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Oscar Directing Nominees Help Us Trace Their DNA

Directors influence each other with their work. Sometimes that influence is overt — “La La Land” clearly evokes “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Umbrellas of Cherbourg” — but other times it is more unexpected, hinging on storytelling choices or structure.

Variety asked this year’s directing nominees to help us trace the DNA of their movies, and all were happy to oblige.

Arrival
Paramount
In Villeneuve’s alien-invasion tale, humans eventually discover that the aliens “want to help you help us.”

Villeneuve’s choices:
“2001: A Space Odyssey” 1968: “Definitely ‘2001’,” Villeneuve says, of Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi classic in which Earthlings, searching for signs of intelligent life, are nearly outwitted by artificial intelligence.
“Jaws” 1975: “It was Spielberg’s idea that you unveil slowly the entity, to create suspense,” Villeneuve says. “That very slow striptease is something I stole from ‘Jaws.’ ”

Our choices:
“The Day the Earth Stood Still” 1951: Aliens caution Earthlings not to destroy themselves with nuclear weapons in Robert Wise’s sci-fi classic.
“Starman” 1984: A friendly interplanetary visitor gets a hostile reception from fearful humans in John Carpenter’s movie.
“The Miracle Worker” 1962: Language is the bridge between two seemingly separate worlds in Arthur Penn’s Helen Keller biopic.

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Hacksaw Ridge
Lionsgate
A deeply religious medic who refuses to carry a gun becomes an unlikely hero in Mel Gibson’s brutal World War II saga.

Gibson’s choices:
“Saving Private Ryan” 1998: “It’s part of a great tradition of war films,” Gibson says of Spielberg’s D-Day drama, which raised the bar on graphic war carnage.
“Sergeant York” 1941: “That was kind of an inspiration,” Gibson says of Howard Hawks’ movie, “although that one is about a conscientious objector who actually picked up a gun and started shooting.”

Our choices:
“The Longest Day” 1962: A massive battle against impossible odds is fought with a giant all-star cast in Ken Annakin’s tale.
“From Here to Eternity” 1953: A soldier receives unfair harsh treatment from officers in the run-up to Pearl Harbor in Fred Zinnemann’s movie.
“Platoon” 1986: Willem Dafoe suffers a Christ-like death, after being betrayed by a Judas among his own men in Oliver Stone’s Vietnam War movie.

La La Land
Lionsgate
Damien Chazelle traces his L.A. musical’s lineage back to the silent era.

Chazelle’s choices:
“The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” 1964: “This film definitely,” Chazelle says, citing Jacques Demy’s musical as an influence, “and ‘Lola,’ an earlier Demy film, also was very influential.”
“Singin’ in the Rain” 1952: Chazelle cites “any of those great Gene Kelly musicals like ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ or ‘American in Paris,’ ” the former directed by Stanley Donen and the latter by Vincente Minnelli in 1951.
“Boogie Nights” 1997, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson: “I was influenced by some of those great L.A. movies,” Chazelle says. “I love ‘Boogie Nights,’ ‘Short Cuts,’ and a couple of others.”
“7th Heaven” 1927:
Chazelle cited Frank Borzage’s silent weepie — in which a woman whose lover has died in WWI briefly imagines their entire life together, had he returned — as the inspiration for his ending when accepting an award from the New York Film Critics Circle.

Our choice:
“A Star Is Born” 1954:
George Cukor’s film features the original show-business-tale trope: An established star discovers a rising talent, then suffers a decline.

Manchester by the Sea
Amazon Studios
Kenneth Lonergan’s wrenching drama revolves around the aftereffects of unspeakable tragedy.

Lonergan’s choices:
“Five Easy Pieces” 1970: Lonergan cites Bob Rafelson’s haunting tale of an estranged family dealing with its ghost as an influence.
“Coal Miner’s Daughter” 1980: “It’s such a human story,” Lonergan says of Michael Apted’s bio of Loretta Lynn starring Sissy Spacek. “It’s got a personal scale and a universal scale. It’s a very emotional story with a lot of love and a lot of loss.”
“Bang the Drum Slowly” 1973: Lonergan also took inspiration from John Hancock’s tale of a dying baseball player’s final season.

Our choices:
“Ordinary People” 1980: A suburban family begins to splinter after the eldest son’s accidental death in Robert Redford’s movie.
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” 1966: Edward Albee’s play, adapted by Mike Nichols, focuses on a married couple whose great tragedy is either their dead son — or their dead dream of having a child.

Moonlight
A24
Barry Jenkins directed this coming-of-age tale about being young, black, poor, and gay in ’80s Miami.

Jenkins’ choices:
“Happy Together” 1997: “This is one of three films I usually cite,” Jenkins says of director Wong Kar-wai’s movie. “It was the first film I saw that dealt with a relationship between two men.”
“Beau Travail” 1999: “I love the way she deals with masculinity in a corrupt system,” Jenkins says while saluting Claire Denis’ movie as an influence.
“Three Times” 2005: Jenkins also mentioned Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s film — set in three separate time periods, with the same actors playing different characters who encounter each other in each section of the film.

Our choices:
“Boys Don’t Cry” 1999: A young transgender man runs afoul of small-town intolerance in Kimberly Peirce’s indie landmark.
“Boyhood” 2014: A boy’s youth is thrown off-kilter by his mom’s personal drama in Richard Linklater’s film.

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