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Damien Chazelle’s Top Ten Films

This November, we profile first-time filmmaker Damien Chazelle whose micro-budgeted Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench has charmed critics and found itself on several Best Undistributed Films Lists of 2009. Via Variance Films, his film is finally receiving its theatrical debut this November 5th at the Cinema Village in New York City. Below, you’ll find Damien’s top ten list as of November 2010 — a nice mix of films of retro and contemporary films ranging between studio films and obscure short film titles.

Have you ever wondered what are the films that inspire the next generation of visionary filmmakers? As part of our monthly IONCINEPHILE profile, we ask the filmmaker the incredibly arduous task of identifying their top ten list of favorite films. This November, we profile first-time filmmaker Damien Chazelle whose micro-budgeted Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench has charmed critics and found itself on several Best Undistributed Films Lists of 2009. Via Variance Films, his film is finally receiving its theatrical debut this November 5th at the Cinema Village in New York City. Below, you’ll find Damien’s top ten list as of November 2010 — a nice mix of films of retro and contemporary films ranging between studio films and obscure short film titles. Here is Damien Chazelle’s Top Ten in his own words.

 

Barry Lyndon – Stanley Kubrick (1975)
“Ok, here’s a thing that really bothers me: the rap on Kubrick’s cinema as unemotional. There’s a difference between actors doing a lot of heavy “emoting” and a movie being emotional. Barry Lyndon is one of the most emotional movies ever made. Every frame cries out: it’s a film throbbing with pain, with regret, with anger. That its heart beats so loudly beneath such a placid surface—all those painting-like shots and that funny narrator—only makes the film that much more exhilarating. When Marisa Berenson writes her signature in the last scene, signing away all ties to her former husband, you can feel a whole world coming to an end.”

Beauty and the Beast – Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise (1993) 
“I’d say Black and Tan Fantasy is the first great Hollywood musical, and that Beauty and the Beast is the last (as of yet). Yes, it’s a cartoon, but it owes just as much to MGM as to Miyazaki. Look at those dancing spoons, like Busby Berkeley chorines, or that French village coming to life, like something out of “An American in Paris”. By the time Lumière announces that the dishes around him can sing and dance, I start balling. There’s such joy in this movie—the kind of pure, ecstatic joy you find in the greatest musicals—that it makes you cry. We all tend to get down on Hollywood, but a movie like this is a reminder of what the “factory” does better than anyone else.”

Black and Tan Dudley Murphy Damien Chazelle

Black and Tan – Dudley Murphy (1929 – 19mins)  
“Dudley Murphy is one of the greatest directors of all time. And almost no one’s heard of him. I will always be lobbying for this guy. I could have picked St. Louis Blues, The Emperor Jones, or Ballet mécanique—all masterpieces—but out of his movies this one has a special place in my heart. It’s a two-reeler, 1929—one of those early sound movies where sound still feels like a novelty, like something weird and wild and wonderful. And when Duke Ellington starts playing the piano, and Arthur Whetsel picks up his horn, and Fredi Washington smiles because the tune reminds her of something, or just speaks to her in some way—it’s one of those great magical moments in movies, up there with Fred and Ginger dancing, John Wayne shooting, and Cary Grant talking.” 

City Lights – Charlie Chaplin (1931)
“The greatest movie ever made? I don’t know—but I can say for certain that while other entries on this list might shift, this will always be up there for me. The way the Tramp looks at the Flower Girl at the end, and the way she looks at him… The way we almost seem to fade to black on her face, but cut to the Tramp a hair before… You know what, scratch what I just said: this is the greatest movie ever made. Period.”

 

The Fugitive – Andrew Davis (1993)
“Hollywood perfection. It’s genre as a vehicle for something bigger: loneliness, the way cities can choke us, the way people can help each other, save each other… And it’s got a killer closing fight. I’ll always remember the first time I saw that chair coming down out of nowhere and cracking against Harrison Ford’s back. Great action cinema—and the closest modern movies have come to the genre heyday of Ford and Boetticher and Mann.”

Histoire(s) du cinéma – Jean-Luc Godard (1988)
“This giant video piece is free association at its finest, one idea spawning three others, those three spawning nine, minute by minute, the whole thing growing until it’s too big to sustain itself. It’s a monument of a movie, the Chartres Cathedral of cinema. (That might sound ridiculous, but it’s actually kind of fitting.) Consider it the greatest movie by the greatest movie-watcher of all.”

Hospital Frederick Wiseman Damien Chazelle

Hospital – Frederick Wiseman (1970)
“If there’s anything that made me fall in love with black-and-white 16mm, it’s this movie. The grain, the texture, the way it shapes the images it captures. It’s a sad film, full of miserable people. But it’s also a glimpse of humanity at its most noble: doctors, nurses, and staff, quiet and patient, trying their best to help patients. Their efforts don’t always pay off, and aren’t always enough—but out of the Wiseman films I’ve seen, this is the one that moves me the most.”

Jazz Dance – Roger Tilton (1954 – 22 mins)
“I’ve only seen this movie once, on a beat-up VHS with bad audio, but it’s stuck with me ever since. Ricky Leacock shot it, and it’s simplicity itself: just a night of dancing, a jazz band playing some tunes and a few happy couples taking to the floor. But I’ll never forget those images: the big cheeks of the trumpet players, the sweat on the dancers’ foreheads, the feet flying and the hands clapping. It’s some kind of perfect movie.”  

Point Break – Kathryn Bigelow (1991)
“Ok, a lot of people find this movie goofy. Which I guess it is. But so is Gone With the Wind. And I actually think Bigelow’s film fits into that same tradition—of go-for-broke Hollywood moviemaking, of sweep-you-off-your-feet emotion, of sheer spectacle. It’s a great Hollywood film because it’s a great love story. Instead of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler we get Johnny Utah and Bodhi. But the sparks still fly. And when the two face off at the end on that rain-soaked Australian beach, the waves crashing behind them, it’s like something out of Nicholas Ray. Beneath the jokes and the explosions, I think this is actually a very sad movie, about guys struggling to feel alive. It’s the less respectable version of The Hurt Locker.

Twentynine Palms – Bruno Dumont (2004)
“After Jaws I was afraid of the ocean. After Psycho I was afraid of the shower. After Twentynine Palms I was afraid of the highway. I think those three movies would make a great horror trilogy, actually. I’d call it: America Is A Scary Fucking Place. Dumont’s film takes the road trip movie and twists it inside out. Sometimes it takes a foreigner to make you look at your country with new (and very troubled) eyes.”

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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