There may be no other director in the modern industry who has worked with as many iconic pop-culture figures as filmmaker Gus Van Sant, with the pioneering director, producer, photographer and musician having long forged his own path at the very forefront of contemporary pop culture.
A prominent auteur of the New Queer Cinema movement throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Van Sant stood out as a major creative figure, allowing him to collaborate with such names as David Bowie, Keanu Reeves, River Phoenix, Matt Dillon, William S. Burroughs, Tracy Chapman, Elton John and Allen Ginsberg.
Nominated for two Academy Awards for both the critically acclaimed Good Will Hunting of 1997 and Milk of 2008, Van Sant would also win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2003 for his provocative movie Elephant. Never afraid to push the boundaries of taste and challenge audiences to confront complex subject matters, this has led Van Sant to forge a formidable filmography containing some of the most culturally pertinent movies of modern cinema.
Whilst his style and form is most certainly unique, no filmmaker makes themselves out of nothing, with several movies informing Van Sant’s style over the years. Listing his favourite movies at Screen Doctor, the American director’s tastes are predictably eclectic, including classic and cult filmmakers from across the world who have each helped shape the industry.
Of the director’s eight picks, some of the most notable include Larry Clark’s iconic coming-of-age movie Kids, written by a young Harmony Korine. The controversial film portraying the impact of drugs and sex on young impressionable New York teenagers became an influential cult classic upon its release, providing a realistic tale of America’s forgotten youth in the midst of the AIDS epidemic.
Orson Welles’ influential 1941 film Citizen Kane also gets a spot on the list. Often recalled as the greatest film of all time, Welles’ masterpiece, following a publishing tycoon and his troubled past, is a wealthy illustration of the American Dream in all its glory and shortcomings. Presenting a deeply flawed lead character, made fragile by his own success, the film, no doubt, had an effect on how Van Sant constructs his complicated characters.
The cinematic meditation of Béla Tarr’s Satantango is included too, with the seven-and-a-half-hour drama, based on the book of the same name by László Krasznahorkai, famous for its ambition and grandiose narrative storytelling. The story follows the residents of a collapsing collective farm who see their plans turn into desolation when they discover that Irimiás, a former co-worker who they thought was dead, is returning to the community.
Gus Van Sant’s favourite movies:
- Broken Blossoms (D.W. Griffith, 1919)
- Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)
- Kids (Larry Clark, 1995)
- The Last of England (Derek Jaman, 1988)
- The Palm Beach Story (Preston Sturges, 1942)
- Satantango (Béla Tarr, 1994)
- Sunrise (F.W.Murnau, 1927)
- Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, 2008)
The final film we’ll pick out of the eight is Charlie Kaufman’s incredible Synecdoche, New York, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his most enigmatic roles. Playing a theatre director who struggles with his work and relationships whilst he constructs a life-size replica of New York, the film stands out as one of his greatest ever roles.