Jim Jarmusch, like his younger compatriots in filmmaking Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson, made his name as much with his taste as with his body of work. Or maybe it makes more sense to say that he’s made his name in large part by making films shaped by, and showcasing, that taste. This seems to have held especially true in the case of Only Lovers Left Alive, his most recent feature, which focuses on a married couple of vampire aesthetes who split their time between her place in Tangier stacked with yellowed volumes of poetry, and his decaying Detroit Victorian decked out with a noise-rock recording studio and an iPhone patched through an old tube television.
So Jarmusch’s fans will by definition have some familiarity with the director’s preferences in clothing, music, European cultures, and niches of Americana. But what about in other movies? Here we have a top ten list from the maker of Permanent Vacation, Mystery Train, and Night on Earth, originally composed for the British Film Institute’s 2002 Sight and Sound top ten poll. Three of Jarmusch’s selections you can watch online here, or find them in our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..
- L’Atalante (1934, Jean Vigo)
- Tokyo Story (1953, Yasujiro Ozu)
- They Live by Night (1949, Nicholas Ray)
- Bob le Flambeur (1955, Jean-Pierre Melville)
- Sunrise (1927, F.W. Murnau)
- The Cameraman (1928, Buster Keaton/Edward Sedgwick)
- Mouchette (1967, Robert Bresson)
- Seven Samurai (1954, Akira Kurosawa)
- Broken Blossoms (1919, D.W. Griffith)
- Rome, Open City (1945, Roberto Rossellini)
The true Jarmusch enthusiast will immediately notice a number of connections between his own pictures and those he names as his favorites. He began his career working as an assistant to the director of They Live by Night, Nicholas Ray (and you can even glimpse Jarmusch in Lightning Over Water, Wim Wenders’ documentary on Ray’s final years).
Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai shares not just titular but philosophical qualities with Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. With Bob le Flambeur, Jean-Pierre Melville gave birth to cinematic “cool,” a tradition Jarmusch has done his level best to uphold. And if D.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms sounds a bit like Broken Flowers, the similarities — the indirect ones, at least — don’t end there.
And all cinephiles, Jarmusch fans or otherwise, will notice that he has included not a single color film among his top ten. Some of this might have to do with his generally retro sensibility (something to which even casual viewers of his work can attest), but the likes of Stranger Than Paradise, Down By Law, Dead Man, and Coffee and Cigarettes suggest that he himself counts as one of the finest users of black-and-white cinematography in the modern day. The vivid colors Yorick Le Saux captured for him in Only Lovers Left Alive (and Christopher Doyle did in its predecessor, The Limits of Control), suggest that Jarmusch’s universe exists equally well in both visual realms, but speaking from my own Jarmusch fandom, I do hope he has at least one more black-and-white picture in him.
Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.