Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu is one of the top filmmakers currently working, with several gems under his belt and no signs that he’ll slow down any time soon. He hit the ground running with the phenomenal feature debut Amores perros, which he quickly followed up with 21 Grams and the sprawling Babel. 2014’s Birdman with Michael Keaton brought him to new audiences, as did the Leonardo DiCaprio-starring survival thriller The Revenant.

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Like most great filmmakers, Iñárritu is also an avid film watcher who has heaped praise on dozens of movies over the years. In top ten lists and in interviews, he has spoken at length about the films that shaped him as an artist. His favorites lean toward classic dramas, though he also has a penchant for surreal cinema. These are some of his most intriguing recommendations, which ought to appeal to fans of his work.

10 ‘Andrei Rublev’ (1966)

Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky

Andrei and a mysterious man from Andrei Rublev
Image via Janus Films

Andrei Rublev is the magnum opus of Andrei Tarkovsky, Russia’s preeminent 20th-century filmmaker. It’s a biopic about the iconic 15th-century Russian artist Andrei Rublev, who painted religious icons. The story unfolds through a series of loosely connected episodes, painting a vivid portrait of a country grappling with political upheaval and religious fervor.

The film delves into Rublev’s struggle to maintain his artistic integrity amid the chaos of his time, exploring themes of faith, creativity, and the profound impact of historical events on the human spirit. Andrei Rublev is widely considered a high water mark for Soviet cinema and one of the greatest films of all time. “There is a luminous duality coexisting in every frame of this film – the beauty and hardships of the physical world and the spiritual meaning in the interior life of Rublev,” Iñárritu has said.

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9 ‘L’avventura’ (1960)

Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni

Gabriele Ferzetti and Monica Vitti in 'L'Avventura'
Image via Janus Films

L’avventura (meaning “The Adventure”) is the signature film by Italian maestroMichelangelo Antonioni, who also made La Notte and L’Eclisse. This one revolves around a group of affluent friends who embark on a yacht trip to a deserted island in the Mediterranean. However, the narrative takes an unexpected turn when one of them, named Anna (Lea Massari) mysteriously disappears without a trace. Her boyfriend Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti) and her friend Claudia (Monica Vitti) search for her, becoming drawn to one another in the process.

The film is visually striking and boldly experimental, rewriting the rules of film grammar and significantly influencing many movies that would follow. “Antonioni is for me a cinematic animal,” Iñárritu says. “Every one of his films contains its own pace and language. L’Avventura‘s beauty and complexity is almost uncomfortable. Its ending always leaves a void within me which can only be filled by watching it again.”

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8 ‘Ordet’ (1955)

Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer

Ordet in Dreyer's classic film
Image via Janus Films

Ordet (meaning “The Word”) is a powerful Danish drama about faith, religion, and family. The main character is Morten Bergen (Henrik Malbery), a prominent figure in their rural community. However, his life is hurled into disarray by drama involving his three children: one son, Mikkel (Emil Hass Christensen), has no faith; another son (Preben Lerdorff Rye) suffers a mental breakdown and comes to believe that he is Jesus Christ, while the youngest (Cay Kristiansen) is in love with the daughter (Gerda Nielsen) of a fundamentalist (Ejner Federspiel).

The film is renowned as a landmark of world cinema, with particular praise for its cinematography. “Ordet is a modern and relevant film as much as it was 65 years ago,” Iñárritu said. “Everybody talks about the ending, but Johannes reciting at the top of that hill is as miraculous as the rest of the film. Only Dreyer could dilute such a theatrically blocked composition and turn it into a completely cinematic experience.”

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7 ‘Playtime’ (1967)

Directed by Jacques Tati

Playtime
Image via Unidis

Playtime is a quirky comedy featuring Tati‘s iconic character, Monsieur Hulot. It takes place in a hyper-modern version of Paris, where Hulot becomes lost in the glass-and-steel labyrinth of high-rise buildings and sterile interiors. It makes for a pointed commentary on modern life, without letting up on the jokes, antics, and ample visual gags. Not to mention, the choreography and elaborate sets are truly impressive.

Playtime quickly became influential, with the character of Hulot notably inspiring Rowan Atkinson‘s Mr. Bean.”Tati saw the world 50 years ahead of his time and he commented on it. Sonically and visually, each little detail in every single frame of this massive-scale film is obsessive and elegantly clever. Only Tati’s unique timing and blocking could have made something so precise and controlled extremely funny,” Iñárritu says.

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6 ‘Fitzcarraldo’ (1982)

Directed by Werner Herzog

Klaus Kinski in Fitzcarraldo
Image via Werner Herzog Filmproduktion

Partly inspired by real events, this epic drama centers on Fitzcarraldo (Klaus Kinski), an eccentric opera lover with a grand vision: he intends to build an opera house in the heart of the Peruvian jungle. To finance his dream, he conceives a plan to exploit a lucrative rubber territory, hauling a steamship over a steep hill to access untouched rubber trees. However, this Herculean, back-breaking feat threatens to destroy both him and his crew.

Iñárritu named Fitzcarraldo as one of the movies that influenced The Revenant, along with Herzog‘s other movie Aguirre, the Wrath of God with Akira Kurosawa‘s Dersu Uzala. “These are movies that are epic, that have spectacle and are very grand statements but are informed by the crazy f—ing theatrical show that is the human condition. The beauty and harshness of nature impacts your state of mind in these movies,” Iñárritu said.

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5 ‘Contempt’ (1963)

Directed by Jean-Luc Godard

Brigitte Bardot in Contempt
Image via StudioCanal

French New Wave pioneerJean-Luc Godard gets meta with this drama about a screenwriter named Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli) who is hired to adapt Homer‘s Odyssey for the big screen. He’s under a lot of pressure, caught between the exacting director (played by the filmmaker Fritz Lang), an arrogant producer (Jack Palance), and his frustrated wife Camille (Brigitte Bardot).

Contemptis a great commentary on the tension between art and commerce, informed by Godard’s own experiences in the movie business. The film is also notable for the cinematography by Raoul Coutard, who is great at shooting both the gorgeous exteriors of the Amalfi Coast as well as the cramped confines of the rooms in which much of the drama plays out. “There is something in this movie, so that every time I hear the Georges Delerue theme start playing over and over again, even when I know it will stop abruptly, I feel a deep melancholy and my eyes water,” Iñárritu said.

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4 ‘The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie’ (1972)

Directed by Luis Buñuel

A rich group of friends in Luis Bunuel's Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Image via 20th Century Fox

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is one of the defining films by Spanish legend Luis Buñuel. It’s a surreal comedy-drama that unfolds like a dream, or perhaps a series of interconnected nightmares. The story follows a group of upper-class friends attempting to enjoy a meal together, only to be thwarted by various bizarre interruptions, including political conspiracy and unconventional desires.

The film is a scathing critique of bourgeois values, exposing the hypocrisy and shallowness of the elite class while challenging the viewer’s perception of social norms. “Buñuel once said that ‘A film is a dream being directed.’ The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie is precisely that, a dream inside a dream that is dreamed by the dream of another dreamer,” Iñárritu said. “This particular film’s humor and social commentary are so clever that they make it clear we cannot and should not underestimate the wisdom and power of the subconscious.”

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3 ‘You, the Living’ (2007)

Directed by Roy Andersson

Roy Andersson's You, the Living
Image via Palisades Tartan

You, the Living is a black comedy by Swedish director Roy Andersson, who also made the similarly surreal Songs from the Second Floor and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence. You, the Living is made up of loosely connected vignettes involving various characters, including a carpenter (Leif Larsson), a pickpocket (Waldemar Nowak), a psychiatrist (Håkan Angser), and more. The movie finds the absurd in the everyday, playing out like a modern-day take on Samuel Beckett.

“Roy Andersson is one of my favorite filmmakers ever, and the Roy Andersson film that I love most is one that is called You, the Living […]And how he plays the vulnerable soul of human beings, how fragile we are, and how absurd we are. There’s something very beautiful about the substance of it, and the execution is just a masterpiece,” Iñárritu has said. In particular, he praised one scene where a newlywed couple is on their honey, calling it, “one of the most beautiful moments made in cinema.”

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2 ‘The Phantom of Liberty’ (1974)

Directed by Luis Buñuel

Monica Vitti in The Phantom of Liberty
Image via 20th Century Studios

The Phantom of Liberty is another Buñuel masterpiece. As usual, he skewers social conventions but arguably takes the critique to new heights. Once again, it’s more of a series of sequences rather than a conventional story, bouncing between the 1800s and the present day. Its bizarre elements include erotic pictures of architecture, a sniper who shoots random people on the street, and people gambling with holy relics.

“[The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, The Phantom of Liberty, and That Obscure Object of Desire] were the last films in [Buñuel’s] career, and I feel that he liberated himself from any form, any border and dissolved every conception of genre or anything,” Iñárritu has said. “When you grasp that amount of freedom and liberty in filmmaking, it arrives to a subconscious language of dreams and freedom that is just outstanding.”

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1 ‘The Tree of Wooden Clogs’ (1978)

Directed by Ermanno Olmi

tree of wooden clogs0
Image via Janus Films

The Tree of Wooden Clogs is an epic Italian movie about peasant life in the 19th century. Director Ermanno Olmi weaves together the lives of various families as they toil in the fields, face economic struggles, and find solace in their shared humanity. The titular tree, a symbol of resilience and communal strength, serves as a focal point throughout the film. The narrative operates at a deliberate and contemplative pace, capturing the cyclical nature of life and the rhythms of the seasons.

Olmi succeeds in capturing the beauty of this simple existence, as well as its dark side, like the cruelty of the landowners and the undercurrent of dissatisfaction among some of the workers. Adding to the authentic feel is the fact that many of the characters are played by local people rather than professional actors. “This transparent and deep observation of human frailty transpires in each of those faces and those locations. It’s the highest manifestation of intelligence, which is empathy,” Iñárritu said.

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NEXT: 10 Great Movies Recommended by Hayao Miyazaki

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