Friday, October 14, 2005

My 101 Favorite Directors, 21-30

We've reached the point where the list becomes much more personal. Up until now, though there have been some legendary and left-out filmmakers, I think a lot of the picks have had some deal of consensus among filmgoers. I mean, yes, Bergman and Antonioni and Truffaut will appear on a whole lot of people's Top 101 Favorite Directors List, should anyone but myself make one.

But now, we're getting into the guys who have made a specific impact on me personally. I sense in several cases there will be directors who would not appear on other people's lists at all. So what's the point of reading this vastly long list, if it conforms to no one's taste but my own? An excellent question. I have no idea. I just figured I'd put the thing out there and see if anyone was interested. That's kind of the overall philosophy of the blog anyway. There's no way to tell if anyone out there wants to hear me chatter endlessly about politics, the events of my day and movies. It's a crap shoot.

30. Sam Raimi

Hey, I love Evil Dead 2, okay? Love it. We're talking a formative movie here, a standard, one of those films that helped to define my personality and tastes. And Raimi's not limited to the zom-com. We all know abnout his work with a certain mutant spider, so I needn't even get into that, but he's had some successes with smaller films that are often overlooked, particularly the taut, beautifully-acted thriller A Simple Plan. And his Darkman is an oft-maligned, misunderstood gem. And need I mention that Mr. Raimi co-wrote the Coen Brothers' masterful The Hudsucker Proxy?

MY FAVORITES: Evil Dead 2, Army of Darkness, A Simple Plan

29. George Romero
George Romero invented the modern zombie movie, and for that we all owe him a massive debt of gratitude. But what's truly special about Romero films aren't just the fantastic gore effects, the Savini-style blood-soaked shots of flesh being chewed off of neck bones that have become so famous. It's his sardonic wit, the fact that his zombie and horror films are actually incredibly astute, subversive satires delivered in the most ridiculously fun format possible. Dawn of the Dead isn't just one of the best horror movies ever made. It's one of the most hilarious, observant and pointed send-ups of American consumerism ever made.
MY FAVORITES: Dawn of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead, Day of the Dead, Martin

28. Tim Burton

It's frustrating to be a Tim Burton fan. The guy has such incredible potential. He has made films that are as visionary, as imaginitive as any filmmaker alive. His best movies are like insane alien storybooks, dense with astonishingly detailed illustrations, viciously dark humor and child-like curiosity and wonder. Unfortunately, he's just not able or willing to elevate sub-standard material, nor does he seem particularly discerning when choosing projects. Even some of his most visually inspired works (like the luminous, painterly Sleepy Hollow) are hampered at times by poor plotting or storytelling. I would love to include the stop-motion animated musical Nightmare Before Christmas along with my Burton favorites, but he only produced and aided in the writing of that film. He didn't direct.

MY FAVORITES: Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, Batman Returns

27. James Cameron

I remember opening weekend of Terminator 2...It was all anyone could talk about. There was this movie...where this guy...was totally made out of liquid metal. And he went around stabbing people with his metal sword arms. Of course, there was a lot to the movie beyond just the innovative computer-generated special effects, but it was the liquid metal robot guy that had everyone talking. That's really the excitement of a James Cameron film - you know you're going to see something big, something you've never seen before - but on top of that, you're just going to see a tight, fun and engaging movie. The guy makes oversized event films that still get the little details and character moments right. He had a pretty solid resume until that unfortunate boat movie a few years back you might have seen...

MY FAVORITES: Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Aliens, The Abyss

26. Preston Sturges

Very very few filmmakers can handle farce. It's one of the hardest types of comedy to pull off, because it's not just a matter of writing funny dialogue or even designing funny situations. Everything has got to be pulled off perfectly, from the chemistry of the actors to the tone and pacing of the film, for the jokes to come together. Sturges made such immaculate, perfect, hilarious farces back in the 1940's, he actually makes it all appear easy. All you do is get a few good-looking people together, confound them with some sort of grandiose romantic scheme, and then let them play off one another for 90 minutes or so. Sturges just has such a wonderfully deft, nimble touch that the comedy seems effortless, when in truth, he was only able to keep it up for a few years before burning out.

MY FAVORITES: The Lady Eve, The Palm Beach Story, Unfaithfully Yours

25. George Lucas

Lucas is here because I'm only looking at films he officially directed, and that doesn't include 2 of the 6 Star Wars movies, including the overall best, Empire Strikes Back. I know that's kind of weak, because Lucas was so instrumental in their production, but once I start including stuff that these guys oversaw, rather than officially directed, it's kind of a slippery slope. And #25 isn't exactly bad. And much of that high ranking is due to the films he made before Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, his successful forays into more straight-ahead science fiction,and even teen comedy. Let's try to collectively forget those two other prequels even exist, okay?

MY FAVORITES: Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope, Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, THX 1138

24. Oliver Stone

Stone is perhaps the most misunderstood American filmmaker of our times. People always get so wrapped up in his personal politics. To me, the films aren't really about American politics. Maybe a bunch of guys conspired to kill Kennedy, maybe it was only a few, or even just one. But JFK isn't about what really happened. It's about what it feels like to have all of your deeply-held beliefs about yourself and your country stripped away from you. Everyone sees the film as Stone's statement about what went down in Dallas, but I think it's really about what went on in Oliver Stone's head, and inside the heads of all idealistic Americans who saw their optimism slip away under the weight of repeated national tragedies. Not to get overly dramatic, but I kind of know how he feels...His other films are the same way; this is an impressionistic view of American history, less about accumulating facts and more about accumulating impressions, ideas and raw unfiltered dread.

MY FAVORITES: JFK, Platoon, Wall Street, Nixon

23. Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson came to America after making several low-budget, culty films in his native New Zealand, and one well-respected international art house hit. His first Hollywood film was the brilliant and underrated The Frighteners, a massively expensive critical and commercial disaster. I really don't see why it was so hated upon its initial release. A bit silly, perhaps, and a touch too long, but filled to bursting with funny performances from terrific character actors, wizardly special effects from the team that would later create Jackson's somewhat more successful Lord of the Rings trilogy, and a few genuinely suspenseful "horror" sequences, including a dizzying final chase through an abandoned hospital. It bears the mark of all of Jackson's best work - it's intensely imaginitive, it's wild, unpredictable and funny and it exists in an odd, spastic universe that's expertly-realized by Jackson's personally assembled team at WETA.

MY FAVORITES: Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Heavenly Creatures, Dead Alive, The Frighteners

22. Quentin Tarantino

Pulp Fiction was released when I was 16. I saw it in theaters, and knew it was great, but I had no idea why. I just knew it was great. Okay, I knew that it was really funny and quotable, and that this guy, John Travolta, who was in that dipshit disco crap movie my parents liked, gave this incredibly believable performance as a druggie hitman. I knew that Samuel L. Jackson was The Man. And I knew that Uma Thurman was ridiculously hot even when she had a bloody nose and a little bit of foamy spittle coming out of her mouth. Like all of QT's movies, there's a ton going on, but you don't really have to get it all just to have a good time. You can watch Kill Bill and not catch a single reference to an old grindhouse or kung fu film and still have a blast, because Tarantino has simply internalized the dynamics of filmmaking. He's seen enough films to just know what is going to work and what isn't, so his movies are teeming with ingenious set pieces, crisp and funny dialogue, phenomenal soundtracks and kinetic action.

MY FAVORITES: Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, Reservoir Dogs

21. Robert Altman

The first ten minutes of an Altman film are all about getting your footing. His films exist in a complete, detailed world of their own design, and he prefers to simply immerse an audience in a film rather than give them time to become acquainted to their new surroundings. His technique of placing microphones throughout the set, and encouraging background noise and chatter, not only adds an element of authenticity, but also enhances our understanding of the sensual world in which his stories occur. By re-configuring familiar genre settings into more contextual, humanistic and lived-in forms, Altman could go about reconfiguring our understanding of those genres themselves. The snow-coated prospecting town of McCabe & Mrs. Miller, the Hollywood backlot of The Player, the manor home of Gosford Park, the various casinos of California Suite and even the abandoned ice-encrusted city of Quintet are all characters in their prospective films, adding layers of thematic meaning through the careful use of stray dialogue, light, composition and atmosphere.

MY FAVORITES: McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The Long Goodbye, California Suite, The Player


Jonathan said...

you're going to get railroaded with this, but A New Hope was Episode IV, not Episode I. Just wanted to give you a chance to change it before the nerd brigade eats you alive.

Lons said...

Thanks for the heads-up. It was just a typo, I swear! And, let's be honest, by completing this list in the first place, I have sort of elected myself Captain of the Nerd Brigade, have I not?

Anonymous said...

this is how cool i posting this two years after the fact....but i just gotta say, im so glad altman is on the list....but dude, its california split, not suite. ahh, now that the nit picking is out of the way, im new to your site, and i gotta say, just from reading this list, im really liking it.

Lons said...

Yeah, you're right, it's definitely "California Split." "California Suite" is that atrocious Neil Simon crap. I get the two titles mixed up sometimes and didn't proofread this post too well, evidently. I'd go in and change it now, but that feels sort of dishonest somehow.