Five Favorite Films

Five Favorite Films with Whit Stillman

The writer-director of Metropolitan and this week's Damsels in Distress on five of his favorite movies.

by | April 5, 2012 | Comments

Back in the 1990s, Whit Stillman wrote and directed what might be regarded as three modern American classics. While independent cinema grew saturated with dysfunctional Sundance dramas and pop culture solipsism, Stillman’s so-called “yuppie trilogy” — Metropolitan (1990),
Barcelona (1994) and The Last Days of Disco
(1998) — instead offered comedic portraits of hyper-literate, obsessive preppy types negotiating a world of social etiquette that felt extracted from another time. Before Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach or Lena Dunham — and indeed, Christian Bale’s take on Patrick Bateman — Stillman was indie film’s premier chronicler of the young, privileged and neurotic.

Which is all to say, it’s great to have him back. Fourteen years (and several aborted projects) after Disco, Stillman at last returns with
Damsels in Distress, which opens in theaters in New York and Los Angeles this week. The director’s take on the campus comedy — in so much as the film can be confined to a genre — it stars Analeigh Tipton as a freshman recruited by a clique of female students plotting a minor social revolution (and a major dance craze) at a school overrun with boorish frathouses. Not unlike an alternate universe Clueless populated with the urban haute bourgeoisie (and better cardigans), it’s an unmistakably Stillman piece: dry of wit, whimsical in the most beguiling sense, and refreshingly counter-cultural placed next to the endless, formula-joke bromances of the era.

While on the press rounds for the film this week, Stillman took some time out to write about his five favorite films. “These are just five of a possible 55 faves — or more,” he says. “But one has to start somewhere.”

The Gay Divorcee (Mark Sandrich, 1934; 100% Tomatometer)



Mark Sandrich was the superlative director of Fred Astaire musicals, strikingly more successful at this demanding (though charming) form than the better known George Stevens. It’s very funny, chock-a-block with great character actors, and with wonderful music (Cole Porter) and choreography (Astaire with Hermes Pan). There’s something about works at the beginning of a form or style of cinema, even if rough and lacking couth, that I find more lovable and compelling than that form perfected (which in this case would be the gorgeous Top Hat made by Sandrich the next year).

The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1933; 100% Tomatometer)



Ernst Lubitsch’s profoundly moving and charming recreation of a microcosm of commerce-hunting humanity in an idealized, bygone Budapest. Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan are brilliant in their roles as the letterwriting non-lovers — but it’s Frank Morgan’s plight as the lovelorn, betrayed shop owner which gives the film its heart and weight.

Wagon Master (John Ford, 1950; 100% Tomatometer)


Directors going independent to make precisely the film they want was not begun — as we sometimes think — by the latterday Johns (Cassavetes and Sayles). After World War Two John Ford formed an indie with the legendary producer (war hero also) Merian C. Cooper: Wagon Master was the lovely result, a film that seems like folk art. The stirring score and brilliant diagonals of Ford’s composition greatly inspired us in the Barcelona edit room — though I’m not sure if any trace of that influence could be found in our film.

The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (Preston Sturges, 1944; 90% Tomatometer)



Writer-director Preston Sturges’ most exuberant comedy — a film that’s easy to watch and hard to imagine, God-like in its love for and forgiveness of its protagonists. The Sturges cuisine transforms seemingly lunchmeat ingredients into a rich cinematic repast.

I Soliti Ignoti aka Big Deal on Madonna Street (Mario Monicelli, 1958; 88% Tomatometer)



The American title — Big Deal on Madonna Street — must be the worst of the international variants for Mario Monicelli’s brilliant incompetent-caper comedy, said to be the absurd version of Rififi. The direct translation — Persons Unknown — used elsewhere, seems funnier once you’ve seen the film; the Spanish distributor had the wit to call it Rufufu and there it’s a treasured classic. The shooting style — the great use of the so-called “curtain effect” — has also been something we always try to put to use.


Damsels in Distress opens in New York and Los Angeles this week.

Tag Cloud

Year in Review BBC NBC crime thriller Grammys Captain marvel The Walking Dead Women's History Month dragons El Rey LGBTQ screenings Valentine's Day Extras Video Games FOX Sundance TV Winners Comedy Nominations Cosplay USA Network Spring TV comiccon Awards Tour Stephen King BET Pet Sematary Freeform kids TIFF Food Network Disney Plus cancelled directors Winter TV TruTV Musicals Comic Book comic jamie lee curtis 71st Emmy Awards Bravo romantic comedy Marvel Television streaming docudrama Fox News Drama CMT Starz Vudu Trivia Television Academy singing competition politics Opinion latino Classic Film The Purge technology composers renewed TV shows romance Disney streaming service spinoff festivals Anna Paquin elevated horror Avengers TLC Marvel Peacock justice league movie witnail Countdown A24 travel vampires Epix Reality Crunchyroll Universal Polls and Games psychological thriller serial killer Music Holiday foreign USA 007 Lionsgate Reality Competition Star Wars MSNBC Lifetime Christmas movies TV YouTube Red CBS toy story ITV blaxploitation dc thriller Travel Channel Adult Swim miniseries Quiz Black History Month PaleyFest Turner Classic Movies Action Pirates Turner Calendar 2020 HBO Max zombies finale LGBT Rocketman RT21 TV Land X-Men Oscars Rock disaster Amazon Studios Musical versus game of thrones TBS Acorn TV CNN Mindy Kaling Marathons ABC Comedy Central screen actors guild DC Comics Mary poppins crossover Mary Tyler Moore aliens free movies Pride Month spider-man Trophy Talk GIFs Columbia Pictures Red Carpet transformers quibi Logo OneApp dceu Superheroe documentary robots slashers what to watch New York Comic Con The CW animated Superheroes halloween Schedule Paramount Network supernatural Watching Series Mudbound cancelled TV series Shondaland hist Tomatazos award winner IFC indie SDCC video Pop hispanic Lucasfilm Elton John APB Family south america Sundance Now Britbox strong female leads DGA batman IFC Films Disney Hallmark Ovation CBS All Access richard e. Grant Rom-Com Sneak Peek Discovery Channel cinemax Election zombie theme song Masterpiece Mary Poppins Returns sports sag awards Kids & Family GLAAD social media Pop TV reboot reviews TV renewals facebook TNT ESPN based on movie 21st Century Fox FX unscripted golden globes anime Fantasy Holidays spy thriller Walt Disney Pictures Set visit Certified Fresh VH1 stand-up comedy war comics RT History Animation historical drama sitcom Amazon Prime Video 2019 dogs Paramount Esquire Disney+ Disney Plus political drama VICE 2018 45 doctor who First Look casting canceled American Society of Cinematographers Trailer cooking Tarantino television series space 2015 Film TCA Winter 2020 ABC Family GoT Brie Larson Country diversity discovery nature See It Skip It Funimation E! Emmy Nominations Rocky tv talk Ghostbusters Sony Pictures science fiction Spectrum Originals Hallmark Christmas movies universal monsters MTV President canceled TV shows The Arrangement Apple TV Plus Awards adventure Podcast WGN TCM SXSW Hulu cults San Diego Comic-Con E3 psycho Spike Tumblr ghosts cartoon Fall TV AMC PBS cancelled television BBC America Amazon blockbuster Cartoon Network adaptation crime drama dramedy Amazon Prime YouTube Premium franchise Cannes TCA talk show joker binge FXX YA Interview christmas movies Star Trek cops Disney Channel Apple TV+ MCU cars WarnerMedia Marvel Studios Lifetime CW Seed Sci-Fi Comics on TV Photos Film Festival Black Mirror Academy Awards DirecTV breaking bad Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Shudder spain A&E Endgame name the review Arrowverse Premiere Dates Heroines Best and Worst FX on Hulu SundanceTV 20th Century Fox Syfy revenge Emmys Christmas Creative Arts Emmys 2017 werewolf crime Baby Yoda HBO police drama Binge Guide Character Guide Netflix cancelled TV shows Nickelodeon Song of Ice and Fire mutant Super Bowl teaser Biopics Dark Horse Comics TCA 2017 harry potter Mystery sequel Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Netflix Christmas movies Writers Guild of America anthology true crime biography Box Office zero dark thirty Apple DC Universe History game show ratings Toys Nat Geo Infographic Chernobyl 24 frames 2016 Summer scary movies green book The Witch Thanksgiving mockumentary movies spanish language Sundance NYCC book medical drama OWN Horror period drama independent First Reviews Showtime cats Tubi rotten movies we love YouTube Ellie Kemper National Geographic Crackle DC streaming service Martial Arts boxoffice Western Teen natural history Pixar children's TV Warner Bros.