"It's impossible to do that! There are so many!" Andrew Garfield exclaims with a laugh when prompted to spotlight the five films that most influenced his career. And for the 38-year-old actor, what a career it is.
Take this month alone, in which Garfield earned his second Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the late musical theater genius Jonathan Larson in tick, tick... BOOM! (His first came in 2017 for Hacksaw Ridge.) At the same time, Spider-Man: No Way Home, which sees Garfield reprise his role as Peter Parker opposite Tom Holland and Tobey Maguire's respective Peters, recently dethroned Avatar to become the third-biggest movie of all time.
"Like, it's impossible to narrow that down," Garfield reiterates, "but I'll give it a go!"
The fact that that film exists is so inspiring and shocking to me. Because the first hour is all setup. The first hour is this kind of languorous look at this friend group and the culture that they come from, and it feels like a documentary. It feels like we are watching lives unfold and people existing together. And I think in terms of the acting, it's some of the best modern film acting that exists, with [Robert] De Niro and Chris Walken and John Cazale and Meryl Streep. The way that they create the reality of their relationships and the reality of the moment—from the Russian roulette scene to the wedding scene—it felt like a bar. A bar of storytelling, a bar of acting to me, and a level of filmmaking that was so epic, so sweeping and so personal and so mysterious. It's one that I will revisit once a year, just to luxuriate in the genius of the artistry of every single department in that film.
Tom Hanks is a huge influence on me as an actor. [He is] someone that I grew up watching from Big to Splash to Joe Versus the Volcano, and then as he started to leave the more comedic roles behind and going into Philadelphia and Cast Away and Forrest Gump. He is America's dad, but also, the everyman quality that he has is just his goodness that emanates from every pore. And Big is a masterclass in being a playful, spontaneous, sincere actor. Because what an impossibly hard gig to be the soul of a 12-year-old boy and to have it ring true, but watching what he does is sublime.
And the film itself was just pure fantasy fulfillment for me as a kid. The apartment that he makes for himself when he starts working and making money—with the trampoline and the arcade machine and the Godzilla and the basketball net and the skateboarding—it was like, "If I ever make money from acting, I'm going to create that apartment for myself."
I've read [Elia] Kazan's book on directing over and over and over again. As a theater director and as a filmmaker, the way that he saw the world, the way that he saw story, the way that he told story—which was so emotional and personal and textured—and the way that he dealt with theme, he was a champion of humanity. He was a champion of looking directly in the eye of what it is to be a human being. I'm just so inspired by all of his films, but On the Waterfront happens to have this damaged, towering Brando performance. The classic kind of Brando performance. The spontaneity, the aliveness, the effortlessness, the pathos, the brutishness, the sensitivity, you just want to keep studying what Brando is doing in that film, and what all the actors are doing, but particularly Brando.
I've read Sidney Lumet's book, Making Movies, countless times. The way he tells story, you never feel him as a director. You always just feel the story. That goes for Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico and everything that he's made, but Network stands alone in a way because of Paddy Chayefsky's writing and the prescience and the prophecy of that film. I don't think there will ever be a satire as ingenious as Network, in terms of the writing and in terms of the acting and the character of Howard Beale being this classic symbol of all of our rage and knowing about what it is to be a person in the modern world of conglomerates and commodification and commercialism and materialism. It just felt like a balm. It felt like a healing, soothing balm.
Thirty years after it had been made, for me, it was like, "Oh my god, how did he know this is where we were going? With how we commodify the soullessness of our culture?" And with this incredible ensemble cast of actors and with that Ned Beatty speech in the middle. It's a classic film, and obviously a big influence on Aaron Sorkin when he wrote The Social Network. This is one that I revisit every year.
It's about everything. It's the most life-affirming film that I'm aware of. For me, watching it every year at Christmas is the treat of that day. It does just remind you of the preciousness of what's in front of you, and it reminds you of your own preciousness. It reminds us of all of our preciousness and the sacredness of all life. It's heavy and it's dark and it's devastating and ultimately the most uplifting film that I can imagine watching. And with the great Jimmy Stewart in the center, just containing all of our humanity, being the project screen for everyone's human experience. It's a stunning, stunning film.