After a decade spent working as an actor, the writer and director Scott Cooper made his filmmaking debut with 2009's Crazy Heart, a country music drama that won Jeff Bridges the Oscar for Best Actor. In the years since, he's made a period gangster flick (2015's Black Mass), a revisionist Western (2017's Hostiles), and an elevated horror movie (2021's Antlers).
Now, Cooper is trying his hand at yet another genre with the gothic mystery The Pale Blue Eye. Based on Louis Bayard's 2003 novel of the same name, the movie follows a 19th-century detective (played by Christian Bale) hired to investigate a series of shocking and grotesque murders. The film is unlike anything Cooper has made before, aside from his ongoing collaboration with Bale.
"Much like how I wrote Crazy Heart for Jeff Bridges, I've written three films specifically for Christian," Cooper shares. "And I've written a couple more for him as well. I like to write with aspects of Christian in mind that we don't see in his other performances, or in his collaborations with other directors.”
Coming off The Pale Blue Eye, Cooper believes his and Bale's next creative effort will come sooner rather than later. ("We're already talking about doing a couple more things that I've written for him.") What that project will be remains to be seen, but it will assuredly see the director and actor experiment with a new genre, as has become a reoccurring trend in their work together. "I'm interested in films that push me into an uncomfortable space," he explains. "I believe that the great danger lies in doing safe work."
Below, Cooper shares with A.frame the five films that impacted him the most.
Where to Watch: The Criterion Channel
Directed by: Barbara Kopple
I have yet to make a documentary but, of my personal top five, three of them are documentaries — one of which kind of transcends the form. I've thought about making a documentary on a number of occasions, but creative life is absurdly short for a filmmaker, and there are, quite frankly, more narrative stories than I have time to tell. But I love the documentary form. It's probably, in my mind, the purest form of cinema.
The first is Harlan County U.S.A. by Barbara Kopple. I saw that film at a young age, and it unflinchingly documents a growing coal miners' strike in a small Kentucky town. It has a haunting soundtrack, and the film is this heartbreaking record of a 13-month struggle between a community that's fighting to survive and a corporation that is dedicated only to the bottom line.
Directed by: Albert Maysles, David Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin
Salesman is a portrait of American dreams and disillusionment and follows these men whose bravado allows them to go door to door as Bible salesmen. It's a vivid education on midcentury malaise where these men suffer from frustration and disappointment and despair. It had a real impact on me, as did the Maysles Brothers' observational style.
Directed by: Alain Resnais
Night and Fog is only about 30 minutes long, but I’ve never seen a film that really matches its emotional resonance. It begins with this shot of a beautiful color landscape with a nice blue sky and then it begins to crane down to reveal this long stretch of barbed wire, which is followed by these shots of fields overgrown with tall grasses and trees and wildflowers. From there, the camera continues tracking along this very placid landscape before you’re suddenly shocked with black-and-white footage of victims from the Holocaust and shots of the Nazis’ killing fields and Auschwitz. That juxtaposition made a really emotional impact on me.
Directed by: Laurent Cantet Written by: Robin Campillo and Laurent Cantet
In terms of narrative features, I would have to include this French film by Laurent Cantet called Time Out. It's a film about an unemployed man who finds himself and his life sinking more and more into trouble as he tries desperately to hide his situation from his family and friends. The film has had a real influence on me.
Where to Watch: The Criterion Channel
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Melville Written by: Jean-Pierre Melville and Georges Pellegrin
Le Samouraï, I think, is the ultimate existential gangster film. It’s violent and cool and very classically framed. It operates within its own strange kind of dream state and when I saw it for the first time, I couldn’t help but think, "That’s the kind of film I want to make one day.”