Edward Norton is somewhat of an oddity in Hollywood. He is instantly recognisable and has anchored some of the best films of recent times, but he is far from the archetypal frontman. The same paradox pervades over the fact that he also seems just as at home in indie cinema as he does in blockbusters. In short, he’s a great actor with an eye for a script that fits.
Thankfully, for the sake of recommendations (and indeed this article), he proves just as good at judging films that he isn’t set to star in. While promoting the 2010 Walt Whitman adaptation film Leaves of Grass that he starred in, he kindly doled out five of his favourite films of all time. All of them are absolutely superb outings, and even better, he benevolently chose some that people may never have seen before.
“A favourite film that you might have never heard of is Ruggles of Red Gap,” he began. “It’s a 1935 film starring Charles Laughton. It’s about a British butler who gets lost in a card game to a western rancher and he finds himself in America. It’s a comedy classic and I discovered that film by watching the Coen brothers movie Barton Fink where one character says to the other, ‘What the hell do you think this is? Hamlet? Gone With the Wind? Ruggles of Red Gap? It’s a god damn b-picture!’ I didn’t know what that meant so I looked it up and I watched the picture and it’s a classic!”
His next pick was somewhat more of a classic: “Number four, that you might not have seen is Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf with Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. It’s the great play by Edward Alby made into really one of the great performance films of all time, and it’s not to be missed.” The 1966 epic saw both Liz Taylor and Sandy Dennis pick up Oscars for their performances making it a firm actor’s favourite.
“Number three is a Japanese film called Tampopo by the director Juzo Itami,” he continued. “A lot of people never got to see it in America but really it is one of my favourite movies of all time. Tampopo is sometimes called a noodle western because it’s about a woman’s search to make the perfect ramen noodle and Japanese cowboy who helps her on her quest. It’s hard to even quantify what’s great about this movie.” It’s certainly niche, but its loving heart makes it well worth a watch.
Next up was another classic, and a personal favourite of my own to betray an opinion. “Number two might be The King of Comedy, Martin Scorsese’s film with Robert De Niro,” he declared. “Lots of people, of course, will talk about Taxi Driver or Raging Bull as the great films made by Scorsese and De Niro but I think The King of Comedy belongs right up in that group. It is one of De Niro’s great performances as Rupert Pupkin as a demented aspiring comedy. It is one of the greatest commentaries about America and fame and it just has legendary performances by Jerry Lewis and Sandra Bernhard in addition to De Niro, so check out The King of Comedy.”
Once more, though Norton returns to a rather more esoteric field for his final pick. “My last film on my list would be The Cruise which is a documentary by a friend of mine named Bennett Miller. Bennett is better known for having been nominated for Best Director for directing Capote, but The Cruise is a documentary he made about a tour boat driver in New York and his philosophy of life.”
Adding: “It is not only one of my favourite films about New York, but I think it is one of the best examinations of what it means to be young and trying to find yourself in the world that I have ever seen. It is an absolutely beautiful film.” It is a documentary filled with a perfect blend of eccentric characters, unexpected incidents, but enough inherent charm not to rely on some fictional narrative.
Edward Norton’s five favourite films:
- Ruggles of Red Gap
- Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf
- The King of Comedy
- The Cruise