Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Top 10: Movie Directors Part 2 (Burning Out and Fading Away)

As mentioned last week 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.

My attempts continue today, as hinted at last week part two is a list of directors who have in the past featured in the main list but for one reason or another are looked upon with disfavour at the present time. I wouldn't have hesitated to praise these directors to anyone who would listen, I would have happily talked for hours about any of them, I've written essays on a lot of them but now? I can't get too enthused on the subject.

Of all three parts this is the one that will give you the greater insight in to the workings of my mind. There's some hesitation in sharing this, some of my choices will be controversial and some of my reasoning is at least partly absurd but I stand by these decisions and the reasons behind them.

In the order that the polaroids fell to the floor 20 former favourite directors of mine:

Fincher burst in to my consciousness back when I was a fledgling cinephile, realising the same person had made Fight Club, Seven and The Game was one of the first times I'd "discovered" a director whose work might be considered close to marking him an auteur. Later upon buying the Alien Quadrilogy boxset I rated an unfinished "Director's Cut" of Alien 3 as the most enjoyable of the four films. He's made several great films with an exciting visual style and has an approach towards quality that few working in Hollywood even consider attempting to match. Recent years have brought about a change of opinion of him though, Benjamin Button left me icey cold and ridiculing a Fincher film for the first time whilst Social Network did nothing for me; I can't see what all the fuss is about in terms of direction or story, the only interesting aspect was that it was a part of history so recent and "important" that I can remember what the world was like before Facebook.
Two Thumbs Up: Fight Club, Seven
Two Thumbs Down: The Social Network, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

If talking down the recent form of Fincher was controversial then this decision may well rival a coach taking off the star player when the team is losing with ten minutes to go, in terms of it's controversy. Movie bloggers darling of the moment Chris Nolan just made a BAD movie; it was a movie so bad that it made me reconsider my positive reactions to all of his previous films. I've seen all of his movies except Following (which I'm saving as part of the Noir-A-Thon) and have always, initially, been overwhelmed with how great they are; but thinking back, wasn't Batman Begins only good because it was a rejection of Tim Burton and actually a bit boring? There's a whole section of The Dark Knight that I always forget about until I'm watching it and it causes me to groan every time. Memento and Prestige have shock value but I don't know if they hold up. We'll see. In all honesty after this rage at DKR passes I'm sure he'll be back up amongst the Top 5 pretty soon, unless he follows the boring path of Fincher that is.
Two Thumbs Up: Inception, Insomnia
Two Thumbs Down: The Dark Knight Rises
In contrast to the previous two selections Jarmusch has not offended me with average or mediocre movies, infact he's probably getting better with age. I am simply not as enthusiastic about his films as I once was. My affection stems from what was to me at the time a unique method of making films and a minimalist style that I'd not really come across before. His early films are enjoyable but then Ghost Dog took his work to a whole new level and has continued right through to the recent Limits of Control. I continue to hold him in high regard but there's nothing fresh or exciting about him either.
Two Thumbs Up: Ghost Dog: Way Of The Samurai, Dead Man
Two Thumbs Down: Permanent Vacation (at a push because it's just so odd)

The director of cute and charming and so popular it's almost beige these days, Amelie, made a couple of really interesting, quirky, visually exciting post-apocalyptic dystopian movies with Marc Caro in the early 90s. If you are yet to see Delicatessen I ask you what the hell you're waiting for, stop reading blogs and go watch it right now. The combination of a movie about cannibalism and a charming romance between a (perfect noir character) down on his luck clown and shy spinster daughter wouldn't ordinarily go together but the pairing of Jeunet and Caro make it work.
He made the fine Alien Resurrection and then split from Caro, since then he's given us the unmemorable Very Long Engagement and the so much fun (can you name a person who didn;t like it?) Micmacs. I wouldn't say he's gone downhill, he's just more mainstream in his approach towards content these days. I can't get excited by his films like I did after City of Lost Children.
Two Thumbs Up: Delicatessen, City of Lost Children
Two Thumbs Down: A Very Long Engagement

Oh Mr Crowe how you got dull in your middle age. I will happily admit that for quite some time I placed Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous as my favourite films I'd ever seen and as such how could I think more highly of another director than I would Cameron Crowe? I was very much in to finding my pleasure from the content than the style of a movie back then and Almost Famous was the perfect movie for who I was at that moment in my life. Not to mention writing the very excellent teen comedy Fast Times At Ridgemont High.
He went on to bore me to tears with Elizabethtown and I can't raise any enthusiasm for that Matt Damon movie, not to forget the merely OK Vanilla Sky. I think he's got his sights set firmly on Rob Reiners position within American cinema, a bit safe and occasionally interesting.
Two Thumbs Up: Almost Famous, Say Anything
Two Thumbs Down: Elizabethtown

Much like my feelings towards Godard the approach towards and passion for cinema of von Trier had a way of capturing my imagination as a younger man. His arrogant behaviour in announcing the Dogme95 manifesto alone would have been enough to achieve this but he has also crafted some brilliant movies. Films like The Element of Crime and Breaking The Waves plus The Kingdom mini-series that influenced Stephen King all came prior to Dogme but it is The Idiots that not only shocks but challenges the viewer that helped him to make a mark on me. Recently I found myself bored by Dogville, as shocking as you may find that, and the entire idea of Antichrist made me doubt him. I'm yet to see Melancholia and that may boost him in my esteem once more but the fact that I didn't rush out and see it says it all really.
Two Thumbs Up: The Idiots, Breaking The Waves
Two Thumbs Down: Antichrist (on principle,) Dogville
Darren Aronofsky impressed me so much with Pi and Requiem For A Dream that he had a place in my favourite directors list for a very long time despite The Fountain not actually working as a film for me (it was visually stunning however.) The Wrestler seemed like a return to form, impressing me on first viewing but when I returned to it I was less impressed. You may find it surprising but I didn't really like Black Swan, it seemed obvious from the start and whilst I can praise his use of the equipment selected I struggled to find anything to recommend about the film. Maybe I missed something? This decision is a lot more cut and dried than the Nolan one, it's not that I didn't like one of his movies it's that I don't ever want to watch any of his films again except for Requiem For A Dream, which just so happens to be based on a fantastic piece of literature by Hubert Selby Jr. I'm gonna watch whatever he puts out next but I'm not going to be as excited as I was for the last two.
Two Thumbs Up: Requiem For A Dream
Two Thumbs Down: Black Swan

First day of film school I was asked what I wanted to achieve, my answer was a rebel without a crew like Robert Rodriguez. Three years later I knew I couldn't do everything that he does on a film shoot but I still loved his films. I even had the Spy Kids trilogy boxset once upon a time. I love how innovative he is, how willing to find ways around financial problems he is and the way he is always pushing himself to learn new techniques. Why the hell isn't he in my Top 10 then? There was something about the Grindhouse and post-Grindhouse projects which have left me a little less enthused with him. Shorts was fun, Machete was fun but nothing more than that. Right now I feel like Sin City was him peaking but with two films scheduled for next year he could prove me wrong.
Two Thumbs Up: El Mariachi, Sin City
Two Thumbs Down: Adventures of Sharkboy and Lava Girl, Spy Kids 4

I was still in my teens when I saw Kids for the first time, three years later when I finally found a dodgy copy of the unreleased Ken Park I had grown as a person and a cinephile but it seemed like Clark was still visiting the same territory. From 1995 to 2002 Clark made five movies that I rated very highly for a long time. I would categorise him as the darker side of Mike Leigh in terms of style and content; his attention to the raw details of life, the darker side that other film makers shy away from is what appealed to me but I would have liked to see him evolve and grow as a film maker, he would be perfect for adapting a Jim Thompson novel for example. The controversy surrounding Ken Park (content as well as beating up his distributor) seems to have been enough to stall his career but he's another director with two films due in 2013 and perhaps, just perhaps he will have grown.
Two Thumbs Up: Kids, Bully
Two Thumbs Down: Wassup Rockers, Teenage Caveman

Richard Linklater seems to have the same approach towards films as Steven Soderbergh, make a commercial one and get a personal one thrown in. The difference seems to be in the quality of the commercial product. Slacker is a fantastic piece of low budget cinema that tells a story and captures a particular moment in time perfectly yet The Newton Boys could have killed his career it was that bad. Before Sunrise is a wonderfully charming personal film yet School of Rock was only saved by Jack Black in the same way Bad New Bears was saved by Billy Bob Thornton. Having said that even if he had stuck with the personal films I'm not sure he'd still make my Top 10, there's just so many more interesting film makers out there.
Two Thumbs Up: Before Sunrise, A Scanner Darkly
Two Thumbs Down: The Newton Boys, Me and Orson Welles

Todd Haynes makes such pretty movies, when watching them you're left with the feeling that everything is done for a reason; a true believer in the power of mise-en-scene. It was the Christian Bale and Ewan MacGregor film Velvet Goldmine that got me in to Haynes and Safe that cemented his place in my affections, the HBO series Mildred Pierce most recently displayed his prowess behind the camera yet it is the film many consider his finest, Far From Heaven, that I've been in no rush to see. This fact speaks volumes and combined with my "couldn't give a shit" attitude towards that Bob Dylan movie means he doesn't keep his place on the Top 10.
Two Thumbs Up: Safe, Velvet Goldmine
Two Thumbs Down: I'm Not There

The director of I Heart Huckabees, David O. Rant, seemed to be heading in the right direction with his films - away from the Oscars - but then he took over the dregs of a Darren Aronofsky project and The Fighter got some nominations. I was a big fan without even realising it I guess, Jeremy Davies in Spanking The Monkey is to blame I suppose. I saw that movie at a young age and immediately knew I had seen something different to regular movies. Of course Flirting With Disaster was next and that didn't appeal but Three Kings and especially Huckabees allowed me to gloat over having been there first when his name came up in conversation. There was nothing wrong with The Fighter but I can't get behind somebody who is going to cancel making Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (a movie he would have been perfect for) and make another pure Oscar bait drama instead.
Two Thumbs Up: I Heart Huckabees, Spanking The Monkey
Two Thumbs Down: Flirting With Disaster
After watching the Vengeance Trilogy I was all about this guy, not only does he offer visual overload but he fucks with your emotions too whilst creating interesting films. I've since grown up, appreciate his films for what they are but really cannot say he's better than a lot of other directors who I love for actual reasons other than "Old Boy was insane."
Two Thumbs Up: Oldboy, Lady Vengeance
Two Thumbs Down:
Takeshi Kitano, director of the first non-English language film I saw in a cinema - Zatoichi and by a strange quirk of timing the director of the last non-English language film I remember seeing in a cinema - Outrage. Who remembers the first time they saw Hana-Bi? I think it was the first Asian movie I'd watched that wasn't either a horror or an gangster film and boy was it beautiful. Kitano is an oddity in the world of films as far as I can tell; he's capable of making beautiful thought provoking movies and then he stars in Takeshi's castle. Perhaps I shouldn't let that taint my image of him but it has. I think of Takeshi Kitano and I think of a gross out bizarre game show now.
Two Thumbs Up: Sonatine, Hana-Bi
Two Thumbs Down: Takeshi's Castle
I was actually upset when this total stranger to me died in 2006, his movies that I'd seen up to that point had been a huge influence on me and to think that he'd never make another movie saddened me. Altman's prime period of creativity was the early 70s, by the 80s he was making quite a few stinkers before bouncing back with The Player in 1992 with a break in quality until Gosford Park in 2001. It might be harsh of me but having since seen a few of the duds from his six decade career I can't list him as one of my favourite directors anymore.
Two Thumbs Up: The Long Goodbye, MacCabe & Mrs Miller
Two Thumbs Down: O.C. & Stiggs, The Gingerbread Man
Todd Solondz has to go through so much to get his movies made, spending his entire life savings on producing Palindromes for example and all of them have been top quality, challenging pictures. I don't have a reason for not including him in the Top 10, he just isn't exciting enough to me right now in 2012.
Two Thumbs Up: Welcome To The Dollhouse, Happiness,
Two Thumbs Down: Storytelling is probably the weakest but is still great

Vincent Gallo has made two of my favourite films of all time. Vincent Gallo appears to be something of a lunatic, witness his "merchandise" page at his official website (spoiler, it may make you vomit) but then it could all be some elaborate attempt to blur the lines of reality and celebrity and allow him some level of personal freedom away from the press. Buffalo '66 and Brown Bunny are mesmerising pieces of cinema, there are so few film makers who can achieve this and Gallo deserves more praise than he gets. Missing from the Top 10 simply because he has made only two films that are widely available and I couldn't justify his inclusion with more prolific film makers.
Two Thumbs Up: Buffalo '66, The Brown Bunny
Two Thumbs Down: His penis in Brown Bunny

If anyone had come to me after seeing Kill Bill for the first time and told me that Quentin Tarantino wouldn't be my favourite director within five years I'd have laughed, for him to not even feature in my Top 10 after 7 years something major has to have happened. Does anybody else get the feeling he has turned in to a caricature of himself? His appearance in Planet Terror started the ball rolling and Death Proof didn't exactly start any fires in my imagination but Inglourious Basterds felt like gratuitous self-indulgence to me, coupled with his general obnoxious behaviour and I've lost that loving feeling. The man used to be pure entertainment but somewhere along the line he bought in to his own hype.
Two Thumbs Up: Jackie Brown, Reservoir Dogs
Two Thumbs Down: Inglourious Basterds
Probably the most obscure director on the list but when he followed Swingers with Go I thought I'd discovered a great director, his work on those two films alone was high quality on a low budget but he surprised me with his next film - The Bourne Identity. I actively dislike the Bourne Trilogy thanks to Paul Greengrass but Doug Liman made a quite intelligent action movie which I thoroughly enjoyed, complete with one of the best car chase sequences I've ever seen. Sadly this seems to have been the beginning of the end for Mr Liman, Mr and Mrs Smith wasn't of the same standard whilst Jumper was just plain stupid as was Fair Game. Of the 20 he's up there with Cameron Crowe as "Most Likely Never To Reappear In The Top 10."
Two Thumbs Up: Swingers, Go
Two Thumbs Down: Mr and Mrs Smith, Fair Game

The great man himself, has probably made more great films than everyone on this list combined but has almost certainly made as many movies that I just didn't like. When I was younger I had more time for his weaker efforts but I'm a grouchy bugger these days and I can't be bothered making excuses for him anymore.
Two Thumbs Up: Annie Hall, Bananas
Two Thumbs Down: Vicky Christina Barcelona, Hollywood Ending

So that's 20, some are more of a surprise for the fact that I once considered them great, some for the fact that I no longer do. Between them they have 18 Best Director Oscar niminations but only Woody Allen won for Annie Hall. Sixteen of these filmmakers work in Hollywood to a greater or lesser extent, as one of the few people I know who champion world cinema I am horrified to realise just how few directors from outside of America I praise or have managed to make a long term impact on me. I intend to try harder in future, I will repeat the mantra "do not watch trashy Hollywood, try that film that is on World Movies instead" and it might just work. To mis-quote Jack Black in High Fidelity, is is better to burn your star out or to fade away in to mediocrity? Part 3 reveals who is left, and who I left out completely. The final 10 coming soon.

Go ahead and criticise or discuss in the blahs, but tell me, who did you once laud as a great director and have since turned your back on?


  1. Spot on regarding Quentin Tarantino. If he showed up at my front door wanting to hang out, I'd pretend not to be home.

    1. Nice one Dan. He'd probably just tell you your sofa isn't good enough any talk all the way through whatever movie you put on anyway.

  2. You and I seem to be the only people that did not like The Social Network and The Dark Knight Rises. Good list, lost of titles I am actually not familiar with.

    1. Welcome Gregory, get stuck in to those titles! These directors have a fair few great films between them even if you ignore the large body of work behind Woody.

  3. Thank you for putting Black Swan as a two thumbs down - what is the fuss about that film?

    Aw, sad to see Jarmusch in here, and I love Permanent Vacation! It is a weird one, though.

    1. You surprise me, why didn't you like Black Swan?

      I've got nothing bad to say about Jarmusch, he just doesn't excite me as much as others. He's a great film maker still.

  4. There are some great picks here.
    I can't recommend Following enough. Glad you liked Inception and Insomnia, as they'd make my top 5 Nolan picks.
    I'll see Delicatessen. I promise.
    I both hated and loved Black Swan the first time I saw it. Now, I've got nothing but love for it.
    Sin City! :D

    1. Thanks, they're all responsible for some of the best movies of my lifetime whether the effect they had on me as a person, a film fan or a wannabe film maker. I thought Nolan's Insomnia was better than the original after I got past my pretentious phase of automatically saying the original is better.

  5. Of course Toby you're entitled to your opinion. I'm with you on Fincher. He is trash to me now. I've always felt he was questionable, but The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was absolute garbage. I still really like Aronofsky and Von Trier and don't feel like Von Trier has ever lost his edge. I wish that Linklater would stick with more interesting stuff....actually his movie this year Bernie was rather interesting. I love Woody Allen. One of my faves.

    1. I admit I haven't seen GWTDT, that was the sign that I really didn't care for the guy anymore I think. I saw the trailer and it looked almost shot for shot identical to an OK original.
      Von Trier's edge has almost certainly not been lost, he's very much still a film maker that challenges the viewer to do more than consume but until I see Melancholia I can't get past the idea of Antichrist.
      I'm surprised by all the love for Bernie actually, seeing Jack Blacks name mentioned made me think it would be another not great but not bad Hollywood project for him. I will watch it anyway and all the love sent its way has raised my optimism.

    2. I think Bernie is not very Hollywood at all. It's very under the radar. It's very subtle. It's very interesting. I don't think it'll blow anyone away, but it's a very good performance in a fine film.

    3. There are very few films that seem to meet that criteria these days Jon.

  6. Jeez Trevor! I was about to burn you hard after that first sentence! :)

    From Duck Til Dawn is a fun movie, I've seen it several times and even owned Full Tilt Boogie for a while. The sequels on the other hand were terrible.

    Why don't you like Rodriguez by the way?

  7. Sorry if I started a bit harsh. I actually love Sin City but didn't like From Dusk Til Dawn, Planet Terror or Machete. I've always had this preconceived notion that hes mainly the Spy Kids director. But looking at his catalog El Mariachi and Once Upon A Time in Mexico sound great so I may need to rejudge his films.

  8. No no I enjoyed it.

    El Mariachi and Desperado were good fun but for me Once Upon A Time in Mexico was too slow and convoluted bt then I don't really remember what actually happened in it. Machete don't text is one of the greatest lines of recent cinematic history, but I totally understand that it's not for everybody - it's silly b-movie fare after all.