As Guillermo del Toro works away on his latest project, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, we decided to revisit some of the arthouse films that had a lasting impression on his cinematic outlook.
The Mexican director, who is arguably best known for his Academy Award-winning fantasy Pan’s Labyrinth, is a keen student of film and a Hollywood figure who has a deep admiration for some of the finest pictures of the past. For Del Toro, the obsession with film began at the age of eight as he played around with his father’s Super 8 camera, creating short films with Planet of the Apes toys.
Working his way through the film industry, Del Toro created 10 shorts before he finally secured the budget and experience to undertake his first feature film. While learning his craft, the filmmaker opted to enter the world of special effects, studying the art of make-up with special-effects which would result in a successful decade-long career. While directing was the ultimate aim, Del Toro wanted to remain true to his roots and his love for the celebration of work and, in 1986, co-founded the Guadalajara International Film Festival in order to recognise the work of his fellow Mexicans.
It’s clear that Mexican cinema has an understandably large section of his heart, Del Toro always remained clear on his vision and many internationally acclaimed directors throughout history have helped forge his opinion. With that in mind, the Criterion Collection approached the filmmaker to share his views on arthouse film, creating what should have been a list of ten films that hold a special place in his vision of great cinema.
The Criterion Collection, of course, is a famed film distribution company which focuses on licensing “important classic and contemporary films” before selling them to film aficionados and cinephiles. Del Toro, detailing his list on Criterion, lamented the “unfair, arbitrary, and sadistic top ten practise,” and decided he wasn’t playing along. Instead, The Shape of Water director opted for “thematic/authorial pairings” within his list.
Opening up, Del Toro picks out three films from the famed Akira Kurosawa, describing the iconic Japanese director as “being one of the essential masters is best represented by these, his most operatic, pessimistic, and visually spectacular films.”
Del Toro added on Kurosawa: “How he managed to be both exuberant and elegant at the same time will be one of life’s great mysteries.”
Elsewhere the Mexican filmmaker includes greats such as Ingmar Bergman, Jean Cocteau, Preston Sturges and two lesser-discussed Stanley Kubrick pictures. See the full list, below.
Guillermo del Toro’s top 10 arthouse films on the Criterion Collection:
- Throne of Blood – Akira Kurosawa, 1957.
—High and Low – Akira Kurosawa, 1963.
—Ran Akira – Akira Kurosawa, 1985
- The Seventh Seal – Ingmar Bergman, 1957.
—Fanny and Alexander: Theatrical Version – Ingmar Bergman, 2009.
- Beauty and the Beast – Jean Cocteau, 1946.
—Eyes Without a Face – Georges Franju, 1960.
- Great Expectations – David Lean, 1946.
—Oliver Twist – David Lean, 1948.
- Time Bandits – Terry Gilliam, 1981.
—Brazil – Terry Gilliam, 1985.
- Onibaba – Kaneto Shindo, 1964.
—Kuroneko – Kaneto Shindo, 1968.
- Spartacus – Stanley Kubrick, 1960.
—Paths of Glory – Stanley Kubrick, 1957.
- Sullivan’s Travels – Preston Sturges, 1941.
—Unfaithfully Yours – Preston Sturges, 1948.
- Vampyr – Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1938.
—Häxan – Benjamin Christensen, 1922.
- The Spirit of the Beehive – Víctor Erice, 1973.
—The Night of the Hunter – Charles Laughton, 1955.
With two inclusions of work from Swedish director, writer, and producer, Del Toro couldn’t hold back his admiration: “Bergman as a fabulist—my favourite—is absolutely mesmerising,” he explained in his Criterion list. “These two films have the primal pulse of a children’s fable told by an impossibly old and wise narrator.”
Despite opting for two Stanley Kubrick films which may not have taken the headlines throughout his career, Del Toro added: “Kubrick was a fearsome intellect. His approach to filmmaking and storytelling remains as mysterious as it is compelling.
“The illusion of control over the medium is total. Both films speak eloquently about the scale of a man against the tide of history, and both raise the bar for every “historical” film to follow.”
Click here to view the Criterion website and read Guillermo del Toro full explainers.