“Black Narcissus,” Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
“The Red Shoes,” Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
“A Matter of Life And Death,” Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
“I Know Where I'm Going!” Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
“45 Years,” Andrew Haigh
“Pather Panchali,” Satyajit Ray
“Aparajito,” Satyajit Ray
“Apur Sansar,” Satyajit Ray
“A Brighter Summer Day,” Edward Yang
“Yi Yi,” Edward Yang
“The Piano Teacher,” Michael Haneke
“Naked,” Mike Leigh
“Topsy Turvy,” Mike Leigh
“The Age of Innocence,” Martin Scorsese
“8½,” Federico Fellini
Ari Aster’s breakout feature debut “Hereditary” has turned him into one of the hottest indie directors working today. You can tell while watching the A24-backed horror film that Aster is an avid cinephile, and he recently revealed some of his favorite movies and influences to The Criterion Collection.
Aster says Bergman’s “Persona” made the biggest impact on him growing up. “It adopts a dream logic in a really forward-thinking way, and like Altman’s ‘Three Women,’ is an example of a proto-Lynchian dream movie,” he explains. Aster looked at the nightmare logic of “Persona” while making “Hereditary.”
“‘Cries and Whispers’ strikes me as the most painful and beautiful film about death and sisterhood,” Aster says. The filmmaker screened the movie for the entire “Hereditary” crew before production started, since both films deal with themes of suffering.
Aster’s final Bergman selection is his four-time Oscar winner “Fanny and Alexander.” “His films are entertainments — they’re fun, and they’re beautiful,” Aster says of Bergman. “I feel like he has a reputation for being a forbidding director, but I find him to be as inviting as a filmmaker like that could possibly be.”
Aster refers to Polanski as “the master of the camera adjustment.” “‘Cul-de-sac’ is like his existential Beckett movie,” he says, “and it draws a lot from absurd theater.”
“I return to Polanski’s early films to get excited about blocking and also adjusting the camera in relation to blocking,” Aster says. The director mentions he has learned a lot about the art of directing from Polanski movies like “Repulsion.”
“‘Repulsion’ and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ play with genre so brilliantly, upending conventions while honoring them,” Aster says. The director tried to follow this tradition with his own genre effort, “Hereditary.”
Polanski adapted Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” in 1971, and Aster praises the way the director used the text to respond to his own life, specifically the Manson murders in 1969. Polanski’s wife at the time, Sharon Tate, was murdered in August of that year. “‘Macbeth always struck me as one of his masterpieces,” Aster says, “and it’s clearly haunted by the Manson murders in a very visceral way.”
“‘Sansho the Bailiff’ is just one of the most devastating melodramas I’ve ever seen,” Aster says of Mizoguchi’s 1954 period drama. The movie is based on Mori Ōgai’s short story and centers around two children sold into slavery.
Aster calls “Ugetsu” a “beautiful, ethereal ghost story.” The director notes his love for Mizoguchi began after he heard the filmmaker was a favorite of Martin Scorsese. “His films are quiet while also being extremely harsh and brutal,” Aster says. “There’s a clinical, distant quality to his films, but there’s also this aching humanity at the heart of everything he did.”
“The Life of Oharu” is Aster’s final Mizoguchi selection: “He called the Academy ratio the ‘painterly ratio,’ and I feel like there are very few filmmakers who did as much with that frame.”
Powell and Pressburger’s “Black Narcissus” is set in a community of nuns high in the Himalayas that is disrupted by the arrival of a beautiful native girl and a young general. Aster says few directors utilized spaces within a set like the directing duo.
“I’m always thinking about the Powell and Pressburger films when I’m thinking about color and about creating worlds,” Aster says. The duo’s 1948 classic “The Red Shows” is also a favorite of Aster’s filmmaking hero, Martin Scorsese.
Aster also says he looks to Powell and Pressburger films such as “A Matter of Life and Death” when he’s trying to understand how to “tell a story as exuberantly as possible.”
Aster says his “love with building sets and shooting on them” comes from the films of Powell and Pressburger. In order to film “Hereditary,” Aster built the entire Graham family home on a sound stage.
Andrew Haigh’s devastating marriage drama is the most recent film included on Aster’s list. “I think the last shot of ’45 Years’ is one of the all-time great shots,” he says. “I feel confident in saying that even though it just came out a few years ago.”
Another Martin Scorsese favorite that Aster adores is Satyajit Ray’s landmark Apu Trilogy. The director calls the movies an “important discovery” for him growing up. “This is such a fascinating trilogy about a boy who has cursed his family and brings death and destruction to everybody he loves — or at least it feels that way,” Aster says.
“Of course it’s about a million other things,” Aster continues about the trilogy, “and in the end it’s about everything.” The Apu Trilogy follows the coming of age of a young Bengali boy (Apurba Kumar Roy) in the early part of the 20th century.
“I love ‘The Music Room’ and so many of Ray’s other films, but there is no overstating how wonderful these three are,” Aster says of the Apu Trilogy.
“‘A Brighter Summer Day’ is just an amazing gangland epic,” Aster says of Yang’s 1991 drama, which was selected as Taiwan’s official Oscar entry. “I don’t know how you watch it without becoming convinced that you’re watching the greatest movie ever made. It’s like ‘The Godfather’ in that way.”
Aster praises Yang’s movies for saying “just about everything you can about life without ever getting high-minded about it.” “All of the stories being told in ‘Yi Yi’ are kind of unremarkable — it’s the telling that is so remarkable,” he explains.
Aster calls Isabelle Huppert in Haneke’s “The Piano Teacher” his favorite female performance of all time. “I remember thinking, ‘I want to make movies like that,'” he remembers about seeing the movie for the first time at age 14. “The actors are giving great performances while still being very clinical and brutal in their rejection of sentimentality.”
David Thewis in Leigh’s “Naked” is Aster’s favorite male performance of all time. “There’s nothing like it,” Aster says. “It’s a bleak film, but it’s so filled with life and passion and it’s so funny.”
“Leigh is an inspiration but not an influence,” Aster says of the director. “I go to his films just to remind myself what I want out of movies about people…I go to his films to pull myself a little bit out of genre and remember what it is that makes us care about any story in the first place — the people at the heart of it.”
Aster is a huge fan of Scorsese and thinks the director’s “The Age of Innocence” is his best work. “It’s one of the most painfully beautiful unrequited love stories ever,” Aster says. “It’s Scorsese’s Max Ophuls movie, and the best Ophuls movie that Ophuls never made.”
Aster says “8½” is Fellini’s most “freewheeling and untethered” work. “I watch this film before I make anything,” Aster explains. “It’s so alive! Even though it’s about a director experiencing a directorial version of writer’s block, it’s so inspired.”
Image: Shutterstock/Criterion Collection/IFC Films