J. W. Rinzler’s Favorite Films and Directors


Editor’s note: J. W. Rinzler, executive editor at Lucasfilm Ltd., is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Making of Star Wars, as well as the London Times bestseller The Complete Making of Indiana Jones. His latest books, The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and The Sounds of Star Wars, are now available. Since Mr. Rinzler has written numerous behind-the-scenes books about film Unbound Worlds thought it would be interesting to find out what movies have inspired him throughout the years. Grab a snack and have your Netflix account ready, this post just might inspire you to watch a movie or two tonight.

As I’m working here at Lucasfilm I’ve restrained from mentioning Lucasfilm movies—obviously among my favorites would be Star Wars. And these are off the top of my head; on a different day, some of these might not have made it and others would have. So here we go:

1. Vertigo Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
One of the most complex films ever made. About: death, religion, obsession, filmmaking, reincarnation, love, fate. And one of the most visual. With fantastic performances by James Stewart and Kim Novak. Like all the films on this list, it can be watched many times and each time you’ll find something new and the film will get deeper.

The sequence here is unbelievably dense: no dialogue, profiles (they’re hiding something); matched movement; the colors (look at the green dress!); mirrors (she’s got a double-personality), and on and on. Not to mention the music of Bernard Herrmann!

2. 2001: A Space Odyssey Directed by Stanley Kubrick
I could have put several films by Kubrick and Hitchcock on this list—these guys are the masters of cinema. They knew everything about their craft and it shows. This film is one of Kubrick’s more optimistic ones in a body of work that is, as far as I can tell, all about the human condition.

One of the most famous cuts in the history of film: bone/tool to nuclear weapon/tool.

3. The Adventures of Robin Hood Directed by Michael Curtiz
Oddly enough, Michael Curtiz did get two films on this list, just cos they are so enjoyable, so fun. Of course he had a great producer in Hal Wallis. Maybe he was just lucky to work with such incredible actors and technicians during the Hollywood Golden Age. I don’t know. But the Technicolor in this one is so mind-jarringly beautiful. And Basil Rathbone as the villain—yikes and away.

Watch this fantastic scene.

4. Casablanca Directed by Michael Curtiz
The most romantic film ever made, for my money. Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains—I could watch this film every year and never get tired out of it. Of course it doesn’t hurt that my grandparents were trying to get to Lisbon, too, while escaping the Nazis.

The scene in the clip always brings tears to my eyes; I was in Paris for the 50th anniversary of its liberation; American tanks rode up the Blvd. St Michel.

5. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Directed by William Cottrell, David Hand, Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce, and Ben Sharpsteen
First animated film in U.S. and still probably the best. Though I like Dumbo and others, too. Producer Walt Disney can’t get enough credit.

The Evil Queen’s staircase descent is one of the great moments of modern art.

6. Lawrence of Arabia Directed by David Lean
Epic in every sense of the word, though the second half is weak compared to the first—but the first half contains, in my opinion, some of the best shots ever, hands down.

Again—one of the greatest cuts in cinema when he blows out the match—followed by the tremendous music by Maurice Jarre!!

7. Seven Samurai Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Incredible characterizations, cinematography, direction, blah, blah. The trailer here will give you an idea of what’s in one of the greatest films ever made.

8. My Darling Clementine Directed by John Ford
I love the cinematography of Greg Toland, who also did Citizen Kane. The shots of Henry Fonda slowly walking downstage in the bar are works of art. The whole scene where Wyatt meets Doc is incredible; or when he tells the Clantons he’s the new sheriff; or, as in the clip, the progression toward the town dance.

This clip shows the deep focus and the recurring theme in Ford’s Westerns of dancing/community building. Beautiful.

9. Nosferatu Directed by F.W. Murnau
Love the German expressionist cinema! Metropolis, Nosferatu The Vampyre, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and so on.

10. King Kong Directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack (both uncredited)
Despite its debt to 1925’s The Lost World, King Kong was so ground-breaking and so visually breathtaking that it is itself one of the wonders of the world.

Watch this scene of King Kong climbing the Empire State building.

11. Duck Soup Directed by Leo McCarey
Not great cinema, but the Marx Brothers are such comic geniuses that the camera just needs to record their joyous chaos.

12. Ben-Hur Directed by William Wyler
Over the top and creaky now, but the chariot race is beyond fantastic; and I have a weak spot for Heston’s performance. And really great storytelling.

This clip reminded me that there is no music during the chariot scene—as in the Podrace scene from Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.

13. Jaws Directed by Steven Spielberg
Spielberg’s ode to Hitchcock, at least in parts. But with great characters and performances all around, even to the tertiary actors. And some of the best John Williams music ever! This movie scared the living daylights out of me—I was one of the few to see it uncut in LA during that first week when the shark killed a few more kids.

Watch this fascinating video demonstrating the power of John Williams’ famous score.

14. La nuit américaine (Day for Night) Directed by François Truffaut
A virtuoso feat, that, like Vertigo, starts to get at what is real and not real in life and art.

It starts in French but then goes into a montage that reveals one of cinema’s most sensitive directors.

15. Unforgiven Directed by Clint Eastwood
Maybe Clint Eastwood’s best film, though A Perfect World is pretty gut-wrenching, as is The Changeling, Mystic River, and others. But I love this picture and was sort of obsessed with it for a while—even got to discuss the film with its screenwriter, David Peoples; a professional life highlight.

The clip shows the unforgettable climax, with the great line, “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.” Die hards can read my full analysis of the film here.

16. Top Hat Directed by Mark Sandrich
Could’ve been any of the Astaire/Rogers films. We should all be happy that perhaps the greatest dancer of all time was captured on film.

Watch Fred Astaire perform Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails.