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From David Lynch to Federico Fellini: Tom Waits' 14 favourite art films of all time

At a time when cinemas and live music venues are slowly being reintroduced after the prolonged period of pandemic closure, we’re dipping back into the Far Out vault to provide a moment of light entertainment of arthouse pictures that deserve the big screen. Here, we take in some wisdom from the great artist and mercurial singer Mr Tom Waits.

That deep, gravelly and uncompromising voice has made him a favourite with acclaimed filmmakers such as the Coen Brothers, Jim Jarmusch and more in recent years, Waits’ stock as an actor is rising. Considering his love for artists such as Captain Beefheart and Lounge Lizards, it should come as little surprise that Waits’ arthouse film taste is just as eclectic. It makes for an awe-inspiring watch list and one that we think would provide a sincere education in cinema for anybody.

Waits’ own stock as an actor is rising. With appearances in films such as The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Coffee and Cigarettes, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and more, Waits’ filmography is growing in popularity as his cult following track his career through music and cinema.

A little while back, while in conversation with Criterion, Waits detailed 14 of his most loved art films in a list that was compiled by Chris Ambrosio and included Federico Fellini, Carl Theodor Dreyer and more.

Waits once said: “Mostly, I straddle reality and the imagination. My reality needs imagination like a bulb needs a socket. My imagination needs reality like a blind man needs a cane.” So, with that in mind, here are some of the films that have guided Waits imagination through the years.

Waits, clearly a huge fan of Federico Fellini, includes three of the Italian’s now-iconic films in his list, with some apparently influencing his own seminal work, Swordfishtrombones. Similarly, Waits found it too difficult to single out any specifics from the filmography of Carl Theodor Dreyer.

David Lynch gets a mention, as does the great Akira Kurosawa who many regard as one of the best film directors of all time.

When divulging in this list, it’s best to listen to the words of Waits himself: “We are buried beneath the weight of information, which is being confused with knowledge; quantity is being confused with abundance and wealth with happiness.”

Take of that what you will.

With the likes of Federico Fellini, David Lynch and more, see the list, below an gather yourself up a searing watch list.

Tom Waits’ Favourite Films:

  • La Strada, Federico Fellini, (1954)
  • Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman, (2003)
  • Putney Swope, Robert Downey, Sr., (1969)
  • Everything by Carl Theodor Dreyer (1955)
  • Amarcord, Federico Fellini (1973)
  • 8 ½, Federico Fellini (1963)
  • The Night of the Hunter, Charles Laughton (1955)
  • Wise Blood, John Huston (1979)
  • Two-Lane Blacktop, Monte Hellman (1971)
  • Eraserhead, David Lynch (1977)
  • Pickup on South Street, Samuel Fuller (1953)
  • Ikiru, Akira Kurosawa (1952)
  • Vernon, Florida, Errol Morris (1981)
  • In a Lonely Place, Nicholas Ray (1950)