Thursday, September 29, 2005

My 101 Favorite Directors, 71-80

Is it too soon for the next update? Some of the regulars are already laying bets as to what's in the Top Ten, so I figured I'd pick up the pace a bit. I've actually now composed the entire thing, so it's just a matter of staggering the updates enough so that this incredible amount of work I've set up for myself earns me at least two weeks worth of occasional posts. Might not work out that way, as we're going to be 30 directors deep after only about 4 days. Oh well...

Today's list is all over the place, a really really diverse group of filmmakers. Which is good, because it makes my tastes seem diverse, when in reality I spend most nights watching reality TV and old episodes of "The Muppet Show." (I thought about it, but no, I can't in good conscience put Jim Henson on the list, no matter how much I still dig Labyrinth).

80. Terry Zwigoff

I can relate to Terry Zwigoff movies in a very real and palpable way. He's a curmudgeon, a misanthropic crank who cherishes the world of intimate, nerdy counter-culture while, at the same time, resenting all those normals who don't appreciate him. At least, those are the kinds of people he makes movies about. His films feel like comedies, but really speak to feelings of loneliness and alienation.

MY FAVORITES: Crumb, Ghost World, Bad Santa

79. Chris Marker

Yeah, okay, he's an experimental French filmmaker and documentarian. But I'm no snob! Robert Zemeckis is in the Top 50 of this list, okay? And anyway, Marker is a genius, an artist who works in the medium of cinema. His movies are highly conceptual and often surreal, sometimes even baffling. But they are also unforgettable, stories from a crooked perspective, full of strange and disquieting imagery. [Oh, yeah, and his La Jetee short film inspired the Terry Gilliam time-travel fantasy 12 Monkeys.]

MY FAVORITES: Grin Without a Cat, Sans Soleil, La Jetee

78. Mike Nichols

I've met Mike Nichols, and in person, he's kind of a dork. But his movies are so goddamn sharp and incisive and dark when they want to be, so insightful, that I think maybe he acts that way on purpose to better observe human behavior from a distance. He's made several movies of which I'm not a huge fan (particularly Regarding Henry...yuck...), but the ones that are good are, like really seriously good, funny and poignant and quietly subversive.

MY FAVORITES: The Graduate, Carnal Knowledge, Closer

77. Billy Wilder

I think maybe Wilder's a bit high. To be honest, I don't really like a lot of his movies. (Some Like It Hot, for example, which is often held up as the greatest all-time film comedy, but which I find tiresome, juvenile and flat). The few Wilder films I do like, however, are so good, I found myself moving him up several times from a lower position. Though he's best known as a comic filmmaker, his best films are the ones without all the schtick and the farce, which focus on likable, relatable characters in more realistic situations. And, of course, Double Indemnity ranks among the all-time great noirs.

MY FAVORITES: The Apartment, Sabrina, Double Indemnity

76. Fritz Lang

His silent masterpieces, with their blunt social relevance and abstract, German Expressionist style, kind of define the entire era for me. The imagery and designs in Metropolis are as striking and memorable as anything I've seen from the silent era, haunting and painterly. And unlike many innovators of the silent era, Lang became more productive after the advent of sound, directing a number of memorable Hollywood noirs and melodramas.

MY FAVORITES: M, Dr Mabuse: The Gambler, The Big Heat , Metropolis

75. Mike Leigh

Because he goes into pre-production on a film with only a rough outline of the actual script, Mike Leigh films are always kind of cagey and unpredictable. During months of rehearsals with his primary cast, Leigh develops the characters from scratch, and then sets about the business of deciding how they will confront the situations presented by the plot. Obviously, the rehearsal time and freedom to improvise makes the performances more fleshed-out and natural, but the technique as well produces movies that feel freed from the constraints of formula and traditional storytelling, to explore the often-uncharted little moments of everyday life.

MY FAVORITES: Naked, Secrets and Lies, Topsy-Turvy

74. Jean-Pierre Melville

His tight, dryly funny French capers influenced not only the future of con and caper movies, but also the French New Wave. A highly intriguing, fun and influential filmmaker who is cited as an influence by directors as disparate as Francois Truffaut and John Woo. The Good Thief, which I cited as one of my favorite Neil Jordan films, is itself a remake of Melville's classic Bob le Flambeur.

MY FAVORITES: Bob le Flambeur, Le Circle Rouge, Le Samourai, Un Flic

73. John Frankenheimer

Frankenheimer got his start on television, and to be perfectly honest, his work never lost that TV kind of feel. It's very cinematic, don't get me wrong. The guy is a genius with action sequences, and in particular, car chases. But I mean that his work has the immediacy of television, the urgency you usually get with a live medium that is desperate for you to stay tuned through 20 minutes of commercials, so they have to make the drama extra-riveting.

MY FAVORITES: The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May, Ronin, Seconds

72. Christopher Guest

Did you know that Chris Guest directed the Chris Farley/Matt Perry mash-up Almost Heroes? Me neither, until I just looked him up on IMDB. Let's pretend we didn't see that, and focus instead of Guest's trifecta of unstoppable improv comedies, full to bursting with some of the most funny, sharp and quick-witted actors on the planet...He's currently in production on a fourth installment, For Your Consideration. I can't wait. Also, many forget that he directed the weird and rather charming Kevin Bacon comedy The Big Picture, and played the Six-Fingered Man in Rob Reiner's classic Princess Bride.

MY FAVORITES: Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind

71. Michael Curtiz

Yes, he's the guy who made Casablanca. But there's a lot more to the career of Michael Curtiz. He was a studio director in the days before directors controlled their own projects, when that position entailed coming aboard a wide variety of films and making them work through an intrinsic understanding of film style and the mechanics of storytelling. The three I've listed below as my favorites are a perfect example - there's a fast-paced, whimsical adventure film, a serenely tragic romance and a James Cagney gangster film.

MY FAVORITES: The Adventures of Robin Hood, Casablanca, Angels With Dirty Faces


Cory said...

Wow. Definitely some interesting choices. Billy Wilder at #77? That's at least 60-70 spots higher than I would've put him. You really like Christopher Guest more? I love his comedies as much as the next guy, but come on, Billy Wilder man. Guest has made 3(!) films total.

I love lists.

Lons said...

Considering how annoyed I get with some of his more lauded titles (like "Some Like It Hot" and "Sunset Blvd."), Billy was lucky to make it to the list at all. He has "Double Indemnity" and "Apartment" to thank...

I think even in his better comedies, it's more the perfect timing of the brilliant Jack Lemmon (he'll be very near the top there if I ever do a Favorite Actor list) than anything about Wilder's writing or direction.

He reminds me of Neil Simon, these overpraised kitschy comic guys from a bygone era that just don't hold up like the truly unique, genius voices.

Cory said...

What annoys you about SUNSET BLVD?