Five Favorite Films

Five Favorite Films with Joss Whedon

by | June 14, 2013 | Comments

What did you do during your last vacation? Between the production and post-production of The Avengers, Joss Whedon decided to direct an adaptation of the Shakespearian rom-com-dram Much Ado About Nothing. Using a hand-picked cast from nearly every production he has ever been a part of, such as TV shows Dollhouse, Firefly, and Angel to name a few, he invited everyone over to his home, picked up a digital camera and some local cupcakes, and made a film. When we asked him about his Five Favorite Films, their influence on his work added another nuance to his numerous projects.

The Matrix (Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski, 1999; 87% Tomatometer)

It is storytelling that is so unexpected and brilliant as to seem inevitable, and that’s the best kind. I wanted to put down my pencil and back away until I learned how to write when I saw this movie. Structurally, it’s insanely sound. Everything that they’re doing is visually ecstatic, and philosophically it could be studied for centuries. It contains every aspect of modern life and religion and philosophy and knows it, and they’re doing something that is very deliberately very heady. But at the same time, when asked what is this movie about, their answer was “It’s about kung fu versus robots.” If it was just that, it would be on this list. But it’s that and everything else.

Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968; 98% Tomatometer)

This one had beat out a couple contenders who were dueling for a long time on my list. It is as ecstatically cinematic as any western ever got. We’re talking about a movie where the hero is so badass, he plays his own theme song. And not only that, he plays his own theme song for a reason that is devastating, that’s revealed in flashback before the final gunfight. I mean, come on. The camera moves, the music, the utter ballsiness of it, the pace. The western exploded with this one. This came out the same year as The Wild Bunch, and they kind of put a stake in it — that was it, we have gone as far as we can go in two very different directions. One is a lyrical opera, the other is an insane shoot em’ up kind of nihilistic orgy. For me, the operatic is gonna win out, as you will see in the other films I am going to mention.

The Bad and the Beautiful (Vincent Minnelli, 1953; 95% Tomatometer)

I happen to have had a perfect experience in my life, and that was this movie. I was in college, and I was a projectionist and I was on the film council.

So you were really popular with the ladies, then?

Oh yeah, absolutely. “You wanna stroll downstairs and watch Soldier Blue at two in the morning? You don’t? OK, bye.” So I had to return a bunch of movies and take them to the post office. I realized I had a couple hours to kill, and I had never heard of the Bad and the Beautiful somehow, even by my senior year. I put it up and it was a brand new print. Not a scratch on it. When the opening credits rolled, and everybody who ever mattered in film is in this movie, and it’s directed by Vincent Minelli, I’m like “What’s going on?” It is so florid and so completely over the top and old Hollywood in its presentation, but it’s a frickin’ documentary. It’s so true and real and uncompromising and bitter and lovely and beautifully structured, it’s just everything. It’s even funny. It’s the movie Kirk Douglas was born to make. When it was over, I stumbled out into the sunshine and somebody said, “What are you doing underground on a beautiful spring day like this?” And I was like, “God never made a day as beautiful as what I just saw.”

Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1999; 83% Tomatometer)

We’re back to opera, we haven’t left it — because Magnolia. If you think about the moment Keanu wakes up as a battery, the moment Lana Turner loses it in traffic and is in this insane hysteria of flashing lights that is completely unrealistic, and then you look at the moment where it’s raining frogs. I saw it, and was like, “Is this going to be one of those movies that I don’t like where he looks down on every one?” I think Alexander Payne and Todd Solondz are super talented, but sometimes I don’t want to sit through their movies because the bile is just unbearable. I didn’t really know PT Anderson’s work that well, or what was going to happen. And then, it turns out he loves people so hard that it rains frogs. There is actual opera in this one. Oh, and BT-dubs, there is a musical number. The license and the observation and the amount that he went for it. The craft and his ability to sustain that much — any one of these movies could have fallen into a puddle of pretension, but the mastery behind them meant that they never could. Jason Robards, who happens to be in two of the movies on this list, him actually dying of actual cancer playing a guy dying of cancer, giving that speech. And Tom Cruise giving the best performance he’ll ever give. It just felt so achingly, weirdly logical to me.

The Court Jester (Melvin Franck, Norman Panama, 1956; 96% Tomatometer)

This is tough because they are a lot of guys in here, but you know what we’re going to do? We’re going to go with The Court Jester. I feel that it’s a perfect movie and contains some of the best sword fighting ever. I’m not always on the Danny Kaye boat, but this is the one where it threads the needle. He’s genius in this movie, and the plot is gorgeous, and everybody in it is funny. It’s so beautifully constructed, and they’re singing, and the world’s greatest sword fight between him and Basil Rathbone. It’s utterly committed to being as silly as it can be and it works like gangbusters.

Next, Whedon talks about his goals in tackling the work of The Bard.

RT: I see so many elements of these movies in your films.

Joss Whedon: Probably, it’s not like I’m not trying to steal from everybody all the time.

RT: You mentioned opera, and particularly in the spirit of your stuff, Firefly goes in movements too, kind of like Once Upon a Time in the West.

JW: Right. And even the fact that Fonda’s theme and Bronson’s theme come together at the end, that they all meld, it’s something they’re doing deliberately and gorgeously.

RT: It happens in Avengers too, and even Much Ado, where you handle a lot of characters at once but it ends up feeling like one big coherent thing. It feels like one thing that makes sense.

JW: Thank god. Much Ado being a romantic comedy drama, in a way, it’s the least florid of my movies, including any episodes of TV I’ve ever done. But the confidence I have in the people I’m working with and the text I am working from all calm me. Shakespeare is someone that I believe lived by a motto that I strive for, which is “subtlety is for little men.” There’s tons of subtlety for texture, but he’s go big or go home. If you’re gonna cry, you’re gonna cry hard, if you’re gonna laugh, you’re gonna laugh hard, and if I want you to do both of them at once, I’ll do that too. He’s got the control of a master. So in his hands, my job is so much easier.

RT: But it’s big language and big emotions set against the simple backdrop of your house. As someone who isn’t well-versed in Shakespeare — sorry about that pun — it helped me focus in better and pick it up.

JW: That was the idea. The intimacy and the casual sort of identifiability of the readings that we did were a big part of our mission statement. This doesn’t have to be something the audience isn’t in on. I want it to feel like, “Oh, Clark [Gregg] came to the house and did this,” and not [in his best classical Shakespeare voice] “And now he enters.” It is not a stately home movie.

RT: But it was nice to see some Sprinkles cupcakes at the wedding reception.

JW: Oh good.

Much Ado About Nothing opens in wide release this week.

Tag Cloud

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