6. The French Connection (1971)
The fingerprints of William Friedkin’s landmark cat-and-mouse thriller, buoyed by an all-time great pairing in Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider as two morally compromised narcotics detectives racing against time in order to bust an international heroin-smuggling operation, can be seen everywhere, from the movies of the Safdie brothers and Michael Mann to modern urban thrillers like “Drive” and “The Dark Knight”.
David Fincher is one in a long list of brand-name auteurs working today that have been unflagging champions of this particular film, with the 1971 Best Picture winner being cited as one of the five movies that have impacted the director the most in an online piece for the Academy’s official website. “For all the memorable fireworks of the best car chase in cinema, the ultimate power of this film might be its grinding and relentless ability to equate waiting with character. Friedkin on all cylinders,” raved the director. According to Darius Khondji, the cinematographer who worked up close with him in devising the tough, gritty aesthetic of “Se7en”, Friedkin’s Oscar-winning caper was also one of the handful of titles they kept returning to as they started to prep for the production of Fincher’s sophomore feature.
7. Klute (1971)
Countless directors, from Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader to Abel Ferrara, have tried to capture the essence of New York City’s seedy underbelly in their films. Few, however, have ever done it as effectively as Alan J. Pakula, whose thematically connected paranoia trilogy deftly illustrated the gloomy mood and distinct hum and drum of the city that never sleeps during a period of civil unrest and surging crime rate.
In the director’s commentary for “Se7en”, Fincher stated that Gordon Willis’ work on this 1971 conspiracy thriller — anchored by a red-hot, Oscar-worthy performance by Jane Fonda as a struggling actress and street-wise call girl who gets roped into a missing-person investigation after Donald Sutherland’s private eye turns up at her door looking for one of her clients — inspired the look that gave his breakout ’95 film its visual punch. Two-time Fincher collaborator Darius Khondji corroborated the fact in a later conversation with THR, crediting how re-watching “Klute” together allowed them to borrow some ideas and led them to “shoot in Super 35 instead of anamorphic, use widescreen compositions rather than big vistas, and show vertical strips of the city in horizontal mode”.
8. Pacifiction (2022)
Not that “Pacifiction” had much of a chance of becoming a mainstream hit — as it stands, its director remains a virtual unknown overseas — but all things considered, not enough attention has been paid to this evocative political thriller by Albert Serra.
A solid title if you’re looking to go beyond the basics after your annual Fincher marathon, this slow-burner about a tormented Colonial French bureaucrat dispatched to the island of Tahiti who starts to panic once nuclear testing resumes and more and more French soldiers start popping all over the place offers rewards galore for those who like their thrillers with a heavy dose of international intrigue and atomic-age paranoia. A threadbare synopsis does very little to conjure the surreal mood and slightly artsy undercurrents — David Lynch fans who haven’t caught up with it yet are in for a treat — but if that doesn’t sound like the kind of thing that’ll float your boat, you should know the film gives enough edge-of-your-seats thrills to keep less inclined viewers gripped throughout.
Fincher attended the Cesar ceremony where “Pacifiction” received a treasure trove of awards and according to fellow attendee Brad Pitt, he was absolutely blown away with the film and remarked that the lead performance was one of the best he’d ever seen.
9. Straw Dogs (1971)
When one considers the fact that Fincher has frequently mined the audiences’ fears and anxiety by cunningly leveraging our expectations to expose ugly truths about the human condition and the banality of evil, it’s hardly shocking to learn that the mastermind behind “Se7en” and “Gone Girl” would take a liking to this chilling home invasion thriller by Sam Peckinpah.
Ambiguity is the name of the game in this gruesome morality play about David Summer, a mild-mannered American academic (Dustin Hoffman) who moves from the United States to a secluded rural English town where his wife was raised. All hell breaks loose as soon as they settle down, with two local brutes beginning to target the couple, taunting David, brutally assaulting his wife and threatening to invade their home. In the tradition of a Peckinpah picture, expect violent bursts of violence, moments of extreme discomfort, and a clear-eyed treatise on the codes of masculinity.
Fincher took a page out of the maverick American auteur when he put his own spin on the home-invasion movie with the Jodie Foster-led “Panic Room”, summing up his own 2002 film as “Rear Window meets Straw Dogs” during a press junket.
10. The Mechanic (1972)
A deep cut worth tracking down that should get your adrenaline juices pumping if you’re looking for another full serving of top-caliber hitman action, this 1970s cult favorite starring Charles Bronson as a hard-edged contract killer earning a dime carrying out hits and making them seem like accidents for a shady international crime syndicate was also discussed in Fincher’s BFI interview, during which the director praised it as a genre touchstone that directly influenced “The Killer”.
The film’s heart-racing, now-iconic motorcycle chase sequence remains a sight to behold and rightfully earns the lion’s share of plaudits, but the real draw here that makes “The Mechanic” essential viewing half a century later is getting to watch seventies macho men icon Bronson take one of his victim’s sons under his wing and slowly show him the ropes of the biz Karate Kid-style without blowing his cover and being outed as his father’s killer. Just remember: You want the original version of this movie, not the 2011 remake starring Jason Statham.