To heck with algorithms: Sometimes, you need a human touch.
A few years ago, three French filmmakers, inspired by pop stars’ playlists on Apple Music and Spotify, decided the model could apply to film streaming. “We wanted to launch a site that would be the ideal online cinémathèque and we thought we’d use directors as curators,” Cédric Klapisch recently said via FaceTime.
In 2015, Klapisch (“L’Auberge Espagnole” and its sequels) and his friends Pascale Ferran (“Lady Chatterley”) and Laurent Cantet (“The Class”) helped start the platform LaCinetek. Organized around lists submitted by directors from all over the world, the catalog is a unique peek into these filmmakers’ brains. The project puts a cool spin on the “recommended if you like” approach, basing it not on your viewing history but on tips from those who actually make movies.
At first the founders called on people they knew — hence the large number of French participants — but LaCinetek now has an international roster of contributors, including Dario Argento, Marjane Satrapi and John Woo. It also includes posthumous lists gleaned from François Truffaut and Akira Kurosawa, among others.
“We’re trying to reach out to Noah Baumbach, if you know how to contact him,” Klapisch said. “We’re also looking for Paul Thomas Anderson.”
The selection purposefully steers clear of recent releases — films must be at least 15 years old. “Sites like Netflix or Amazon focus on the freshness of their catalog,” Klapisch said, laughing. “For us it’s the opposite: we’re into rancid movies, the ones that aren’t fresh.”
Definitely not “fresh” is F.W. Murnau’s silent masterpiece “Sunrise” (1927), which appears on 21 filmmakers’ lists; “Vertigo” is a close second. Alfred Hitchcock earns the most mentions of all directors, followed by Jean Renoir.
While people in the United States can’t subscribe to LaCinetek, Americans can still peruse the lists and use the addictive cross-referencing function. You can easily spot, for example, which 13 directors picked “Barry Lyndon” as a touchstone, or the only one to include “Bambi” (looking at you, Damien Chazelle).
Even better is when you realize that only two directors picked a certain movie, thus illuminating unexpected connections. Here are five films picked by couples that may not be so odd after all.
It’s not at all surprising that Park Chan-wook, responsible for the brutal action movies “Oldboy” and “Lady Vengeance,” included Tobe Hooper’s 1974 horror classic “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” in his recommendations. More intriguing is the festival-circuit favorite Apichatpong Weerasethakul, whose experimental, gently elliptical style is light years away from both Hooper’s and Park’s. Ah, to be a fly on the wall when a curious gore fiend decides to watch Weerasethakul’s idiosyncratic ghost story “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.”
‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’
It is simply delightful to imagine Bong Joon Ho (“Parasite”) and Céline Sciamma (the period romance “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”) bonding over “Close Encounters,” Steven Spielberg’s hit about the buildup to an alien encounter. The film, from 1977, is the rare big-budget blockbuster to display a poetic touch and, perhaps even odder nowadays, a sense of brooding ambiguity that still allows for hopefulness. The choice is perhaps not so surprising from the director of “The Host” and “Snowpiercer,” but it casts an intriguing light on Sciamma, a director known for naturalistic work. She submitted an eclectic list that is fairly heavy on fantasy and science fiction, including another Spielberg movie, “E.T. the Extraterrestrial,” as well as “Soylent Green,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “2001: A Space Odyssey,” among many others.
Streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
The late Agnès Varda often adopted a poetic visual style and was attuned to people’s quirks; the Scottish-born Lynne Ramsay, whose best films include “We Need to Talk About Kevin” and “Morvern Callar,” tends to take a stern, unflinching look on life on the edge of acceptable norms. The two seem to share little, but their picks overlap six times. The only film exclusive to both directors is Roman Polanski’s Palme d’Or-winning “The Pianist,” from 2002. At first the relatively conventional drama feels like a left-field choice, but the film is about survival, something both Ramsay and Varda touched upon through their careers. Equally interesting, of course, is why Polanski’s movie, which was showered with awards when it came out, has so few other fans.
‘Berlin Alexanderplatz’ + ‘The Lady From Shanghai’ + ‘Pickup on South Street’
Martin Scorsese, among the most passionate of cinephiles, and the brilliant, unpredictable Leos Carax are both fascinated by the mystique of filmmaking itself — The New York Times described Carax’s last movie, “Holy Motors,” as “a love letter (or an elegy) to the cinema.” Typically, Scorsese submitted not one but two lists to LaCinetek: “foundational films” and an “alternative list.” It’s in the latter that he and Carax pair up on three movies. There are two American noirs: Orson Welles’s virtuosic “The Lady From Shanghai” (1947) and Samuel Fuller’s “Pickup on South Street,” a violent slice of pulp from 1953. Then there is Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s made-for-TV epic “Berlin Alexanderplatz” (1980), which clocks in at almost 16 hours. All three choices are classic yet subversive, and always boundary-pushing.
‘The Sixth Sense’
Streaming on Fubo.
François Ozon and William Friedkin have both explored what it means to be an outsider, and is there a greater outsider than a dead person amid the living?
“The Sixth Sense,” M. Night Shyamalan’s supernatural blockbuster from 1999, brings together two directors who have made hay, albeit in very different ways, of genre cinema. Friedkin has a more muscular approach, often with a sure sense of the pulse-quickening grotesque, while Ozon frequently revisits classic tropes with a sly mischievousness. His haunting “Under the Sand” (2001) explores grief in a way that makes it a terrific double bill with “The Sixth Sense.” If you have the stamina, escalate matters with Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” for a binge exploring the porous borders between sanity and madness.