The Piano
Maggie Gyllenhaal: 5 Movies That Inspired Me to Direct
Maggie Gyllenhaal
Maggie Gyllenhaal

Maggie Gyllenhaal wants to see the movies that detonate everything she thought she knew about storytelling. For the actress-turned-filmmaker, an ideal cinematic experience is one that has her leaving the theater exclaiming, as she puts it, "F—k! I've never seen anything like this before!"

Those are the types of movies she's always wanted to star in, exemplified by films such as 2002's kinky romantic comedy Secretary and the 2009 musical drama, Crazy Heart, for which she received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Now, they're the types of films she hopes to make. Gyllenhaal marked her directorial debut with The Lost Daughter, an adaptation of Elena Ferrante's novel of the same name. For it, she earned her second Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay — making her only the third woman to be recognized for acting and writing, after Ruth Gordon and Emma Thompson. "When you're the filmmaker, it all feels more intense," she confesses. "And more vulnerable. And more exciting. It's all of those things."

READ: As a Director, Maggie Gyllenhaal's Job Is to Help Her Actors 'Warm Up and Get Brave' (Exclusive)

Below, Gyllenhaal shares with A.frame five films that have most influenced her.

This article was originally published on March 14, 2022.

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Directed by: Mike Nichols | Written by: Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen

I watch Silkwood often. As an actress, I watch it for inspiration. It's a great movie, and Meryl Streep's is one of my most treasured performances that I've ever seen. Silkwood is a movie where I can tell that Mike Nichols loves his actors and that he takes care of them. I worked with Mike Nichols once — not on a film but on this performed reading of a play — and I played Marie Curie. He gave me one note the whole time, which was "she's feral."

It's such an incredible note, because it basically says any instinct you have — no matter how perverse, how wild, how full of rage, how full of sexuality, how full of you name it — it's OK with me. I'm watching and I'm telling you, "Get wild."

The Piano
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Directed and written by: Jane Campion

I do believe that women make films differently than men. I think they write books differently than men. I think we're different, and I think we express ourselves differently when we're being honest. I think The Piano was in a different language — a different cinematic language — than I had ever seen. And when I saw it when I was probably 15, it just went in straight. I didn't have to do any translating from a language that wasn't my own. It was like I was hearing it on an unconscious level. In some ways this sounds sentimental — I don't mean it in the sentimental way — but I do actually feel like I am standing on the shoulders of Jane Campion. She's been a real inspiration to me for most of my adult life, even before I was a director.

La Ciénaga
La ciénaga
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Directed and written by: Lucrecia Martel

None of the people on my list are literal in their storytelling. There are movies that a lot of people like — where people tell you what the scene's about in so many words in the scene — and I'm never into that. Lucrecia Martel expresses herself honestly, and it's in a different language. Well, it's literally in Spanish, but it's also in a different cinematic language. You're like, "Am I imagining that she's saying this really f—ked up thing? Is that coming from me? Or is that what she's saying?" And she leaves it unclear. Which includes you, and requires that you use your own mind. You're like, "Is this insanity coming from me or from her? Or is none of it insane?" I love that feeling.

Phantom Thread
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Directed and written by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Phantom Thread is my favorite PT Anderson movie. In order to follow the narrative of that movie, it's not about the words — even though the words are excellent — it's about something unconscious. It's about understanding a different kind of language between people. And also about being brave enough to acknowledge that love is not maybe what we fantasize it would be. It's something much more complicated. I love, love, love that movie. Kirsten [Dunst] and I were just talking about it, and I actually think it's one of my favorite movies ever.

Where Is the Friend's House?
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Where to Watch: The Criterion Channel

Directed and written by: Abbas Kiarostami

Before I shot The Lost Daughter, I thought I would educate myself about film more than I have. You know, I didn't go to film school. I've just seen what I've seen, and I like what I like. But I really started watching films in a different way when I was cutting, and it hasn't stopped. My editor is very knowledgeable about film and would often say, "Oh, have you seen this?" and I would go home and watch it. Peter was shooting Dopesick; so, I would put my kids to bed and I'd just watch movies. One of the films was this Kiarostami movie, Where Is the Friend's House? What I learned from it was that how you create something that's narratively compelling is really not about explosions and titties. It's really not. I mean, not for me.

That movie is about a kid wanting to get his friend's homework back to him, and many times you watch this child walk the same path of the same mountain, and you could imagine people giving you the note, like, "You should cut this. We've already seen it." But it is so brilliantly made that even though you've seen him walk the same path on the same mountain from the same angle twice already — you can't take your eyes off him. I really learned to trust my own sense of what I think is narratively compelling. And I do know there are people that watch my film and say, "What the f—k? Nothing happened!" But that's OK. Maybe this movie is not for them. It's not going to be for everybody.

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