Five Favorite Films

Matthew Weiner's Five Favorite Films

The creator of Mad Men and director of this week's Are You Here loves a lot of movies.

by | August 19, 2014 | Comments


“I really don’t like ranking things,” director Matthew Weiner told Rotten Tomatoes. “I have so many movies that I like and if I have to name my top 10, I might be in the neighborhood where I cover the bases. But I love movies and I watch all kinds of movies and all kinds of movies have influenced me in my life so it’s very hard for me.”

Fair enough, Matthew Weiner. Maybe it’s time Rotten Tomatoes goes the way of Wheel of Fortune‘s R-S-T-L-N-E and gives our esteemed interviewees Casablanca, The Godfather, On the Waterfront, Gone With the Wind, and Citizen Kane as freebies, since who in show biz wouldn’t pick at least one of these films in a list for all of posterity? That said, Weiner, whose first post-Mad Men feature Are You Here opens this week, was able to name five of his favorite films — while trying to avoid the obvious choices. So now, in no particular order…

Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993; 97% Tomatometer)

You can’t leave Casablanca and Gone with the Wind and Citizen Kane off of this list, but there are other movies that I think of when I think, “I’m going to watch a movie tonight that I’ve already seen — what is it going to be?” It’s so hard.

I think Groundhog Day is one of the great movies. To me — and I know a lot of movies — it’s a very original form. It has this light touch, and [a] cynical main character who is taught a lesson about what matters. It’s a profound movie and I never get tired of watching it. I think Bill Murray is amazing in it. The script is ingenious. Obviously, it’s one of a kind and everyone tries to figure out a new version of it, but it is what it is, and I salute it for its originality and for the fact that I always feel very emotional when the character just comes down to it and says every day is the same day, and it’s up to you to make something out of it. That’s something profound and it’s said in such a funny way.

Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950; 98% Tomatometer)

Sunset Boulevard is the ultimate film noir for me. It has this incredibly unpleasant main character, who is played with a lot of charm by William Holden, and he thinks he’s really smart, and it turns out that he’s kind of in over his head. I love the environment. I love the way the story is told in flashbacks. I love the sense of Los Angeles. I love the humor in it — it’s a really funny movie — and it’s just one of those iconic things that, if you know the movie, you run into it once a month in some way, especially living in L.A. It’s got great lines in it. There’s incredible dialogue, incredible visual moments. Surprises. It’s a horror movie and a comedy at the same time; it’s all over the place in terms of genre. When I first saw it, I just couldn’t believe that it was a big Hollywood movie made by a studio because it’s so peculiar.

Il conformista (The Conformist) (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1970; 100% Tomatometer)

It’s another movie that you run into everywhere because it’s so frequently stolen from. Another reluctant hero, and an unsympathetic, morally ambiguous character… Besides its visual triumph as a movie, there’s a constant juxtaposition of an individual versus the fascist architecture, and the way that politics become very personal, and the way this guy, who doesn’t seem to care about anything, ends up caring about everything. It references Casablanca in many ways, and it also feels like it’s got a great sense of irony about politics because he flips over in the end in a second, and I think a lot of people identify with him and the fact that he’s being forced to do something that he thinks he can do easily and doesn’t have the stomach for. It’s image after image of people either in nature or in the civic environment that are part of fascist architecture and it’s a very memorable, evocative movie. Great music, great cinematography, great acting, and it’s a movie that’s a touchstone for me.

Toute Une Vie (And Now My Love) (Claude Lelouch, 1974; 67% Tomatometer)

I’m trying not to go the obvious route, but I do love Citizen Kane and I can’t leave that off here. It’s an incredible movie and the story’s told in this ingenious way and I never get tired of looking at it. It’s like visual fireworks and the sound is incredible — everything about it.

But if I had to watch a movie that means something to me — and I did see it in my childhood — it’s And Now My Love by Claude Lelouch. It is a story told over the 20th century that is told stylistically as a history of film, so the film style changes throughout. It starts off in silent movie and goes through cinema verite and goes through everything. The gimmick is it’s the story of love at first sight and you follow two family lines through the couple meeting. It was very influential on me in many ways; it’s got a lot of the highlights and influences of European cinema. It’s about a criminal and a spoiled brat who belong together, and it also has a bigger thing which is that you’re learning the story of the 20th century. Its depiction in particular of the 1960s, definitely had an impact on me in terms of how to portray an intimate experience in the midst of history. I saw it in a second-run movie theater. All those movies were being released in the United States and they would end up on the weekend in double features and I can tell you right now, I was 12 years old when it was in the theater and I went back and saw it. It’s super-romantic. It’s got this incredible depiction of France and it’s got this great love story and it’s really ingenious. All the themes with reference to film style and film genre. One of the characters actually turns out to be a filmmaker. It’s incredible.

Manhattan (Woody Allen, 1979; 98% Tomatometer)

It’s going to be a draw between Godfather II and Manhattan. Obviously, there’s no point in seeing Godfather II without seeing The Godfather, but Godfather II is the only sequel I like. It’s just a spectacular character study and the scope of it, the humor of it, the sex appeal, the action, and the twist of the story and Fredo Corleone and Robert Deniro in the flashbacks — all of that is everything you ever want when you watch a movie.

Manhattan I saw in the 1970s as a teenager. Woody Allen was pretty important in my house. My parents are both New York Jews and Manhattan is just an incredibly beautiful movie with a deep expression of humor and existentialism together. It now seems more morally complex to me than I realized, but I just loved things in it like the camera being locked off and people walking in and out of the frame. I noticed that even as a kid and tried to bend my head around the corners.

Next up, Weiner remembers some of the odd double features that he caught at his local cinema as a kid.

And Now My Love wasn’t the only movie that made an impression on Matthew Weiner as a kid. He spoke to Rotten Tomatoes about some inspired double-feature pairings at his local childhood theater.

Weiner: There was a time when you would go see a double feature and you would see All That Jazz and The Shining. They were both in second-run at the same time. Or I remember — I swear to you — I saw Chinatown and Gates of Heaven at the same time. Even though they were released years apart from each other, they were both in the same second-run movie theater. This was not an art house theater either — it was just a regular theater where they got stuff for the weekend. Sometimes, they were things that were inappropriate together. I remember seeing Superman and California Split, which is a Robert Altman movie, together and just saying, “What is this about?”

I remember the worst double feature ever. My mother took us to see it. It was What’s the Matter With Helen? which is a really, really creepy movie, sort of like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? — I think it’s written by the same person [Henry Farrell] — with Debbie Reynolds and Shelley Winters, and Shelley Winters is a homicidal maniac and it’s really, really scary. I saw that with A Man for All Seasons.

In between the two movies, you’d get popcorn and watch the adults smoking in front of the theater and you’d be like, “Well, let’s just go in and see whatever the movie is.” The one thing that I don’t have, which a lot of the theater-going pre-DVD, pre-VHS public does have, is that I will not walk into the movie in the middle. But my parents and that generation, they’ll just go in. I’ve never had any tolerance for that.

In Baltimore, before that, we’d do a lot of drive-ins. My parents didn’t like violence and it was a time, post-Bonnie and Clyde, of very violent movies, but they did not have a problem with sex. There was no consideration for that at all. So, I remember I was taken to see Shampoo in the theater — I must’ve been nine. I saw Cabaret when I was seven. I’m sure it had an effect on me, but to us it was just a movie. We’d go to the drive-in, see what’s playing, and then, “OK, we’re going to see Patton.”

One movie that I saw during that era which was not appropriate for children and was an influence on Are You Here is Five Easy Pieces, which is a very twisty, turny movie, where you never know what’s going to happen and it starts off in one genre and it peels off layer after layer, all the way down to a very personal, intimate experience for Jack Nicholson’s character that has to with his father. Now, in many ways — though I know it appears to be about the state of the culture at that time, which I guess it certainly is — it’s really about substance abuse and a character who does not want to feel things. That is something that I was very interested in when I was writing Are You Here And certainly, when we made it, I made everybody watch it.

RT: Your movie has such a great cast.

Weiner: It’s a dream cast. They’re all doing things that they haven’t done before, but you should feel you have permission to laugh. It’s a little bit genre-bending.

RT: So do you have a taste for directing movies now? Do you think this will be a big part of your life?

Weiner: I assume that it will be a part of my creative life in the future. I direct a lot on the show as well. Sometimes when you think of a story idea, you don’t know what form it will take. Is it a one-act play? Is it a series? Is it a movie? For me, I do it by the idea, and I don’t really think of them in different forms. In the end, they all just end up getting watched on people’s phones, don’t they?

Are You Here opens Aug. 22 in select theaters.

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