10 Great Movies Recommended by Gary Oldman

Movies


Gary Oldman is a shape-shifter, morphing across dozens of iconic roles in his multi-decade career. Perhaps the finest character actor of his generation, Oldman has played a litany of fantastic villains, from True Romance‘s Drexl Spivey to The Fifth Element‘s Zorg. He’s found success in box office franchises like The Dark Knight Trilogy and Harry Potter. He’s an Oscar-nominated star, winning his first Academy Award for his performance as Winston Churchill. In addition to acting, he has produced several projects and tried his hand behind the camera, writing and directing the drama Nil by Mouth.


Like most successful actors, Oldman is an avid film fan who has heaped praise on dozens of movies over the years. Across interviews and top ten lists, he has talked about films that inspired him and shaped his approach to performance. In particular, his favorites lean toward character-driven dramas. Oldman has impeccable taste, so his recommendations are worth checking out.


10 ‘Children of Paradise’ (1945)

Directed by Marcel Carné

Image via Turner Classic Movies

Set in the bustling theatrical world of 19th-century Paris, Children of Paradise revolves around the entangled lives of a beautiful courtesan named Garance (Arletty), and the four men who are in love with her. They are the enigmatic mime Baptiste Deburau (Jean-Louis Barrault), the wealthy count Edouard (Louis Salou), the charismatic actor Frédérick (Pierre Brasseur), and the thief Pierre François Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand). It’s a sprawling two-part project, boasting intricate storytelling and rich character development.

The film was made during World War II, under the nose of the Nazi-aligned Vichy government. It remains particularly beloved in France and Oldman included it on his top ten list for Sight & Sound in 2022. Other devotees of the film include Marlon Brando and François Truffaut, the latter of whom once said, “I would give up all my films to have directed The Children of Paradise.” Check out the restored version released on Blu-ray in 2012.

Watch on Criterion

9 ‘The Conversation’ (1974)

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

Actor Gene Hackman as Henry Caul watching over surveillance equipment in Francis Ford Coppola's movie, The Conversation
Image via Rialto Pictures

Francis Ford Coppola was on such a roll in the 1970s that even his least notable movie from that decade is still a minor masterpiece. This psychological thriller centers on Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), a meticulous and paranoid surveillance expert who becomes increasingly disturbed by a seemingly routine job. He is hired to record a conversation between a young couple but is morally conflicted after he captures a dangerous phrase in the conversation. At the same time, Caul is haunted by guilt from a past job gone wrong.

Fifty years later, the film remains a great snapshot of Watergate-era America. Oldman named it as an all-time favorite and had high praise for Hackman’s performance. “I love Gene Hackman in The Conversation. I love that internal man who’s just, you know, very closed down,” he explains. He has described Hackman as an influence, saying that, as an aspiring young actor, he “admired [Hackman] enormously.”

The Conversation

Release Date
April 7, 1974

Director
Francis Ford Coppola

Cast
Gene Hackman , John Cazale , Allen Garfield , Frederic Forrest , Cindy Williams , Michael Higgins

Rating
PG

Runtime
113

Main Genre
Drama

Watch on Criterion

8 ‘In the Mood for Love’ (2000)

Directed by Wong Kar-wai

Maggie Cheung as Su Zi-Lhen looking out the window drinking in In The Mood for Love
Image via Universal Pictures

In the Mood for Love is one of many gems from Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai. Set in a gorgeously recreated 1960s Hong Kong, the film follows the lives of two neighbors, Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) and Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung). Both suspect their spouses of infidelity, leading them to form a close bond as they navigate the emotional minefield of loneliness and betrayal. However, their deepening connection is hindered by societal expectations and their own moral compass, preventing them from fully expressing their feelings.

The result is a poignant near-romance anchored by subtle performances and exquisite cinematography. It made an immediate impact, influencing everything from Lost in Translation to Everything Everywhere All at Once. Oldman included In the Mood for Love in his top ten list, and he’s not alone. Many critics have named it as one of the greatest films of all time, and it placed 5th overall in Sight & Sound’s 2022 poll.

In the Mood For Love

Two neighbors form a strong bond after both suspect extramarital activities of their spouses. However, they agree to keep their bond platonic so as not to commit similar wrongs.

Release Date
May 20, 2000

Director
Wong Kar-wai

Cast
Maggie Cheung , Tony Leung Chiu Wai , Rebecca Pan , Roy Cheung

Runtime
98 minutes

Main Genre
Drama

Watch on Max

7 ‘The Wages of Fear’ (1953)

Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot

Yves Montand as Mario Livi watching smoke billow from a fire in the move The Wages of Fear
Image via Cinédis

The Wages of Fear is the defining film by Henri-Georges Clouzot, the director known as “the French Hitchcock.” Adapted from the same source novel as William Friedkin‘s cult movie Sorcerer, it tells the story of four European men hired by an American oil company to drive trucks laden with nitroglycerin through a mountain pass. The chemical is needed to extinguish an oil well fire. However, this is a painstaking journey, where even a small accident could cost them all of their lives.

A white-knuckle thriller, The Wages of Fear was a big hit on release and greatly boosted Clouzot’s profile. It combines satire, suspense, and existentialism in one combustible package. In particular, the movie is renowned for one especially tense sequence where the drivers attempt to turn the trucks around on an unstable wooden platform above a canyon. Like George R.R. Martin, Clouzot is willing to maim or kill his main characters, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats. Not only is this one of Oldman’s top picks, it’s one of the best arthouse action films.

Watch on Criterion

6 ‘Husbands’ (1970)

Directed by John Cassavetes

Ben Gazzara, Peter Falk, and John Cassavetes as Harry, Archie, and Gus riding the subway in Husbands.
Image via Columbia Pictures

Husbands is an emotionally charged comedy-drama from actor and filmmaker John Cassavetes. Ben Gazzara, Peter Falk, and Cassavetes play middle-aged friends who are shocked out of their complacency by the unexpected death of their mutual friend. Reeling from the loss, they take an impromptu trip to London, where they cross paths with three single women. The film examines their hopeless attempts at dealing with their sudden midlife crises.

The film was incredibly polarizing on release, with some declaring it a masterpiece and others, like Roger Ebert, excoriating it. Oldman, however, firmly falls in the former camp. “As a viewer, I get so much from watching [Cassavetes’s movies] because they express and reflect my deepest feelings,” Oldman has said. He also said that Cassavete’s work was a big inspiration for his directorial debut, Nil by Mouth.

Watch on Prime

5 ‘Rome, Open City’ (1945)

Directed by Roberto Rossellini

A girl running in through the street with her arm up in the film Rome, Open City
Image via Minerva Film

Rome, Open City is a landmark war drama by Italian neorealist legend Roberto Rossellini. It follows a group of resistance fighters during the Nazi occupation of Rome. They are led by engineer Giorgio Manfredi (Marcello Pagliero) and a Catholic priest, Don Pietro Pellegrini (Aldo Fabrizi). The narrative weaves together the lives of various characters as they navigate the harsh realities of wartime, emphasizing the struggles, sacrifices, and resilience of ordinary people caught in the chaos of history.

The title refers to a city that has laid down its defenses in the hopes that it will be peacefully occupied by the opposing army rather than destroyed. The film is highly regarded for its stark realism, shot on location amid the ruins of post-war Rome. While included in Oldman’s top movies, it’s also impressive as a very early attempt to use film to grapple with the consequences of World War II.

Watch on Criterion

4 ‘The Wind Will Carry Us’ (1999)

Directed by Abbas Kiarostami

Two figures ride a motorcycle across a wheat field in The Wind Will Carry Us
Image via New Yorker Films

The Wind Will Carry Us is a poetic and contemplative Iranian film about an unnamed protagonist, referred to as the Engineer (Behzad Dorani), who arrives in a rural Kurdish village with a hidden agenda. Tasked with documenting a local funeral ritual, the Engineer becomes increasingly intertwined with the daily lives of the villagers. As he patiently waits for the elderly woman in the village to pass away, he engages with the locals and learns about their customs and philosophy. Both he and the villagers are changed in the process.

The film is celebrated for its meditative pace, stunning landscape cinematography, and its thematic richness. It considers questions of modernity versus tradition, as well as the clash between cultures. This may sound rather serious, but the film is shot through with humor. Intriguingly, Oldman and director Abbas Kiarostami actually served together on the Cannes Film Festival jury in 1993.

Rent on Amazon

3 ‘Badlands’ (1973)

Directed by Terrence Malick

Martin Sheen carrying a gun on his back in Badlands
Image via Warner Bros. Entertainment

Badlands is Terrence Malick‘s brilliant, dark take on Bonnie & Clyde. It’s about the young couple, Kit (Martin Sheen) and Holly (Sissy Spacek), who embark on a crime spree across the Midwest after Kit murders Holly’s disapproving father (Warren Oates). Inspired by real-life events, the film delves into the couple’s senseless acts of violence and their peculiar, almost detached, perspective on their actions.

The film is driven by Sheen’s chilling portrayal of Kit and Spacek’s ethereal innocence as Holly, as well as the almost preternaturally assured direction from Malick. This was his directorial debut, but it feels like the work of a veteran. “I love Badlands because, I think, I like the interior — I love the story told through Sissy Spacek’s character,” Oldman said. “I think the telling of it is delicate. It’s just exquisite, that sense of the relationship seen through her; as if she’s telling one story and we’re witnessing another.”

Rent on Amazon

2 ‘Ratcatcher’ (1999)

Directed by Lynne Ramsay

man in black coat walking in a field with men behind him.
Image via Pathé

This coming-of-age story takes place in a working-class neighborhood in Glasgow during the 1970s. The city’s garbage collectors go on strike, leading to piles of rubbish in the streets and an infestation of rats. Against this bleak backdrop, viewers are introduced to a young boy named James Gillespie (William Eadie), who accidentally causes the drowning of another boy. This tragic event becomes a haunting undercurrent throughout the film as James battles feelings of shame and guilt. He finds some solace in his newfound friendship with a girl named Margaret Anne (Leanne Mullen).

Though hard to watch at times, Ratcatcher is a moving and beautiful film, perhaps Lynne Ramsay‘s best. “I just think it’s a masterful piece of filmmaking,” Oldman said of it. In particular, it’s a great blend of realism and fantasy, with some fascinating surreal scenes. The most memorable of them features a mouse with a balloon tied to its tail floating away to the moon.

Watch on Criterion

1 ‘The Raging Moon’ (1971)

Directed by Bryan Forbes

the raging moon 1971

Malcolm McDowell stars in this romantic drama as Bruce Pritchard, a young man who becomes paralyzed from the waist down after a tragic accident. He is bitter and angry at his predicament and withdraws into himself. However, after being sent to a rehabilitation center, Bruce befriends fellow patient Jill Matthews (Nanette Newman), who is also in a wheelchair, and their connection blossoms into a deep and meaningful romance.

Bryan Forbes was a fantastic British New Wave filmmaker who directed a number of gems, including the original Stepford Wives. The Raging Moon may be his most touching film. Oldman has said that watching The Raging Moon as a child made him want to become an actor. “It was like the lights went on in my life, in much the same way that John Lennon saw Elvis on screen and said ‘That’s a good job, I’d like to do that for a living’ […] I saw Malcolm in this film and I thought, ‘This is what I want to do’,” Oldman explains.

Watch on Kanopy

NEXT: 10 Great Movies Recommended by Lars von Trier



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