Wim Wenders is responsible for some of cinema's most enduring images over the past 50 years. The auteur filmmaker broke out amid the New German Cinema movement, making his feature debut with 1970's Summer in the City. With 1984's Paris, Texas, he won the Palme d'Or, while 1987's Wings of Desire is considered one of the greatest films of the 1980s.
The same decade saw Wenders expand his scope to documentary filmmaking. With 1999's Buena Vista Social Club, he received his first Oscar nomination. "It was the first time I witnessed the Oscar ceremony in person," he remembers. "Until then, I only watched it on television. It was exciting to be there, and it was the first of three times I was there — each time with a documentary."
Wenders was likewise nominated for Best Documentary Feature Film with 2011's Pina and with 2014's The Salt of the Earth, which he directed with Juliano Ribeiro Salgado. Ten years later, his film Perfect Days, a character study about a Tokyo toilet cleaner, is nominated for Best International Feature Film at the 96th Oscars.
"It's such a great honor for me to represent Japan in the Oscars, the country of my great cinematic master, Yasujiro Ozu," the director says of the nomination. "Perfect Days was carried by his spirit, so I couldn't be happier to see it nominated."
Wenders is an innovator and a visionary, though like any other filmmaker, he is the product of a lifetime of cinematic influences. Below, he shares with A.frame five of the films that had the biggest impact on him.
This article was originally published on Dec. 13, 2023.
Directed by: Anthony Mann | Written by: Reginald Rose
I had a crash course in film history. I wanted to be a painter and was in Paris, freezing in my tiny room in the attic. I discovered that the cinema was a warm place where I could see three or four movies for one Franc, if I stayed in the toilet between showings. Because of that, I saw a thousand films. The first retrospective I saw was an American director called Anthony Mann, and the first film where I consciously understood how movies are made was a Western he made called Man of the West. It starred Gary Cooper. It's one of my all-time favorite movies, because I had this revelation while watching it. I could have had it with any other film, but I had it with this one. I still love all his Westerns, and Anthony Mann is one of the greatest underrated film directors in the history of cinema.
Directed by: Jean Renoir | Written by: Jean Renoir and Carl Koch
The Rules of the Game appears on many lists of the greatest films of all time, and Renoir is one of the great filmmakers. He's also the lead actor in his own movie. It's a film made before the Second World War that anticipates that war in an amazing way. It was another film that was a revelation when I saw it for the first time, and then I saw it again and again. It played in a little neighborhood theater where I lived, and I saw it every day. I don't know how many times I have seen it, but it's one of the films I know by heart. For me, it's almost the ideal movie. It's very funny, fluid, and has an incredible range of characters. It also has the premonition that war is in the air. Nobody knew that a World War was coming, but he anticipated it, and it is a totally amazing film.
Directed by: Howard Hawks | Written by: Jules Furthman
I love Hawks for his fast-paced movies and for the humor in them. Only Angels Have Wings takes place among pilots in an imaginary country in South America. Barranca Airways is the imaginary airplane company high up in the Andes. It is outrageously funny, and there are some of the greatest side characters. All the great actors of the '30s are in it. It's one of my favorite films, and I laugh at it from beginning to end. I laugh tears even through I know it by heart. It's a fantastic film. It's all shot in the studio, and the airplanes are all flimsy, cut-out airplanes, but it's one of the greatest adventure stories. And so funny. I love it.
Written and Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard
I want to put Jean-Luc Godard on my list, so I chose Le mépris — or Contempt, as it's called in English. It is an incredible film in scope and shows Godard at his best. It's a heartbreaking film with Brigitte Bardot and Jack Palance. One of his actors is Fritz Lang — the real Fritz Lang, who directed Metropolis — and he's playing a director in the movie. Le mépris has amazing acting, is very free and loosely edited, and is a wonderful movie about filmmaking. For me, having Fritz Lang in there is just unbelievable to watch. To see this man play a fictional director is incredible.
Written and Directed by: Jim Jarmusch
Down by Law is one of my favorite films that Jim has made. He's a genuine storyteller, and he reinvented a whole new kind of filmmaking — a very simple form that doesn't cut so much, is deep in characters, and is so inhabited by him and by his love of music. Down by Law also has the most amazing characters. I love Tom Waits in it and Roberto Benigni, too. It's profound, moving, and very intelligent, contemporary filmmaking. It's a great example of the cinema of Jim Jarmusch. I could have gone with any of his other films, just like with Godard, Renoir or Howard Hawks, but this is my favorite example of his work.