Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro is known for his gorgeous, poetic films, usually in the fantasy and horror genres. His movies range from cult classics (Pan’s Labyrinth) to Hollywood blockbusters (Hellboy) and Oscar darlings (The Shape of Water).
Like many great directors, Del Toro is also an avid film fan. Online and in interviews, he frequently shares movie recommendations. Many of his favorites feature the dark and surreal elements common in his own work, while others may be surprising. Fans of Del Toro are sure to find some gems among his picks.
Saint Maud (2019)
Twenty-something Maud (Morfydd Clark) has recently converted to Catholicism and taken a job looking after Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), an elderly former dancer. Soon, Maud becomes convinced that God wants her to save Amanda’s soul. As her religious fervor increases, Maud becomes increasingly isolated and unstable.
Saint Maud is a confident debut from director Rose Glass, with a stellar performance from Clark, who is set to play Galadriel in the new Lord of the Rings series. The film repurposes the Gothic religious imagery of The Exorcist and Carrie to produce a gripping psychological horror. It’s an eerie study in madness.
Another Round (2020)
Most American audiences will know Mads Mikkelsen from his roles as iconic villains like Le Chiffre in Casino Royale and Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts, but he has also starred in several great Danish films that show off his range as an actor. One of the best is Another Round, a black comedy-drama from director Thomas Vintenberg, who also directed the Mikkelsen-starring drama The Hunt.
Another Round revolves around a group of teachers, all dealing with a midlife crisis of one form or another. They try out an experiment to get them out of their funk: they will have a few drinks every day while at work in order to reduce stress. At first, it seems to work. They really are happier and more engaging with their students. But as we all know, every night of binge-drinking comes with a hangover.
Pig tells the story of hermit Rob (Nicolas Cage) who spends his days hunting for truffles with his sole companion, a pig named Pig. But things take a John Wick-esque turn when Pig is kidnaped. Rob sets off to Portland, Oregon to find the animal, where he must also confront his past.
Pig is a slow-paced drama with a lot to say about nature and humans’ relationship to it. In particular, director Michael Sarnoski gives Cage much free rein to experiment with his character. The movie proves once again that there are no Hollywood actors like Cage.
Train to Busan (2016)
“At a time like this, only watch out for yourself.” Train to Busan is a South Korean zombie apocalypse movie. The passengers of a high-speed train are trying to get to safety, while-near blind, shambling ghouls seek their brains. But aboard the train, the people are just as much of a threat as the living dead. While a few brave passengers want to save everyone, others won’t hesitate to sacrifice their compatriots to survive.
It’s a smart, slick movie for fans of 28 Days Later and World War Z, with some social commentary mixed in. British director Edgar Wright was also a big fan.
The Lobster (2015)
One of the odder entries in this list, The Lobster depicts a world where single people are given 45 days to find a partner. If they fail to do so, they are turned into animals. It’s a surreal tale from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, who most recently directed the period comedy The Favourite. Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz have great chemistry in the lead roles. Farrell, in particular, delivers his funniest performance since In Bruges.
Underneath the bizarre sci-fi exterior, The Lobster is really a commentary on our own societies and how they value couples more than single people. But its second half suggests that breaking free of the culture’s rules can be just as dangerous as living by them.
Leave No Trace (2018)
Ben Foster and Thomasin Mackenzie star in this drama about an Iraq War veteran and his daughter who live in a forest. The pair is close and enjoy their life off the grid. But when a jogger reports them to the authorities, the daughter is taken to a facility for teenage girls and the father is brought in for questioning. It is revealed that he struggles with PTSD.
Leave No Trace is moving and realistic, held together by understated performances from the leads. Director Debra Granik also handles the subject with nuance. Rather than being didactic, the film leaves the audience to make up their own minds.
20th Century Women (2016)
20th Century Women is a touching comedy-drama from director Mike Mills, set in Southern California in the 1970s. The ensemble cast includes Annette Benning, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning and Billy Crudup. Mills’s excellent script gives them all a lot to work with. Their characters navigate family drama and relationships against a backdrop of punk music, skateboarding and political upheaval.
The film is an insightful snapshot of a particular moment in American history. It feels especially relevant now, as the US seems to be re-litigating many issues from the 70s. Inflation, proxy war and Roe v Wade are back in the news. 20th Century Women handles these issues with sharp humor. There’s one great scene, in particular, where the characters watch Jimmy Carter‘s famous ‘Crisis of Confidence’ speech. When the president is done, Annette Benning exclaims, “I thought that was beautiful!” while another character says simply, “He’s f–ked.” The more politics changes, the more it stays the same.
The Vast of Night (2019)
In 1950s New Mexico, Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick), a teenage switchboard operator, and Everett Sloan (Jake Horowitz), a radio DJ, discover an audio signal that they believe might be a message from outer space. As they seek to discover more, the kids stumble across a government conspiracy that threatens to upend their lives.
The Vast of Night is a thoroughly enjoyable sci-fi mystery. It’s smart and well-written, with excellent performances from its young stars. Much of the charm also comes from its historical setting, which the filmmakers lovingly recreate. The sound design is similarly well-done. First-time director Andrew Patterson takes a well-worn premise – UFO over a small town – and reinvigorates it for a modern audience. It’s essential viewing for fans of The Twilight Zone or Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
The Meyerowitz Stories (2017)
Noah Baumbach has made several great dialogue-driven movies, most notably Marriage Story. This comedy-drama is not as well-known, but it’s just as good. Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler and Elizabeth Marvel star as the children of volatile sculptor Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman).
The Meyerowitz Stories is similar to HBO’s Succession in that it focuses on the dysfunctional adult children of a charismatic but abusive father. It also shares a similar brand of acerbic humor. Sandler is especially funny. He strikes a delicate balance between hilarious and tragic as younger brother Danny. It’s his best performance since Punch-Drunk Love. The Meyerowitz children squabble and undermine each other as they seek simultaneously to break free from their father and also earn his love. But beneath the familial infighting, this movie has a lot of heart. Like much of Baumbach’s work, it is ultimately life-affirming.
George Harrison: Living in the Material World (2011)
Last year, Peter Jackson had a hit with The Beatles: Get Back, chronicling the creation of the band’s album Let It Be. But the best documentary about one of the Fab Four might be George Harrison: Living in the Material World, directed by Martin Scorsese. Harrison was the band’s lead guitarist and writer of songs like While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Something.
Scorsese’s directorial skill is very much on display here, from the engaging visuals to the soundtrack. He has made several great musical documentaries, including his Bob Dylan project No Direction Home, but Living in the Material World might be the most emotional. The film is an intimate portrait of the complicated and spiritual musician, who passed away from cancer in 2001.
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