas time. So he said, “Tell him he’ll have one tomorrow morning with his newspaper.” At noon the next day my phone rings and I pick it up and he says, “Bruce, Al Pacino.” I said, “Oh wow.” He said nothing for about 10 seconds, and then he said, “How did you do that?” I told him what Alexander told me about “let us find it.” And he said, “I have tears in my eyes, because you knew you had a partner. I’ve never had a partner.”

He said, “Bruce, I never ever saw the work. You were just the character.” And that’s the greatest compliment to me I ever had.

The Last Emperor (1987) 89%

I think the fifth greatest movie I ever saw was The Last Emperor. Again, it really happened. I mean he [director Bernardo Bertolucci] also could make a movie. The thing I’m leaving you with is this: I’m a runner. When you run, it’s about your training, and it’s the same way with filmmaking. If you miss a day as a runner, only you know it. If you miss two days, your opponent knows it. And if you’ve missed three days, the crowd knows it. All the movies I mentioned, you had, I don’t know, 60 to 150 shooting days. And every single day, everybody on the set brought it to work – everybody.


Joel Meares for Rotten Tomatoes: Did you know about the equine therapy portrayed in The Mustang before you made the film?

Bruce Dern: No. Once I read the script, I told Laure [de Clermont-Tonnerre] I really can’t believe this goes on and more people don’t know about it. I’ve done Westerns all my life – I had to kill John F–king Wayne! And then a year later, blow up the Super Bowl [in Black Sunday]. I mean talk about all-time tricks! And then when she told me about [the therapy] and when I went there to shoot… everybody you see that goes into the ring with the horse and everyone in the movie except for Steven Mitchell and Matthias Schoenaerts and me, are prisoners. All the guys in the interviews are prisoners, too.

RT: You said you like movies for moments – is there a moment in The Mustang that sticks with you?

Dern: In the movie, Miss Britton – I think her name is Connie Britton, I never met her – she was the psychiatrist, and she sits [Roman, played by Matthias Schoenaerts] down, and she sits three or four other guys down, and she asks them three questions. And to me, it’s one of the purest moments I’ve ever seen in film, because the first thing she says is, “How long have you been in?” And he doesn’t say anything for a long time, and then he says, “12 years.” And she says, “And how long a time was it between the time you perpetrated the attack and the time you thought of perpetrating it?” And every single guy she talked to of the 12 never said anything more than three seconds. And Matthias says, “Instantaneously.” Then she said, “And what was it you did?” Well at the end of that, you understand what a violent offender is.


The Mustang is currently in limited release and opens in more theaters April 5.


Tag Cloud

Amazon zombie telelvision Trailer laika mcc sports PlayStation TCA Awards WarnerMedia what to watch spanish language Kids & Family theme song suspense sopranos Lifetime blockbuster spinoff Sci-Fi Fox News nfl Year in Review MGM Stephen King talk show halloween Reality Competition CNN PaleyFest IFC Films Bravo Prime Video slasher halloween tv Fall TV Chernobyl toy story directors vampires satire spider-man cinemax Christmas summer TV anthology ESPN President science fiction Music reboot social media YouTube black comedy Superheroes saw international Captain marvel hist live action batman BAFTA Disney streaming service book new star wars movies LGBTQ 71st Emmy Awards TCM women zero dark thirty Sneak Peek book adaptation award winner Paramount Plus The Academy spanish Biopics dramedy A24 Spring TV psycho breaking bad genre 2020 VH1 IFC Black Mirror Vudu comic children's TV feel good Sundance Now remakes biopic debate Focus Features docudrama news technology Paramount Acorn TV golden globe awards OWN Travel Channel CBS All Access ratings biography teaser TCA Winter 2020 space DGA Elton John CBS art house cats robots venice latino heist movie HBO Go Winners blockbusters PBS streamig game show sag awards hidden camera Comic Book ID king arthur Pop Hulu stop motion discovery franchise screen actors guild Box Office revenge olympics TIFF Tokyo Olympics Lucasfilm South by Southwest Film Festival Tarantino australia cults YA USA composers Pop TV posters Masterpiece Certified Fresh jamie lee curtis Pet Sematary BBC One rt labs critics edition 2018 marvel comics canceled TV shows DC Comics unscripted Exclusive Video a nightmare on elm street Binge Guide Video Games Discovery Channel RT21 VICE Cannes Cosplay concert Image Comics sequels Sony Pictures television adaptation Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Spectrum Originals dc die hard Esquire dreamworks Turner Classic Movies Super Bowl Spike Disney Channel psychological thriller TV One The Witch 1990s medical drama MSNBC south america independent cartoon game of thrones period drama comic book movie crime thriller Neflix Countdown tv talk binge GLAAD Paramount Network Hallmark documentaries spider-verse Columbia Pictures Hallmark Christmas movies Creative Arts Emmys Red Carpet docuseries Shudder natural history Amazon Studios video on demand 4/20 know your critic singing competition crossover 79th Golden Globes Awards Mary Tyler Moore Universal Pictures TV renewals legend The Arrangement Superheroe lord of the rings Lionsgate ABC live event Set visit TV Land Pride Month Fox Searchlight Walt Disney Pictures Cartoon Network Teen japan Heroines Trivia jurassic park adenture black USA Network 20th Century Fox Western police drama Best Actor Tags: Comedy Extras Family hollywood CW Seed festival archives Apple TV+ Awards Tour politics prank NYCC LGBT CMT 2016 best VOD name the review Wes Anderson DC streaming service Infographic Quiz Tubi SDCC Writers Guild of America Mindy Kaling parents films fresh Pirates TBS series Polls and Games 2017 transformers cancelled Avengers Marvel italian rotten pirates of the caribbean hispanic romantic comedy Paramount Pictures diversity reviews Star Trek 93rd Oscars SundanceTV MTV wonder woman mission: impossible facebook twilight ghosts Marathons Reality anime Horror comedies Fantasy comics historical drama Hollywood Foreign Press Association superman Syfy spy thriller toronto Netflix Christmas movies Best Director Character Guide Television Academy Tomatazos Food Network new zealand disaster FX on Hulu child's play war TCA 2017 Alien Summer movies rom-coms scary green book Musicals crime Shondaland Classic Film kong Drama Arrowverse Anna Paquin E3 Universal Mary poppins asian-american Apple TV Plus YouTube Red boxing rt archives cancelled television boxoffice romance Thanksgiving dexter HBO Max New York Comic Con sitcom witnail hispanic heritage month SXSW criterion YouTube Premium popular MCU streaming crime drama miniseries dogs Toys comiccon Endgame Television Critics Association comic book movies Brie Larson Amazon Prime Video Funimation TV movies TLC Action Holiday critics stoner Animation movie free movies football Oscars Crunchyroll serial killer Tumblr American Society of Cinematographers Peacock richard e. Grant Pixar Crackle The Walt Disney Company Film Festival documentary Schedule Rock james bond Podcast indie 73rd Emmy Awards FX doctor who Country critic resources Ghostbusters political drama Disney+ Disney Plus finale Women's History Month sequel cars Musical Ovation APB BET Awards Sundance TV Fargo Film slashers cancelled TV shows TruTV Lifetime Christmas movies thriller Baby Yoda kids A&E 2021 mockumentary Starz christmas movies E! king kong quibi summer preview 90s Opinion HFPA Epix Watching Series summer TV preview 24 frames chucky supernatural Apple Adult Swim obituary rt labs golden globes First Look The Purge Chilling Adventures of Sabrina 007 RT History FOX Mary Poppins Returns Song of Ice and Fire First Reviews strong female leads nbcuniversal based on movie History Mudbound 94th Oscars aapi Trophy Talk Marvel Television canceled comic books japanese IMDb TV AMC HBO Premiere Dates superhero BBC America El Rey Grammys all-time Rom-Com action-comedy FXX vs. razzies BET new york french cops Valentine's Day casting Nat Geo ABC Signature true crime Warner Bros. renewed TV shows joker gangster rotten movies we love The Walking Dead broadcast classics Emmy Nominations scary movies travel Disney Plus high school video Awards werewolf dark trailers worst movies godzilla Britbox Best and Worst screenings Comedy Central SXSW 2022 Star Wars blaxploitation Hear Us Out Freeform Best Picture dceu dragons stand-up comedy obi wan Sundance streaming movies 2019 zombies Nominations universal monsters adventure cancelled TV series 72 Emmy Awards 99% Emmys leaderboard DirecTV BBC DC Universe Marvel Studios Netflix Disney worst NBC Black History Month versus mob Instagram Live 2015 Nickelodeon Legendary Rocky Amazon Prime deadpool TCA X-Men festivals young adult ViacomCBS Pacific Islander Logo harry potter AMC Plus nature Comic-Con@Home 2021 kaiju animated Interview See It Skip It marvel cinematic universe justice league 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Showtime TV Turner royal family emmy awards Oscar scene in color Rocketman Winter TV scorecard Photos Comics on TV ITV foreign fast and furious 45 Mystery Dark Horse Comics NBA aliens Broadway cooking Election Ellie Kemper mutant GoT GIFs Calendar basketball WGN Academy Awards Holidays The CW TNT 21st Century Fox Best Actress trophy monster movies indiana jones target San Diego Comic-Con ABC Family spain National Geographic OneApp Martial Arts elevated horror Comedy