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Top Ten Movies with... Wayne Kramer

Wayne Kramer is a South African writer and director, whose lifelong love affair with film began at an early age in Johannesburg. After graduating from the Johannesburg School for Art, Drama and Music he immigrated to the United States in 1986. After writing and directing the incomplete horror-thriller, Blazeland, and the short film Crossing Over (which later inspired a feature of the same name), Wayne got his break when he sold his original screenplay, Mindhunters, to 20th Century Fox.

His feature film debut came in 2003, after he wrote and directed William H. Macy, Maria Bello and Alec Baldwin in an Oscar-nominated performance in the romantic drama, The Cooler. The film was well-received by critics and audiences, garnering a number of nominations and awards in the process. He followed this up by writing and directing Running Scared, a gritty action thriller starring the late Paul Walker. Wayne went on to write, produce and direct the star-studded ensemble drama, Crossing Over, with Harrison Ford, Ray Liotta, Jim Sturgess and Ashley Judd.

More recently, Kramer directed another multi-character film in the black comedy, Pawn Shop Chronicles, featuring Paul Walker, Elijah Wood, Brendan Fraser and Matt Dillon to name a few. This year, Kramer will reunite with Alec Baldwin to direct Caught Stealing, a thriller based on Charlie Huston's popular crime novel. He's also attached to direct his original screenplay The Circuit, which is currently in development.

To call Kramer an avid film lover is an understatement as the man has dedicated his life to the craft, turning a passion into a profession - writing, producing and directing eloquent and substantial films with some of Hollywood's finest talents. We were lucky enough to get the Hollywood writer-director's Top Ten Movies, in an interview that gives you an idea of just how much film means to him.

"...occasionally there is a silver lining when the foot soldiers
of a fascist government come to pay you a little visit."

I can't watch movies without...

- ...Silence. Or a respectful audience. I usually only attend guild or industry screenings of films in Los Angeles because I can’t deal with the lack of respect I find in commercial audiences. I’m talking about constant texting, answering phone calls, talking back to the screen (not just in shocking or thrilling moments, which can be okay), babies being brought into adult films and crying throughout, and parents refusing to remove them. That probably sounds like a crotchety old guy’s answer, but as someone who makes films and understands how much thought and effort goes into even the smallest creative and technical decisions, it kills me when the audience doesn’t pay enough attention to the work that has been lovingly slaved over on their behalf. Also, I can’t watch movies without good focus – which is a problem I have with derelict projectionists.

Which famous people share your birthday?

- John Wayne, Miles Davis

What is the first film you remember watching?

- Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. All I seem to remember of the film is the car itself, with those massive red and yellow wings. I guess it was kind of appropriate since I’m a huge James Bond fan and Chitty was written by Bond creator Ian Fleming and produced by Bond producer, Albert R. Broccoli.

What's the worst movie you've ever seen?

- I don’t know that I can nail it down to just one movie since that seems to be a very long list, but I recently suffered through this German horror-gross-out film called No Reason (2010) and that’s definitely close to the top of the list. It’s a surreal, artsy, stomach churning, incomprehensible mess of a film that is trying for something Lynchian or god knows what and ends up being the equivalent of something you’d show Alex the Droog while his eyes are clamped over, with the intent of turning him off sex and violence. Something to avoid at all costs.

Which movies have made you tearful?

- My Life starring Michael Keaton and Nicole Kidman is one that always gets me. Written by Bruce Joel Rubin, the screenwriter of Ghost. Keaton plays a successful business executive who is dying of cancer and trying to stay alive long enough to meet his unborn son. He also is having to deal with unresolved issues with his parents, especially his father. The scene that just destroys me every time is when his parents arrive in L.A. to see him, having only just found out about his condition (and his mother has found the courage to fly for the first time in many years), and his father has to shave him since Keaton is too weak to do it for himself.

Keaton’s father, brilliantly played by Michael Constantine, is quietly devastated performing this small task knowing that he’s saying goodbye to his son. All of this plays out to a beautiful, touching score by the inimitable John Barry. It’s a great, underrated film that will gut you emotionally if you have a pulse. Also, any film that involves the loss of a beloved animal really tears me up. Where the Red Fern Grows, Ring of Bright Water, Born Free, Marley & Me, etc.

Who is the most famous movie star you've ever met?

- Between directing a lot of great actors and meeting so many others, this is a really tough one. You can look up my credits to see whom I’ve worked with and I’ve probably met just as many famous actors that I haven’t worked with yet, but would love to in the future – but I would say the most meaningful meeting with a ‘famous’ person would have to be the legendary film composer, John Barry (who passed away in 2011).

Barry is the amazing composer behind 13 James Bond films, as well as classics like Midnight Cowboy, Body Heat, Out of Africa, Dances with Wolves and so many others. There’s that James Bond connection again. But Barry’s music has always had a special place in my life. The first time I ever went on a date, we went to a movie and it had a score by Barry (Robin and Marian). I got married to Somewhere in Time and Out of Africa. To me, he was always the biggest star of the films he scored.

What's your favourite movie line?

- Again, so hard to choose. I like this one from Sunset Boulevard (by Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder & D.M. Marshman Jr. ) Joe Gillis (William Holden): “Audiences don’t know somebody sits down and writes a picture; they think the actors make it up as they go along.” Also from Sunset Boulevard, Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) in response to Joe Gilles’ “You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.” She responds: “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”

Who would you choose to play you in your biopic?

- If I we go the time machine route: Sean Connery, Lee Marvin or Michael Caine. Today: Michael Fassbender.

If you could produce a movie, what would it be about?

- Well, I have produced a few films that I’ve directed and am in the process of producing others that I will be directing. But I’d like to produce a well funded film about the senseless trophy hunting of defenseless lions (and other wildlife) in South Africa. This is a problem that really needs to be brought to the world’s attention.

Finally, your top ten movies of all-time...

- Chinatown ...Roman Polanski’s film just speaks to me in so many ways. I love the mood, the period, the cast, the score and the downbeat conclusion. Jack Nicholson has never been better as the iconic, not-as-smart-as-he-thinks-he-is private eye, Jake Gittes in 1930’s Los Angeles. I love the Los Angeles private eye genre, as well as noir in general - and this is the best of both worlds.

It’s the best Raymond Chandler novel that he didn’t write brought to screen. We follow the plot through Gittes’ eyes and are never allowed to get ahead of him. We only know what he finds out. Jerry Goldsmith kills it with the ultimate jazz-noir score composed as a replacement score in ten days (I believe). This is a haunting, evocative, heartbreaking movie, choking with atmosphere and brought to the screen with amazing craft.

Rosemary's Baby ...I consider this to be the greatest horror film of all time. Also superbly directed (and adapted) by Roman Polanski and based on a novel by Ira Levin. I love this film because it never feels like a horror film. It plays more like a paranoia thriller. Is everybody trying to drive Rosemary crazy? Even when Rosemary’s ‘baby’ is revealed to her in the end, it’s never revealed to the audience and I think that really keeps it from descending into cheesy horror movie territory.

Some audiences may feel cheated by this moment, but I feel it elevates the film because the concept of Satan, as well as Satan’s baby is something I could never believe in and therefore would have a hard time responding to anything that make-up FX artists threw at me. But the madness and insidiousness of people who do believe in such a thing is pretty disturbing to me. The performances are incredible in this film. Ruth Gordon won a well-deserved Oscar for her role as Rosemary’s scheming, kvetching neighbor, Minnie Castevet. Mia Farrow deserved to win as well. John Cassevettes and Sidney Blackmer are amazing as well.

Sexy Beast ...my favorite gangster film of all time (closely followed by Mike Hodge’s Get Carter) and a film that I’ve revisted countless times. Sexy Beast features some of the greatest movie dialogue (most of it super profane) and in your face performances delivered by Ben Kingsley and Ray Winstone. At its heart, it’s more of a love story than a crime/heist thriller. Jonathan Glazer directs with a great amount of style and wit.

Ray Winstone’s Gal will do anything to preserve his idyllic lifestyle shared with the love of his life, a former porn star superbly played by Amanda Redman (who delivers most of her performance with her eyes). Kingsley’s Don Logan is a force to be reckoned with and we get this from his first lines in the film, as he arrives at Gal’s Spanish hideaway: “I gotta change my shirt, it’s sticking to me. I’m sweating like a c*nt.” The man who steals every frame he’s in is the great Ian McShane. His exchange with Ray Winstone at the end of the film (as he drives him to the airport) is my favorite moment among so many favorite moments in Sexy Beast. “If I cared, Gal. If I f*cking cared. If I gave one solitary f*ck about Don…”

- Seven ...I consider David Fincher’s Seven to be a perfect film. I can find no flaw with it on any level. It’s a remarkable achievement and, in my opinion, the most beautiful and striking film ever committed to celluloid. Every frame of Darius Khondji’s cinematography is a masterpiece of light and color. This is a film that etches itself into your brain and never allows you to forget it.

The performances are terrific, especially Morgan Freeman as world weary homicide detective, Somerset. This might be my favorite Brad Pitt performance as well. I love how well designed the screenplay is, and how the seven deadly sins are structured into the plot and have a huge impact on the final revelations. I don’t think this kind of film has been done better since and is superior filmmaking on every level. It’s very sad that Fincher no longer shoots on film anymore because I find his recent digitally captured films to be visually inferior to Seven and Fight Club.

Alien ...Ridley Scott turned what could have been just another sci-fi B-movie into the most indelible sci-fi nightmare of all time. I remember sneaking out of high school to see this one and was caught off guard by how impenetrably dark the visuals were and why couldn’t I see the alien that well? It soon became apparent to me that that is exactly the genius of the film: what you do see and what you don’t see. Scott’s vision was to incorporate the creature into the actual architecture of the space ship, so you’re never quite sure whether you’re looking at it or not.

Add H.R. Giger’s beautifully nightmarish design for the alien and you have a film that’s still scaring the shit out of even the most jaded of today’s audiences. Giger/Scott’s alien creature is the greatest screen ‘monster’ of all time with it’s biomechanical skeletal frame, acidic blood and lethal double jaw filled with metallic teeth. There’s also something enormously disturbing about the alien’s life cycle and how it incubates in its host via its facehugger form, through to its shocking chest-burster birth sequence. Jerry Goldsmith’s score, as always, is a huge plus.

- The Wild Bunch ...I first caught this classic western on a 16mm print at a birthday party in South Africa when I was about ten years-old (and shockingly it had escaped the hands of South African censors) and have seen it about twenty times since. Sam Peckinpah’s classic western has always stuck with me. As a kid I was stunned that a western could be so bloody and visceral and as an adult I’ve come to love the nihilistic Peckinpah vibe that permeates every sweaty frame of The Wild Bunch. William Holden (one of my all time favorite actors) is perfectly cast as the leader of a gang of outlaws that is coming to terms with no longer being relevant in the ‘modern’ world. These are hard men that live by a code and they’ll be damned if they don’t die by the same code. Peckinpah’s slow motion, ultra-violent shoot-out in the end reinvented film grammar and is still very much imitated in action films today.

- Oldboy ...Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy is a film that completely caught me by surprise. I saw a DVD of it while in production on Running Scared and was immediately scarred for life – in the very best way that great cinema can do to you. To this day, I don’t believe I have ever seen a film as unique or disturbing as this. Park’s shot composition and scene transitions are jaw-dropping and the film closes around the viewer like a vice, without you noticing it. The scene where brilliant Korean actor Min-sik Choi takes on a passageway full of thugs with just a hammer – and filmed in one single take – will blow your mind and forever live in the annuls of film as one of the greatest fight scenes of all time.

The film’s unsettling green and purple color pallet stays seared into your mind along with the numerous twists and turns in the plot, all which conclude in a darkly satisfying and heartbreaking ending. I highly recommend your readers seek out the best of recent Korean cinema for more Oldboy-like experiences. These are some of the greatest films being made today. I’m talking about films like: Mother, A Bittersweet Life, Memories of Murder, The Chaser, The Yellow Sea, I Saw the Devil and The Man from Nowhere. Sadly, Oldboy has just been remade by Spike Lee, which will only give subtitle averse audiences the excuse never to see Chan-wook Park’s original masterpiece.

- Mad Max ...due to the no one under 18 restrictive rating when it was first released, I must have been turned away from ten movie theaters before I was finally able to see George Miller’s Aussie action classic on a 16mm rental print. By that time, the South African censors had hacked away at it so much, that all the most intense moments where no longer there. I don’t think I ever recall a film that was released into theaters (already censored) being pulled and censored even more severely due to assholes complaining that it was too violent. And still it was given the highest age restriction in South Africa.

None of this outrage was justified and Mad Max is hardly one of the most violent films to scorch our retinas, especially not by today’s standards. I’ve loved this film from the very first frame of the first trailer I ever saw. It destroyed me that on my first attempt to sneak into a movie theater to see it, I was turned away and had to sit through Blake Edwards’ 10 knowing that Mad Max was playing in the very next theater. I think it forever ruined 10 for me! The same thing happened when I got turned away from Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill and had to suffer through Chariots of Fire.

At least seeing the uncut version of 10 has redeemed that film for me. I don’t think anything could redeem Chariots of Fire for me. Sorry. Mad Max boasts some of the most colorful and psychopathic comic book like villains with some of the funkiest names: The Toe Cutter, Bubba Zanetti, Johnny the Boy, The Night Rider, etc. The film also boasts some of the most spectacular vehicular car carnage you’ll ever witness, with off the charts REAL stunt work that puts to shame anything you see in a Michael Bay film.

Miller’s introduction of Mel Gibson’s Max Rockatansky is pure spaghetti western sublime, with the audience never seeing his face as he tinkers under the hood of his police interceptor while listening to his police radio, until he confronts the Night Rider in a game of white line chicken. Miller shoots a lot of the action at fender level and it puts us right in the middle of all those incredible car chases. There’s such an oddness to the film. It all takes place in a pre-apocalyptic world that has pretty much given up on law and order. Like the international poster says: “He’s the last law in a world gone out of control. Pray that he’s out there somewhere.”

Body Heat ...Lawrence Kasdan’s debut feature is still the sexiest and best written of the modern noirs. Another film that I snuck out of school to go and see (when I was attending the Johannesburg School of Art in Parktown in 1981). The film was rated no one under 21 and, miraculously, I was able to sneak into the Metro theater in Hillbrow to see it. God bless the ancient usher who used to work the door at that theater – he just didn’t give a shit about age restrictions and the Metro became our go to theater for restricted films. William Hurt and Kathleen Turner make for one of the hottest screen couples ever, with crackling, smart dialogue delivered in and out of the sheets. What makes Body Heat so great is that it feels like a 1940s classic noir, only it’s shot in color and features explicit sex and language. The scene where William Hurt smashes a chair through the patio window to get to Turner – who is playing hard to get - and then f*cks her on the floor is one of the hottest scenes in any film. John Barry’s sultry jazz score is the backbone of this taut thriller and the whole deliciously sordid affair makes for constant repeat viewing.

A Clockwork Orange ...growing up in South Africa, A Clockwork Orange haunted me for the longest time because it simply wasn’t available to me. I was taunted by the cover of the soundtrack album in the record store (that beautiful Philip Castle designed movie poster) and secondhand accounts of the film from people who claimed to have seen it out of the country or on illicit 16mm prints. It wasn’t until VHS players came on the market that I was able to purchase a fifth generation copy of ACO for fifty rand. It was probably the best money I’d ever spent up to that point.

The film didn’t disappoint – and truth be told, I wasn’t going to allow it to disappoint, not after waiting so many years to get it in my hands. From the opening shot on Malcolm McDowell’s Alex the Droog staring into the camera and that slow dolly back through the Korova Milk Bar, I was sucked into Stanley Kubrick’s visionary masterpiece. Of course, there’s so much more to ACO than the scandalous (for the time) sex and violence, but that part obviously escaped the South African censors. Like the fact that ACO is an anti-violence film with strong political undertones (well, I guess that part caught their attention; anything political usually did).

There are so many iconic scenes in ACO and imagery from the film appears to be everywhere 42 years after its release. You can always find people dressed up as Droogs on Halloween and even my 12 year-old son is expressing an obsessive interest in seeing the film. Kubrick must have done something right for the film to have the staying power that it’s had and still feel like something modern and transgressive. Credit must also be given to Anthony Burgess’ novel that started it all. One small anecdote relating to ACO. The South African Vice Squad raided my house one afternoon and confiscated my entire VHS collection (someone narc’d on me at school) and along with many banned films at the time (Last Tango in Paris, The Warriors, Caligula, Hair, Rocky Horror, etc.) they took A Clockwork Orange. I was so outraged, I told the sergeant in charge that he should climb up into the ceiling and make sure I didn’t have any more films hidden up there. I also told him to come back next week, because I would have another copy of A Clockwork Orange in my possession, and if he took that, I would get another one as well.

He realized in that moment that I was a serious film student and that my film collection held great meaning to me, so he told me he was going to arrange for a professional film distributor’s license for me, which would allow me to keep all the banned and uncut films in my collection, but he would have to hold onto the pornographic ones like Caligula. He turned out to be a really good guy and would seek out those hard to find titles for me in his daily vice squad raids. So, I guess occasionally there is a silver lining when the foot soldiers of a fascist government come to pay you a little visit. When my son’s ready to watch A Clockwork Orange (very soon), he’ll have the privilege of watching a pristine, uncut Blu-ray – no fifth generation copies for him.

Top Ten Movies with... is a people series on SPL!NG, featuring a host of celebrities ranging from up-and-coming to established personalities from all industries including, but not limited to: Internet, Radio, TV, Film, Music, Art and Entrepreneurs. It's a chance to discover who they are, find out where they're at and to get a fun inside look at their taste in movies.