Monday, October 10, 2005

My 101 Favorite Directors, 31-40

I feel like this crop of 10 directors sums up my tastes in film pretty succinctly. A perfect blend of newer talent who have been making great films during my lifetime and established "favorites" often listed among history's best and most important filmmakers. Plus, while it somewhat favors American directors, there's enough international flavor to make me look at least a bit sophisticated. I mean, in addition to a few Yanks, there's a Japanese guy, a Pole, a Brit, a Swede and a Frenchman.

The unfortunate thing about getting near the top of such a list, however, is that the specific rankings become extraordinarily arbitrary. I'm just throwing these guys up here in an order that feels right, not neccessarily one that I could logically or analytically explain (though, if pressed in an argument, I reserve the right to try). Is Bergman better than Cassavetes? Can you compare either of those guys to Seijun Suzuki? I dunno...This list merely represents my best guess.

40. Don Siegel

Clint Eastwood credits two men, both somewhere on this list, with teaching him how to direct. The first to appear here at #39 is Don Siegel, who famously directed Eastwood in one of his most iconic performances in the 1971 cop classic Dirty Harry. It's a good film to sum up his career, a gritty thriller full of violent mayhem told in a tight, no-nonsense, straight-forward fashion laced with some grim gallows-style humor. Siegel movies are so lean and efficient, so cold and relentless, it's easy to overlook the grace and sophistication of his direction. The guy was just a naturally gifted filmmaker who happened to work in a violent, mean-spirited genre.

MY FAVORITES: Charley Varrick, Dirty Harry, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Hell is for Heroes

39. Michael Mann

The "Miami Vice" guy has made some of the definitive tough guy movies of our times. Mann is named appropriately - he makes films about masculinity, about what it used to mean and what it has come to mean in modern America. His movies both idealize and assault the notion that there is any sort of traditional definition for manhood, or even any sort of conventional morality, from within the framework of intense, bold action films. I should also add that he works with some of the best editors and cinematographers around, so his films always have an individual and carefully crafted look and feel that really enhances the experience. In particular, his films made with cinematographer Dante Spinotti are some of the best-looking contemporary American movies.

MY FAVORITES: Heat, The Insider, Thief

38. John Cassavetes

The grandfather of the American independent films, John made indie films not because it was a happening scene, but because he wanted to tell stories that studios didn't want to tell. Stories about people coming apart, about relationships dissolving, about that horrifying emptiness behind the surface of all of our lives. What my friend Dave would call "the void." Studios don't want movies about voids. They want movies about robots from the future. (More on them later...I promise...) And Cassavetes didn't just want to tell subtle, offbeat or peculiar stories - he wanted to do so in an unconventional way, ignoring narrative and working closely with a stock company of talented improvisational actors. Some scholars (like Ray Carney) have said that Cassavetes work is the only truly artistic cinema America has produced. I prefer to think of him as a leading light for an entire generation of artists making a non-traditional kind of American films, searching for meaning through the medium of film rather than just eye candy, glamour, titilation or entertainment value.

MY FAVORITES: The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, A Woman Under the Influence, Shadows

37. Richard Linklater

Texan Richard Linklater writes better dialogue than anyone else working today. His films are popular, I think, because there is a realism to them that no other indie comedies can really touch. The humor springs not from elaborate shenanigans or clever wit, but careful observations about the way people express deep truths through small talk, jokes and asides. He has likewise proved himself adept at more thoughtful, searching and experimental projects (like the animated marvel Waking Life) and bigger-budget star-driven studio comedies (like School of Rock).

MY FAVORITES: Dazed and Confused, Before Sunset, Waking Life

36. Krzysztof Kieslowski

Kieslowski was a Pole who focused for most of his career on depicting the oppression of Poles under Communism. But he'll likely be best remembered for his remarkable Three Colors trilogy, so called because they are modeled on the three colors of the French flag, each of which correspond to one of the three tenents of the French Revolution (liberty, equality, fraternity). My favorites of Kieslowski's films, the Polish work and the French films, relate the big moral questions we have grapped with as a society with the individual choices made by people in their daily lives. They do so with delicacy, good humor and an unwavering feeling of humanity and empathy.

MY FAVORITES: White, Red, The Double Life of Veronique

35. Francois Truffaut

If Truffaut had stopped making films after his debut, The 400 Blows, he's still be on this list. That's one of my all-time favorite movies. Sensitive, sprawling, subtle and morbidly funny, it's the best coming-of-age story ever filmed. But he didn't stop there. He went on to make mysteries, melodramas and human comedies for another 20 years, including 4 more based on the main character from the autobiographical 400 Blows, Antoine Doinel.

MY FAVORITES: The 400 Blows, Shoot the Piano Player, Stolen Kisses, Jules and Jim

34. Nicolas Roeg

We have a trailer for Roeg's Walkabout playing on one of the store's video tapes. Based just on that advertising, you would think it was a horrible, pretentious piece of crap. There's no way to talk about Walkabout, a film in which two young children from civilization are left to fend for themselves in the Australian Outback with only the help of a native boy, to reflect its genius accurately. Like all of Roeg's best films, it sounds silly and overblown when described. The effect must be exprienced. The movies are at once exhiliarating and confusing, direct and ambiguous. Roeg frees himself from the bounds of narrative and chronology, making impressionistic films about fevered imagination, obsession, morality and alienation that are passionate yet measured, emotional and cerebral.

MY FAVORITES: Don't Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Bad Timing

33. Wes Anderson

He's only made 4 films, and I personally find one kind of disappointing and off (Life Aquatic). But those other three are near perfect; Anderson ideally combines whimsy, broad comedy and melancholy into unforgettable stories that seem to exist in a world all their own. He and his design teams are endlessly inventive, his ear for soundtrack music is impeccable and his scripts (particularly the three written in tandem with actor Owen Wilson) are brimming with remarkably original characters and quotable dialogue.

MY FAVORITES: Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, Bottle Rocket

32. Seijun Suzuki

Japanese Outlaw Master #2 on the list, Suzuki was famously fired from his studio after turning in what is now regarded as his masterpiece, the spastic and non-sequiteur hitman comedy Branded to Kill. He was just way way way ahead of his time, hip before anyone knew that was even a word that could be applied to films. Watching his movies is like watching Japanese history unfold in a parallel universe...Everything kind of looks the same, except it's more kinetic, more weird, more complicated, much bloodier and everybody's cleverly mouthing off at one another all the time. These are hallucinatory crime, gangster and war epics that influenced an entire generation of Japanese filmmakers.

MY FAVORITES: Branded to Kill, Youth of the Beast, Underworld Beauty, Tokyo Drifter

31. Ingmar Bergman

His movies aren't the most fun on the list, but it's not a list of great filmmakers of any kind without the Melancholy Swede. Bergman has kind of been labeled a certain way in this country. He's great, sure, but he's brooding and dark, and his movies are dreary affairs that only appeal to eggheads and movie nerds. It's simply not true. Okay, maybe it's true of The Seventh Seal, but plenty of Bergman movies are warm, inviting, entertaining and a few are even, dare I say it, funny? And even when the movies are morbid affairs, and the man indeed has suffered all his life from chronic depression, they are deeply moving, probing and introspective masterpieces that enhance our understanding of life's mysteries and ambiguities. Few filmmakers ever manage to reach the emotional heights Bergman has hit repeatedly over the decades.

MY FAVORITES: Persona, Wild Strawberries, Through a Glass Darkly, Smiles of a Summer Night

1 comment:

drummer510 said...

Linkater should be higher, have you seen Tape?!?!?!