Five Favorite Films

Five Favorite Films with Director Joe Wright

What's influenced the man the man behind Pride & Prejudice and Atonement?

by | April 21, 2009 | Comments

Joe Wright

Earlier this decade,
Joe Wright
directed two very British movies from two very British novels, both which had
the fortune of achieving international crossover appeal. 2005’s

Pride and Prejudice
was a sexy, modern take on the classic novel and
reignited Austen-mania for the new millennium, while the celebrated
breakthrough serious roles for
James McAvoy
and Keira
and was nominated, among other Oscars, for Best Picture
(ultimately, bowing down to
No Country for
Old Men

For his American debut, Wright again draws from the literary wellspring, this
time adapting Los Angeles Times writer Steve Lopez’s The Soloist. The book and
film recounts Lopez’s (played by
Downey Jr.
) friendship with Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie
), a Julliard prodigy discovered years later as a homeless,
schizophrenic vagrant. The Soloist opens this
Friday in theaters everywhere. We spoke to Wright, discovering his own Five Favorite Films.


Brief Encounter
84% Tomatometer)

Brief Encounter
Okay, so,
Brief Encounter. I love it because of its consummate craftsmanship. It’s deeply British. It [has] perfect structure. Celia Johnson’s performance. And the way in which it’s a film about something not happening rather than something happening.

Close Encounters of
the Third Kind
(1977, 95% Tomatometer)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Close Encounters was the second film I ever saw in my life.

What was the first?

Bambi. And both films had the effect of scaring the living s–t out of me.

I think I was about six or seven when I saw Close Encounters, and it was the psychological terror of the father and his obsession with the mountain. The sequence with him starting building the mashed potato mountain and then turning the whole house into this kind of chaos of obsession. It terrified the living crap out of me. I saw it at the Odeon in Leicester Square and some 25 years later I found myself standing on that stage introducing
Pride and Prejudice. I think one of the reasons why I make films is to overcome that initial fear of watching a film itself.

Did you find Close Encounters frightening because it was a kind of domestic, invasive terror? Was this applied towards your own father?

Just the father losing control, I guess. That kind of absolute obsessiveness and not knowing what was going on with this character who’s supposed to be stable and secure. So maybe I was applying it to my own father. [But] I think it’s a kind of archetypal fear, really.

Blue Velvet
(1986, 90% Tomatometer)

Blue Velvet
year was Blue Velvet? It was ’86, wasn’t it? So I was 15 when it came out
and my parents were away for the summer, and they’d left me in the house alone.
I got hold of a VHS copy of Blue Velvet, and I started watching it, and I
couldn’t stop, and I got to the end of it, and rewound it, and played it again
and again, 16 times over. And I watched it at least twice a day, every day, for
that entire summer. You can see perhaps why obsessive behavior scares me. And it
just blew my mind. I knew that cinema could be poetic, but I never had before
understood that it could be poetic in that way, in such a raw and visceral way.
And again, scared the living crap out of me. So there seems to be a theme
running through here.

Last time
we spoke, you praised
Naomi Watts in
Mulholland Drive. What
performances strike you in Blue Velvet?

All of them. Laura Dern,
Dennis Hopper, all of them. They were all incredible in
it. I don’t know how
David Lynch directs his actors. One day I hope to meet him
to talk to him about it, because I don’t quite understand how he gets such
extraordinary performances. I think [Lynch’s] one of the best directors of
actors working today. …Or is he? [laughs]

The Conformist

(1970, 100% Tomatometer)


The ConformistJust
for its bold audacity. Its exquisite painterly quality. Its kind of
expressionism, its style, and its kind of audacity to take on great
philosophical themes in cinema.

Are you a Bertolucci fan in general, or do you separate his later stuff from
his early stuff?

I’m afraid I separate his later stuff from his early stuff. [But] I don’t want
to f–k off the great master.

The Apu Trilogy (1954-1959, average 97% Tomatometer)

Pather Panchali
only recently come to watch those films (Pather
The World of Apu
), and they’re just the most wonderful, simple, delicate
storytelling. Again, incredibly poetic, and opening up worlds that I hadn’t
imagined before. So delicate, and so honest and human. Seeing the whole of human
experience related in the microcosm of this little family.

No doubt you were aware of The Apu Trilogy‘s reputation. What were you

I’m glad to say I didn’t have too many preconceptions about it, other than, you
know, “It was a masterpiece.” And I’m always wary of such labels. I didn’t
really know what it was about. I’m very excited that there are still films,
these masterpieces, that I haven’t fully been introduced to.

How recently did you see The Apu Trilogy?

Only about six or seven months ago. I’m embarrassed to admit that. I’m really

And what did they replace?

I definitely would have had an
Alan Clarke
film in there. Maybe Alan Clarke’s Elephant.

Catch Joe Wright’s
The Soloist
theaters this Friday. For more Five Favorite Films, visit our archive.

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