In his 20 years working at Walt Disney Animation Studios, writer, director and animator Chris Williams had a hand in some of the Mouse House's most iconic movies, from Mulan to Moana. (He even voices Oaken in Frozen!) In 2009, he earned his first Oscar nomination for co-directing Bolt, and went on to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature with 2014's Big Hero 6, which he co-directed with Don Hall.
With The Sea Beast, Williams set sail from Disney for a new home at Netflix, making an animated adventure based on the movies of his childhood, like King Kong and Raiders of the Lost Ark. And, although many of the filmmaker's major influences happen to be live-action, he is content in his medium of choice.
"If I feel like I have climbed the mountaintop and learned everything that I can possibly learn about animation, then maybe I'd be looking for the next challenge," he says. "But I don't feel that way. I'm still learning. I'm still trying to get better. I do love animation. I love the art form. I can be entertained by an animated movie or live-action movie. It's the quality of the film, more than the way it was made, that is important to me."
In choosing his five favorite films, Williams actually came up with a list of 23 titles, and then, began narrowing it down from there. "Let the Right One In could have been number six, because I love a really good horror movie and that one is so amazing. And it pains me to not have There Will be Blood on the list," he admits. "As far as animation, I Lost My Body is a Netflix animated film that I desperately wanted to put in my top five. This one caused quite a bit of consternation."
Below, Williams shares with A.frame the five movies (well, technically six) that he ultimately chose as his favorites (with a few alternates thrown in for good measure).
Directed by: Clint Eastwood | Written by: David Webb Peoples
I've watched that movie quite a few times, but I hadn't seen it in a few years. And, watching it again recently, it's even better than I remembered. It's an incredible film. It's so beautifully written. It's beautifully shot. I think it's Clint Eastwood's best movie as a director and as an actor. The characters are so vivid and rich, and the landscapes are incredible, and it's such an enjoyable and deep experience.
Clint Eastwood does this incredible thing where it evolves the character he's cultivated through all of his Westerns, The Man with No Name. And Unforgiven asks the question, what if he got older and regretted the things that he'd done? It really opens the door for this examination of the way that violence is depicted in movies and in Westerns and, very specifically, in Clint Eastwood Westerns, where it's not black and white. It's depicted in a way that is ugly and morally ambiguous, at best. But, in spite of those bigger themes, there's still this incredibly cathartic moment at the end of the movie where he comes back and exacts revenge on Big Whiskey and avenges his family and, again, there's catharsis in these acts of violence. It's one more opportunity to reflect, personally, on my own relationship with violence and the way it's depicted in movies. It's one of the greatest movies, I think, ever made.
Directed by: Chris Noonan | Written by: George Miller and Chris Noonan
I could have easily put Paddington 2 in here — and maybe Paper Moon could have snuck into this spot — but I went for Babe. I have a soft spot for movie tough guys, but I also have a real affection for really sweet and naive characters, where their innate goodness is their superpower, and that's what ends up changing the world. They stay simple and good and the world changes around them as a result of it. Babe culminates with one of the most arresting climaxes ever. It's so gentle and so quiet with Babe just going about his business, and he gets this really sweet affirmation from the farmer, where he says, "That'll do pig. That'll do." I get emotional just thinking about it.
Years later, I got the opportunity to work with James Cromwell, who played the farmer, and he described that moment. It's just a simple shot — a close-up of him looking into the camera and saying that line — and he said that when he looked into the lens, he saw his own reflection, but he looked older. He said he saw his father. So, when he said that line, he was talking to his father, and it gives it that really powerful resonance. When I think about that movie in that moment, it just makes me so emotional. I think it's such a sweet and understated movie that packs such a punch.
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola | Written by: Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola
I can't help but put Godfather I and II together. I could have put Apocalypse Now or Chinatown or Pulp Fiction, because I love movies where there's this wild and reckless ambition and you get a sense that it all could have all fallen apart. But with The Godfather I and II, more than any other movies, there's this incredible trick where they are simultaneously massive and operatic in scale, but at the same time, it's very intimate and very personal, and you get very connected to the characters at the same time. And it seems impossible. It seems like a miracle that it works so well, but it does. And it exists and it's just this masterful piece of cinema.
I think Al Pacino's performance is particularly mesmerizing as the center of this sprawling story. His performance is so intense and, at the same time, so understated that it carries you through the movie and it makes you connect with him. And even though, over the course of the two movies, he goes further and further down this dark path and further away from what his father's wishes were for him, you're still with him even as he's committing these terrible acts. There's not going to be another Godfather. To me, it exists as the pinnacle of what is possible for movies.
Directed by: Steven Spielberg | Written by: Lawrence Kasdan
Raiders of the Lost Ark is one where it's as much about the impact it had on me as it is about the movie itself. Because I was the perfect age to see it, and I was just so enthralled and so entertained by it. But I I remember the experience of being in the theater watching it, and I was cognizant of the fact that it was something that was made by adults. And I thought, 'How can adults love all the same things that I love?' It was strangely reassuring to feel like I can grow up and I don't have to let go of all things that I love now. I feel like I walked out of that theater changed by the experience and, as much as any movie, it made me want to tell stories and make movies.
I almost put The Road Warrior in place of Raiders, because that was the other one I saw at a formative age that really fired me up and made me want to tell stories visually. Road Warrior or [Mad Max:] Fury Road, which I just love.
Directed by: Mike Nichols | Written by: Calder Willingham and Buck Henry
I love The Graduate so much. It has such a unique tone. I think it's hilarious. There's something about the story going in so many different wild directions, but the performances being relatively dry and understated that just tickles my funny bone. And one of the things that I find amazing is that it's about a character that is defined by the fact that he's so lost and adrift, yet — at the same time — there is this real energy to the story, and there's this real tension and propulsion. That, to me, is the magic trick of that film. When you look at the ingredients that make up the film, it almost seems like it shouldn't work, but it does. And it succeeds absolutely on its own terms.
There's a point midway through the movie, where the story starts to go in these wild and unexpected directions, and you just give in to it. You don't even try to anticipate where it's going next. And that is a really enthralling place to be when I'm watching a movie. And it culminates with the most remarkable last 10 seconds of a movie in cinema history. It's a quiet, last 10 seconds that invites the characters and the audience to reconsider everything that had led up to that moment. If you stopped the movie 10 seconds earlier, you would have felt completely differently about the movie. It's a credit to the writing, a credit to the acting. The performances are incredible. There's a real sense of a director and a crew at the top of their game.