Grant Singer had a very specific look in mind for his film debut, the crime thriller Reptile, which he directed from a script he co-wrote with Benjamin Brewer and star and executive producer Benicio Del Toro. "I wanted to create a movie that doesn’t necessarily look like it was made in 2023," the filmmaker explains.
"[Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis] and I both love '70s films," Singer says, "and even though I don't think Reptile looks like it was made in the '70s, there's certainly something classical and formal about the way the film was shot, constructed, and edited that is very akin to my own personal taste."
Singer's previous directorial credits include music videos for musicians like The Weeknd, Taylor Swift, Lorde, and Ariana Grande. But while discussing making his feature debut, he's quick to reference European auteurs like Michael Haneke and Luc Besson.
"Bresson said, 'There’s only one way to a shoot a scene,' and both Mike and I like to figure out how to articulate a moment with the fewest amount of shots possible," the filmmaker says. "I like movies that feel very directorial, because I like it when a director visually tells you, 'This is the shot.' That's why I love filmmakers like Michael Haneke, who can commit and communicate conviction in their filmmaking."
Below, Singer shares with A.frame the five films he admires most, including the Paul Thomas Anderson epic that he says changed his life.
Written and Directed by: Ingmar Bergman
Wild Strawberries unfolds like a dream, and I generally think about films in terms of dreams. When the film begins, you have absolutely no idea where it's going. It unfolds like this unpredictable mystery, but it's completely emotional and all-encompassing. The writing of it is like a dance. It beautifully wavers between harrowing and playful and light. It deals with themes of nostalgia, memory, and family, and the character's inner world is so intense, alive, and visceral that you feel almost like it's your own life. He watches scenes with his own family, and they don't see him. He becomes a voyeur of his own life, which is something that is, perhaps, only able to be truly explored through cinema — or after death. He revisits moments from his past that he wasn't even present for, and in doing so, has an emotional reckoning. He sees his own life in a new way and discovers what it’s like to see one's life outside oneself.
The inner world of the character — his consciousness — is expressed so beautifully and so fully and with such complexity yet simply at the same time. It's like the film poses a question about the ultimate truths of our existence and does so while allowing the viewer to find meaning subjectively, without telling you what certain things mean. I think it's one of the most beautiful works of art of all time, and I had to put it on this list.
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock | Written by: Alec Coppel and Samuel Taylor
Vertigo is a film that truly defies genre. It's in a classification all of its own. I've seen it so many times, and I always think about the sequence where Jimmy Stewart follows Kim Novak. I heard Scorsese talk about the serenity of that sequence, and he really unlocked something for me by articulating it like that. It's so meditative, and transfixing, and hypnotizing. I'm always hypnotized by that movie, and it's not even just a film. It's an artifact. It's an artifact of San Francisco in 1957 and what it was like to be in California at that time. I want to exist in the world of Vertigo more than I do any other movie I've ever seen. I want to live in it.
Sometimes, I'll watch it not even to watch the movie, but because it's visually like a vacation. It's like taking a trip somewhere. It's the most beautiful film about obsession, overcoming trauma, fate, destiny, catharsis, and healing through the recreation of trauma. But most of all, it presents a world that I want to exist in, and feel, and live inside of. It offers me the best pure feeling of any movie in the history of cinema. And Bernard Herrmann's score is my favorite score of all time.
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick | Written by: Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson
This is the film I've seen the most in my life, and if someone were to ask me what my favorite film of all time is, I'd have to be honest and say The Shining. No film has had more of an impact on me and effect on me as a director. From its construction and its mood to its performances, it's firing on all cylinders. The film is totally encompassing. It's terrifying. It's sinister. It's playful. It's hilarious. It's mystifying. It's unpredictable. And it's the most beautifully and perfectly directed film I've ever seen.
I remember I first saw it when I was a kid, and I didn't know that a work of art could make me feel the way it made me feel. It was really one of those 'before and after' moments. There's my life before The Shining and my life after The Shining. It was the film that proved to me that a movie can make you feel something that I previously didn't know was possible. As a director, I'm obsessed with the mechanical tightrope between the blocking of an actor and the movement of the camera. If an actor walks 10 feet and then stops, and the camera and music stop with him, that's an operatic synchronization of form. The Shining demonstrates that on the grandest possible level.
Directed by: Vittorio De Sica | Written by: Sergio Amidei, Adolfo Franci, Cesare Giulio Viola, and Cesare Zavattini
I've never seen a movie quite like Shoeshine. It's just pure emotion to me. It's so sincere, authentic, genuine, honest, and painful that, to me, it transcends the medium of cinema. It transcends all of the elements that comprise a movie. When you research how De Sica shot it, and you realize how considered everything really was, that just makes it even more incredible.
It's a film that deals with suffering, cruelty, innocence, injustice, brokenness, survival, what hardship does to someone, and how the innocence of children can be corrupted. It's so masterfully made that the filmmaking of it becomes invisible, despite how intentional every decision throughout it is. It's a movie that makes me rethink why we make movies. To articulate something so masterfully just floors me to this day. I'm in awe of what De Sica did.
I talk a lot about trying to create emotions as a director, and there is no movie that has made me feel like Shoeshine does, or has affected me on the level that it has. It almost makes you want to change how you pursue a career in filmmaking, because it's just so pure. It's so sincere and the humanity of it is so devastating. I had to put it on this list, because it's almost more than just a piece of art. It exists on a higher level than that.
Written and Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Magnolia is one of the biggest swings I've ever seen a director make, and it's such an emotional film. The thing that's really special about Magnolia is that it's purely felt. I remember the steps I took when I left the theater after I saw it. I remember the time of day. I remember every little detail about the first time I saw it, because it's such a visceral experience. It's so effective and magnificent and breathtaking. I could have picked a lot of movies for the final spot on this list, whether it be Cache or Diary of a Country Priest. Those are great movies. I love them. But Magnolia changed the course of my life.
It came out in 1999, and I was 14 years old at the time. It was the moment in my life when I was subconsciously starting to admit to myself that I wanted to pursue a career in filmmaking, and I don't know if I can remember another movie that totally changed the direction of my life like Magnolia did. The directorial ambition, mastery, and grandiosity of it just blew me away. As is the case with The Shining, there's my life Before Magnolia and my life after Magnolia.
I'm also from Northridge, which is not far from where Paul Thomas Anderson is from and where the film is set, so I have a very specific relationship with Magnolia. There's something about it that seems to encapsulate my life and my childhood and the way I think about the world that I grew up in. It's the ultimate Los Angeles movie, and I still feel a real familiarity and connection with its setting. I don't know if there's a movie that has played as large of a role in my artistic development and desire to pursue a career in filmmaking as Magnolia.