Garth Davis is only getting started. With just a few credits to his name (including some TV work on Top of the Lake and Love My Way, as well as a documentary called P.I.N.S.), Davis directed Lion, a drama based on a true story about an adopted Indian man living in Australia who uses Google Earth to track down the small village where he grew up. The film has become a critical darling and an awards favorite, earning six Academy Awards nominations, and it has launched Davis into the big time. With the Oscars arriving shortly, we took the opportunity to speak with him and find out what movies make him tick. Here are Garth Davis’ Five Favorite Films:
This is my favorite. It’s A Woman Under the Influence by John Cassavetes. What I love about his movies — especially this film too — is just the performances are so brave. The characters are so unpredictable. They’re so full of life. Also, there’s such a social commentary in this movie about how society doesn’t allow people to be who they really are, and I just find that a great metaphor for so many things in one’s life. I thought, “Through this one relationship, I’m moved in such a deep way.”
I also love how Cassavetes pushes the performances so far that it finds this kind of amazing poetry at a certain point. I particularly remember this scene where Gena Rowlands is basically just so misunderstood and so cut down and beaten down that she finds this physicality. It was almost like a moment of ballet. I just think there’s something very genius going on in that film and very brave and I love it. It’s a beautiful film.
Actually, I just thought of another one which really affected me. I don’t know if I’m going to pronounce it correctly. It’s Les Amants du Pont-Neuf — Lovers on the Pont-Neuf [aka Lovers on the Bridge]. It has Juliette Binoche in it and Denis Lavant. He’s very good. I was a university student when this came out. It’s kind of a love story of a privileged girl who’s going blind and she kind of runs away from her privileged life to live on the streets. And she falls in love eventually or creates this friendship with this homeless man. It’s an extraordinary film. It just blew my mind. Again, the filmmaking was incredibly brave and just committed and front-foot and so unique. Again, a film that looks at relationships and has a life in the characters — very alive. I don’t know. It was just an experience to watch that film. I just love it.
Seems you’re into deep character studies and human drama.
Yup. The human condition. Otherwise I’m not watching it [laughing].
I love 400 Blows. [François] Truffaut is just a genius and, again, just there’s a total Cassavetian quality in his performances as well. I know that story was close to his own story, so that was very moving and just a totally immersive experience. I like him and a lot of the French filmmakers, obviously, for the exact reason we’re talking about. That last scene in 400 Blows where he escapes the children’s home in that really, really long tracking shot was just astonishing, just such an astonishing end to that film. That and when the kids steal a typewriter too, and they’re struggling with the weight of it; that was great. It’s just great, great fun.
Okay. I’m going to say a weird one here — but what an amazing performance in that film. When I was a kid I just loved these kind of movies that just took me to another world. I still like watching it today. I watch it with my kids. Gene Wilder. What a performance. It’s just extraordinary. It’s just a film that’s always stayed with me and I still love it today. It’s still fascinating to look at. Gene Wilder is just wild and kind of lonely and mad and so unhinged. It’s a fantastic film.
Maybe My Name Is Joe, to mix it up a bit. At the time when I saw this, I was just wanting to get into filmmaking and I was really fascinated by Ken Loach — and Mike Leigh — because, again, they were social realist films. Loach is more politically based. My Name Is Joe was just such a moving film and it basically portrayed a portrait of a man that basically didn’t have a choice in the choices he made because of his political situation, and then, just how that wasn’t really enough. It was a really tragic, moving film. I just love that film.
Lion is now open in limited release.