Saturday, February 26, 2011

Favorite 25 Working Directors

Inspired by recent lists of a similar nature, I decided to make my own.

25. Kathryn Bigelow

When I think of my experience of watching The Hurt Locker, never before has a movie made me sweat, keep me on the edge of my seat, and have me wincing at the brutality. This is because the film has such a sense of dramatic suspense no matter what was happening. These elements could be seen in all of Bigelow's films and yet she just recently achieved her first truly great filmmaking achievement. One shouldn't say that her sensibilities have matured, just her understanding of how to best direct action-based material. I can't wait to see what she does next as she is working with her Hurt Locker writing collaborator, Mark Boal on a movie set in South America.

Favorite films
-The Loveless (1982)
-Near Dark (1987)
-Strange Days (1995)
-The Hurt Locker (2009)

24. J.J. Abrams

Abrams is a pure blockbuster filmmaker. He often does triple duty with directing major films, producing others (Cloverfield), and producing/directing/writing for television (shows such as Lost and Fringe). As a director he has proven to be great with adaptations and creating an enjoyable popcorn fueled atmosphere. When you step into a theater to watch his movies, you find that most importantly of all, he is capable of blending in with whatever genre he desires (while still attracting a wide audience). He has even begun working with the man he is considered the modern day equivalent of- Steven Spielberg.

Favorite films
-Mission Impossible III (2006)
-Star Trek (2009)
-Super 8 (2011)

23. Edgar Wright

Wright was first noticed when he created a cult-favorite British sitcom called Spaced (a show that would make Joss Whedon proud with its use of popular culture). He then went on to direct two hyperkinetic genre comedies about zombies (Shaun of the Dead) and cops (Hot Fuzz), all while pointing out the tropes of these genres and yet still admiring why those tropes work. Wright is fortunate to work actors with such great comedic timing such as Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, as well as others who bring out the humorous style of storytelling that can be found in his scripts.

Favorite films
-Shaun of the Dead (2004)
-Hot Fuzz (2007)

22. Brad Bird

When it comes to animation, Bird is just as good with the old school (the tearful Iron Giant) as he is with the new school (The Incredibles and Ratatouille, both part of Pixar's impressive filmography). Aside from a great understanding of how to use animation to express ideas, he is equally adept at storytelling since he writes the scripts for his movies as well. He is a part of that impressive group of filmmakers who are just as technically savvy as they are with understanding characters. With Bird making the move into live action films, I can't wait to see him further develop his visual style.

Favorite films
-The Iron Giant (1999)
-The Incredibles (2004)
-Ratatouille (2007)
-Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011)

21. Guillermo Del Toro

Not to say Del Toro is never original, but the man's designs for his characters (or should I say creatures) are usually respectful homages to some classics that would make H.P. Lovecraft revel in horror. That is where Del Toro's strength lies, taking a monster and making it the hero (although that isn't completely the case, such as in Pan's Labyrinth). He takes "the weird" and mixes it with amazing visuals. He takes war and mixes it with fantasy. No matter what the man does, his films are always compelling.

Favorite films
-Cronos (1993)
-The Devil's Backbone (2001)
-Hellboy (2004)
-Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
-Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

20. James Cameron

Cameron may be the most skilled director when it comes to creating a blockbuster. In those films, the point is to really just give the audience what they want on a large scale. Another thing that Cameron has going for him is his large wealth of knowledge when it comes to the technical aspects of filmmaking. In fact, many believe Cameron will continue to figure out the future of filmmaking and ready the medium for the times to come. Just look at his box office receipts for his films as proof. Say what you will about his stories, but he knows how to keep the movie industry going while still keeping audiences excited.

Favorite films
-The Terminator (1984)
-Aliens (1986)
-The Abyss (1989)
-Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

19. David O. Russell

Most famous for his aggressive nature (George Clooney and Lily Tomlin have admired his films and yet refuse to ever work with him again), but whatever method O. Russell uses for completing his films, the end result is always better than expected (especially if you go by the tabloids that report on his zaniness). His films are always energetic no matter which genre he decides to tackle next, but you'll still usually see some great comedic timing no matter how serious the material is. Full of great characters and irony that would make Stanley Kubrick proud, he is a filmmaker to always keep an eye out for.

Favorite films
-Spanking the Monkey (1994)
-Flirting with Disaster (1996)
-Three Kings (1999)
-I Heart Huckabees (2004)
-The Fighter (2010)

18. Wes Anderson

On the surface, Anderson's films have such an interesting aesthetic (primary colors, simple cinematography) and of course there is the folk and rock music. If you look deeper at his scripts, you'll find dry humor expressed with poignancy. To me that is a true auteur, someone who is in control of both the story and the visual style of the film. Anderson's set designs are just as interesting as his characters; his best creations being Herman Blume (Bill Murray) in Rushmore and Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) in The Royal Tenenbaums.

Favorite films
-Bottle Rocket (1996)
-Rushmore (1998)
-The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
-The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
-The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
-Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

17. Darren Aronofsky

He has a very gritty visual style in all of his films, but in terms of the types of stories he is trying to capture, one could argue that he has actually just found his niche. His first three films were very dense and full of ideas (and I mean that as a huge compliment). In fact, they've been called "life changing" by some critics. With The Wrestler, Aronofsky instead used his innovative camera techniques to capture a very realistic story. With his latest film, Black Swan, Aronofsky combined that realism from The Wrestler with the mind-bending emotional gravitas that one found in his earlier work. You don't just watch an Aronofsky movie, you experience it.

Favorite films
-Pi (1998)
-Requiem for a Dream (2000)
-The Fountain (2006)
-The Wrestler (2008)
-Black Swan (2010)

16. Mike Leigh

Leigh has such an interesting method of coming up with his scripts. He comes up with a basic premise, casts his movie, and then has his actors improv some scenes and discover their characters. Only then does Leigh actually sit down and write a script. His directorial style brings those great characters onto the screen and the result is usually very uplifting or very heart-wrenching. He is also noted for working well with actresses leaving us with such great female performances like Brenda Blethyn as Cynthia Rose Purley (Secrets and Lies) and Imelda Stauton as Vera Drake (Vera Drake).

Favorite films
-Naked (1993)
-Secrets and Lies (1996)
-Topsy-Turvy (1999)
-Vera Drake (2004)
-Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)
-Another Year (2010)

15. Pedro Almodovar

What makes an Almodovar film? Is it his complex narratives? His grand use of melodrama? The strong color schemes with glossy sets? I personally relate to his themes of two things that most people hold high in life- family and love. His writing and directing also led U.S. audiences to discover such Spanish actors and actresses as Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz. His powerfully emotional movies have led many to speculate that he will be remembered as the greatest Spanish director of all time. I personally think he is already there. Also, of all the directors on this list who make dramatic films, Almodovar is the best at incorporating humor into his work in a very respectful (as in not gimmicky) manner.

Favorite films
-Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)
-All About My Mother (1999)
-Talk to Her (2002)
-Bad Education (2004)
-To Return (2006)
-Broken Embraces (2009)
-The Skin I Live In (2011)

14. Danny Boyle

Boyle has a very defining aesthetic and rhythm to his work whether he is working with established actors (such as James Franco in 127 Hours) or newcomers (such as Alexander Etel in Millions). His films don't necessarily sound the same, but they are similar on more than just a purely visual level. The stories he likes to tell are so full of energy that I feel that is what defines Boyle most importantly as a filmmaker- a never-ending rush of energy that starts and ends with the film. He will still tackle different stories and move around the world with each film taking place in a different genre or locale. Even when he changes his regular collaborators of writers, producers, and composers, the end result is usually pleasant thanks to his directorial leadership.

Favorite films
-Shallow Grave (1994)
-Trainspotting (1996)
-28 Days Later (2002)
-Millions (2004)
-Sunshine (2007)
-Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
-127 Hours (2010)

13. Christopher Nolan

A skilled director like Nolan is capable of twisting our psyches while still delivering something very commercial and appealing. Nolan mixes smarts with stories that a lesser director would use to just slam our senses with eye candy. The reason Nolan is such a loved director, whether one recognizes his name or not, is because he still provides that emotional element that I'm going to beat to death on this list. If a movie doesn't make us feel something, then it really isn't worth our time, and Nolan makes every second of his films count. Some critics are calling him a commercial Stanley Kubrick. That might be possible one day, but I have a feeling there is more films coming from Nolan that will place him in a class of his own.

Favorite films
-Following (1998)
-Memento (2000)
-Insomnia (2002)
-Batman Begins (2005)
-The Prestige (2006)
-The Dark Knight (2008)
-Inception (2010)

12. Peter Jackson

Jackson started out doing splatter horror with a hint of slapstick thrown in, almost like a New Zealand version of Sam Raimi. Jackson then showed an unexpected sense of style when he wrote and directed a heavily dramatic character film called Heavenly Creatures. It was then later proven that fantasy was Jackson's strong suit when he delivered The Lord of the Rings trilogy. They are fantastic adaptations, but they also stand well on their own. Jackson understands how to make fantasy be desired by the masses; you mix emotion with action and therefore, Lord of the Rings will forever be cemented alongside such famous epics as Gone with the Wind and Lawrence of Arabia.

Favorite films
-Heavenly Creatures (1994)
-The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
-The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
-The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
-King Kong (2005)
-The Lovely Bones (2009)

11. David Fincher

Fincher may be obsessive of every visual detail, but his main concern seems to be to provide a riveting experience for the audience. Yes, his films are often dark and if they seem cheery, then they do eventually get dark (no matter what the subject matter is). Yet I don't find Fincher as nihilist as others might. Instead I look at him as a director who with each film his style matures. He presents us with something about humanity that we as audiences members only recognize subconsciously. Fincher is the most entertaining director in Hollywood at this very moment and I'm always going to be excited to see what he does next.

Favorite films
-Se7en (1995)
-The Game (1997)
-Fight Club (1999)
-Panic Room (2002)
-Zodiac (2007)
-The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
-The Social Network (2010)
-The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

10. Quentin Tarantino

How could anyone resist his dialogue-heavy films? His writing style and pacing is so recognizable that he may be the best living example of an auteur. His films are usually artfully non-linear, violently stylized, and each one is from a different genre leading to a variety of homages that cinephiles often notice. Aside from being very knowledgable about film history, Tarantino is also arguably a great "composer" as well. He never uses scores for his films and instead uses soundtracks. He claims this came from when he was a kid and decided to film scenes at the rhythm of a song. If that isn't an interesting way to make "home-movies" then I suppose you aren't used to the oddball style of filmmaking that this director delivers.

Favorite films
-Reservoir Dogs (1992)
-Pulp Fiction (1994)
-Jackie Brown (1997)
-Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003)
-Kill Bill Volume 2 (2004)
-Death Proof (2007)
-Inglourious Basterds (2009)

9. Terrence Malick

Malick is noted for being a director who made so few films and yet all are just about considered masterpieces (he took a long hiatus between 1978 and 1998 where it is rumored he got a little tired and possibly fed up with studios). Malick is mainly noted for his beautiful results from placing a large emphasis on cinematography. As a writer, his films are both often heartbreaking and powerful. I personally compare them to the effect of a pleasant dream. You are placed into a hypnotic state when you watch his films, and you don't want to "wake up." Simply put, the reason he is on this list despite his small body of work is because there is no other filmmaker like him.

Favorite films
-Badlands (1973)
-Days of Heaven (1978)
-The Thin Red Line (1998)
-The New World (2005)
-The Tree of Life (2011)

8. Clint Eastwood

How do you best understand actors? It helps to have been a damn good one. Eastwood rediscovered his talent as a director when he deconstructed a genre he helped make popular with the western film Unforgiven. After that, his career in the 2000's have been followed with hit after hit after hit. He is an American icon who has made some of the most meditative and thoughtful films I've ever seen. His understanding of how to get inside a character's head is his greatest asset, but his deep understanding of music is also important when it comes to creating the moods of his films. Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone should both be proud of their protege.

Favorite films
-Unforgiven (1992)
-Mystic River (2003)
-Million Dollar Baby (2004)
-Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
-Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
-Changeling (2008)
-Gran Torino (2008)
-Invictus (2009)
-Hereafter (2010)
-J. Edgar (2011)

7. David Lynch

No one can still be so surreal and then vary in the types of genres like Lynch. The man can go mainstream or independent when it comes to his productions and he works so well when it comes to eliciting performances from his actors. The best example of this the beginning of the career of one of today's best actresses with Naomi Watts in the role of Betty Elms (in Mulholland Drive). Lynch redefines our expectations with each film he completes and of course he brings in his always growing knowledge of how to use sound with great effect, which only disturbs or inspires us further.

Favorite films
-Eraserhead (1977)
-The Elephant Man (1980)
-Blue Velvet (1986)
-Wild at Heart (1990)
-Lost Highway (1997)
-The Straight Story (1999)
-Mulholland Drive (2001)
-Inland Empire (2006)

6. Paul Thomas Anderson

This director makes excitingly more dramatic movies with each new project he undertakes and shows a dynamic style (both as a writer and a director) that is hard to clarify with words. The best compliment I can pay Anderson is that he is very unique. The comparison to Robert Altman wasn't just placed on him by critics, but by Altman himself. What do the two directors have in common? Their energy, their ability to get great performances out of actors (such as Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood), and they can move between genres without any trouble at all.

Favorite films
-Hard Eight (1996)
-Boogie Nights (1997)
-Magnolia (1999)
-Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
-There Will Be Blood (2007)

5. Spike Lee

Lee's films often look at race and then add in other important issues such as urban lifestyles, crime, and poverty. At heart, Lee is a political and socially conscious filmmaker and it would not be a stretch to call him an activist. His films are often social commentaries full of a pleasant aesthetic deserving of the moment and also filled some great song choices. His masterpiece, Do the Right Thing, is arguably the most truthful examination of racism ever put on film and let's not forget how well Lee just understands acting and character as a writer (see the performance of Denzel Washington as Malcolm X in the film of the same name for an example).

Favorite films
-Do the Right Thing (1989)
-Jungle Fever (1991)
-Malcolm X (1992)
-Crooklyn (1994)
-Clockers (1995)
-Get on the Bus (1996)
-He Got Game (1998)
-Summer of Sam (1999)
-25th Hour (2002)
-Inside Man (2006)
-Miracle at St. Anna (2008)

4. Roman Polanski

Aside from his sexual promiscuity, Polanski is probably best known as a director who can take any genre and revive it with mystery and memorable characters. He mastered noir in Chinatown and horror in Rosemary's Baby and just when you think he won't make another good film and has run out of tricks, he returns with films like The Pianist and The Ghost Writer. Although he'll occasionally write his films as well as direct them, even when he doesn't, his films are so well-crafted that it leads to memorable performances from well-known mainstream or independent actors in the roles of such interesting characters.

Favorite films
-Repulsion (1965)
-Cul-de-Sac (1966)
-Rosemary's Baby (1968)
-Macbeth (1971)
-Chinatown (1974)
-The Tenant (1976)
-Tess (1979)
-Frantic (1988)
-Death and the Maiden (1994)
-The Pianist (2002)
-Oliver Twist (2005)
-The Ghost Writer (2010)
-Carnage (2011)

3. Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

The Coen brothers are often called the two-headed director by many actors (I believe George Clooney is the one who coined the term). This is said because you could separately ask one of them a question and you would absolutely get the same answer. Their films are very distinguishable due to their cinematographically-based choices (usually working with the famous Roger Deakins) and their writing style. As writers, the Coens like to tell these thinly veiled morality tales that are often mixed with irony, wit, and karma. Like many directors on this list, they are also very versatile and can be deliver scenes that are very dramatic or very funny at any given moment in one of their films.

Favorite films
-Blood Simple (1984)
-Raising Arizona (1987)
-Miller's Crossing (1990)
-Barton Fink (1991)
-The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
-Fargo (1996)
-The Big Lebowski (1998)
-O' Brother Where Art Thou? (2000)
-The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)
-Intolerable Cruelty (2003)
-The Ladykillers (2004)
-No Country for Old Men (2007)
-Burn After Reading (2008)
-A Serious Man (2009)
-True Grit (2010)

2. Steven Spielberg

Here is a director whose films are for all ages and who tells stories that move from genre to genre (whether it be horror, science-fiction, or adventure). Aside from being multi-generational and versatile, Spielberg is at his best when he examines the extraordinary and the sense of wonder that comes with it. Spielberg also loves to comment on the family dynamic. His films will be about companionship, friendship, and most importantly of all, the parent-child dynamic. Spielberg accomplishes what I feel a good director needs to accomplish so that one could view films as an art; Spielberg leaves you with a feeling. A feeling that often prevents me from revisiting his films so I can hold onto that emotional impact.

Favorite films
-The Sugarland Express (1974)
-Jaws (1975)
-Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
-Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
-E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
-Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
-The Color Purple (1985)
-Empire of the Sun (1987)
-Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
-Jurassic Park (1993)
-Schindler's List (1993)
-Amistad (1997)
-Saving Private Ryan (1998)
-A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001)
-Minority Report (2002)
-Catch Me If You Can (2002)
-War of the Worlds (2005)
-Munich (2005)
-Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
-The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
-War Horse (2011)

1. Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese is simply put, a living legend. He is an important member of the film industry as his other main concern aside from directing is the preservation of films so that future generations can continue to learn and experience them. Scorsese's films are often about a number of things, but the themes he loves to explore include identity, guilt, redemption, machismo, and violence. Why is he at the top of this list? It's because he is the most influential filmmaker around and is the best example of how to successfully direct image, sound, and performance. I won't elaborate much further because his films speak for themselves better than I could ever put into words. Once you start watching enough of his films, you'll understand why he is the greatest living and working director.

Favorite films
-Mean Streets (1973)
-Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974)
-Taxi Driver (1976)
-Raging Bull (1980)
-The King of Comedy (1983)
-After Hours (1985)
-The Color of Money (1986)
-The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
-Goodfellas (1990)
-Cape Fear (1991)
-The Age of Innocence (1993)
-Casino (1995)
-Kundun (1997)
-Bringing Out the Dead (1999)
-Gangs of New York (2002)
-The Aviator (2004)
-The Departed (2006)
-Shutter Island (2010)
-Hugo (2011)

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