There’s a lot to talk about William Friedkin. He has made some of the greatest films of all time (“The French Connection,” “The Exorcist”); some of his films were ahead of their time (“The Boys in the Band”); some others became cinephile favorites (“Sorcerer,” “To Live and Die in L.A.”) and also, not every director manages to make bold and original films in his later career like he did with “Bug” and “Killer Joe.”
When you look at his filmography, it’s full of surprises. He actually made an acclaimed new version of “12 Angry Men” in the ‘90s and even got an Emmy nom for that. He directed operas all around the world, popular music videos for Laura Branigan and Barbra Streisand, and very good episodes of shows like “The Twilight Zone” and “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.”
If you see him in any of his interviews, you get to see an intelligent, well-informed, very witty and funny man. No wonder such a unique personality has a great taste of his own. Friedkin has made films in many different genres and he doesn’t necessarily like to categorize films by genre, but one thing is true – due to his popular movies, he’s often associated with thriller/action or horror cinema. Here we’ll look at 10 of his favorites that might please you also.
10. Take Shelter (2011)
There are these dark, terrifying clouds in the sky, the strong wind, and a seemingly happy family. Curtis LaForche has apocalyptic dreams and visual and auditory hallucinations of rain and being harmed by people close to him. He tries to hide it but the more he tries, the worse it becomes. It turns into an obsession and gets out of control after some point. It’s hard to understand what’s going on. He tries to get help but it doesn’t necessarily work. Is it an obsession, some kind of mental disorder or is he the prophet?
You’d be the judge while you watch, but one thing is for sure, the movie is about fear of loss. The loss of your house in a storm or loss of your family or maybe worse: losing your own mental health. Director Jeff Nichols and actor Michael Shannon are some of the best director/actor duos of recent times. Their collaborations always deliver but “Take Shelter” might just be their best work in terms of atmosphere, rich themes, and incredible acting and direction. “I really liked the whole film,” said Friedkin on his Twitter account in 2012, which is no surprise. “Take Shelter” is one of the most gripping films of the 2010s.
Friedkin film to watch later. “Bug” (2006). As great as “Take Shelter” is (or “Midsommar”?), “Bug” is something else. It’s one of Friedkin’s best. A frightening, funny, thought-provoking, thrilling ride with terrific performances by Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon, who once again plays a man we just can’t be sure whether he’s genuinely insane or if there’s something more going on.
9. Eye in the Sky (2015)
A team of British military and politicians, US drone pilots, and local Kenyan forces observed the gathering of Islamist terrorists in Nairobi. When the surveillance cameras show that the terrorists are equipped with explosives and may be preparing an attack, those responsible have to decide: should they launch a drone attack and bomb the building, even if civilians in the residential area are in danger; or take the risk that the terrorists leave the house with the explosives?
Drone war technology has created its own war dilemmas, as it’s also shown in another film appreciated by Friedkin of the same year called “Good Kill” (2015). Is the life of one innocent child worth the chance to save many more? That’s the question the film wants to ask and once again shows that new technology doesn’t necessarily make old problems go away. The movie is led by a powerful performance by Helen Mirren and unfortunately, it’s also the last live-action film to feature Alan Rickman, who died in January 2016. Friedkin described the film as “a thought-provoking, suspenseful film that will hold and move you long afterward.”
Friedkin films to watch later: Billy has also always been interested in the military as is obvious from his films “Rules of Engagement” (2000) and “The Hunted” (2003). Since “Eye in the Sky” also follows a courtroom drama-like structure, it’s probably more similar to the former, but “The Hunted” is another underrated one, sort of like a more subtle version of a Rambo story with breathtaking action sequences.
8. Compliance (2012)
From 1992 to 2004, employees at restaurants across 32 states in America were conned into performing illegal strip searches, among other sexual acts, by a phone caller who claimed to be “the police.” This mostly occurred in rural areas. The incidents were basically some guy calling a restaurant or a grocery or whatever, claiming to be a police officer and then convincing managers to conduct strip searches of female employees and then to perform other bizarre acts on his behalf. The film follows a similar kind of plot. It starts out as a normal Friday service at a fast food restaurant, when the manager gets a call from someone who claims a worker stole something from him and then things get out of control.
This is one of the films that takes you to places you don’t want to go and is definitely not an easy watch, but one thing for sure – you’ll keep thinking about it long after seeing it. Friedkin said the movie is “one of the best films” he had ever seen and particularly praised Pat Healy’s performance. Though the rest of the cast is truly equally strong and the direction is fantastic as well.
Friedkin film to watch later: After a disturbing tale like this, it’s better to watch a rather entertaining, a funny robbery movie maybe? Friedkin has also made a film inspired by real-life crimes and that one is called “The Brink’s Job” (1978).
7. Arbitrage (2012)
New York multimillionaire and hedge fund manager Robert Miller is about to sell his company for a profit. Around this time, he happens to be in a car accident one night where his mistress gets killed. Fearful of jeopardizing the multi-million dollar deal, Miller flees from the scene of the accident and hides his tracks. Soon more troubles will follow.
“Arbitrage” works great as a thriller because for one thing, it’s unpredictable. When Tim Roth’s detective questions our main character, played by Richard Gere, you get anxious while watching it. But it also works amazingly as a character study. Not only that, but it even manages to manipulate the audience to somewhat root for Gere’s character even though he’s clearly on the wrong side. This is also because it’s one of Gere’s best performances and Gere is always at his best when he uses his charm and relaxed screen presence for something darker. Friedkin didn’t just enjoy the film, but he even gets his name mentioned in the end among the people “the director wishes to thank.”
Friedkin films to watch later: Even though it’s not necessarily an erotic thriller, it has that seductive tone of those films in the ‘90s. Friedkin has made one of such in “Jade” (1995), an entertaining and unpredictable film. It got harsh reviews, maybe because the critics were getting tired of the genre or they just hated Joe Eszterhas at that time (even if you dislike “Showgirls,” it hardly deserved any of the hate) but it’s a good film that deserves more recognition. Also, Richard Gere was Friedkin’s first choice for “Cruising” (1980).
6. The Spiral Staircase (1946)
Now let’s lean into a little more horror area a bit. “The Spiral Staircase” works both as psychological horror and a thriller. Set in the early part of the century, one serial killer targets disabled women. Beautiful young mute Helen is a domestic worker for the elderly, ailing Mrs. Warren, but one night, in a thunderstorm, she feels menaced.
Friedkin says: “It’s a mystery story as much as anything else. It’s about a guy who kills women who have certain afflictions. You don’t know until the final scene who this killer is. In that final sequence, [the lead character, a mute played by Dorothy McGuire] comes face-to-face with him. She, of course, can’t tell anyone who the murderer is. It’s from the 1940s, but it still holds up.” And he’s absolutely right. It indeed holds up well, highly benefitting from a strong lead performance, chilling atmosphere, and a couple of strange characters. Ethel Barrymore received an Oscar nomination for her performance as Mrs. Warren.
Friedkin film to watch later: Since we’re in the horror area, it might not be a “psychological horror” (though he did that one terrifically as well, with “Bug”) but the obvious go-to answer here is “The Exorcist” (1973). Speaking of films that hold up well, it’s hard to skip this one. It’s still a chilling, scary, thought-provoking film and just brilliantly crafted all around. Definitely one of the best directorial works in cinema history.