Five Favorite Films

Alexandre Aja's Five Favorite Films

The Oxygen and Crawl director pays tribute to Spielberg, Kubrick, and a 1950s classic that may surprise some fans still traumatized by his early work.

by | May 12, 2021 | Comments

Alexandre Aja on the set of Oxygen

(Photo by Shanna Besson, © Netflix)

Modern master of horror Alexandre Aja – who counts among his nightmare-inducing credits films like The Hill Have Eyes, Crawl, and Piranha 3D – is getting cerebral in his latest film – and claustrophobic. Oxygen, a long-in-development sci-fi thriller from France, sees a young woman (Melanie Laurent) waking up in a strange, futuristic-seeming medical cryo unit, trapped and alone with no idea how she got there or who she is, and oxygen in short supply. Her only company and source of information is the pod’s computer, voiced by iconic French actor Mathieu Amalric; like most Artificial Intelligence in movies with a premise like this, he cannot be trusted.

Ahead of the movie’s release on Netflix, Aja shared his five favorite films with Rotten Tomatoes, and spoke about his passion for science-fiction, the challenges of shooting in a confined space – and making the material compelling – and his desire to get back to his brutal career beginnings.

The Shining (1980)


I’m going to start with the most obvious for me: The Shining. For one reason, it was my first real cinematic shock when I was a kid. I accidentally watched The Shining at age seven and it was the most traumatic experience and maybe one of the reasons why I’m doing what I’m doing today. Then, year after year, it’s that movie that I can watch again and again. I’m obsessed with every shot that they cut, every bit of dialogue, every emotion. I think there is a perfection for me in this movie.

Joel Meares for Rotten Tomatoes: Is there a particular scene or shot that you love the most?

Yes, for me it’s that moment when Jack is entering the ballroom and sitting at the bar and everything is empty. The camera turns around after he says he would like a glass of… I don’t remember, some beer or whatever, and the bartender, Lloyd, appears. It’s that Faustian deal that I think is the most beautifully made and elegant deal with the devil that has ever existed on camera or even in literature. In that one scene, everything is said from the reason why Stephen King wrote the book in the first place – because he wanted to kill his son, because he drew on the manuscript – to everything in that scene; what Jack is going through is talking about creation, talking about who we are as humans. It’s just that devilish figure that just watches over him. It’s just maybe one of the most beautiful scenes in cinema.

Sunset Blvd. (1950)


It’s very different but also something about creation, about Hollywood, about human nature, about the darkness of the spirit. For me, obviously there are so many amazing shots, from the first one to the last one, but for me, that ending, I remember the first time I discovered it – it’s just so insane and twisted. The addiction of fame. The addiction of that city. You know, I’m from Europe and there is a fascination for America but also for Hollywood. You know, I’m working there but that movie has this kind of echo. You see that maybe this movie would have been completely different made by another American filmmaker and not someone coming from Europe. I think it delivers a really broad European view on what Hollywood means.

Alien (1979)


The whole Alien franchise! Can I say a franchise? The big one, the one that ends with Covenant – I was kind of blown away by it. I know that people might have some frustration and stuff [with that film], but I thought it was so crazy that he managed to close, to go back to the first one. That first film may be the best survival film of all. Her character, Ripley, for me is that one character that I always go back to in every movie. She represents everything I feel as a human being. You see a character that is not a superhero, that’s not a super human being, but is someone who managed to get that instinct to fight and keep fighting and find the resources to always stand again and defeat what is the most perfect enemy.

RT: It’s interesting you say that because when you look at the films you’ve made, particularly the last two, Crawl and Oxygen, you also have amazing women, strong and almost Ripley-esque, having to tap into that survival instinct. Do you think that Ripley had an impact on your choice in projects?

Yes. I mean I’m sure that when I did Crawl, beyond the character, obviously, that crawlspace for me was like somehow I was thinking about an alien spaceship. It is not, it’s just a crawlspace. There is always an exploration. I think the Alien fascination, growing up watching it, brought me to have a real fascination for mythology and especially the whole Minotaur and the maze, and that led me to a certain kind of movie where I really like to… You have that journey where you have to find the way out. Where you have to be with the character. In High Tension, the quest is to survive to the morning. In Crawl, it’s just survive the storm and get out of the house. There is always a maze that you have to escape from.

I mean, I could put Once Upon a Time in the West or The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. I feel that there is something visually so groundbreaking with Sergio Leone’s style and directing. Something that almost reaches perfection shot after shot, and the use of the music. I say this is one of the most surreal and at the same time hyper-real immersive cinema, if that can exist. Everything is hyper, everything is bigger, everything is kind of like a version of the West that I think never really existed. At the same time, it just gets to your gut and you really feel that you are sitting at that table. Then that long silence, with the shot going from extreme close-up to super wide, and bringing in with the music… I don’t know, there is something quite powerful, at least for me, in this one.

Jaws (1975)


Let’s stay classic. Jaws: it’s obvious what effect it has had on my cinema. I think Jaws, at the same time, from the behind-the-scenes, from the creativeness that’s behind-the-scenes, it’s almost like a cautionary tale for every filmmaker. Just the perfection of the directing… I could have said Raiders of the Lost Ark as well, I could have talked about E.T. or Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I mean: Kubrick and Spielberg. I can never stop being surprised by where he finds a way to put his camera, where he finds a way to tell the story – from his storytelling to his use of every tool in the toolbox to create the perfect grammatical syntax of images. So Jaws is maybe like the one, the first perfect one, from a very long list of masterpieces.

Joel Meares for Rotten Tomatoes: When you were talking about where to place the camera, I thought, that’s a good segue into asking about Oxygen because you have a single location here, and it’s a tight location. In Crawl, at least you had the whole area under the house, right? Here you have just this tight pod that’s essentially as big as Melanie. What was the greatest challenge of shooting in what appears to be a tiny space – and keeping things interesting for the audience?

Alexandre Aja: So I think the biggest challenge was obvious, because it was a very small cryo unit, almost like the size of a coffin. We took that challenge and we turned it into, I think, an advantage. I realized early on in the script that I had an obvious continuity of locations in that pod and I had a continuity of character with her, with Melanie, who was in every single shot and was so fun to direct, and who is carrying the emotion. So I thought about this as, okay, I’m going to in fact do something that I never even think about doing in other movies. I’m going to list down on a piece of paper all the different styles of directing, styles of framing, styles of effects, of types of lenses, of types of gadgets…

In fact, that kind of continuity with her and the location gave me the opportunity of going completely in different places scene after scene. So I avoid repeating myself and, most important, ensure that the audience doesn’t get bored of the same location. Also, not only to avoid repeating myself, but also trying to underline in better ways every single emotion. I think in another movie, if you do that, it becomes like a very bad taste or bad style, because you will just get out of the experience and you stop watching because you will see the camera movement every time. But because we had that perfect storytelling inside the box, I don’t think that you feel it. Then the camera becomes more like something that comes to underline every feeling or every new obstacle or nightmare that she’s going through.


(Photo by Shanna Besson, © Netflix)

RT: It’s interesting too that you mention Spielberg and Kubrick in your film selections, because watching this, just design-wise and also in some of the framing, I couldn’t help thinking of the Precogs in Minority Report and the tentacle things in War of the Worlds. And then obviously there’s the voice of HAL 9000. Were they direct influences on you?

Aja: I love science-fiction, and grew up reading a lot. I still read a lot of science-fiction, I’m watching a lot of science-fiction. I unfortunately didn’t have the opportunity until this movie to work on a science-fiction movie. I did develop many of them that either didn’t get made or will get made at some point – I hope. But yes, all the references that you were talking about, they all were in my mind. Of course, when you read a script and you have an AI talking, and it’s going to be a really important one, you cannot help but think about HAL 9000. And the same with Minority Report. I would say Philip K. Dick in general. There is not a real link between Oxygen and Philip K. Dick. But it was really in mind as I was doing it for a strange reason. But yes, I definitely love sci-fi. I think sci-fi at its best has a mission to think about the world we’re living in and what our position is within it and what we’re supposed to be doing or not. There is a very big “cautionary tale” aspect of sci-fi. I think it’s one of the things that really got me in and interested in the script when I read it the first time.

RT: Just finally, you mentioned sci-fi as a genre you love, but I think I fell in love with your work, and many others did, with your sort of hardcore slasher material like High Tension and The Hills Have Eyes. I loved Piranha 3D as well. I’m wondering: will you return to that genre? I think a lot of fans would love to see a really terrorizing horror film from you at some point in the future.

Aja: I have them. I have a lot of them! With the traffic jam created by the pandemic, suddenly I have no idea which one is going to get done first. I still love the more extreme survival experience as well. I have a couple [of those films] that I’m developing that I really want to make. Going back to Alien – Alien is the perfect mix between very smart and sophisticated sci-fi, and is a very brutal film as well.

Oxygen is available on Netflix from May 12, 2021.

On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

Thumbnail image: Marc Piasecki/WireImage, © 20th Century Fox, © Warner Bros., © Universal

Tag Cloud

Mystery Pixar godzilla medical drama Comics on TV Stephen King First Reviews 007 GIFs TCA Winter 2020 cancelled TV series hispanic Alien Disney Channel Mary Tyler Moore Set visit spider-man 73rd Emmy Awards franchise nbcuniversal Star Trek NBA Musicals dragons 2019 award winner criterion ghosts marvel cinematic universe Country Disney Plus HBO Go Tokyo Olympics MSNBC emmy awards rt labs Mary poppins President Song of Ice and Fire zero dark thirty movie TBS Opinion robots olympics TCA DC Universe Schedule Funimation Comedy Central elevated horror Chernobyl cults name the review Reality A24 DC streaming service canceled TV shows feel good green book Superheroes target dramedy Pop romantic comedy independent reviews Teen screenings GoT book adaptation Mindy Kaling Vudu Holidays Avengers Tarantino Dark Horse Comics batman Disney+ Disney Plus 4/20 Freeform LGBTQ Trophy Talk Bravo streaming dceu Animation HBO nfl comedies hist cancelled television spain cops Pacific Islander fresh Lifetime documentary dexter miniseries The Academy rom-coms OneApp Mudbound BET Awards Comic-Con@Home 2021 police drama video on demand rt labs critics edition Wes Anderson Calendar Marvel Arrowverse FOX indiana jones asian-american PBS political drama binge italian crime drama SundanceTV Peacock latino Turner Classic Movies 2018 Valentine's Day news Apple TV+ Netflix Christmas movies foreign Endgame Sneak Peek Paramount Plus New York Comic Con Image Comics french legend Sci-Fi Mary Poppins Returns fast and furious serial killer 71st Emmy Awards historical drama Disney streaming service TruTV Fantasy basketball E3 comiccon A&E halloween tv TCM BET festival sequels cats YouTube Premium VICE Awards Tour sag awards Premiere Dates japanese Spike Reality Competition Best and Worst ratings classics Nickelodeon posters Summer marvel comics book Spectrum Originals Crackle ABC Signature Turner TLC LGBT 2015 Spring TV Biopics mockumentary travel Fall TV comic book movie TV Land halloween kaiju dogs child's play BAFTA ABC stop motion superhero know your critic comic Tumblr Esquire casting Red Carpet CW Seed biography Shondaland anthology Western technology telelvision Watching Series Musical History Infographic Kids & Family Emmy Nominations Starz twilight E! TV Syfy parents kong japan spy thriller Rom-Com new star wars movies Winter TV Countdown composers Film Festival Amazon Prime PlayStation jurassic park Cartoon Network television rotten worst movies toronto zombies series Columbia Pictures 1990s Interview teaser Paramount Network OWN Nominations theme song 21st Century Fox X-Men hollywood Marathons Pirates politics Character Guide FX australia BBC Pop TV 2017 Polls and Games christmas movies Elton John Horror NYCC mission: impossible streaming movies zombie Rocky Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Britbox Family FX on Hulu transformers trailers popular Amazon Studios Women's History Month Emmys GLAAD 93rd Oscars Chilling Adventures of Sabrina heist movie revenge remakes The Purge Universal romance concert chucky deadpool VOD young adult Marvel Studios Fox Searchlight prank CMT sports king kong TNT Sony Pictures Classic Film SDCC TCA Awards Podcast Amazon 45 superman Certified Fresh game of thrones psycho Shudder ESPN a nightmare on elm street Pet Sematary First Look Apple TV Plus science fiction Ellie Kemper Lucasfilm mcc video disaster animated Creative Arts Emmys cartoon crossover toy story aapi Ovation versus Broadway adventure pirates of the caribbean The Witch dc Drama YouTube Box Office 2016 Hear Us Out unscripted ID Academy Awards best facebook El Rey indie Rock Exclusive Video werewolf 2020 suspense FXX Election See It Skip It children's TV universal monsters Television Critics Association SXSW Netflix Hallmark Christmas movies Epix biopic Television Academy period drama Star Wars boxoffice Adult Swim CBS 99% blaxploitation Heroines Apple RT History IFC cancelled TV shows Awards justice league comic book movies hidden camera scorecard obituary Comic Book Amazon Prime Video The Arrangement live action Walt Disney Pictures wonder woman Paramount Black Mirror ViacomCBS comics spanish movies spinoff The CW Comedy blockbusters critic resources joker YouTube Red renewed TV shows Winners Super Bowl Lifetime Christmas movies Brie Larson all-time APB screen actors guild richard e. Grant south america war stoner worst rotten movies we love tv talk WarnerMedia harry potter NBC boxing Fox News cancelled Nat Geo women IFC Films Writers Guild of America rt archives USA Network Superheroe true crime Hallmark Tomatazos 24 frames Warner Bros. 72 Emmy Awards TV One international finale Oscars sitcom Thanksgiving die hard 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards slasher RT21 critics Baby Yoda crime thriller TCA 2017 thriller Quiz natural history Photos BBC America Binge Guide nature 20th Century Fox films Year in Review BBC One football supernatural strong female leads witnail monster movies quibi cinemax crime mutant cooking canceled archives Logo HBO Max documentaries Cosplay high school gangster CNN TV renewals Legendary The Walking Dead cars WGN Cannes comic books Film action-comedy space National Geographic singing competition scene in color reboot royal family satire Trailer venice 90s aliens what to watch Discovery Channel breaking bad DC Comics Extras based on movie adaptation Anna Paquin dark doctor who Captain marvel Sundance james bond MTV kids golden globes Acorn TV black Trivia slashers discovery YA golden globe awards ITV razzies The Walt Disney Company king arthur directors Music Lionsgate new york TIFF Hulu DirecTV Sundance Now TV movies Masterpiece DGA Disney Ghostbusters free movies Sundance TV game show sequel Holiday laika psychological thriller VH1 Martial Arts CBS All Access 2021 Grammys docuseries USA docudrama festivals Christmas San Diego Comic-Con ABC Family new zealand spanish language talk show American Society of Cinematographers Crunchyroll debate stand-up comedy scary movies hispanic heritage month social media Toys adenture AMC MCU Showtime blockbuster vampires PaleyFest anime Black History Month Travel Channel Video Games jamie lee curtis saw lord of the rings diversity Pride Month Food Network Marvel Television Tubi Rocketman Action