10 must-see films directed by Paul Schrader

Since writing the groundbreaking screenplay of Martin Scorsesethe masterpiece Taxi driver, Paul Schrader established himself as one of the best screenwriters in cinema. iconic movies angry bull, The Last Temptation of Christand Bring out the dead resulted from his later writing collaborations with Scorsese. However, Schrader’s worldview manifests itself most clearly in his directing work.


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Schrader’s typical protagonist is an existential recluse holding a glass of whiskey in one hand and a newspaper in the other. However, his remarkable filmography is considerably more diverse than casual viewers realize. It’s hard to limit his impressive directing efforts to a relative handful of highlights, as he rarely directs movies that aren’t at least intriguing‌. These movies are a good starting point for any dedicated movie buff.

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“First Reformed” (2017)

With First reformedSchrader kicked off his self-proclaimed cowardly film trilogy with The card counter and master gardener. The acclaimed film lifted the director out of a movie rut where he was more a job for hire than an inspired auteur. In the movie, Ethan Hawke plays a pastor going through a spiritual crisis who encounters a radical environmentalist who sends him down a dark path.

Critics and viewers connected with the film’s themes of existential terror and ecological collapse, leading Schrader to receive a Best Original Screenplay nomination. As the climate problem worsens and more and more people feel powerless to stop it, this is one of his most tragic and sympathetic films.

‘American Gigolo’ (1980)

american gigolo explores the sordid undersides of wealthy male escorts, where Julian Kay, played by Richard Gere, lives and works. Julian leads a fast and free life that he desperately seeks to maintain, even as the friends he can rely on dwindle. The film is ultimately a love story about two people on opposite ends of the social spectrum, but finding a way to be together.

The film radiates eroticism at every turn, even when the characters are fully clothed. It’s exciting to glimpse a world and a level of wealth that is completely foreign to most people. The character’s morality clashes with the more puritanical morality of most Americans, which adds to the plot.

‘Blue Collar’ (1978)

Blue collar, Schrader’s directorial debut, was a hugely impressive debut effort that showed he could be successful as both a writer and a filmmaker. The crime drama follows three struggling Detroit autoworkers played by Richard Prior, Yaphet Kottoand Harvey Keitel, who decided to rob their union. The trio pull off the heist, but they soon discover that the syndicate is running an illegal loan operation, which squarely puts a target on their backs.

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Schrader does a great job of demonstrating how the drudgery of blue-collar life wears people down and pushes them to extreme measures. Everyone in power is either corrupt or willing to turn a blind eye to keep their position and their wealth. The protagonists are pushed to circumvent their ethics because the thumb on the scale seems practically impassable.

“Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters” (1985)

What happens when unwavering loyalty to a cause forces you to make a serious choice? This is the central question at the heart of sure Hollywood’s most unconventional biopics, Mishima: a life in four chapters. The story follows the life and tragic demise of a controversial Japanese author Yukio Mishima. Using a combination of black and white and color, Schrader weaves in and out of the writer’s life at various pivotal moments in his complex existence.

The film features beautiful visuals and the narrative moves back and forth like a paper boat floating down the river. The film will sometimes linger in those brief moments before suddenly picking up speed like a wave of water. According to Schrader, Mishima is its coronation, and its execution is both grand and intimate.

“Auto Focus” (2002)

Schrader again puts his own unique take on a biopic in Auto focus. Auto focus follows Hogan’s heroes actor Bob Krane (Greg Kinner), who led an unconventional life before facing a grisly demise. The scope includes Krane’s mandate on Hogan’s heroesits consequences and his budding friendship with John Henry Carpenter (Willem Dafoe). The two sink deeper into a carnal abyss as Carpenter initiates him into the despicable lifestyle of secretly documenting their sexual conquests.

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Similar to boogie nights, Auto focus begins with a vibrant, nostalgic aesthetic before becoming literally and figuratively darker. Everything around Krane is consumed by his lust until only a shell of the man he once was remains. By the end of the film, the previously vibrant palette has become as dreary as the character.

‘Affliction’ (1997)

The main character of AfflictionWade White House (Nick Nolte), is a bit of a loser who has alienated almost everyone except his girlfriend Margie Fogg (Sissy Spacek) and his little brother (Willem Dafoe). He’s a small town sheriff who also drives snowplows on the side. He stumbles upon what he believes to be a vast criminal plot that ends up trapping him in its web. The film is based on the novel of the same name and successfully turns prose into a heartbreaking story about how trauma can affect someone’s life long after they think they’ve moved on.

Although Affliction is a beautifully crafted film, it’s hard to feel anything but utter despair after watching it. It’s heartbreaking to watch Whitehouse spiral into madness as he grapples with his horrific childhood, his feelings of inferiority, and his sense of being unwanted. Even though it’s hard to watch, it’s hugely gripping both as a dramatic thriller and a character study of how the sins of the father devolve upon the children.

“Hardcore” (1979)

Schrader’s preoccupation with sex and small-town life converges once again in Hardcore. Jake Van Dorn (George C. Scott), a small-business owner, sets out to find his missing daughter, which leads him to brothels, pornographic cinemas and sleazy video libraries. He must also set aside his godly Christian principles and work with an escort (Hubley Season) to get closer to pimps and snuff film peddlers who might have his daughter,

In Hardcore, there is humorous bait at work. It opens by acting and appearing almost like a Lifetime movie with Thomas Kinkade– inspired visuals. However, this is only done so that Schrader can surprise audiences as George C. Scott delves deeper into the sordid world of black market sex and pornography, and the graphics become more colorful.

‘Cat People’ (1982)

cat people is a bit of an anomaly in Schrader’s oeuvre, as it’s one of the few pure horror movies he’s ever made, but it absolutely kills this remake of one of the best classic monster movies. The story is about Irena Gallier (Nastasja Kinski), a once-orphaned young woman whose genealogy is cursed with the ability to transform into a cat. She moves in with her long-lost brother, who harbors his own murderous secrets and must later fend off his unwanted intrusions into her life.

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cat people can be campy at times, downright grotesque at others. This is not a film for the delicate. Still, those who can handle a little blood and guts will be rewarded with a beautiful look at ’80s New Orleans as well as stellar performances from a cast of top character actors rounded out by Malcolm McDowell, John heardand Annette O’Toole.

“Light Sleep” (1992)

The neo-noir stars Schrader’s longtime muse, Willem Dafoe, as John LeTour, an aging drug dealer who sells his wares to wealthy clientele. LeTour decided to leave the company, much to the chagrin of its manager Ann (Susan Sarandon), who would rather he worked for her indefinitely. LeTour encounters many difficulties while trying to escape, including run-ins with the police and other mobsters.

A light sleeper is yet another iteration of Schrader’s homage to Robert Bressonit isPickpocketwith a resolution similar to american gigolo. However, the universe in which Willem Dafoe’s character lives is entirely separate and has its own complicated issues. It’s a great character study about the frustration of wanting to change your life but not being able to because of your past choices.

“The Card Counter” (2021)

The card counteris William Tell (Oscar Isaac) lives in a world that has seemingly forgotten what America looked like after 9/11, except for him and a young man named Cirk (Tye Sheridan) whom he meets by chance. The sins born of the War on Terror haunt both men, and they choose to deal with the repercussions in their own way. There are also some enjoyable gameplay scenes that help break up the tense moments between the torture scenes and the angst.

Although William Tell is a rehash of the previous protagonists – an alcoholic recluse who keeps a diary – Schrader nevertheless weaves a lot of genuine pathos into his existence and connections to the dark past he tries to forget. The final product is Schrader’s personal political statement regarding several recent American policies.

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