“I grew up in the heat of 70s postmodern fiction and post-Godard films, and there was this idea that what mattered was the theory or meta in art. My film is emotional rather than meta, and that’s my rebellion.”
Art house filmmaker and native New Yorker Noah Baumbach (1969-) is a master at capturing raw humanity on film. His work is highly autobiographical and portrays complex emotions that defy straightforward explanations and labels. And the emotions are not merely a sideline element—for most of his work, those complex emotions are the statement. You’re meant to feel what the characters are feeling, even if you don’t know what it all means or where it’s going.
Noah was raised by two famous film critics and pressured from a young age to read and appreciate higher art. So he knows all the rules for creating great movies. This can be surprising based on his movies, which seem to capture very candid and even random moments. But Baumbach is very intentional in setting up those moments with meticulous precision. The result is a carefully crafted scene that feels completely unscripted and real.
The Squid and the Whale (2005)
Noah himself has said that this is the movie where he truly found his voice as a filmmaker. He wrote and directed this film based heavily on his own experiences as an adolescent dealing with the separation of his parents. The emotions are raw and brutal, and we get a solid glimpse of the pressure he went through as a child growing up with two famous writers for parents.
Frances Ha (2012)
Noah co-wrote this with Greta Gerwig and it’s based largely on her experiences as a young adult in modern New York City. This film seems to have more of a message than his other works, although it’s buried pretty deep beneath seemingly arbitrary dialogue and scenes. It’s a great film that takes a bit of digging into to really get.
Noah is a prolific screenwriter and frequent collaborator with Wes Anderson—he co-wrote The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Fantastic Mr. Fox. Also, a somewhat surprising fact to me, he was a co-writer on Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (which will not be appearing on this site).