Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Top 10: Movie Directors Part 1 (Confessions of a Film Blogger)

Alex at And So It Begins recently made a Top 10 list of his favourite directors, it must have been tough. I tried to create my own, it was tough.

In creating the list I had to seriously consider each directors output, there have been and are so many talented film makers throughout the history of cinema and dozens of wonderful movies that have affected me and effected my perception of what cinema could be but what this list needed to be was a collection of auteurs whose body of work I could claim to have seen the majority of and wouldn't hesitate to watch any film they made next.

This made for an interesting Top 10 that says more about me and my habits as a film consumer than I would ordinarily want to admit to a group of my fim watching peers and I am going to build up to it over several posts. Part 1 today is the Top 10 directors who might have made the list if I had seen more of their work, great film makers who I have loved yet haven't gone out of my way to see more of. The worst part of admitting this is that it doesn't even factor in the great directors from whom I haven't seen a single movie.

In order of when I first saw one of their films:

The man soon to be awarded the Jaeger-LeCoultre Glory to the Filmmaker 2012 award at Venice Film Festival and in pre-production on the Old Boy remake is regularly dismissed as being a short angry black man in some circles but around here I've loved Do The Right Thing since I first saw it in 1998 and generally only had positive experiences with the other five films of his I've seen. 

Often criticised for racist or anti-white content in his films I can't say I've ever noticed it myself. Lee is creative in his use of filmic culture to challenge perceptions of the medium as well as provoking thought on prejudice and other issues in society and if anything is critical of all races equally.

Key Films Seen: Do The Right Thing, Inside Man
Key Films Not Seen: He Got Game, She's Gotta Have It

Back in film school I was the guy gushing over how talented Godard was. That was me. Bout De Souffle worked like a shock to the system when I first saw it but I hadn't seen any of his other work when I was showing off how European I was. I don't think it's a surprise that a rather large percentage of my favourite films and film makers cite Godard as one of their major influences. There's no doubt that his efforts as part of the Nouvelle Vague movement influenced my style as a student film maker either.

I've since seen a few others and read a bit about yet more and in the manner of Quentin Tarantino I've cooled on him slightly. I'm hesitant to try more of the difficult or political movies preferring to think of him as that guy that opened my eyes when I was younger with his uber-cool ways.

Key Films Seen: Bout de Souffle, Pierrot Le Fou
Key Films Not Seen: Le Mepris, Week End

He's directed 16 features including one of my all time favourites, yet to date I've seen two of them and am nearly finished with Lawrence of Arabia. There's no doubt in my mind that he was supremely gifted, making a four hour movie the large majority of which is crossing deserts and have it be as mesmerising as it is takes a special talent.

Having only seen two of the early Noel Coward written movies marks Lean as a major gap in my film watching resume but one which thanks to TCM is getting slowly filled.

Key Films Seen: Brief Encounter, This Happy Breed
Key Films Not Seen: Doctor Zhivago, The Bridge on the River Kwai

A multi-award winning artist that has recently declared that all of his work will be filmed in 3-D from now on. A contemporary of Fassbinder and Herzog he has had the most commercial success of the three and also had a disasterous encounter with Francis Ford Coppola and most recently received an Oscar nomination for a documentary.

For me his storytelling abilities are what stand out in the few Wenders movies that I've seen. He has an eye for a great composition and uses colour to great effect. The opening of Paris, Texas was enough to make me a fan and even in his incredibly long Until the End of the World he stayed true to his visual prnciples. He is also a cinephile making fascinating documentaries on other great film makers such as Ozu and Ray. A lot of his films are not readily available for somebody unwilling to buy countless DVDs hence his appearance on this list.

Key Films Seen: Paris Texas, Wings of Desire
Key Films Not Seen: The American Friend, Faraway So Close

A major influence on the American new wave of film makers in the late 60s and the first Japanese director to win a major European film award, Kurosawa led the way for other great Asian directors to find success outside of Asia.

I was introduced to Kurosawa before I'd even seen a foreign film, the Barenaked Ladies mega hit song One Week referenced him as making "mad films" with samurai. Later I would see Rashomon and be amazed, not least because it wasn't a samurai movie. His films are beautiful and visually challenging and I have yet to see a bad film from him.

Key Films Seen: Rashomon, Drunken Angel
Key Films Not Seen: Kagemusha, Seven Samurai

The man who told Godard to "cut to the interesting part of the shot" when editing Bout de Souffle was part of the French resistence movement during WWII and named himself Melville after that guy who wrote Moby Dick. Heavily influenced by American gangster movies his visual style is probably the least European of the New Wave.

Of all of the ten directors from this list Melville is the one closest to making the actual Top 10. Of the thirteen features he directed I have seen five. I still remember the effect seeing Le Samourai for the first time had on me and on discovering that his minimalist noir style continued through his work marked him as the epitome of French Nouvelle Vague cool in my eyes.

Key Films Seen: Le Samourai, Le Doulos
Key Films Not Seen: Magnet of Doom, Leon Morin Pretre

As Le Tigre sing, what's yr take on Cassavetes? Misogynist, genius, alcoholic, messiah. The man has worn a lot of labels over the years but what is never in doubt is the impact his films have on those that have had the pleasure of seeing them. Famed for his cinema verite style he released his debut feature Shadows the year before Godard took his cameras to the streets of Paris and was nominated for an Oscar for A Woman Under the Influence.

I first heard of Cassavetes when reading Down and Dirty Pictures and immediately sought out his films for their influence on my then favourite film makers. Shadows was my first Cassavetes experience but it was The Killing of a Chinese Bookie that cemented him in my mind as a favourite and his style remains strong in its influence over my own choice of filmic visuals.

Key Films Seen: Shadows, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
Key Films Not Seen: A Woman Under the Influence, Faces

Listed as one the greatest directors of all time by Sight and Sound, director of over 50 films most notably Tokyo Story Yasujiro Ozu has had a profound impact on many more people than just me. An innovator in style and a firm believer in his own principles of photography I can't begin to do the man justice with a few paragraphs. Wim Wenders made a documentary about him and barely scratched the surface.

As a teen I remember hearing Tokyo Story mentioned and expecting to be bored by this old, slow, black & white Japanese movie about an old man visiting his children but what Ozu provided was so powerful, simple and beautiful that my appreciation of cinema changed forever. Somehow I've managed to see so few of his movies since but one day I'll rectify this.

Key Films Seen: Tokyo Story, Tokyo Twilight
Key Films Not Seen: Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice, An Autumn Afternoon

An American who was highly influential in the independant movie movement at the end of the 80s and the beginning of the 90s he can count the equally impressive Jim Jarmusch amongst his peers.

To quote indiewire "Imagine if Woody Allen, Whit Stillman, Kevin Smith and the Sundance Institute had a love child. This ungainly creature, speaking in witty, heightened, unnaturalistic sentences, and ambling, sometimes shambling between comedy, tragedy and pretension, might very well go on to make films that greatly resemble those of Hal Hartley."

Hal Hartley is a relatively new addition to this list having only seen his work for the first time in 2011 despite knowing who he was since the mid 90s. Only the second member of the ten to be considered primarily for their movies content over a specific visual sensibility (coincidence that they are both Americans?) His films, Trust and An Unbelievable Truth, were charming and truthful yet told in a slightly surreal way. Having been a big fan of Richard Linklater in my earlier years as a film fan the influence of Hartley on him became quite obvious. I've got a handful more ready to be watched but when that will happen I can't say.

Key Films Seen: Trust, An Unbelievable Truth
Key Films Not Seen: Flirt, Henry Fool

A fascinating film maker whose life story is ripe for a movie itself, Fassbinder died at 37 and was active for only fifteen years yet made an astonishing forty films.

I saw my first Fassbinder in July, there are thirty-nine to go but if they remain as jaw droppingly incredible to look at I can't see him not making my actual Top 10 eventually.

Key Films Seen: Love Is Colder Than Death
Key Films Not Seen: The other 39?

OK that brings to a close this list of (largely) embarrassing confessions, three American, one British, two German, two Japanese and the obligitory two French directors ready to oust the upcoming Top 10 from my affection.

Part 2 looks like it will be a Top 20, those directors who for one reason or another I have fallen (temporarily?) out of love with over the five years since graduating.

I welcome your ridicule as well as your own confessions in the blahs. Is there anyone whose work you know you should see more of?


  1. Ooh, we share a few favorites. That's good.

    Lee I mostly like from 25th Hour, which is possibly one of the most underrated films of the last decade.

    Godard I'm starting to like thanks to Band of Outsiders.

    Lawrence of Arabia made me adore Lean (and that was the first film of his I saw!).

    I've only seen Wings of Desire, but I heard some of Wenders' other films are very good.

    Kurosawa won me over with Ikiru, though I have seen a number of his other films as well.

    Melville I have slight mixed feelings about, but I liked Army of Shadows and Leon Morin, Priest.

    Oh, you really need to see A Woman Under the Influence and Opening Night. Those are my two favorite Cassavetes films.

    After seeing Late Spring, I plan to see more from Ozu.

    Hartley and Fassbinder I've yet to see any of their work but judging by your glowing praises of them, it looks like I should in the near future.

    (Sorry for the long-winded comment.)

    1. Long winded = good!

      I initialy didn't think much of 25th Hour actually, but I've gone back and seen it and really enjoyed it. The ending I'm not so sure about however.

      What didn't you like about Godard? Faraway So Close by Wenders is a sequel to Wings of Desire which doesn't seem to have had an Australian release sadly for me.

      I have Opening Night and Faces bought at bargain prices from a book shop that was going out of business, one day they will be watched.

      Why the mixed feelings over Melville? Is it the subtle storytelling combined with incredibly style visuals by any chance? It could definitely lead to a feeling of "all surface no feeling" about his work I know.

    2. I think my slight mixed feelings towards Godard and Melville are from the fact many of their characters are a little too aloof. (Apart from Band of Outsiders and Leon Morin, Priest.) I prefer seeing a character who you can at least like throughout the film.

      That said, maybe I've been seeing the wrong films...

    3. Ahhh well I think that's partly their Frenchness and partly their Nouvelle Vague-ness, You may not get a huge amount of pleasure from their work in the early 60s then.

      Army of Shadows is completely different movie to other Melville films, content wise at least. Maybe that one would be worth a look?

    4. Oh yes. Insert shameless promotion of review:

    5. Good review, yet you wouldn't place it in the same category as Leon Morin?

    6. Mind you I saw Army of Shadows long before Leon Morin, Priest. It gave me time to let the other Melville films sink in. before seeing the latter film.

  2. Great idea to list these picks first. I still need to see Week End myself, and I haven't even seen Brief Encounter yet.

    Trust me, your confessions here are not that embarrassing because I still haven't seen a film by Wenders, Melville, Cassavetes, Hartley, or Fassbinder.

    1. Wow that's 5 of the 10 Josh! Tut-tut ;)

      Tyler loves Week End I know but I'm really hesitant to watch it, Pierrot Le Fou was a tough watch and that was almost a traditional movie from him so Week End...

      As for Brief Encounter, I know it's not for all but I love the portrayal of the repressed English way of life. It took me watching it repeatedly for an essay to actually love it though.

  3. You've seen more than me. I have not seen 6 of these directors films. I'm guessing that if your building this up the final post will have someone who may truly shock some people. Great idea for a post btw.

    1. Hey thanks Trevor, between you and Josh I am no longer feeling quite so bad about these picks. I think I am my harshest critic anyway.

      I shocked myself with the names that were no longer on my Top 10, I shocked myself at the names I didn't even consider and I was surprised by the 10 that remained. I hope you still return this way after the big reveal.

    2. Oh I will. Due to the taste guide I know your feelings on Michael Bay and his acolyte Paul Greengrass (I'm not anxiously anticipating Transformers 17: Optimus Prime fists Megatron or something like that). I have similar feelings. Also dig your new DVD guide. That book sounds hilarious and completely not helpful.

    3. I guess it's helpful for those without taste who have seen every new release already! I should really get a third part done for that, its been ages.

  4. I have to be honest. I never pay attention to directors, although there are a few whose works have a certain feel to them that I love. You're right about Godard, though. The man made some GREAT movies.

    1. I'm kind of touching on the power of the director in the next part of this actually Alan. The linking between an auteur and the movie is often a sign of a certain level of quality, but things change.

      For example I'd trust a directors reputation over an actors every time. You don't always get a gross out comedy from an actor but you do always get one from The Farrelly Brothers.

  5. Toby,

    Well there are several directors here who would make my own top 10 and it looks like you've got some great films ahead of you. I watched a lot of Fassbinder last year as it was a hole in my own viewing. The Marriage of Maria Braun is my favorite but The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, Fox and His Friends, Lola, In a Year of 13 Moons are all amazing. As for Cassavetes, the only 2 films I like are A Woman Under the Influence and Faces! Two of the most intense and challenging films I've ever seen. I think the final hour of Faces is the greatest hour of American independent cinema ever made. Lean's The Bridge on the River Kwai is a personal favorite from when I was a kid.

    1. Hey Jon!

      From the sounds of it Fassbinder barely put a foot wrong. It's going to be a great ride as I play catch up. You didn't like Shadows or you didn't see it?
      TCM just got added to our TV subscription free of charge which is helping with Lean, July was Epic Movie month and now I have most of his films recorded, that should fix that problem at least.

    2. I've seen Shadows. I like it to a degree, but not as much as I wanted to. The other two I mentioned are in a different league.

  6. Great list but I can't believe some of the films you HAVEN'T seen. Le Mepris and Week End are two of Godard's most "Godardian" movies. The Bridge on the River Kwai is my second favourite David Lean after Lawrence of Arabia. I haven't seen much from Cassavetes but I can't see any of his other films being better than A Woman Under the Influence. And Fassbinder... you have heaps to catch up on with him, but it'll be fun.

    Great list man. Superb stuff.

    1. I know, it's embarrassing. I guess I've watched wide but not deep. But I've never been able to watch as much as you do, my brain is hard-wired for immediate pleasure cinematically so it takes a conscious effort to move away from watching all the terrible movies that I don't enjoy but are so easy to press play on in the hope that they are good.

  7. Quite the interesting list and some surprising blindspots, I was sure you'd seen much more of Godard and Ozu. I'm really interested now in seeing who did make your top 10.

    1. I guess I still talk a good game with only a small amount of films behind me to back it up, those arrogant film school habits die hard! A lot of my film knowledge is from books, which doesn't really compare to having seen everything from a director but I often feel two or three films from a director is enough to get an idea and the rest can be seen at a later date. The two you mentioned were pretty prolific directors who would ordinarily have had a good chance at placing high in a list without the criteria I placed on it.

  8. Bitchin' list here. Many of your picks nearly ended up on my list too. I cannot recommend A Woman Under the Influence highly enough. Rowlands gives my favorite female acting of all time in that. Just remarkable.

    1. Thanks Alex, seems like Woman Under The Influence is to be bumped up the Quickflix queue after the volume of recommendations on this post.