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From Chekhov To Troll 2: Actor Rainn Wilson, pictured here performing at Spike TV's "Scream 2010," discusses his eclectic taste in film.
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Rainn Wilson's Required Film Viewing
- 'Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind' (1984), directed by Hayao Miyazaki
- 'Withnail and I' (1987), directed by Bruce Robinson
- 'Dazed and Confused' (1993), directed by Richard Linklater
- 'Days of Heaven' (1978), directed by Terrance Malick
- 'The Celebration' (1998), directed by Thomas Vinterberg
Actor Rainn Wilson loves bad movies. Best known for his role as off-kilter salesman Dwight Schrute on The Office, he "got a little scratch from that TV show I do," as he modestly puts it. With that chunk of change, he built himself a media room with a nice big TV, where he and his wife try to make "bad movie nights" a special thing.
"We invite friends, and we have so much fun watching Troll 2," Wilson tells NPR's Steve Inskeep. "There's a great one called Birdemic that some guy in Washington state filmed on a budget of like $380 about birds attacking people."
Didn't Hitchcock already do that, with considerably more success? Yes, well, Birdemic is special in its own way, it turns out.
"That would be a great double feature, actually," Wilson says.
Between his defense of Birdemic and his love for the painter Andrew Wyeth, Wilson's artistic tastes come off as omnivorous. For the latest in Morning Edition's series of conversations seeking DVD recommendations from Hollywood insiders, he shares some of his favorite (good) films:
Days of Heaven (1978) — Victorian homes. Clear skies. The sun low on the horizon. "Terrence Malick just paints his films," Wilson says. "I mean they're like watching paintings come to life."
"And [the narrator,] this girl played by Linda Mance, has the most outrageous voice you've ever heard," he adds — and then proceeds to imitate it. "It's really hysterical and moving. It's a really bizarre story of this love triangle, and it's a must-see movie."
Set in 1916 in the Texas panhandle, Days of Heaven follows a young couple from Chicago, played by Brooke Adams and a young Richard Gere.
"He's committed a murder, and they're on the lam from the law," Wilson explains. "They work as migrant workers for this reclusive farmer played by Sam Shepherd, and it's like they've just walked into an Edward Hopper painting."
He pauses, then qualifies.
"Well, you know Edward Hopper was mostly in the cities," he says. "It's more like Andrew Wyeth meets Edward Hopper. [It's filmed in] very sparse, very beautiful, radiant light. In fact they shot most of the movie in what the film world calls Magic Hour, which is just that brief time when the sun has gone down but the sky is still completely bright. It's just exquisite."
Wilson jokes that he does plenty of filming for The Office in Magic Hour as well. "Oh, all the time," he says. "[Steve] Carrell insists on it. He's just gotta have that radiant light of the sun kissing the horizon, just to frost his beautiful black eyebrows."
Withnail and I (1987) — A cult English movie set in the late '60s, Withnail and I is a "black comedy-farce" that follows two "crazy bohemian actors going on an absolute drunken mad rampage," Wilson explains.
"To escape their life in the city, they go out to their Uncle Monty's cabin. People quote Withnail all the time, but Uncle Monty is one of the greatest characters of all time. He is an enormous [gay] bon vivant. He has one of my favorite lines in cinema," Wilson adds, adopting a dramatic British accent. "He says, 'It is the most devastating moment in a young man's life, when he quite reasonably says to himself, "I shall never play the Dane." It is at that moment that all ambition ceases to exist.'"
"It's truly one of the great comedies of all time. Everyone quotes Withnail — I mean, in England it's a regular event to get together at a pub and ... have Withnail parties, and people will quote line-by-line the entire movie."
The Celebration (1998) — "One of those Dogma films from the '90s." Dogma (or "Dogme 95") were the products of "a school of thought from Denmark, [which proposed] that you could make films on the cheap, with no added score — that they could be improvised, and you could shoot just on small digital cameras. There are all these rules, but it's basically a rebellion against the way Hollywood films are shot. It's cheap, and it's all about the discovery of fresh moments."
"The Celebration, I think, is the true masterpiece of that school of filmmaking. It's about the worst possible family reunion of all time. Your eyebrows are raised, you don't know whether to laugh or cry at every moment. And it will knock your socks off."
Proceed with caution: The film is the definition of a black comedy, Wilson warns.
"It's [about] a son accusing the patriarch of the family of molesting him and his sister when they were children," he says. "So it gets very, very dark. At the same time, all of the characters are living life at the edge of a nervous breakdown and are just expertly sketched. It's mesmerizing."
Dazed and Confused (1993) — "One of Richard Linklater's first films, and it's an absolute masterpiece. It's a bunch of kids in 1976, graduating from high school in Austin, Texas. The whole movie takes place in one day. And it also has the great honor of introducing Matthew McConaughey to the world," Wilson says.
He adopts a third accent, this time a thick Texan drawl. "His famous line from the movie is like, 'That's the great thing about high school girls. I get older, and they just stay the same age.'"
Dazed and Confused is much more than another high-school movie.
"We were studying Chekhov ... in acting school when I saw it," Wilson remembers. "And [this movie's] like a Chekhov play — a Chekhov play with a bunch of jocks and stoners and dorks from an American high school. It's really funny, and really real, and really sad at the same time."
"Everything happens, and nothing happens," he says. "There's a fight that happens. There's a girl and a guy that kind of hook up and make out, but you know that nothing really is going to come of it. It's about the freedom of youth, and what it's like to be 18 years old — living with rules and then breaking them."