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26 of the Greatest Movies According to Director David Fincher

08.24.13 @ 2:40PM Tags : , , , , ,

David FincherDavid Fincher’s films are known for many things, but being traditional isn’t one of them. His grim themes, low-key lighting, and aversion to happy endings work in tandem with unusual subject matter, which makes for some bleak filmmaking. The genius of Fincher is found in his ability to tap into the beautiful dark side of humanity, evoking fear, anger, and intrigue with his audience. So, what kinds of films does a director of his caliber see as important pieces of cinema? In a hand-written note, Fincher lists 26 of what he considers the greatest movies, ranging from a seemingly obvious influence, Taxi Driver, to ones that seem to come out of left field, like Animal House.

This list has been making its rounds for a while, but thanks to Cinephilia and Beyond, it has resurfaced. Looking at the list, I found myself racking my brain to find something that connected them all. Leave it to an amateur to try to make sense of an iconic filmmaker’s movie preferences without any insight. However, some light is shone on his cinematic sensibilities when considering what he said about the difference between “movies” and “films.”

A movie is made for an audience and a film is made for both the audience and the filmmakers. I think that The Game is a movie and I think Fight Club‘s a film. I think that Fight Club is more than the sum of its parts, whereas Panic Room is the sum of its parts. I didn’t look at Panic Room and think: Wow, this is gonna set the world on fire. These are footnote movies, guilty pleasure movies. Thrillers. Woman-trapped-in-a-house movies. They’re not particularly important.

David Fincher's Favorite Movies

He includes several straight-from-film-school films, like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance KidChinatown, and Citizen Kane (Animal House was a big one where I went to college, since a lot of the film was shot on campus, but whatever.) It’s difficult to think that most of the best contemporary directors weren’t influenced by these films.

Based on his filmic style, there are also a few unexpected selections. First of all — a lot of musicals on the list of the director who cut Gwyneth Paltrow’s head off in Seven. There’s also several comedies that raised my eyebrows: ZeligMonty Python & The Holy Grail, and Animal House.

The interesting thing about this list is that even if they don’t explicitly relate to Fincher’s filmmaking style, they’re still excellent films worth including in a weekend movie marathon rotation (except Monty Python — gnash your teeth at me — I don’t care.)

What do you think about David Fincher’s list of best films? Any surprises? Let us know in the comments below.

[via Cinephilia and Beyond]


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  • It looks like he doesn’t like to watch too many movies that have subtitles :)

    • Yeah, it kind of reads like my dad’s favorite list of movies. Mostly post-1970. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a list of movies I enjoy, but not much is very inspiring or thematically/technically relatable. Boring.

    • Yeah, it kind of reads like my dad’s list of favorite movies. Mostly post-1970. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a list of movies I enjoy, but not much is very inspiring or thematically/technically relatable. Boring.

    • I must concur, I found this list sort of uninspired and disappointing. And, it’s a pretty long list.

      Also, to weigh in on the other thread. Keep your subjectivity, it’s the high point of this piece. A trained monkey could just re-post David Fincher’s list of favorite films.

  • ugh. you always post interesting links, then insist yourself upon us in the copy. nobody gives a shit that you don’t like monty python or that animal house was filmed at U of O.

    you aren’t as interesting as you think you are. just post links, contextualize, and move on.

    • In a world where people are skydiving from space, I totally thought me not liking Monty Python would go down in history.

      • Got to agree with the above.
        Your links are fascinating, but your introductions are bloated and generally contain a lot of naive subjectivity.

        • Please submit a sample of your own writing for review and comment. C’mon, genius, we’re waiting.

        • Subjectivity will appear in any interesting articles. Complete objectivity is not only almost impossible, it’s completely bland.

          I agree that recent NFS posts have been written more subjectively lately, but I don’t think it’s an awful thing. This is a blog post on a blog website, not a news article on Fox News or the BBC. The requirements for blogs is usually to keep readers entertained while presenting them with facts, not to present facts and keep opinions behind closed doors.

          This is just how I see it anyway. I don’t agree with everything they write, but to me it’s more interesting to read.

          • The very first thing written is meaningless:

            “David Fincher’s films are known for many things, but being traditional isn’t one of them.”

            What is traditional?
            If you mean no bells and whistles, then I’d say Fincher is a lot more traditional then many of his contemporaries. Solid old-fashioned narrative structure. Even his CG is meant to be invisible in stuff like Zodiac.

      • Daniel Mimura on 09.13.13 @ 5:21PM

        Keep the subjectivity. Non-partial unbiased reporting is an illusion.

    • ugh, you never post interesting links, but insist yourself upon us in the comments. nobody gives a shit that you don’t like the article.

      you aren’t as interesting as you think you are. just comment, contextualize, and move on.

    • I give a shit she doesn’t like Monty Python! What blasphemy!

      Personally I find the author’s remarks interesting. It shows background, and can sometimes even give some idea of why the author is writing about something… And heck, it can even be entertaining!

      You dear sir, are however free to passover any articles written by specific people you don’t like. Bitching about it however is just silly and childish.

    • Isn’t the whole point of a blog post to have a point of view? If you just want people who post links day in and day out, try Twitter…

      I’m not a fan of Fincher but I was looking down to the list to see if any James Cameron films made the list. To my pleasant surprise, ‘Terminator’ is there (but not ‘Aliens’, obviously).

    • thadon calico on 08.24.13 @ 3:47PM

      Ahhh welcome to the online world of anonymity where every Tom, Dickinson & Harry is a bully….enjoy your keyboard break from your real life persona

      Leave lil Renee out of it, she’s my blog wifey

    • Surely you could be more professional with your criticism. I find it ironic that your response both criticized the opinionated nature of the article while being extremely opinionated itself.

      Blogs are often opinionated by default. If you just want link submissions, check out reddit. That should be more up your alley.

    • Lol at the inevitable white knighting that will ensue in the comments.

      • I assume your reference to “white knighting” is to the act of an online community standing up for itself and its own? And you find that laughable? There are some fknnn miserable people on these boards. Unreal.

    • You’re a good writer Renee. Keep it up!

  • No Bladerunner? Half his films look like they stole lighting plots from Ridley’s film.

    • ‘Alien’ is on there, so maybe he didn’t want to include more than one title by a single director.

      Jordan Cronenweth (of ‘Blade Runner’) was the original cinematographer of ‘Alien 3′ but unfortunately was sufferring from Parkinson’s disease at the time and had to leave the shoot (Fincher works with his son Jeff Cronenweth these days for anyone who doesn’t know).

  • Kevin, go get a life, you miserable sod. The writer is interesting, and I do care where Animal House was shot. Ask your mom if you can have an extra $5 in your allowance this week, and go buy yourself an ice cream cone, cheer up.

    • +1.

      Also I find it particularly humourous that little Kev berates Renée for “insisting” herself upon us (Whatever that means. I guess he was quoting that Family Guy episode but the way he worded it doesn’t work) before going on to “insist” himself upon NoFilmSchool with high-handed orders like “just comment, contextualize, and move on.” Classy, mate.

      • + 2

        We should all remember that we’re guests here. If somebody walks into your home – of their own volition – and starts slagging off the furnishings, the food and the hosts, they shouldn’t expect to be welcomed in the future. I propose a similar principle with Kev.

        • Well, we do also have to take into account that the number of comments a blog gets means something. I didn’t find the list interesting either. I think it would have been more interesting to take the top 10 favorite movies of maybe 25 famous movie makers. It would have been interesting to see how many of the same movie would be on all, or most of the 25 lists. The only thing we get from this post is the guys taste in movies. Life could have gone on without knowing it.

          • The article remained true to its title. It didn’t consciously misrepresent anything, and its aims were modest.

            If you don’t like it, that’s fine, but indifference is not the same thing as the some of the hostility displayed here. We should try to keep things civil, even if our opinions are the polar opposite. People skills, y’know?

          • I didn’t feel mislead. Others may have read this post expecting more than they ended up with. It was light fare, no deep story.

            And I agree with you, the internet needs a good dose of civility. I stay out of most comment threads on the internet, even in this blog, because the negativity is palpable. I do skim through some threads to find names of commenters I find interesting, like marklondon, DLD, c.d.embrey, and others. I just glaze over most of the rest.

      • Oh, and I’d like to thank Renée and all the other writers here at NFS for their articles. Given the shrill and intemperate nature of some of the commentary they receive in response, their efforts must sometimes feel like a thankless task.

        But they are appreciated, by myself and – I’m guessing – most other posters here.

  • I think he is the kind of filmmaker who does not watch a lot of films. This is an honest, unpretentious list of some great films but does not show an inquiring or intellectual mind.
    There are Great Films but then there are great films you watch over and over… like National Lampoon Animal House and Vacation.

    • Edgar Wright produces different top ten lists depending on the publiction. His list for ‘Empire’ magazine contained things like ‘Star Wars’ and ‘The Driver’. Meanwhile, iirc on his list for ‘Sight & Sound’ (arch film magazine published by the British Film Institue) was ‘The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie’.

      I’m surprised by Fincher’s lack of pretentiousness.

    • You’re wrong about Fincher’s mind and whether he watches lots of movies. I’ve read just about everything that’s been written about him, and you’re completely incorrect.

    • Claiming David Fincher’s mind lacks inquisition or intellect is pretty bizarre… If your statement is true, I must be a complete vegetable. I hope all the true intellectuals on this board with their superior taste create some films for idiots like me to enjoy. I read that Stanley Kubrick liked ‘White Men Can’t Jump’. Anyone want to tear into him as well? As for the people complaining about the lack of foreign language films, doesn’t David Fincher only speak English? It’s great if you speak multiple languages. Some people spent time learning about different topics while you studied those languages. They’re close minded for be different than you? Sure, they miss out on many things for the knowledge they lack, but don’t think that the knowledge they’ve acquired hasn’t lead them to many experiences which you might miss.

  • English, english, american, american…. How can people leave in such a small mind, such a small world…
    Do these people know about french, italian, danish movies ?
    We, people from around the world, read your american website because we are educated and we know many languages (at least we do our best!), and when I see such a list i feel so bad about narrow minded people that only know english spoken movies or american movies.
    Such a shame.
    Anyway, at least few of them are great movies but come on everyone or aspiring filmmakers, open your eyes and your mind to the world. Don’t stick to close borders. Hope this make any sense…

    • Andrius Simutis on 08.24.13 @ 9:21PM

      “Do these people know about french, italian, danish movies ?”

      In all seriousness, can you list a few Italian, French, and Danish must see films? David might be too busy this week, but I’m down to check them out.

      • French: look up Godard and Truffaut and start there. Italian – look up Fellini and Antonioni and start there. Danish – look up Bier and von Trier and start there. Plenty of great classic and modern work from Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Africa has some great filmmakers, too.

      • London town writer on 07.13.14 @ 8:18PM

        Festen by thomas vinterburg (danmark)
        Cache by micheal haneke (french)
        Both won at cannes
        Def worth watching with subtitles!

  • Fincher’s list appears very uninspired to me. It’s ultra-orthodox, with just the right amount of kooky touches thrown in to appear personal. His heart doesn’t seem in it: perhaps he dashed off some names to get rid of a journalist who was bugging him, or something.

    • thadon calico on 08.24.13 @ 5:48PM

      Some people are not pretentious hipsters, they r inspired by what’s real to them rather than name cliches to fit in with the crowd. I love hearing if filmmakers like fincher who is an independent thinking adult and not a grown man who still suffers from a high school peer pressure-like syndrome

      • Some day, in the far future, professors of English will still be attempting to make sense of the above post…

        • thadon calico on 08.24.13 @ 7:27PM

          Meanwhile folks in the real world will keep making advances at a rapid pace that the students your professors send to us will be out of touch like u. Keep theorizing my friend

          • You keep replying to points I haven’t made. Are you drunk?

          • thadon calico on 08.24.13 @ 9:59PM

            Lol. U keep making assertions of someone’s activities behind keyboard are u high?

            I replied to every point u made, it’s a pity u r quick to speak, slow to analyze. Maybe some professor’s thesis might break what I wrote down for ya buddy. Take ya pills

      • Can we please have a moratorium on the “pretentious hipster” argument. Surely it’s achieved logical fallacy status by now? It’s a profoundly un-useful way to respond to a argument on anything because it’s so vague and subjective. What kind of films do you think a pretentious hipster trying to fit in would pick? Is there such thing as a film hipster (I’ve never met one but think I’d probably like to if they exist)? What constitutes pretentiousness when it comes to taste in films?

        • I can’t answer your last question, Mak, but I agree on how the H word gets tossed around with abandon these days. The term is entirely counter-productive: it serves only to make the user appear bitter and defensive (sometimes to the point of paranoia) about some perceived ‘clique’ which is largely a product of their own imagination.

          • The clique thing is what makes me the most sad. Shouldn’t a filmmaking site be the best place to have open discussions about different types of filmmaking?

        • Hipsters are the new pejorative. Used to be yuppies.

  • I’d be interested in a list of not their favorite movies but the ones they watched the most times. Like, Fincher writes Citizen Kane, which he watched maybe twice, and leaves out Coming To America, which he probably watched a dozen times like the rest of us :)

  • ALL THAT JAZZ and CABARET are both by Bob Fosse. Haven’t seen CABARET but ALL THAT JAZZ is a fascinating film stylistically.

  • How can anyone judge another persons subjective tastes? All of the films on this list are fine films and if you asked him two years later for another list you would probably get some alternative films from the ones mentioned here. Let the man have his own tastes he’s certainly earned the right to. These lists mean next to nothing in the grand scheme of things as they will change often over time.

  • Stu Mannion on 08.24.13 @ 11:38PM

    Zelig is an under appreciated gem. That is all.

  • It’s a great list.
    These are the films we all grew up loving.

    I expect when we mature we pinpoint certain films that touch us in personals ways that a huge Hollywood production cannot – but sometimes the very ‘everyman’ aspect of a big Hollywood film is what attracts us?

    I know myself that Close Encounters is in my top 5 due to it bringing back memories of growing up – both in the family dynamic, and the sense of awe, wonder and unlimited possibilities of the world I was born into.
    In these later cynical years, I love to put that back on to remind myself who I was (and who I’d love to be again).

  • Good choice of article and clearly interesting reading to many. Renee your comments were most welcome.

    Kev and Fresno Bob… There should be a way to block you on this site so we don’t have to see your comments ever. For you to knock someone who I’m guessing isn’t paid to write an article you didnt pay to read is discussing.

    • Block me for having an opinion?

      There were some inaccuracies in the article so I commented on them.

      • I think Simon was more taking issue with the fact that you said you agree with Kevin who, you must admit, came across pretty unsympathetically with his early comment. And to be fair, while you may not like Renée’s style at times, Bob, I still don’t think you really do agree with someone like Kevin who’d use abrasive language like “nobody gives a shit” and “you aren’t as interesting as you think you are”. You seem a little more level-ehaded and a lot more thoughtful than that.

        • Yes. Sorry Bob if I over reacted categorising you the same as Kev. But this site is provided free for us to read and the article contributors should be supported not berated. Nobody is forcing Kev to read the articles.

  • Interesting that the list is about his favorite “movies” and not “films”. That says a lot.

  • His list is honest and unpretentious.

  • Fincher loves stanley kubrick…but whoa…whats that? only one kubrick film? I dont know he was in what mood when he wrote this list?

  • Paper Moon! Good pick, underrated.

  • Middle aged film director produces list of favourite films and outrages internet kiddies with choices because there’s no Top Gun or something shocker.

  • as others have said- this has to be the most boring list of films in existence, not that there are bad films on the list but how can fincher genuinely only have english language films on his list. i think hes joking, this is more than un-pretentious. its almost a provocatively boring list of films….

  • There’s a shot in ALIEN 3 that’s taken straight out of WITHNAIL & I — strange that it’s not on this list. I’m guessing he just forgot.

  • What an unfathomably boring list. His only interesting picks are 8½ and Days of Heaven.
    Oh well, he’s still a genius and one of the best working directors for sure

  • As dull as he is.

  • Interesting but pretty conventional list. Only a few really made cinema (Taxi Driver, Chinatown, Citizen Kane, 8 and 1/2, etc). The kind of list I could have made when I was 15-20 yo.
    Thanks for the article!