Since her role in the highly acclaimed sitcom Parks and Recreation, actor Aubrey Plaza has flourished in the industry, landing increasingly frequent leading roles in indie comedies, arthouse gems, and studio films whilst continuing to appear in award-winning television.

While her distinct dead-pan demeanour and dry sense of humour have secured her as a regular on the comedy circuit, appearing in films by the likes of Judd Apatow and Edgar Wright, Plaza has more than proved her ability to tackle darker and more serious content with the crime thriller Emily the Criminal and the second season of the blackly comic HBO show The White Lotus.

She’ll also be making her MCU debut in the upcoming Wandavision spin-off Agatha: Coven of Chaos, which will premiere on Disney+ later this year, and has recently starred in Guy Ritchie’s international spy comedy/thriller Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre, which got a digital release from Amazon Prime. Despite transitioning to big-budget studio-backed content, the actor nevertheless retains a fervent passion for films that take the not-so-mainstream path.

Speaking to the Criterion Collection, the much-lauded American distribution company known for putting out bespoke DVDs/Blu-Rays of iconic films that cinephiles salivate over, Plaza picked her top ten arthouse films that have seen a Criterion release. Ranging from Italian classics to gritty 1970s indie flicks, Plaza’s choices demonstrate a broad taste and passionate dedication to cinema in all its forms.

Plaza starts off with not one but two John Cassavetes films; the legendary 1970s director whose work has inspired the likes of Martin Scorsese and the Safdie brothers. While speaking about Woman Under the Influence and its devastatingly powerful portrayal of a woman on the brink of a mental breakdown, Plaza said: “Gena Rowlands is one of my heroes. She and Cassavetes mean a lot to me, and the two have influenced my career and my understanding of acting in countless ways.”

Cassavetes followed his 1974 drama three years with the slightly spookier, more ephemeral tale of fame and paranoia, Opening Night. “I watched tons of Cassavetes films,” Plaza explains before sharing why Cassavetes’ dark tale of a theatre production resonated with her, “but this one really stood out and spoke to my character’s situation and the psychologically messy space between fiction and reality that you’re often in when you’re making a movie or putting on a show.” Her love for Cassavetes also extends to his work as an actor, as his film Mikey and Nickey, directed by Elaine May, also gets the top-ten treatment.

Sticking to the 1970s – a decade well-known for its output of exceptional films – Plaza turns her attention to the German romantic drama from Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1974’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. “I only recently watched Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, and it immediately became one of my favourites,” said Plaza. The film, which follows an unlikely romance that blossoms between an elderly German lady and a young immigrant, is considered one of Fassbinder’s greatest works. “It’s a delicious movie—the performances, the love story, the sense of tragedy. It’s just so lovely.”

Two quintessential pieces of Italian cinema claim further places on Plaza’s list: the bleak neo-realist classic, Bicycle Thieves, released in 1948, and Federico Fellini’s dreamlike magnum opus, 8½. On the latter, Plaza recounts how her time filming The White Lotus in Italy made her revisit the director and his film about filmmaking: “I thought a lot about Fellini because, at times, we were somewhat close to Cinecittà. 8½ captures the magic and insanity of making movies—and there’s nothing I love more.”

Unable to decide on which Ingmar Bergman picture deserves a place, Plaza has the acclaimed Swedish director’s 1974 film Scenes From a Marriage share a spot with his 1982 film Fanny and Alexander. Despite a run-time of over five hours long, Fanny and Alexander is well worth a watch, according to the actor. “I watch Fanny and Alexander every year. There’s obviously some dark stuff in it, but it’s a great comfort movie to me,” Plaza explains, adding how it gives her a sense of comfort: “Whenever I’m shooting a film, and I have to go live in a far-off location, I put it on while I’m trying to settle in.”

In keeping with Plaza’s love for European cinema, she also has two Spanish-language films in her top ten. Pedro Almodóvar’s Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, which the actor describes as “a dark, twisted union” of obsession and love, and La Ciénaga by Lucrecia Martel. The latter film, from the same director as 2017’s Zama, follows a wealthy family living in rural Argentina. “La Ciénaga is beautiful and fun to watch because the world Martel builds is so realistic; it’s almost like you’re a fly on the wall spending time with this family in a country home in Argentina,” says Plaza before stressing her love for female talent: “I think women directors are the coolest.”

Aubrey Plaza’s favourite arthouse films
A Woman Under The Influence (John Cassavetes, 1974)
Opening Night (John Cassavetes, 1977)
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1974)
Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio De Sica, 1948)
Scenes From a Marriage/Fanny and Alexander (Ingmar Bergman, 1974 and 1982)
La Ciénaga (Lucrecia Martel, 2001)
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (Pedro Almodóvar, 1989)
Mikey and Nicky (Elaine May, 1976)
Wanda (Barbara Loden, 1970)
8½ (Federico Fellini, 1963)

Another female director that Plaza loves is Barbara Loden, whose 1970 indie drama Wanda speaks to Plaza on multiple levels. “Barbara Loden is fascinating, and Wanda is the kind of movie I’d love to make one day,” the actor admits, illuminating further why Wanda means so much to her. “It’s also set in a coal-mining town relatively near to where I grew up in Delaware, so the locations feel familiar.”

Source: Far Out