It's easy for writer and director John Carney to name the quality that connects the five films that, he says, have had the biggest impact on him as a filmmaker. "All the movies on this list are all purely themselves," he observes. The same could be said of Carney's movies.
The Irish filmmaker broke out with 2007's Once, which won the Oscar for Best Original Song for Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová's "Falling Slowly." He followed suit with two of the decade's most acclaimed musicals in 2013's Begin Again and 2016's Sing Street. Following the release of the latter, Carney took a seven-year break from filmmaking, a period he partly spent developing and showrunning Amazon's anthology series, Modern Love.
Now, Carney has returned with Flora and Son, a musical dramedy about a single mother, Flora (Eve Hewson), whose impulsive decision to rescue a guitar from the garbage helps her rebuild her relationship with her son, Max (Orén Kinlan), and strike up an unexpected romance with an L.A.-based musician (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt). While the film touches on many of the same subjects as both Begin Again and Sing Street, Carney also wanted Flora and Son to do something that his previous musicals hadn't.
"I think that a lot of us have lost sight of how much fun it is to just spend time creating something," he says. As such, Flora and Son highlights the fact that music can impact someone's life outside the scope of professional success. "It's not about the end result. More often than not, the end result is usually failure."
Below, Carney shares with A.frame the five films that have been the most important to him as a filmmaker, including the '80s fantasy epic that exposed him to the power of cinema and the indie film that made him want to pick up a camera for the first time.
Directed by: Desmond Davis | Written by: Beverley Cross
I was probably 10 when Clash of the Titans hit screens in Ireland, and I somehow got to go to that movie with my brother. In no way when I was watching it did I think, "Oh, now I want to be a filmmaker," either. But I was totally enchanted by that movie in a way that I never really had been before. I'd never seen anything like that film, and if I see a clip of it today or I see Harry Hamlin's sword, I still get transported back to the age I was when I saw it for the first time and the feeling it gave me. It made such an impression on me. I remember I used to just draw the characters from it over and over again in my books when I was younger.
Directed and written by: John Cassavetes
Faces is such a significant film for me, because it was the first movie I saw as a young person that made me wonder, "Could I be a filmmaker?" I'd thought about it previously, but movies always seemed like very distant things. I couldn't get my head around how they worked or how they were made. But then I saw Faces, and there was something in that movie that gave me and a lot of other filmmakers permission to go and just try it, which is what you really needed at the time. In the '80s, it was so hard to do anything, because nobody had a camcorder or an iPhone. Maybe someone had a Super 8 camera, but nobody had the means or the resources to do anything of any real scale or budget. Faces was a film that made you think, "I don't need that much. At least, I don't need everything I thought I needed."
As a filmmaker, most of the time when you see a wide shot, you're left thinking, "Oh, man, look at that shot. So, I need a wide-angle lens, I need props, I need a set, I need a couch, I need an art director, I need lights, etcetera etcetera." But Faces proved that if you zoom in and you just focus on a person's face, nobody's ever going to see any of the stuff around them. And that realization makes you think, "Maybe my first movie doesn't need to be Clash of the Titans or one of these expensive productions I could never do. For my first movie, maybe I can just do something that's all about faces and characters and dialogue. Maybe I don't need to worry about production design or special effects or locations." So, Faces is a really emotionally and symbolically significant movie for me, because seeing that film absolutely represented the moment when I went from being a consumer of movies to somebody who actively thought about making them.
Directed by: Vincente Minnelli | Written by: Alan Jay Lerner
I have to include An American in Paris for the pure pleasure of rewinding and rewatching all those set pieces over and over again. It's just inexplicable, that film. You take the music of [George] Gershwin, Gene Kelly's dancing, the incredible production design, Vincente Minnelli's camera movements, Leslie Caron and Gene singing by the Seine, and what you get is romance before romance was kitschy — before it was cute Instagram moments. It's just unashamed, unabashed romance, and it isn't self-conscious. It's just beautiful, and it's definitely a musical that I studied intensely, because of its choreography and the way the camera moves throughout it.
Directed by: George Cukor | Written by: Moss Hart
A Star Is Born is the first movie musical that I saw that wasn't just about being delighted with itself as a musical. It's about an alcoholic and a doomed love affair and the cynicism of the film industry and the meanness of it all. It's about human beings, but it's also able to be a frivolous, fun musical as well. Watching it was a remarkable moment for me, because it made me go, "Oh my god, not all musicals have to be An American in Paris, where everything is gay and lovely! They can be meaningful and deep and emotionally complex and hurtful, too."
That was an amazing revelation for me, and when I look at Once, I really think A Star Is Born gave me the confidence to make a musical that is not necessarily like a musical. Also, the music in the film is all source. No song ever plays in it that isn't justified in the script, which I also tried to do with Once. That was a very important decision I made, and it's one that I've made in a few of my films. In general, if it's not happening onscreen, I don't think it should be happening on the soundtrack.
Directed and written by: John Landis
An American Werewolf in London is an amazing movie, because there's no other movie like it. It would never get made today, either. A film like it will never get made in our current era of derivative pastiche and parody and meta, smart-aleckness. We'd never get something so searingly bold and original and wrong and f**ked up and funny and horrific and moving.
It's a bizarre film. You go through everything in that movie. You'll be laughing in one moment, and then you'll be sad, and then you'll be horrified and terrified. How does a film do all of that to you? It's so funny. It's so atmospheric. Watching that film is really like a dance. My parents let me watch it when I was way too young, probably 12 or 13. I definitely shouldn't have been allowed to watch that film at that age, but it has stayed with me my whole life.