No movies about babies, a few movies about drivers, two movies involving Val Kilmer, and at least one movie involving tinnitus.
Edgar Wright loves movies. You can tell by the literal and visual references in his own film and TV work. And if you don’t spot the homages and influences on screen, he’s happy to divulge the titles he was thinking of while conceiving and writing and directing his movies. Not only has he shared his favorite car chase and heist films in interviews promoting his latest, Baby Driver, but he has also programmed screening series related to each for the British Film Institute and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Obviously those are all movies he recommends. Some of them are movies I also recommend, but this week’s list of stuff to watch after you see Baby Driver is more my personal picks, most of which have little or nothing to do with what directly informed Wright’s smooth, music-driven crime film. He may not have even seen them all let alone like them all. After I discuss the eight I chose, though, I will list the others he’s cited as honorable mentions, and I’ll attempt to be exhaustive there.
Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
Like Baby Driver, the first Smokey and the Bandit involves Georgia, car chases, and Paul Williams. The plot follows two good ol’ boys racing a truck full of Coors beer, then illegal east of the Mississippi, from Texarkana to Atlanta in under 28 hours. Williams plays one of a father-son duo who assigns the task to a trucker nicknamed the Bandit (Burt Reynolds), who winds up driving a Trans Am as a “blocker” for the haul, which is actually being driven by the Snowman (Jerry Reed). Along the way, they’re pursued by a Texas sheriff played by Jackie Gleeson.
Why is that particular “Smokey” chasing them across many states? Because his son’s fiancee (Sally Field) ditched him at the altar on their wedding day and wound up hitching a ride with the Bandit, who of course she fell for. Reynolds and Field have great chemistry, the kind that obviously led to a real-life romance, and Reynolds and Gleeson have a great dichotomous relationship despite having very few moments where they share the screen (they were both too big to fight over frame occupancy). For my nostalgia, this is the Gleeson role, even more than Ralph Kramden.
Of course, Smokey and the Bandit (but not its sequels, which aren’t as essential) is part of Wright’s BFI curation, and of course it’s on the lists of influences. He also tells /Film a lot about his love of the movie and its relevance to the other, darker car-based crime films that came the decade leading up to it (but it’s also reminiscent of the comedically toned car chases of Guy Hamilton’s three ’70s James Bond movies). Smokey and the Bandit is the directorial debut of legendary stuntman Hal Needham, and after watching it you have to see the doc about its making, The Bandit.
The Driver (1978)
If there’s one movie among Wright’s picks and influences that is most essentially tied to Baby Driver, it’s this movie from Walter Hill (who has a cameo in the new film). Both are about getaway drivers, maybe the best who ever lived, at least in the context of their crime-focused worlds. Here it’s the very handsome Ryan O’Neal in the part as a loner who joins crews for hire and can navigate the streets and elude the cops every time, even when he’s being set up by a detective played by Bruce Dern. He needs no music, just a soundtrack of screeching tires.
I’m not as keen on the movie as Wright and others, including our own Danny Bowes, who wrote at length about it this week. When it’s not moving very fast, it’s moving very slow, and all the scenes with Dern and his fellow cops are repetitive and pointless. I also find Isabelle Adjani to be totally lifeless in her part as the love interest (sort of). But the car scenes are terrific, O’Neal’s nameless character is as cool as can be without being Steve McQueen (who apparently turned the movie down). I could see someone remaking this a la The Mechanic if it weren’t for Baby Driver and another movie on this list basically rendering such an idea redundant.
“It should go without saying that my movie couldn’t even exist without The Driver. If there’s one film that has an influence on its genesis, it would be that,” Wright tells /Film, going on about the blatant and not so blatant connections. And in addition to recommending the movie, he also raves about Hill’s screenplay specifically for how he writes the action. “It’s well worth tracking down … because the way that Walter Hill writes stage directions is very entertaining to read and almost reads like beat poetry.”
Hudson Hawk (1991)
Here’s where I take probably too long explaining this pick. With its never-ending soundtrack, Baby Driver can and has been lumped in with the idea of “Mickey Mousing,” which is a mostly derogatory term for score that’s synchronized with the action on screen.
It all began with Mickey Mouse’s debut in Steamboat Willie and continues with Disney’s Silly Symphony shorts and elsewhere. But Baby Driver is a sort-of-related exception, like Fantasia, where the action is synced to preexisting music, not the other way around.
Mickey Mousing has had its critics, including animator Chuck Jones, and some experts point more to Wagner pre-Disney and Copland at the same time as more notable examples of the concept, which may be more academically referred to as “musical isomorphism” (I think). What Wright does in Baby Driver could also be looked down upon, and as a trend, especially with trailers right now, the idea is only going to become more and more overused. The Blues Brothers, which is one of Wright’s stated influences on Baby Driver also has a Mickey Mousing synced sequence during the “Minnie the Moocher” performance.
Anyway, after trying to decide on just one good movie with Mickey Mousing, I chose Hudson Hawk, which doesn’t quite count. But it does involve criminals (played by Bruce Willis and Danny Aiello) who choose certain songs of certain lengths to sync with the timing of a heist or other sequence of action. Rather than listening to the tunes with headphones, they sing as they work. The underrated movie, which bombed hard when it came out, only becomes nuttier from there, looping in Leonardo Da Vinci in a way that probably would sound more like the latest Transformers sequel — which, by the way, to speak from experience, is not the ideal thing to watch right before seeing Baby Driver.
True Romance (1993)
Wright acknowledges Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 debut, Reservoir Dogs, as one of Baby Driver‘s influences on the heist film side, but I felt this Tarantino-scripted Tony Scott movie more throughout. Both involve a love story where one of them is trying to escape a life connected to crime — here it’s a golden-hearted prostitute named Alabama (Patricia Arquette) quitting a drug-dealing pimp with ties to the mob — and not really being given that option. Of course, in both situations it’s because our heroes have screwed the criminals’ business up in some way. In True Romance it’s via the theft of a case of drugs.
Christian Slater is the nobody that gets mixed up in Alabama’s former life, and he’s kind of like Baby in that he’s an awkward loner whose life changes when he suddenly falls in love. In the place of music, Slater’s Clarence almost seems, due to what he talks about and because of some of the film’s editing choices, to have movies and television shows running through his mind at all times. He also does have a link to one music icon: he talks to Elvis (Val Kilmer) like he’s an imaginary friend. At the end of both movies, there are shootouts between cops and criminals with our heroes stuck in the middle, and the male lead is injured badly.
I am not alone in making a connection to True Romance, either, as Uproxx’s Steven Hyden tweeted, “[Christian Slater in TRUE ROMANCE voice] BABY DRIVER … that’s a movie.” And maybe Alabama would address the movie directly and say, “You’re so cool.” In turn, Baby would probably appreciate True Romance‘s eclectic soundtrack, including Hans Zimmer’s score that blatantly acknowledges this is also a movie influenced by many other movies, most notably Badlands. And yes, Wright does love it. It’s one of his 1000 all-time favorites.