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Jonathan Glazer's 10 favourite films of all time


“I want to change things with everything I do, not for the sake of changing things, but for the sake of taking greater and greater risks.” – Jonathan Glazer

It takes a truly outstanding filmmaker to be among the very best despite having only released three films, but after Jonathan Glazer’s 2013 masterpiece Under the Skin, he established himself as one of the most important voices in contemporary cinema. The sheer synthesis of innovative storytelling techniques together with a masterful ability to pull together technical aspects of sound and cinematography, fuelled by an experimental soundtrack from Mica Levi, makes the film one of the best of the 21st century. 

Though when it comes to his inspirations, despite having seemingly gained influence from Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth, Glazer comments that, when it comes to cinema, he prefers to look abroad. Speaking to Hank Sartin in 2014, the filmmaker noted, “I think I feel closer to Russian cinema and Italian cinema, actually, than I do to British cinema. French cinema as well. We’re known for our music, not our films in England…I think filmmakers are a bit of a troubled bunch in England”. 

Instead, discussing his love of science fiction in the same interview, Glazer highlights the best of the genre remain “somehow inscrutable”, stating: “I am thinking of, 2001: A Space Odyssey of course. Something remains unfathomable or inscrutable about the ideas. Not inscrutable, but just philosophical”.

So philosophical and layered with technical prowess that Jonathan Glazer includes 2001: A Space Odyssey on the list of his ten favourite films, a Kubrick classic similarly psychedelic to his sci-fi Under the Skin. The epic film provides a blueprint as aspiration for just how grand a sci-fi story should aim, tackling themes of human morality, forbidden discovery and the very dawn of man. 

Kubrick’s film may be the most mainstream choice on Glazer’s list, with his next choice in his top ten being Luis Buñuel’s L’Age d’Or, a surreal tale of a man and woman who are passionately in love but fail to sleep together due to the influence of their families and oppressive society. The second collaboration between Buñuel and Salvador Dalí, L’Age d’Or is a set of bizarre sequences that question modern life with no natural logic, considered as one of the first true surrealist films. Buñuel’s film would’ve, no doubt, had an effect on Federico Fellini’s surreal drama 8½, the third choice in Glazer’s top ten, which follows a film director who retreats into his past memories and fantasies. Asked about the film upon its release, Fellini stated that he wished to convey three levels “on which our minds live: the past, the present, and the conditional – the realm of fantasy”. 

Au hasard Balthazar makes the fourth spot on Glazer’s top ten, a film from the great Robert Bresson about a mistreated donkey and those that take care and live their lives around him. Commenting on the filmmaker’s legacy, the director notes: “It’s his commitment as an artist, it’s his insight, his wisdom. Incredible filmmaker…when he was making these films, he was just a man struggling with his own artistic journey”.

His fifth choice is not a film, but a TV series from the acclaimed German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Berlin Alexanderplatz is set in the late-1920s in Berlin and follows Franz Biberkopf, an individual released from prison who vows to go straight but soon finds himself once more embroiled in the criminal underworld. It’s a seminal series, masterfully put together by Fassbinder, with Glazer explaining, “Fassbinder I love. People who are just on their tip, you know? People who are doing their thing”. His love of European cinema continues with Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew, his sixth choice, a film that follows the life of Jesus Christ according to the Gospel of Matthew, presenting the iconic figure as a Marxist revolutionary. The innovative film is a visually rich though strange and often disturbing story, no wonder it inspired Glazer for Under the Skin

What would a list of great European directors be without the great Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, with Glazer picking out his 1975 film The Mirror as his pick of the bunch. The director’s fourth film is a loosely autobiographical one that follows a dying man in his forties recalling his past, including his childhood, relationship with his mother and the personal moments that make up his life. Deeply emotional, The Mirror is an introspective epic that explores the vast universe of the inner soul.

One of silent cinema’s greatest ever films is famously known as Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, a historical epic that pushes the rudimentary medium as far as it could possibly go. Dreyer’s film is set in 1431 and follows the titular Joan when she is placed on trial on charges of heresy, with the jurists attempting to force her to recant her claims of fantastical visions. Commenting on his aims for the film, Dreyer stated: “I wanted to interpret a hymn to the triumph of the soul over life,” a goal he certainly achieves. 

As per Esquire, take a look at the full list of Jonathan Glazer’s top 10 favourite films below, recorded in no particular order.

Jonathan Glazer’s Top 10 Favourite Films:

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968) 
  • L’Âge d’or (Luis Buñuel, 1930) 
  • (Federico Fellini, 1963) 
  • Au hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson, 1966) 
  • Berlin Alexanderplatz (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1980)
  • The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1964) 
  • The Mirror (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1974) 
  • The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1928) 
  • Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)
  • Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950) 

Ingmar Bergman’s Persona is the penultimate film on Glazer’s list, a classic drama from the Swedish master of cinema. The film itself is a psychological challenge following a nurse put in charge of a mute actress before quickly discovering that their personae are melding together.

A classic of European cinema, it’s no wonder that it appears in Glazer’s collection of favourites, showing shades of comparison with his own 2004 film Birth. The monochrome beauty of 1950 samurai film Rashomon joins Persona as the final addition to the list, a simple film that follows the rape of a bride and the murder of her husband, recalled from four different perspectives, the killer, the bride, the samurai’s ghost and a woodcutter.

From the iconic Akira Kurosawa, the director once noted: “I like silent pictures and I always have… I wanted to restore some of this beauty. I thought of it, I remember in this way: one of the techniques of modern art is simplification, and that I must therefore simplify this film”.

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