Waking Life (2001)
Director: Richard Linklater
Featuring: Wiley Wiggins, Ethan Hawke
I remember vividly the first time I watched Waking Life at a friend's house maybe five years ago. We had similar philosophical interests and he raved about the film, so I imagined that it would be good but never understood just how good. Waking Life is a rotoscope film by (my beloved) Richard Linklater which follows the main character (Wiley Wiggins) through his conversations and interactions with many different individuals that he meets, either in real life or in his dreams. I don't watch it very often, yet I tend to think about at least one of the vignettes on a daily basis. Most often, I come back to the scenes with Kim Krizan (who has fascinating thoughts on language), Ethan Hawke & Julie Delpy (who reprise their roles as Jesse & Celine), and Caveh Zahedi (who talks about film philosophy).
Margin Call (2011)
Director: J.C. Chandor
Featuring: Kevin Spacey, Simon Baker, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, and many more.
This movie is primarily a creative inspiration, in that it tells the kind of stories I want to tell in a format that I find really engaging. The film follows many characters who work at an investment bank---ranging from Penn Badgley as an analyst to Simon Baker and Demi Moore as senior executives to Jeremy Irons as CEO and Chairman of the Board. What makes Margin Call stand out to me is J.C. Chandor's Sorkin-esque ability to create compelling conversations about relatively dry material.
Begin Again (2013)
Director: John Carney
Featuring: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine
This movie is, overall, a love letter to music and a love letter to New York City. I first saw it at The Angelika in Greenwich Village when I was an intern during the summer of 2014. If you've ever been to The Angelika, you may have experienced the rattling floors when the trains passed under the building. To feel the train underneath my feet while watching this movie evoked the most embarrassing emotional response. The influence of this film is completely emotional because, whenever I watch it or listen to the soundtrack, I'm reminded of so many good memories from that summer.
Band of Outsiders (1964)
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Featuring: Anna Karina, Sami Frey, Claude Brasseur
The French New Wave film Band of Outsiders is an aesthetically and stylistically influential one for me. From Anna Karina's outfits to the dancing scene, there is that insouciant cool vibe throughout the film as well as stylized elements, the influence of which can be seen in Tarantino's films today.
Rear Window (1954)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Featuring: Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly
My favorite Hitchcock film has been influential to my understanding of visual storytelling. I wrote an essay on the film for a semiotics class in college for which I spent hours digging into the meaning of each shot and the significance of the framing. Hitchcock demonstrates the Kuleshov effect, creating emotions and connotations by cutting the film in such a way that the juxtaposition of shots becomes meaningful. While this kind of editing is clearly based in visual storytelling, it has also been weirdly inspirational for my writing.
Marie Antoinette (2006)
Director: Sofia Coppola
Featuring: Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman
The opinions of this film seem to be split right down the middle, you either loved it or hated it and I, obviously, loved it. Its influence on me is two-pronged. The first is visual. Some critics say that Marie Antoinette valued style over substance and that the entire film was just an array of pretty images. While I disagree with that statement, I wonder why that has to be such a bad thing. Film is a visual art, so who is to say that it can't be purely visual? Second, Sofia Coppola has this romantic fascination with youth that I think allows her to create such brilliant films about it. She tells the story not necessarily from the perspective of Marie as a royal, but of Marie as a young teenager thrust into a power position for which she was in no way prepared. It's influential to me for the way that Coppola blends history and modern pop culture to create a unique method of storytelling. Plus, it's very pretty.
Night of the Hunter (1955)
Director: Charles Laughton
Featuring: Robert Mitchum, Lillian Gish
Charles Laughton's only directorial production provides some of the most beautiful aesthetic inspiration I've seen on film. The genuinely creepy story is about a corrupt priest who stalks two children down the river in the night. What struck me most (aside from Lillian Gish with a rifle on her front porch) were the beautiful, stark black-and-gray silhouette shots.
About Time (2013)
Director: Richard Curtis
Featuring: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy
Just watch it. You'll understand.