Jim Jarmusch’s 10 Favorite Films: Ozu’s Tokyo Story, Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and Other Black & White Classics

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, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

  1. L’Atalante (1934, Jean Vigo)
  2. Tokyo Sto­ry (1953, Yasu­jiro Ozu)
  3. They Live by Night (1949, Nicholas Ray)
  4. Bob le Flam­beur (1955, Jean-Pierre Melville)
  5. Sun­rise (1927, F.W. Mur­nau) 
  6. The Cam­era­man (1928, Buster Keaton/Edward Sedg­wick) 
  7. Mouchette (1967, Robert Bres­son)
  8. Sev­en Samu­rai (1954, Aki­ra Kuro­sawa)
  9. Bro­ken Blos­soms (1919, D.W. Grif­fith) 
  10. 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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Two Short Films on Cof­fee and Cig­a­rettes from Jim Jar­musch & Paul Thomas Ander­son

Jim Jar­musch: The Art of the Music in His Films

Free: F. W. Murnau’s Sun­rise, the 1927 Mas­ter­piece Vot­ed the 5th Best Movie of All Time

Jim Jarmusch’s Anti-MTV Music Videos for Talk­ing Heads, Neil Young, Tom Waits & Big Audio Dyna­mite

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.

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