When you talk to Mathew Weiner—as I did at Toronto a year ago when he premiered his ill-fated movie directing debut, “Are You Here,” an amiable buddy comedy starring Owen Wilson and Zach Galifianakis, and again
just before the final season of “Mad Men
” ended, at L’Ermitage Hotel—you realize the USC film school grad loves movies. That’s where he’s coming from, in his references and inspirations. (His question “what’s the one movie and song that always makes you cry?” launches a long detour on “Stella Dallas” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”)
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Weiner dreamed up “Mad Men” 14 years ago–“it’s been a third of my life,” he told me. He shelved a film script about captains of industry who pulled themselves up from poverty, then wrote the “Mad Men” pilot, which persuaded David Chase to hire him for the last four and a half seasons of “The Sopranos” (Weiner wrote the bloody, pivotal penultimate “Blue Comet”). That experience informed how Weiner handled “Mad Men.” “I don’t want to leave anything on the table, I don’t want to pander,” he told me. “The characters are living breathing organisms on some level. I’ve always had things in mind of where they go. David Chase told me if you have something good, and you know it’s good, you can take your time getting there.”
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When AMC asked for a larger story to carry through “Mad Men,” Weiner came across his old movie script about power brokers like John D. Rockefeller with inauspicious backgrounds, class mobility and malleable identities, and finally realized the two were related. Characters like Conrad Hilton (Chelcie Ross) and other captains of industry turned up throughout the series.
So it’s no surprise that Weiner’s eclectic Top 10 contribution to Criterion’s lists casts a wide net. His choices date back to 1928, with Josef von Sternberg’s Russian imperialist drama “The Last Command,” and run the gamut of genres from all over the world—musicals, black-and-white dramas, documentaries, comedies, war movies. I suspect many erudite cinephiles have not seen all of these. I haven’t!
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Matthew Weiner’s Top Ten Criterion Films:
1. “The Last Command” (dir. Josef von Sternberg, 1928)
2. “Bitter Rice” (dir. Giuseppe De Santis, 1949)
3. “Ugetsu” (dir. Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953)
4. “Apur Sansar” (dir. Satyajit Ray, 1959)
5. “Belle du jour” (dir. Luis Buñuel, 1967)
6. “The Last Picture Show” (dir. Peter Bogdanovich, 1971)
7. “Wings of Desire” (dir. Wim Wenders, 1987)
8. “The Thin Blue Line” (dir. Errol Morris, 1988)
9. “Monty Python’s Life of Brian” (dir. Terry Jones, 1979)
10. “The Young Girls of Rochefort” (dir. Jacques Demy, 1967)
(tie) “All That Jazz” (dir. Bob Fosse, 1979)
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