One of the most exciting filmmakers on the scene, Sean Baker has produced some of the definitive masterpieces of the last decade, famously including Tangerine and The Florida Project. A graduate of NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts, Baker has gone on to explore the conditions of marginalised communities through his masterfully poetic works.
In an interview, Baker said that he saw himself as a political filmmaker but the current landscape was unflattering: “I don’t feel like I see enough of it going on in mainstream cinema and TV. I consider Moonlight a political film. I think Jordan Peele (director of Get Out) made an incredible achievement. He made a social thriller using a genre film to reach mainstream audiences and spark a discussion on race issues. So some of my peers definitely are doing it and I just want to be a part of that.”
Adding, “All of my films have something to do with the people left behind by the American Dream, living on the outskirts. These days, unfortunately, materialism has really taken its place. It’s more about success and image and money and consumerism. I think those who are the unfortunate by-product of that are the ones who are then forced to live in the shadows of it. The American Dream is a different thing these days. I think you can see, based on where the election went, where people’s heads are in terms of what they consider success – and that’s a very sad thing in my eyes.”
Criterion invited Baker to curate a collection of some of his favourite films of all time in order to provide his fans with better insights into his personal filmmaking journey. As expected, Baker is an admirer of cinema from all corners of the world. In his list, Baker paid tributes to seminal movements such as the French New Wave as well as contemporary filmmaking.
While talking about Mike Leigh’s magnum opus, Baker said: “Although Mike Leigh’s family dramas, such as High Hopes and Secrets & Lies, have had a more apparent influence on my work, Naked is my favourite film of Leigh’s. It’s in my top ten favourite films ever made. It’s an exhausting odyssey that never gets the characters (or the viewer) home again. ‘Tell me, love, are you aware of the effect you have on the average mammalian, Mancunian, XY-ly chromosome, slavering, lusty male member of the species?’ Now, that’s dialogue!”
He also cited a South Korean pioneer as one of the filmmakers he admires the most: “Lee Chang-dong is a living master. (I hope that Criterion puts out Oasis eventually—nudge, nudge.) Jeon Do-yeon delivers such a powerful performance. I wish I knew Korean, because I’m sure I would appreciate the film even more…which seems almost impossible because I adore it so.”
Check out some of the cinematic masterpieces that Sean Baker enjoys, ranging from New Hollywood masterpieces to criminally neglected gems from recent developments such as the South Korean New Wave.
See the full list below.
Sean Baker’s 10 favourite films:
- The films of John Cassavetes
- Naked (Mike Leigh, 1993)
- À nos amours (Maurice Pialat, 1983)
- The films of Éric Rohmer
- Secret Sunshine (Lee Chang-dong, 2007)
- Harold and Maude (Hal Ashby, 1971)
- RoboCop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987)
- Scenes from a Marriage (Ingmar Bergman, 1973)
- Rosetta (Dardenne brothers, 1999)
- Breaking the Waves (Lars von Trier, 1996)
Baker rounded off his list with a 1996 drama by Lars von Trier called Breaking the Waves which conducts a psychosexual examination of the human condition. The film also convinced Baker to break up with his own girlfriend when he first saw it.
The director explained: “So I was in a crowded New York City cinema in 1997 watching Breaking the Waves in absolute awe as my girlfriend talked through the entire film, joked with her friends, and continually jumped up and down for cigarette breaks. I realised at that moment that I was dumping her. Thank you, Lars, for helping me see the light.”