Five Favorite Films

Five Favorite Films (Plus Four More!) with Joshua Leonard

The star/writer/director of indie dramedy The Lie gives honest appraisals.

by | November 16, 2011 | Comments

It’s hard to make a list like this, because invariably my first thought is “What’s gonna make me sound cool?” Using this method, I’d have to include at least one obscure Romanian silent film from the 1930s that no one but Leonard Maltin and Quentin Tarantino has ever heard of.

If, on the other hand, I were to tell you about the films that have had the greatest personal impact on me (a white kid from the suburbs who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s), it would be as follows:

The Breakfast Club (John Hughes, 1985; 91% Tomatometer)

Oh, John Hughes…(sigh). A producer friend of mine was recently talking about his teenage daughter and said “You know, the problem is, she’s never seen a real film because they don’t make real movies for kids anymore.”

Looking back at The Breakfast Club (which I must’ve watched 40 times by the time I was in the 6th grade), Sixteen Candles, St. Elmo’s Fire, et al — these were real movies. And Jesus, could we relate to them. Many still hold up — if you can ignore the acid-wash and the hair mousse.

The Decline of Western Civilization (Penelope Spheeris, 1981; 100% Tomatometer)

Dirty and loud, this film put a face to the music that represented the ultimate freedom from the suburbs. Pre-YouTube, footage of these bands was super hard to come by. There were only a couple videotapes floating around… and once in a while, you could see something truly outré on “120 Minutes”… but in truth, if you weren’t in LA/NY/DC, you missed out on most of the scene.

Like water to the desert, Penelope Spheeris’s film brought the culture into our lives. And shortly thereafter, I had myself a hideous painted leather jacket — just like Darby Crash.

Trust (Hal Hartley, 1990; 82% Tomatometer)

Trust was one of the first American indies that I ever saw… and it blew my mind. My experience of movies up until that point had taken place in a multiplex. The fare was entertaining, sure, but I never felt like there was a place for me in it.

Hartley’s film and the early ’90s changed all of that. It seemed like a whole new art form. I didn’t even realize that you could make a film like this! The characters were smart and seductive, and they hurt and loved in ways I recognized. Martin Donovan, Bill Sage, Adrienne Shelly — they were my Band of Outsiders.

Harold and Maude (Hal Ashby, 1971; 85% Tomatometer)

Hal Ashby: Often copied, never matched. The last 10 minutes of this movie might be my favorite piece of film on the planet. It breaks my heart to think that a film so weird and perfect might never be made again… or, if it was made, could vanish without a whisper, buckling under the weight of another billboard for Transformers 16.

Nashville (Robert Altman, 1975; 95% Tomatometer)

Altman! Pound for pound probably my favorite filmmaker. I’m deeply in love with Short Cuts as well, but Nashville was my first… and you never forget your first.

The world, the performances, the music — all seamless. Altman had a way of saying things without ever showing his hand. His world washes over you — and as it does, your heart fills to bursting.

Hearts of Darkness (Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper, 1991; 100% Tomatometer)

Hearts of Darkness is my go-to film when I’m feeling beaten or depressed.

Everyone knows that Apocalypse Now was a masterpiece, but it was watching the intimate, behind-the-scene details that truly inspired me. The madness, vision, and obstacles that came together to create this film were of Quixote-esque proportions.

Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997; 92% Tomatometer)

My favorite of PT’s films… and one that I will watch any time of day or night, should I come across it on cable.

Who will ever forget the Sister Christian firecracker scene? Or Julianne Moore and Heather Graham gacked out on blow talking about family? Or Seymour Hoffman’s short-shorts!? Truly iconic.

The Puffy Chair (Jay Duplass, 2004; 76% Tomatometer)

I owe a huge debt to my friends Mark and Jay Duplass for making a film that inspired much of the current chapter of my career. Puffy Chair is Gen X Cassavetes at its best.

When I saw this film for the first time, I was both moved and a little creeped out — because there were long strings of dialogue that I had literally voiced verbatim in my own life. Mark, Jay, Katie and Rhett captured the pitch-perfect vernacular for our generation.

The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011; 84% Tomatometer)

I only hesitate to put this film on the list because it’s so fresh in my mind. But, sitting in a crowded theater, surrounded by haters, I had one of the most personal and profound movie watching experiences of my entire life.

As most folks know, this is one of those films that you either “go with” or you don’t — and I was on the bus from the first frame. Somehow, by the end of this seeming non-sequitur of a film, a deep-buried trove of emotions had unlocked inside of me. I don’t think I stopped crying for the last 30 minutes.

The Lie is out in theaters in limited release this Friday.