Five Favorite Films with Greg Mottola

The Superbad director is back with his semi-autobiographical comedy, Adventureland

Steve Granitz/WireImage Greg Mottola

Most directors debut their deeply personal passion project before moving on to studio gigs, but indie helmer-turned-Apatow Buncher Greg Mottola (The Daytrippers, Superbad) flipped the script with Adventureland, his semi-autobiographical tale of love, angst, '80s pop and corndogs that opens nationwide this week. Adventureland follows recent college grad James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) -- an uptight, overeducated intellectual who reads poetry "for fun" -- who takes a job at a low-rent carnival one summer working with excitable bosses (SNL's Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig), unmotivated slackers (Martin Starr of Freaks and Geeks), a surly, punk-loving love interest (Twilight's Kristen Stewart), and lots of righteous retro tunes. (Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus" has never borne such loathing, or been heard so often, since 1985.)

But unlike Superbad, Adventureland isn't all raunch and giggles -- it's a bittersweet comedy, a nostalgic look at self-discovery and first love that simultaneously provokes laughs and stumbles into moments of poignant beauty. Writer-director Greg Mottola took time out from prepping his next film (the geek road trip movie Paul, starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) to share his favorite movies with RT, which range from Truffaut to Allen to Fellini -- auteurs whose works similarly explore the spaces between love, humor, and the painful glories of growing up. "I didn't want to do an ironic list or just include movies I think sounded cool," he said. "These are five movies that for whatever reasons I re-watch insanely, and informed me."

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, 96% Tomatometer)
2001: A Space OdysseyMy parents took me to see it in a re-release -- it came out in the '60s and they re-released it in the early '70s -- and I was only seven years old, so it totally blew my mind. My parents, I think, were just completely bored and baffled by it, but I was obsessed with it. It stuck in my head, and every time it came on television I would watch it, and I saw it again in the theater as a teenager; I would go to see it whenever they revived it. It was just a movie I've watched a lot. I think part of the reason is...when I was a kid, I didn't know what to make of it. It was so unlike what I'd been exposed to on TV, or by watching Disney films in the theater. It was so fascinating to me. It has a really unique status, which is in my mind like a big Hollywood epic movie about esoteric ideas -- which had never really happened before that, and I don't think it's going to happen again. No one would ever spend that kind of money on a movie that big, and with that scope, and be that strange and slow and oblique and unexplained.

Some people, of course, think it's incredibly pretentious; I think the ideas in it are really fascinating. That Kubrick meticulousness is incredible. But part of what makes it a great movie, I think, is that as it proceeds it turns into this really intimate kind of horror-thriller -- with HAL -- and when I think, "Who's a great writer who wrote in that style?," I think Edgar Allan Poe in outer space. It becomes this real, psychological, bizarre, unexplainable thing about a murdering supercomputer! Those are some of the most handsome, greatest, cinematic scenes I've ever seen, so the fact that it was attached to this esoteric thing... To me, it works on so many levels. And the design, and the use of music...there's nothing else quite like it.

The 400 Blows (1959, 100% Tomatometer)
The 400 BlowsOne of the reasons this movie is important to me is that I'm a big fan of personal storytelling; people who tell their own stories and tell them vividly and honestly, and without sentimentality. It's such a beautiful, naturalistic film, but unlike a lot of movies about children, it is devoid of sentimentality, but it's also incredibly rich with emotion, which are two different things.

It's a painful movie in a lot of ways, but it's just never cheap. There's nothing cheap about the depiction of that young man's life. It's also one of the best child performances I've ever seen in a movie, because he's a very specific character, but there's nothing about him that feels forced, or that the filmmakers are trying to make you like him or pity him in a phony way. Jean-Pierre Leaud clearly had something special that is fascinating to watch; he's really funny and charming, but also it's strange to see a child character depicted so richly -- he's got flaws, there are sh***y things about him, but he captures all of it.

Manhattan (1979, 98% Tomatometer)
ManhattanI love Woody Allen's movies, and it's hard for me to pick only one, but I'd pick Manhattan because so many of his films feel influenced by his heroes -- you see some Bergman or Fellini or the Marx Brothers or whoever -- and to me Manhattan is the one that most captures Woody. Even Annie Hall has bits of Amarcord in it; it's a perfect movie, and it's unique, but Manhattan seems to be the one where Woody does everything he does in his own particular way.

One of the things I love about his movies is the tension between the sort of romantic ideals versus his true skepticism about human nature. There's always this push, this back and forth, about how he loves people and hates people; the misanthropy and the idealism fight each other constantly in the movie, and that's why I think his films have a special quality. Manhattan has beautiful cinematography and the Gershwin music, and the characters are actually pretty dark and lost and restless, and unhappy. You mix it together and I find it really fascinating. I know some people are really creeped out by him and the girl, but we'll skip over that.

The Godfather Part II (1974, 98% Tomatometer)
The Godfather Part III'm going Part Two only -- I love Part One, but there's something about the second film that takes the perfection of the first one and enriches it. Maybe it's the novelistic detail, the flashback structure. I don't know any other movie where the flashbacks are so long. I mean, the flashbacks aren't just interspersed; they are entire long chapters of the movie. Somehow, with the contrast of the two stories unfolding -- these two rich stories, the De Niro one and the Pacino one -- all of the Shakespearean themes of the Godfather movies become so poignant. Also, it's probably got the best cast of any American film, ever, down to every last character actor: Lee Strasberg is Hyman Roth; there's this Fellini actor, Leopoldo Trieste -- he's in scenes with De Niro, and he was in Fellini's first few films; and people like John Cazale, there's no one better than him.

8 (1963, 100% Tomatometer)
8 Like The 400 Blows it's incredibly personal, but as opposed to naturalism it's much more expressionist; the whole mix of reality, memory, and real fantasy -- the character's fantasy versus the movie fantasy that's unfolding through the real-time story. The character being a director making a movie, and how it all gets jumbled together and mixed together ... to me it creates this amazing concept, that a person's identity isn't just one fixed thing. It's actually -- and this is very Fellini-esque -- like a carousel of several things that are just always changing and swapping around. You don't only have one identity, you have several of them, and they're always changing and you're always trying to satisfy all of them. Hence, we're never happy and we never get it right, and it's all very confusing. But you know, for Fellini, 8 is incredibly optimistic in its own humanistic viewpoint on the beauty of that, as opposed to being smothered and depressed by the realization that this character will never be satisfied and is always disappointing other people. There's an embrace of the life around him that I find really beautiful. I guess people can say it's sentimental, but I think he earns it by the end of the movie because it explores so many truthful, and often dark, corners of the human soul.

Adventureland opens nationwide this Friday. Get the latest reviews and trailers here and check out more Five Favorite Films in our archive, including:

Five Favorite Films with Anil Kapoor

Five Favorite Films with Guillermo del Toro

Five Favorite Films with Judd Apatow

Five Favorite Films with Robert Pattinson



jack giroux

Awesome list. I'll definitely try to see Adventureland this weekend... even if Bella Swan is in it! :P

Apr 1 - 04:33 PM

steve s.

steve smith

this film school geek list sux ***

Apr 1 - 05:35 PM


Richard Crismore

Yeah, he should have listed a more easy to understand movie, like Cloverfield. Jesus H Christ where do these people come from.

Apr 2 - 10:44 AM

ben a.

ben agee

word, steve s. 'this film school geek list sucks ***.' that it does. however, i, coincidentally, was already just about to watch 'the 400 blows.' everything else on his list is very cliche, though.

Apr 2 - 08:54 PM

murray m.

murray mclachlan

still dont get 2001.

Apr 1 - 05:46 PM


David Jones

2001: ASO is the best film on this list.

Apr 1 - 05:50 PM


Sam Labun

I think lots of people hate 2001 because its so hard to understand, but even so it is an achievement.

Apr 1 - 07:23 PM

Daniel M.

Daniel Moctezuma

This is a good list in particular because he picked Godfather II which in my opinion is better that part 1. The ending is greater hands down, no argument about that. Not only that but it has that amazing assassination sequence with Deniro in it. I'm surprised to see "400 Blows" for the first time, I would have thought that "400 Blows" would have been a conventional pick but it seems that people in the industry are not exactly film buffs. I also realized that people on Rotten Tomatoes are not either.

Apr 1 - 08:01 PM


Jesse Bedwell

This is the best list I have ever seen! I have not seen "Superbad" yet, but after looking at this guys list of five favorite movies, I have got to watch his stuff. 400 Blows is probably my favorite movie, along with 8 1/2.

Apr 1 - 08:01 PM

inactive user

Jared King

Pretty generic, but very good. I think 2001 is very good, but not great. 8 out of 10. I do't understand the last few seconds when the main character became a baby. I loved it, up til then.

Apr 1 - 08:07 PM


jack giroux

The last 20 minutes or so is up for interpretation. I always thought that Bowman broke some time barrier, so he ages super fast and then gets re-incarnated into the star child. But thats just what I thought, but yeah its a really crazy ending.

Apr 2 - 12:33 AM


Greg Guro

I love the enhanced version of 2001. You know, the one where the baby tilts over and lets loose a vicious fart.

Apr 1 - 09:04 PM

inactive user

Jared King

LOL!...Wait a minute, really?

Apr 1 - 10:04 PM


lance berry

I loved Superbad, but Adventureland just looks horrible. It just seems to me that already Mottola's repeating himself with the same type of humor, and using a couple of the same actors. I'm going to skip it.

His movie list is pretty decent though, if generic.

Apr 1 - 09:44 PM

inactive user

Jared King

LOL!...Wait a minute, really?

Apr 1 - 10:04 PM


jack giroux

The last 20 minutes or so is up for interpretation. I always thought that Bowman broke some time barrier, so he ages super fast and then gets re-incarnated into the star child. But thats just what I thought, but yeah its a really crazy ending.

Apr 2 - 12:33 AM

John A.

John Arminio

I like the way tomwaitsjr thinks. 2001 could have used a couple of fart jokes, especially during the 247 minute acid trip at the end.

Apr 2 - 02:06 AM


Mike Bragg

I think, once again, that he explained his choices well, so good list. As long as people don't just say, "I love this movie!" As to adventureland looking similar to superbad, are you kidding me? This looks more like a movie about looking for a rite of passage, as opposed to a coming of age story, because the character is already past college age. It's more like Into the Wild than Superbad, if anything. And it involves a somewhat more conventional romance rather than a bromance. Frankly, it looks nothing at all like superbad to me, so I don't get where you're coming from with that, thereign.

Apr 2 - 06:38 AM

Salty Gritts

Josh McCrohan

The trailers for Adventureland suck but I have been looking forward to it for awhile. The reviews are overwhelmingly positive and then of course Bill Haverchuck and Kristen Stewart being in it help a lot.

Apr 2 - 09:21 AM


Mike Saxton

I felt the same way about 2001. Something about it and Kubrick's style is just mesmerizing, and what's most amazing is there are no absolute interpretations. I remember the first or second time I saw it, I thought that I had it all figured out, and then the third or fourth times were completely different. Guess that's art...which 2001 is a pure example of. From my point of view, I think it's intellectually the best movie ever made, but I understand why it is boring to some. There's virtually not one scene in the movie that doesn't require deep analysis (especially entire ending), so it can be tiring. At least Kubrick's other movies have a lot of pure entertainment value to counteract the analysis, but none of them keep me glued to the screen like 2001.

Hopefully will be seeing Adventureland this weekend. Loved Superbad and I'm looking forward to this movie being a little more cerebral/poignant. Am even more excited that it's about a college grad with nothing to do but work a minimum wage job during a dull summer--that will be me pretty soon!

Apr 2 - 10:18 AM


Richard Crismore

Yeah, he should have listed a more easy to understand movie, like Cloverfield. Jesus H Christ where do these people come from.

Apr 2 - 10:44 AM


Robert Oden

I always want to laugh at people who say they are "baffled" by 2001. There are too many books out there with valid "explainations" of the movie and its ideas. Seek one out if you are truly interested in the film. I recommend reading Danny Peary's synopsis in his book "Cult Movies". It will all make perfect sense.

Apr 2 - 11:07 AM

Jason C Wilkerson

Jason Wilkerson

The only thing I really want to say is I'm getting tired of the f-ing pop up crap that pops up between every f-ing page I go to in RT, and they take forever to get off the f-ing screen to get to what I really want to read. I don't know how many f-ing times in a day I need to see something about The RT Show (I have it set to record every week, I don't need a 5 minute pop up to remind me it's on) or Happy-Go-Lucky. I'm seriously about to start spending my time on RT over on IMDb because this is seriously getting ri-god damn-diculous!

Apr 2 - 02:21 PM


Cole Dabney

This is the first "Five Favorite Films" list since RT started doing the column where I really loved all 5 of the films mentioned.

Apr 2 - 02:44 PM

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