At the tail end of the '90s, playwright and filmmaker Phyllis Nagy set about adapting two works by her friend Patricia Highsmith: The Talented Mr. Ripley, which she adapted for the stage, and Carol, which she adapted for the screen, writing her first draft of the screenplay in 1997. The latter wouldn't be made into a film until 2015, but when it was, Nagy earned her first Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.
"Attending the Oscars was like walking into a place, seeing something you'd only ever seen on TV, and then realizing you're sat behind filmmakers like the Coen Brothers," Nagy remembers. "It's the kind of thing that makes you feel like a kid again."
Her standout memory, however, wasn't from the ceremony itself, but the preceding Nominees Luncheon. "Because everyone was so relaxed," she says. The luncheon offered Nagy the chance to be in the same room with fellow filmmakers she'd long admired. "You got to be at tables with these legendary artists, or you got to spend time with people from other movies who you'd only previously seen from across crowded junket rooms. That was a great, relaxing experience."
Now, Nagy has returned with her sophomore feature, the reproductive rights drama Call Jane, which she directs from a screenplay by Hayley Schore and Roshan Sethi. Below, Nagy shares with A.frame the five films that have stuck with her throughout her career and continue to inspire her filmmaking to this day.
Directed by: Billy Wilder | Written by: Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder and D.M. Marshman Jr.
I saw Sunset Blvd., as I saw a lot of the films on this list, in a theater for the first time. It was in a revival house in New York. I think it was the Carnegie Hall Cinema. I was on a date with someone who was dragging me to see this film, and in fact, I had no idea what I was going to see, which is always the best way to see anything. From the moment William Holden falls into that pool, I thought, "This is my jam." It was so beautiful, and so moving to me. It was the first time I realized that writing could be so corrosively exact in movies, not to mention funny. I realized you could make really interesting and challenging statements about all sorts of things on film. So Sunset Blvd. never leaves me. There's a reference to it in every single thing I've ever done, including Call Jane.
Directed by: Bob Fosse | Written by: Robert Alan Aurthur and Bob Fosse
I come from the theater, so I love Bob Fosse. In All That Jazz, there's the perfect marriage of theatricality and cinematic dazzle. For that reason, it was always going to appeal to me. But the film also seems so exactingly brutal and precise about a life in the arts. Like Sunset Blvd., I saw the film on the big screen for the first time when I was way too young to appreciate it. But there's such a sense of style and maybe it's an odd thing to say about this film, but there's so much joie de vivre in it as well. Roy Scheider's character just went for it. I loved it. I continue to watch it at least a couple of times a year. It's magnificent, and the editing done by Alan Heim, who I got to know a little over the years, is just astonishing.
Directed by: Diane Kurys | Written by: Diane Kurys and Alain Le Henry
Entre Nous is a delicate, understated autobiographical drama that is also a period piece about World War II, and the two women who come together in it just so happen to be Miou-Miou and Isabelle Huppert, who is my favorite actress. I think it's fair to say that I've seen everything she's ever done, and that's a lot! Diane Kurys' complete lack of sentimentality and reliance on subtext alone has also clearly influenced me both as a writer and now as a director. This is a beautiful film.
Directed and written by: Preston Sturges
Of course there was going to be a Preston Sturges film on this list. He was such a consummate writer, but with The Palm Beach Story, in particular, it is wild that he got away with writing about relationships in the way he did with that cast and as a screwball comedy. You can't go wrong with Joel McCrea and Claudette Colbert, but Mary Astor is also astonishing in this movie, isn't she? Sturgess is able to put this bizarre story together in a very economical way, and it's still moving. It's funny and it's moving and the people in it do end up where they're supposed to end up, I think. Above all else, it had a profound effect on me as a writer, first and foremost.
Directed by: Claire Denis | Written by: Claire Denis and Jean-Pol Fargeau
As an adaptation, Beau Travail is really remarkable. It's loosely adapted from Billy Budd by Herman Melville, and I teach it to my students because it's remarkably faithful to its source material without being slavishly dull. The transposition from the sea to the French Foreign Legion seems absolutely perfect to me. It encapsulates everything, and the visual arc of the film is something that will never leave me. The way dance is used to represent both rebirth and death is not unlike All That Jazz, I guess. Visually, it's such a stunningly choreographed film that I keep going back to it again and again and again.