After lying low in TV-land for a few years following the damp squib that was “Miracle at St. Anna,” Spike Lee seems to be all over the place this month. His latest feature “Red Hook Summer” — a loose follow-up to “Do the Right Thing,” which Kris partially saw in Sundance, and rather liked — opens Stateside today to mixed, if not unsympathetic, reviews.
In a few weeks, he’ll be unveiling his new documentary about Michael Jackson, “Bad 25,” at the Venice Film Festival — where he’ll also be receiving a career achievement award. Finally, his long-mooted remake of Park Chan-wook’s “Oldboy” is moving forward, with shooting set to begin in New Orleans this autumn, and Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen and Sharlto Copley attached to star.
On another note, he’s also jumped on the list-making bandwagon we’ve all been on since Sight & Sound’s poll results last week, revealing his own Top 15 Films Of All Time — not via Sight & Sound (he didn’t participate in the 2002 poll, and doesn’t appear to be involved with this year’s either), but through an iTunes playlist of sorts. What a time it is to be alive, folks.
Lee says his selections also form part of his teaching syllabus for filmmaking students at NYU. It’s a distinctive, respectable if not particularly canon-bound list, some influences from which can be detected in his own work more than others. It’s no surprise that a man whose best films — “Do the Right Thing,” of course, but also my own favorite, “Summer of Sam” — palpably exude the sticky sidewalk heat of a New York summer’s day should be such a big fan of “Dog Day Afternoon.” But the Burt Lancaster thriller “The Train” is an inspired, and less expected, choice. (Of course, “Inside Man” revealed something of his affinity for genre fare.)
Interestingly, considering his reputation as a racial firebrand, no non-white filmmakers crack his list, though certain selections obviously reflect his politics. In alphabetical order:
“The Battle of Algiers” (Gillo Pontecorvo)
“The Bicycle Thief” (Vittorio De Sica)
“Black Orpheus” (Marcel Camus)
“Blue Collar” (Paul Schrader)
“Chinatown” (Roman Polanski)
“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (Steven Spielberg)
“Cool Hand Luke” (Stuart Rosenberg)
“Dog Day Afternoon” (Sidney Lumet)
“Hoop Dreams” (Steve James)
“The Last Detail” (Hal Ashby)
“Mean Streets” (Martin Scorsese)
“Stranger Than Paradise” (Jim Jarmusch)
“To Kill a Mockingbird” (Robert Mulligan)
“The Train” (John Frankenheimer)
“West Side Story” (Robert Wise, Jerome Robbins)
Meanwhile, one of the great pleasures (and Twitter conversation feeders) of the past week has been perusing the individual directors’ Top 10 lists in the current print edition of Sight & Sound — they may not have contributed to the main poll, but they’re by far the most fun to read. Who would have guessed that Michael Mann is that big a fan of “Avatar?” (“A brilliant synthesis of mythic tropes, with debts to Levi-Strauss and Frazier’s ‘The Golden Bough,'” he writes. “It soars because, simply, it stones and transports you.”) Or that Asghar Farhadi’s favorite Woody Allen is “Take the Money and Run?” (Mike Leigh’s, meanwhile, is “Radio Days.”) Apichatpong Weerasethakul is a “Full Metal Jacket” man… and so on and so forth.
Though the contributors list is stacked with lofty, established names, my favorite individual lists of those I’ve scrutinized so far belong to two relative newcomers. It’s no surprise to see “3 Women” (my own favorite Altman) in “Martha Marcy May Marlene” director Sean Durkin’s list, alongside “Persona,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Shining,” “The Piano Teacher” and, more improbably, “The Goonies.” And British writer-director Joanna Hogg — whose remarkable first two features, “Unrelated” and “Archipelago,” are still, I believe, awaiting US distribution — wins my heart by plumping for Scorsese’s criminally under-treasured “New York, New York,” together with the likes of “Beau Travail,” “The Green Ray” and “Midnight,” a less celebrated Hollywood comedy from the routinely celebrated class of 1939.