4 Oscar-Nominated Directors Reveal Their Biggest Inspirations

6:30 AM 2/8/2019

by Tara Bitran

From the Arctic Monkeys to Rossellini, the masters who influenced this year's lauded helmers.

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Courtesy of Films

  • Yorgos Lanthimos

    "During preproduction we looked at different films — some of them period, some contemporary — in order to be inspired in different ways. We looked at period films that made bold choices in the past and were creative in how they dealt with the genre including Amadeus (Milos Forman), The Madness of King George (Nicholas Hytner), The Draughtsman's Contract (Peter Greenaway) and Cries and Whispers (Ingmar Bergman) in terms of tone but also visually.

    Contemporary films we watched included Possession (Andreij Zulawski), Cremator (Juraj Herz), A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick) and others, mostly to be inspired photographically and in terms of camera movement. The goal was to instill the freedom to break the rules and push the boundaries, veering off what is expected of a standard period film. This tendency informed more creative decisions, from the script writing — the use of more contemporary sounding language (Sarah Kane’s play, Phaedra’s Love was a great inspiration as well), to the costume design — using modern materials like leather and vintage denim while staying loyal to the shapes of the period, and the use of extreme wide-angle lenses, juxtaposed with extreme close-ups, coupled with a lot of camera movement, to create a slightly removed-from-reality, claustrophobic atmosphere."

  • Alfonso Cuaron

    "This is the first project in which I decided that it was a very conscious decision not to take any references or influences and try to do things as purely as possible. And that happened during the writing and also while I was directing the film. I would find myself doing a camera setup, and I would recognize some similarity to some other shot of a filmmaker I admire. Or sometimes I'd discover myself whistling the music of that film, and then I would stop and I would completely change the setup. Eugenio Caballero, the production designer, I remember once saying, 'Why did you change it? That was more beautiful.' I said, 'Yeah, well that's not mine. And the point I want is mine, so I have to go with mine.'

    "Now saying so, I'm sure the film is populated by influences and references because all of those filmmakers are a part of my DNA as a cinephile. So, it's impossible not to, you know? It's just part of what makes who I am and my understanding of film. I'm sure it's full of references and influences.

    "There are a lot of people talking about neorealism. I have to say I was surprised when that happened. I would have thought more [Yasujiro] Ozu, if anything, or maybe [Robert] Bresson. But Ozu, probably. I was surprised when the reference was neorealism. And I get it. I'm honored if that feels like that because neorealism was the cinema that triggered my love for the so-called art house cinema. But by the same token, I thought, if anything, it was Ozu.

    "While we were working, my editor said that one scene reminded him of [Federico] Fellini. I was surprised at first but I said, 'Yeah, OK. I guess I see your point.' And then when I saw the frame, it's hard to imagine anything but the Fellini wind that is a very particular kind of wind that he uses in a lot of his films. So, I decided to put that specific wind in that scene.

    "But again, it was not a point of departure. I'm flattered when they make the reference to neorealism, Italian cinema after the Second World War, [Roberto] Rossellini, that period. But then I wonder if it were not in black-and-white if people would have found that reference, you know?

    "I have a close collaboration with a group of friends and directors that I always consult. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu came to visit and Pawel Pawlikowski came to visit the set. But I didn't consult them in terms of the film. I didn't show the script to anyone. In this one, I didn't want any outside input because I wanted to go directly from my memory, with all my misgivings, into the screen. But definitely, the support of Guillermo del Toro is fundamental in my career. Carlos Cuaron, my brother and a director, who I have written a couple of screenplays with. It was a huge support just having their blessing. The beautiful thing was that they understood that I wasn't sharing anything and they didn't insist on it. They knew that that was the whole thing. They understood why, and they were very intrigued about it. They were very curious to see what the shape was going to come out of it.

    "But look, the influences are all the masters. The masters are countless in making old masters and new masters alike. Young filmmakers are now masters. And it's just fantastic that cinema is populated by them."

  • Adam McKay

    "From the beginning of Vice I wanted to avoid making a somber traditional political biopic. Cheney had already done everything he could to make sure his story was as dusty and stripped of flesh and blood as possible. This movie had to engage and involve. The story was too epic, too tragic and horrifying to just hit the traditional three acts and call it a day.

    "Then I saw the 2008 film Il Divo by Paulo Sorrentino. Il Divo is a movie about an actual corrupt Italian Prime Minister (Giulio Andreotti) that was written and directed by Sorrentino with all the style and swagger of Pulp Fiction or an Arctic Monkeys song. Toni Servillo plays Andreotti with an almost frozen mask of aged corruption that barely moves throughout the movie as though “presenting” himself to the audience in a commedia dell-arte performance. And the movie itself freezes, cranks into slo-mo and slams into music and graphics with abandon.
    "I immediately felt a sense of permission that bordered on inspiration. There are no rules that a political story must be austere, I realized. No rules that it can’t directly address the audience.
    "I had played with this style in my previous movie, but after seeing Sorrentino’s movie I was more certain than ever on how to proceed."
  • Pawel Pawlikowski

    "I wasn't conscious of any one director while making Cold War, to be honest. But in its DNA must be all the films I've admired over the ages by directors as diverse as Jan Nemec, Slobodan Sijan, Wojciech Has, [Andrzej] Wajda, [Jean-Luc] Godard, [Milos] Forman, [Billy] Wilder, [Andrei] Tarkovsky, [Robert] Bresson and [Roberto] Rossellini."

    This story first appeared in the Feb. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.