Five Favorite Films

Mike Mills' Five Favorite Films

The writer and director of C'mon C'mon proclaims his admiration for a handful of classic films talks about how his new movie was inspired by his relationship with his own son.

by | December 8, 2021 | Comments

Mike Mills

(Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

Ever since his debut film, Thumbsucker director Mike Mills has made a name for himself as someone you can count on for introspective and personal indies about family, particularly the dynamics between parents and children. His last effort, 20th Century Women, brought him worldwide recognition and an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

For his latest C’mon, C’mon, Mills tweaks his exploration of the parent-child dynamic by placing the child under the care of his mother’s brother — an enthusiastic albeit ill-prepared caregiver. Joaquin Phoenix plays the uncle, Johnny, who is enlisted to care for his nephew (Woody Norman) when his sister (Gaby Hoffman) is called away to care for her ex-husband (Scott McNairy) — Johnny ends up transporting the child from California to New York as he tries to maintain his work as a National Public Radio host. Interviews with children across America about their thoughts on the future are interspersed with the daily grind, profound moments of kinship, and the introspection Jonny experiences while caring for his young nephew.

Ahead of the film’s expansion into more theaters this weekend, we caught up with Mills to discuss how his kid inspired him to make the movie, how he discovered the young star who plays the precocious Jesse, and whether or not he ever plans to introduce the film to its muse, his son. We also chatted about his Five Favorite Films, including a pair of 1960s classics that also inspired his latest effort.

Mike Mills’ Five Favorite Films

Daisies (1966)


Věra Chytilová‘s film. It’s so punk and so awesomely feminist. And her voice! I love this radical, strong, non-male energy, vibe, and perspective. And it’s in the DNA of her work. There’s actually another film called Something Different, which I also adore. But still, I’m going to say, The Daisies — those performances were amazing! And just the visual feast of it, the constant inventiveness of that film, it’s amazing. They programmed that at CCM Fest a couple of years ago, and that’s where I got to see it, but yeah, it was so dope.

Alice in the Cities (1974)


Alice in the Cities really influenced this movie — the structure, the idea of a man who isn’t a father taking care of a child they don’t really know and traveling to different cities. And Wim Wenders‘ sense of place in different movies. I feel like all of his movies are saying to the audience, “This story can only happen in this place and this time. This dialogue, this feeling, can only happen in this place,” and I love that. I find that exciting and a great way to hold onto how to shoot a place. And Robby Muller’s cinematography in that is amazing. The movie is spacious and straightforward and just about the micro-est of things, which helps you make a movie like that because it’s scary.

The Fiances (1963)


I Fidanzati (The Fiances) is like early ’60s, and it has this amazing film language. I think that is something we have in C’mon C’mon with these non-linear passages, where it’s not a flashback, exactly, but you see a part of a scene you saw earlier, but you didn’t see that angle, or you didn’t see that moment of that scene. So it gives you a weird sense of space inside the movie. To provide you with a chance to say, “I was there, but I didn’t see this part.” It kind of indicates that there’s an edge to the movie that you’re not seeing. All these things are omitted. And to admit omittances —it’s a cool trick! It kind of opens an accordion in the movie in a weird way.

8 1/2 (1963)


I saw that in art school, and it’s one of those movies where I was like, “Oh, you can do, what? You could do that?” I didn’t even think I could be a director until 10 years later. But it remains one of my favorite films, and as a filmmaker, the way he writes about his process and interviews is so important and meaningful to me. Just the virtuosity of the film. An obviously radically personal film, right? It was also radically lyrical, crazy, science-fiction. It’s everything.

The Thin Blue Line (1988)


I saw The Thin Blue Line when I was 28, and I was like, “Oh, maybe I can make films.” Because that spoke to me using visuals as this is kind of an illustrative, essayistic style, all of these concerns, but coming from reality. The documentary “project” of everything is an important part of my whole process. Just like, say, Grey Gardens or any Maysles brothers film. They’re engaged. You hear their voice, and you see them in the reflection that they are part of the process. It’s this interesting, weird, novelistic mess of life that is what they’re going to show to you.

Jacqueline Coley for Rotten Tomatoes: This was partially inspired by you spending more time with your kid during the pandemic, correct? 

Mills: I had it in my mind for a long time before I started writing, but I didn’t know how to do it without intruding on my kid’s life. Because it’s the first time I’m writing about someone alive, but on top of that, a kid who doesn’t have sovereignty over their life yet, right? I didn’t know how to approach it, and it took a long time of sitting with it to figure out a line through, where I felt like I wasn’t intruding.  But it was deeply inspired by these many things that are really from us. At least, that was the start, and that took off. And I think the thing that kicks it in is when I can find a way that it’s like, incredibly small, intimate, just things that happen between my kid and me. Deeply, interpersonal things like taking a bath, as something you are muttering as you’re going to sleep. That’s a tiny space, right? And how that relates to this much broader spectrum of responsibilities and stakes of introducing your child to the world at large, to society, history, power, capitalism, to his relationships with people. It’s the personal political thing. If I can find that line, then I’m like, “Okay, this is worth trying to share my personal thing with a bunch of strangers in a dark room who don’t care about me and my deal.”

RT: Woody is just incredible. When did you know this was going to be the kid to play Jesse. 

Mills: He came in and met with Joaquin. We played around, did some scenes, and did some improvising. And I videoed it all, and I edited it together. I showed it to Joaquin and we were like, “This is it. He could do it all.” And I think the ingredients that Woody had were super weird, creative, intelligent. I met with him and knew he did not fake it. He comes from such a real place. He’s available and expressive, but he’s not performative. You can’t believe you are talking to a kid. That’s what it was like on set. It was like, “Damn, that was amazing.” (laughs) “Damn, that was amazing, too!” And I think, and a lot of that comes from Vonda, his mom.

RT: You mentioned it was very lucky that Joaquin Phoenix and Gaby Hoffman were instantly so close. What first clued you in to that bond?

Mills: Oh, it was right there from the get-go. It’s lucky, but I also had a hunch. And I had a hunch based on [the fact] they’re two very intelligent people who live in very alternative American cultures. They’re both very subversive. They’re both very political. They’ve both activists and anti-cliché people. They look familial. When you put a picture of them together, it’s almost like an epigenetic situation going on. It was there from that first day, from the first scene. They didn’t rehearse together. They didn’t ever meet together until that first scene where Joaquin walks through the door. And they hot seared their relationship, the intensity, the nervousness, and the stakes of that as soon as the door opened and they saw each other. They figured out their whole deal in this instantaneous thing that happened to them. But then, they were also just so silly together, either arguing or laughing. We had dinner last night, and they’re just like, going at it with each other, and all I was thinking is, “Are you arguing, or are you cracking each other up? I can’t tell.”

RT: Has your kid seen it? 

Mills: My kid is nine. And my kid probably won’t see it. And I’m happy! My kid knows all about it and likes to talk about it. And he’s probably a filmmaker or some sort of a creative person. It’s real important to me that it’s not that important in our house. My relationship with my kid is what’s important. This is my job; this is what I do. They know I’ve done it about my parents. They obviously heard me say this, but I don’t remember saying this to them. There’s no way to capture them. Even if you film them their whole life, you couldn’t actually capture them. What you can do, if you’re lucky, you get a slice, you get one access. You get one piece. And that can be awesome in a movie, but you don’t get the whole thing. So I don’t know when they’ll watch it. They don’t have ever to watch it, as far as I’m concerned; that’s fine. There is no pressure and no coercion, and it might be the most beautiful thing if they never watch it.

C’mon, C’mon is now playing select theaters. 

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

Thumbnail images: Everett Collection

Tag Cloud

VICE superhero Sneak Peek Rom-Com comic book movies binge Freeform TCA 2017 miniseries hispanic Teen halloween tv sitcom National Geographic Amazon Prime zombies Cartoon Network Best and Worst Hollywood Foreign Press Association Tags: Comedy YouTube NYCC best revenge Tubi TV Land Drama Sundance Stephen King Rocketman HFPA dceu comic Lifetime Christmas movies 79th Golden Globes Awards ABC Family BAFTA CW Seed golden globes spanish Crackle Pirates Shondaland 007 Song of Ice and Fire book 20th Century Fox DC Universe Disney Channel scorecard Hear Us Out green book Box Office social media Disney Plus politics all-time 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards movie video on demand festival toronto spider-man Television Critics Association new york docudrama Tomatazos Opinion Ellie Kemper video fresh CMT cancelled TV shows child's play Grammys rotten Pet Sematary king kong Fantasy slasher SDCC joker scene in color cops Chilling Adventures of Sabrina rt labs critics edition jamie lee curtis concert sequel A&E dramedy what to watch james bond YA Biopics Funimation TNT worst police drama true crime Mary Poppins Returns emmy awards dexter Brie Larson vs. Quiz Horror FX anthology travel 72 Emmy Awards mutant directors mockumentary Acorn TV movies target batman rotten movies we love twilight toy story YouTube Premium BBC America biopic transformers Kids & Family Lifetime VOD award winner Food Network breaking bad Disney streaming service dc BET black comedy Elton John Starz documentary young adult Music Podcast 2021 versus anime superman Certified Fresh Sci-Fi spider-verse Mudbound slashers legend Hulu 45 game of thrones Marathons Valentine's Day ratings name the review The Academy TV BBC One DC Comics royal family theme song Lucasfilm DirecTV halloween canceled Creative Arts Emmys Anna Paquin screenings Lionsgate Film animated 2020 cooking wonder woman Heroines telelvision discovery Sundance TV TCA Winter 2020 technology renewed TV shows screen actors guild IMDb TV feel good Mary Tyler Moore FX on Hulu FXX rt archives dark singing competition 2019 new zealand reboot thriller AMC Plus universal monsters VH1 political drama TBS aliens Paramount Awards Tour Pop Binge Guide Christmas television Chernobyl Premiere Dates E! GoT sag awards black Fox News OneApp boxing Universal Pictures justice league Year in Review werewolf Amazon Prime Video Holidays dragons Tarantino remakes Marvel Studios Superheroes spy thriller robots heist movie ABC Signature crime drama new star wars movies Showtime scary book adaptation Family SundanceTV The CW Adult Swim Pixar MSNBC indie Epix Paramount Plus australia live action king arthur critics Turner Baby Yoda nfl canceled TV shows indiana jones Infographic Video Games YouTube Red films based on movie blockbusters harry potter high school hollywood 4/20 laika sopranos kong Comic-Con@Home 2021 Black Mirror criterion historical drama Rock international ViacomCBS LGBTQ Avengers south america OWN Winter TV Star Wars Interview dreamworks classics Country critic resources children's TV Spectrum Originals action-comedy Nat Geo Shudder Film Festival NBA news APB Winners CBS All Access Photos comic books obituary HBO TCM Watching Series stoner japanese DC streaming service Sony Pictures comic book movie Musicals crime Britbox E3 tv talk CBS Discovery Channel trophy comics japan AMC ID art house popular aapi ITV Dark Horse Comics teaser festivals unscripted spain Paramount Network Nominations New York Comic Con Fox Searchlight romance HBO Go pirates of the caribbean basketball Emmys Character Guide comiccon Endgame cartoon game show 2018 Bravo Fall TV Apple TV+ debate Black History Month italian Prime Video hist ESPN HBO Max deadpool elevated horror Fargo Star Trek A24 Polls and Games jurassic park marvel cinematic universe period drama sports ghosts gangster women Emmy Nominations MCU TV renewals MTV 93rd Oscars Tumblr Mary poppins Netflix Trivia satire godzilla mission: impossible GLAAD science fiction football SXSW Reality live event DGA TruTV Countdown cancelled TV series diversity hidden camera die hard supernatural fast and furious See It Skip It Oscars chucky TCA NBC The Witch Set visit disaster Calendar Exclusive Video cancelled Netflix Christmas movies Turner Classic Movies genre Animation Superheroe kids PaleyFest Reality Competition Legendary Cosplay Vudu Alien venice olympics adaptation latino TLC natural history WGN San Diego Comic-Con trailers vampires LGBT witnail strong female leads Sundance Now composers Logo adventure rom-coms Captain marvel Crunchyroll ABC USA Network monster movies Wes Anderson Peacock TV movies space PlayStation CNN TCA Awards nature parents Ovation casting IFC Action lord of the rings Apple Mindy Kaling Esquire blaxploitation 2016 24 frames Toys Super Bowl independent Columbia Pictures cancelled television Rocky Women's History Month series docuseries 73rd Emmy Awards GIFs Extras Amazon Studios worst movies Tokyo Olympics saw 90s Summer rt labs USA BET Awards dogs facebook Image Comics WarnerMedia Marvel Walt Disney Pictures stop motion Comedy Central know your critic History Schedule Hallmark Christmas movies 71st Emmy Awards Writers Guild of America psycho doctor who war X-Men TIFF spinoff Warner Bros. RT21 Awards The Arrangement Masterpiece stand-up comedy Apple TV Plus First Reviews 1990s First Look christmas movies Universal suspense talk show leaderboard Holiday richard e. Grant razzies Classic Film Broadway IFC Films hispanic heritage month Pride Month El Rey franchise sequels Musical spanish language crime thriller documentaries Arrowverse Hallmark Spring TV medical drama zero dark thirty archives 2015 The Walking Dead golden globe awards Neflix RT History FOX zombie comedies cats french Comedy Instagram Live reviews Academy Awards asian-american quibi blockbuster free movies Disney+ Disney Plus cars Comics on TV Cannes biography finale mob Red Carpet boxoffice The Walt Disney Company serial killer cinemax foreign scary movies 2017 cults Mystery Martial Arts Pop TV streaming adenture BBC Ghostbusters PBS kaiju prank The Purge 21st Century Fox American Society of Cinematographers 99% Western Comic Book Amazon TV One mcc Travel Channel Syfy marvel comics streaming movies Election President posters Pacific Islander Trophy Talk a nightmare on elm street Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Thanksgiving Marvel Television Nickelodeon Trailer nbcuniversal romantic comedy Spike crossover Television Academy Disney psychological thriller