The Safdie Brothers are a directing duo like no other.
New Yorker brothers Benny and Josh were the brainchildren of the glorious Uncut Gems, a project which not only arrived as one of the films of the year but one that also breathed new life into Adam Sandler’s acting career, saw the comedian prove he has a much more versatile range to his acting abilities on the biggest of stages.
Uncut Gems was the much-adored follow-up to their last collaboration on 2017’s Good Time, a film which starred Robert Pattinson as a bank robber desperately trying to get enough money to pay for bail for his developmentally disabled brother. The film received critical praise and was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or in the main competition section at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.
The year of 2009 would see the brothers create their first feature film together in the shape of Daddy Longlegs and, since that moment, the creative duo has grown into its own. Now recognised as two of the most sought after brains in Hollywood, we are re-visiting their chat with Rotten Tomatoes from earlier this year and explore what each Safdie said were their five favourite films that have inspired there work.
Expect to see Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Abbas Kiarostami and more.
See the full list, below.
Josh Safdies’ 5 Favourite Films:
Bicycle Thieves – Vittorio De Sica, 1948
This is a 1948 Italian neorealist drama film directed by Vittorio De Sica. It follows the story of a poor father searching post-World War II Rome for his stolen bicycle, without which he will lose the job which was to be the salvation of his young family.
“First of all, it’s arguably the greatest film in the father-son series. It’s one of the bits of a neo-realist masterpiece,” Josh said of the film.
“The way that De Sica aligned it with his casting and the themes of his movie is always an inspiration. The fact that he saw Lamberto Maggiorani at the audition, that he showed up with his son — he’s a factory worker who showed up with his son — he immediately said, ‘Oh, this is the guy who needs to play the character’. And the fact that he cast the kid, Enzo, off of the street while they were filming, who was selling flowers for his father.”
Goodfellas – Martin Scorsese, 1990
Martin Scorsese’s 1990 masterpiece which documents the rise and fall of mob associate Henry Hill and his friends and family from 1955 to 1980.
Discussing his selection, Josh commented: “Goodfellas has the capability of condensing and expanding time at the same moment. It has the ability to at once sensationalize and also criticise the actions of the characters. You go from fearing to loving them at the same time.
“It has the courage to put Ray Liotta in the lead role of that film after seeing him as a supporting player in Something Wild, which is transcendent.”
Close-Up – Abbas Kiarostami, 1999
This is a 1990 Iranian docufiction which was written, directed and edited by Abbas Kiarostami — it tells the story of the real-life trial of a man who impersonated Iranian film-maker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, that conned a family into thinking they would be the stars of his next project.
“He used real life as a script, and you’re watching the real players re-enact something that happened recently in their life, and the result is magical,” Josh told Rotten Tomatoes of his selection. “The result is something that only film can give you. It makes you question your own self. It makes you question, what is a personality? It makes you question empathy. Because you start to actually see that this guy is actually a great actor, the main guy. And then you have one of the most complicated moments in all movies, when Makhmalbaf himself picks up the guy from the prison and rides on a motorcycle through Tehran. Masterpiece.”
Dog Day Afternoon – Sidney Lumet, 1975
An American biographical crime drama film directed by Sidney Lumet, which stars Al Pacino, John Cazale, James Broderick, and Charles Durning.
The film chronicles the events following a bank robbery committed by Sonny Wortzik (Pacino) and Salvatore Naturale (Cazale).
“First of all, it’s just a beautiful portrait of an outlier community,” Josh commented. “The homosexual community at a specific time in New York, and that niche, there were these tough guys. They were going to do anything for their dream, anything — rob a bank. But nothing they do goes right. But watching him get wrapped up in his own ego and the drama of it and the romance; it’s one of the most romantic movies I’ve ever seen.”
2001: A Space Odyssey – Stanley Kubrick, 1968
Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi masterpiece was inspired by Arthur C. Clarke’s 1951 short story The Sentinel and other short stories by Clarke. The film follows a voyage to Jupiter with the sentient computer HAL after the discovery of a featureless alien monolith affecting human evolution, deals with themes of existentialism, human evolution, technology, artificial intelligence, and the possibility of extraterrestrial life.
“I saw the movie as a teenager and I loved it, but I didn’t know why I loved it,” Josh said. “I loved it because it just felt like a gargantuan document about time and the history of time, but I didn’t really understand it. Then I saw it again probably in my mid-20s, and the part that I glommed on most to was — and this was pre-AI, basically pre-Siri; you could imagine me thinking about 2001 in the age of Siri. But then I watched it again probably two years ago, and it absolutely transformed itself, and I started to take different meaning from it. And I realised that, ultimately, what it was saying is that we are the aliens, and that curiosity, mankind’s curiosity, is what actually leads to our own demise in a deep, deep way.”
Benny Safdie’s 5 Favourite Films:
Nashville – Robert Altman, 1975
This is a satirical musical comedy film directed by Robert Altman which follows various people involved in the country and gospel music businesses in Nashville, Tennessee, over a five-day period, leading up to a gala concert for a populist outsider running for President for the Replacement Party.
Commenting in his first selection, Benny said: “It’s such a world that I didn’t know about, and you have all of these insane concerts in real-time with all of these people. All of these emotions and ideas all happening within the performances, and everything is happening almost at the same time. And I just kept sitting there, like, how did he do this? And it just kept happening, scene after scene.”
A Man Escaped – Robert Bresson, 1956
This is a French film directed by Robert Bresson, which is based on the memoirs of André Devigny, a member of the French Resistance held in Montluc prison by the occupying Germans during World War II.
“That has to be my favourite movie of all time, just because it always makes me cry at the end, because I feel like I’ve achieved something that the character achieves,” Benny said. “And it tells you what happens in the title, and it makes it no less suspenseful the entire way. You’re literally feeling the sound of the gravel as he puts his foot down — those shots of the foot or the spoon going into the slot.
“All of these things, the editing of it, the character, the way he’s using these actors who you don’t really know, they just — you feel like they’re real people.”
Milestones – John Douglas, Robert Kramer, 1975
This a 1975 American drama film directed by Robert Kramer and John Douglas, which offers a portrait of those individuals who sought radical solutions to social problems in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s.
“Basically, this movie put within me emotions and memories that I never had, and I was feeling them in the theatre as if I had them,” he explained. “There’s a scene where John Douglas is playing – I think he’s playing the saxophone, and the other guy is doing some ceramics, and it’s just such a happy moment, and it’s so small. But in that moment, I’m just with them 100%, and then there’s a birth in the movie, and the birth, you’re feeling elated. “
City Lights – Charlie Chaplin, 1931
Charlie Chaplin’s silent rom-com that follows the misadventures of Chaplin’s Tramp character as he falls in love with a blind girl and develops a stormy friendship with an alcoholic millionaire.
“It has all of the perfect acting and physical comedy,” Benny explained. “But then there’s this pathos to that main character that is just so deep, and you feel it, and it has so many jokes. It’s one of his movies that has a lot of good jokes in it, you know, from the boxing to the cigar.
“Here you have this guy that’s this hobo driving a Rolls Royce, pushing another hobo out of the way to get the cigar. And it’s just, it’s one of those funny things.”
The French Connection – William Friedkin, 1971
An American action-thriller film directed by William Friedkin, it is based on Robin Moore’s 1969 non-fiction book ‘The French Connection’. It tells the story of New York Police Department detectives Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle and Buddy ‘Cloudy’ Russo, who are in pursuit of wealthy French heroin smuggler Alain Charnier.
“It’s one of the most incredible cop movies and pulp movies there is,” Safdie commented. “The camera work, Gene Hackman, the shots from up on the rooftop looking down. That chase scene alone puts it on this list. You hear how they made that movie, and you really feel the bare hands that went into that thing, and it just reset how you make a movie like that. You know, totally changed the game on that level.”