Filmmaker Baltasar Kormákur got his start directing offbeat Icelandic comedies like 2000's 101 Reykjavík and procedural thrillers such as 2006's Jar City. In 2012, he helmed The Deep, about a fisherman who survives in freezing waters after his boat capsizes. The movie was chosen as Iceland's official entry for the 85th Oscars.
The Deep was also the first of the movies Kormákur has become known for: Natural horror films about people surviving the most extreme circumstances. He directed 2015's Everest, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Jason Clarke as mountain climbers caught in a blizzard, and 2018's Adrift, which stars Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin as a couple who are adrift at sea after a hurricane. His latest, Beast, stars Idris Elba as a single father who must protect his daughters from a man-hunting lion while on safari in Africa.
"I think at the end of the day, there isn't much different in how I make my films in Iceland or when I make a big Hollywood film," Kormákur explains. "The path I've chosen is to merge these things together. I've been offered some of these big, big franchises and stuff, but I know you can't really take them off in your direction. That's why I stay with middle-sized movies like Beast, where I'm allowed to dirty it up and do something that excites me."
"At the same time, I have to admit that I love the scale. I love making movies that the world sees," he adds. "That's a little bit difficult when you come from a country of 300,000 people."
Below, Kormákur shares with A.frame five of the films that have most impacted him. "Also, it sounds like I only watch foreign directors," he chuckles. "But I like Witness and Mississippi Burning. When I started to make this list, I could have gone on forever, because I just love good films!"
Where to Watch: The Criterion Channel
Directed by: Elem Klimov | Written by: Ales Adamovich and Elem Klimov
Come and See is a war film from Russia. I was 20-something when I saw that. I had no idea that cinema could make me feel like that. I felt like I was in the mud with him. I was just floored by the rawness of that film. It's very abstract in some ways, but I mostly connected to the journey of that boy and the girl with him and the village and the moment he finds the dead people behind the house. It was a physical experience watching that film. It just got into me and I've never gotten it out. I'm kind of taking it out by trying to make films that in some way remind of that.
Directed by: Carlos Saura | Written by: Carlos Saura and Antonio Gades
That film is a masterpiece of when reality and fiction meets and you have no idea what is what. It's about creation, and I love that idea of, I am telling you a story and you're going to get lost. Because I believe that we live in different states — part is my dream state, part is what I imagine, and then my reality, and all this is real to me — and it can all blend in some ways.
I'm half Spanish and my father, he introduced me to those films. Sadly, the world doesn't know Carlos Saura well enough. He is a fantastic filmmaker and Carmen is one of his best. The music in it, the flamenco, is just incredible. The magic of cinema there. Go watch it.
Directed by: Alejandro G. Iñárritu | Written by: Guillermo Arriaga
I like Iñárritu's films in general. Birdman is great and I think The Revenant has really good things in it, but there's something about Amoros perros that hit me really hard. I was actually making my first film and we were in "Variety's 10 to Watch," and I was like, "F—k, that guy is good!" It was Christopher Nolan and me and him and I can't remember all the others, but he was the one I like, "Oh, that f—ker. He's the real deal." It's just something about these stories. It's one of his films that you have no idea what you're going to see, it just stays with you for the rest of your life.
Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón | Written by: Alfonso Cuarón, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby
Children of Men I loved when I saw it, but I even loved it more when I watched it again. You know why I love it? Because it's genre. Because Alfonso Cuarón is such a good filmmaker and then the story is kind of genre, and those things together make it so entertaining. He can put all this twist and turns on it, but he still drives the story. I really appreciate that. It's a great ride that film. There's shots — like when he goes into the apartment house and the whole army is in there — that are amazing shots. But I do think there's something about these things meeting, which is very stylish and specific filmmaking, but at the same time, the story has a very clear aim: Save the last child.
Directed by: Emir Kusturica | Written by: Emir Kusturica and Gordan Mihic
Kusturica is a wild one. Houses are flying in that film, but that's why I love it so much. Later on, he became so eccentric in his filmmaking, but this one still has so much soulfulness in it.