Watch This: Paul Feig's Eclectic Must-See Movies

Nov 30, 2011
Originally published on December 1, 2011 3:10 am

The comedy Bridesmaids was one of the breakout movies of the summer, grossing more than $285 million worldwide and earning critical acclaim for its strong cast, especially star Kristen Wiig.

Director Paul Feig put together a must-see movie list for the Morning Edition feature we've decided to call Watch This — and though it's not all comedies, Feig tells NPR's Steve Inskeep that Peter Bogdanovich's 1972 screwball comedy What's Up, Doc? was his Star Wars — meaning it was the movie he had to see over and over again.

"When I was a kid, I'd never seen a screwball comedy," Feig says. "So for me this was just this mind-blowing, new type of comedy. ... I went bananas for it."

The movie, which stars Ryan O'Neal and Barbra Streisand, centers around four identical bags and the people who own them. One of the bags is owned by O'Neal's character, musicologist Howard Bannister, Ph.D., who's being pursued by the beautiful yet chaos-attracting Streisand.

"She's just in love with this nerd, and she's chasing ever after him," Feig says. "Which is, I think, why I liked it too. ... Anything that showed that you could be a nerd and girls would be after you, I was all for."

The Human Tornado (1976)

Feig calls the cult blaxploitation film The Human Tornado "possibly the greatest movie ever made."

The film stars Rudy Ray Moore as Dolemite, aka the titular Human Tornado. If you watch the movie trailer, you'll see that it's not exactly safe for all audiences.

From the opening scene, where Dolemite introduces the film preening around in a huge cape with the opening credits on the back, Feig says the movie is just "spectacular."

The Human Tornado employs many classic tropes of its era: fight scenes with added sound effects, multiple gun battles and a story that's way over the top.

"There's a haunted house and a witch, and then there are bad guys trying to shut down a club. It is just minute for minute the greatest movie experience," Feig says.

If you get a group of friends together and rent the movie, Feig says, you won't be disappointed — and you will not stop laughing.

Risky Business (1983)

Before Tom Cruise was a megabucks-earning superstar, he danced in his scanties — to Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock 'n' Roll' — in the teen comedy-drama Risky Business. Feig says the movie blew his mind.

It's not that Feig, who was in film school at the time and thinking about getting in to the business, was a particular fan of teen sex comedies. What blew his mind about the movie was the soundtrack, from the German electronic group Tangerine Dream.

"[The music] is very, very not comedy," he says. "It was the first time I realized that you can make something that's funny, and if you put this kind of music on top of it, it just makes it resonate more."

Never mind the iconic scene with Cruise in his skivvies; Feig says the moment that stuck with him most is a scene later in the film. Things have fallen apart, and Cruise's character, who's fallen in love with the prostitute Lana (played by Rebecca De Mornay), is riding through the streets on a bicycle.

"And he gets to her, he hugs her, and the camera is going around with the music playing. It's so beautiful, and it chokes you up," Feig says. "I just can't say enough about that film."

Koyaanisqatsi (1982)

If there's one movie on Paul's list that emphasizes pure cinematography, music and powerful imagery above all else, it has to be director Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi. The title is from the Hopi language, and translates roughly as "unbalanced life."

The movie has no actors, no lines of dialogue and consists primarily of slow-motion and time-lapse footage of cities and landscapes.

"They have these great moments where people are just staring at this camera in ultra slow motion, and it's just mind-boggling," Feig says. "It really makes you think about humanity and want to know that person's story and get inside their head."

One of the big drivers of the film is the powerful and often ominous music by the famed minimalist composer Philip Glass. Recently, Feig caught a screening of the film with the score performed lived by the New York Philharmonic and the Philip Glass Ensemble.

"It was so moving and emotional. ... That's the power of film, and that's why we love to do what we do," Feig says.

The Conversation (1974)

Francis Ford Coppola's psychological thriller The Conversation stars Gene Hackman as a surveillance expert for hire; he's a loner living an obsessively private life who gets swept up in a plot of suspicion and intrigue.

As with Koyaanisqatsi, the film's simple piano score plays an important role — though it's more subtle.

"The way that this piano creates this feeling of the solitude of his life really just brings it home,' Feig says.

Coppola made the movie between filming the first two installments of the Godfather trilogy. In fact, The Conversation was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture — but lost to The Godfather: Part II in 1975.

"This is heresy," Feig says, "[but] I kind of think it is Coppola's best movie. It's just so good."

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Behind one of last summer's biggest movie hits was director Paul Feig. "Bridesmaids" was a comedy about female friendships starring Kristin Wiig as a madcap maid of honor.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I wanted to go over some ideas for the bachelorette party.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I was thinking Las Vegas.



UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Fight club. Go to a fight club?

No, we're not going to go to a fight club.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: We're going to be the fight club.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Vegas, it is.

INSKEEP: Before Paul Feig directed that blockbuster, he made his name in TV comedy, directing "The Office" and serving as co-creator of the beloved cult series "Freaks and Geeks." We got Paul Feig, the self-professed geek, into our studios recently for our series talking with Hollywood insiders about what movies and TV we need to see. We call it Watch This.

You have sent us a list of your films and the description of them. And here's a film on your list about which you write: This was my "Star Wars" - meaning, I guess, the movie that took over your brain and you had to see again and again and again.


INSKEEP: So that movie was, for you...

PAUL FEIG: That was "What's Up, Doc?" - which was Bogdanovich's, like, tribute to screwball comedy. But I - when I was a kid, I'd never seen a screwball comedy. So, for me, this was just this mind-blowing, new type of comedy that was, like, fast-talking, and had all this, like, kind of intrigue in it. And I just - I went bananas for it.

INSKEEP: So Peter Bogdanovich, the director here, right...

FEIG: Yeah.

INSKEEP: ...is putting together this movie that is an homage to earlier movies, where basically everything - it's almost a Buster Keaton kind of thing? I mean, everything is completely nuts.

FEIG: Yeah. It's all about these several bags that are the exact, same bag. And one is jewels in it. One has government secrets and it. One has - Ryan O'Neal plays Howard Bannister, and it has his rocks. He's the musicologist who finds music in rocks, which is crazy. And then Barbra Streisand is hilarious, and she's...

INSKEEP: Barbra Streisand?

FEIG: Yeah. Oh, yes. She's just like in love with this nerd, and she's chasing ever after him, which is why I think I liked it, too. It's like, hey, he's a nerd and he had a beautiful woman after him.



RYAN O'NEAL: (as Howard Bannister) What do you think you're doing?

BARBRA STREISAND: (as Judy Maxwell) I think I'm taking a bath, aren't I?

O'NEAL: (as Howard Bannister) If you're not out of here in two minutes, I'm calling the police.

STREISAND: (as Judy Maxwell) Who do you think they'll arrest, the girl in the tub or the guy with his pants down?

O'NEAL: (as Howard Bannister) I am not joking now. I do not like to act rashly. But you are the last straw that breaks my camel's back. You are the plague. You bring havoc and chaos to everyone. But why to me? Why me? Why? Why?

STREISAND: (as Judy Maxwell) Because you look cute in your pajamas, Steve.

FEIG: Anything that had - that showed that actually you could be a nerd and girls would go after you, I was all for.

INSKEEP: Now, you've also got a movie on here called "The Human Tornado," another highbrow selection.

FEIG: "The Human Tornado" is possibly the greatest movie ever made.


FEIG: It's - Rudy Ray Moore plays his character Dolemite. And the first movie he made was called the "Dolemite," which was kind of a blaxploitation film, but it's crazy - like, it has these insane fight scenes, where he's really out of shape and doughy. But this one, he really pulled it together.

I mean, and it's - from the very first moments it starts, he comes out kind of wearing this, like, wrestler's outfit, but with this enormous cape that - he's put the opening titles for the movie on the back of the cape. So he comes, and he's preening around...


FEIG: And it's just spectacular. And then the story is nuts, because there's like a haunted house and a witch. But then, like, the bad guys are trying to shut down a club. I mean, it is, just minute-for-minute, the greatest movie experience you'll have. Like, get a group of friends together, rent this movie and you will not stop laughing.


RUDY RAY MOORE: (as Dolemite) If you crave satisfaction, this is the place to find that action. Come into this theater as its next attraction. It's the picture that will put you in traction, "The Human Tornado."

INSKEEP: Well, maybe this is a good moment to mention a movie on this list, which I think we're going to take a moment to explain what it is. But this is all about powerful music and powerful images. But if I recall correctly, there's not a single line of dialogue in this movie, "Koyaanisqatsi."

FEIG: Yeah, correct. It's all imagery, and it's really - I mean, the story of it is kind of starting primordial, seeing, you know, volcanoes and this kind of thing, and then sort of the vast wilderness, and then, like, the Grand Canyon. And then you slowly come into the cities, and you start seeing cities. And, you know, it's got a little political agenda against pollution and all that.

But what it is, it's a lot of time lapse. It's either ultra-slow motion of things or...

INSKEEP: Like people walking down a street...

FEIG: Yeah, exactly, where you just see faces and you're focusing on faces. And they have these great moments where people are just staring at this camera in ultra-slow motion. It's just mind-boggling, because it really makes you think about humanity and want to know that person's story and get inside their head.


FEIG: But this Philip Glass score is just one of the most moving, magnificent things. And I was lucky enough recently, the New York Phil projected the movie and they had Philip Glass and this full orchestra, with a 50-person choir doing the soundtrack to the movie. And it was so moving and emotional. I mean, that's the power of film. That's why we love to do what we do.

INSKEEP: Yeah, when I saw this movie at Morehead State University in Kentucky, people walked out of the theater kind of stunned, I guess, and maybe endlessly repeating the one word that is the sung the entire time.


FEIG: (Singing) Koyaanisqatsi.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) Koyaanisqatsi.

INSKEEP: You also praised the score in a totally different movie, a Gene Hackman film from the 1970s called "The Conversation."

FEIG: Yes. Oh, this is such a great movie. But yeah, it's just piano. It's - David Shire did this minimalist piano score. And look, there's been other minimalist piano scores, like the one in "Eyes Wide Shut," Kubrick's last film, that I find a little too minimalist, because it's like...

(Singing) Dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun.

It's just, like, one note over and over again. But this is this beautiful kind of minor-key score, because it's a whole movie about a guy - Gene Hackman plays this professional eavesdropper. He's able to mic people and bug people and hear things. And he gets caught up in this intrigue with this couple, and it's - Robert Duvall is in it. And it's an amazing, amazing film.

But the way that this piano creates this feeling of the solitude of his life - because he is this guy, he, you know, listens to other people. He hides in the shadows. It really just brings it home.


FEIG: It's a movie that Coppola made. He directed, and it was between the two "Godfathers," I believe. I think it's, in a weird way - and this is heresy - I kind of think it's Coppola's best movie. When I walked out of the theater - it was in college - completely numb, like oh, my God. You can do it - because I was such a comedy nerd up until that point. And then that made me go, like, wow. You can - there's actually - you can do drama, and it can be great and engaging.

INSKEEP: Oh, which explains your later dramatic career with programs like "The Office" and so forth?

FEIG: Yes...


INSKEEP: Completely out of it.

FEIG: It really stuck, as you can see.


INSKEEP: Well, Paul Feig, thanks very much.

FEIG: Steve, thank you so much. I've had so much fun, and thanks for letting me talk endlessly.

INSKEEP: Paul Feig's movies "Bridesmaid" is out on DVD now. And you can see his complete list of movie recommendations at npr.org.

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.