Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Top 10: Movie Directors Part 3 (The Final Countdown)

Cue Europe...Gob Bluth is about to prove that I love these directors more than anybody and perform some magic for us.

This is it, the final countdown of the Blahblahblahgay Top 10 Favourite Directors. We've assessed the 10 most likely to succeed in Part 1 and we've looked at the fallen 20 in Part 2 but this is the real deal now, the list that ties it all together and makes you realise how crazy I am. By the end of this post you'll be asking yourself how I chose X over Fincher or Y over Tarantino and just where the hell is Z if he doesn't even get a mention in a list of 40 directors? I've been ready for this from the day I realised what I'd done so hit me with your best shot, I wanna see your flabbers gasted in the comments and I especially want you to criticise these directors for not being as good as your choice. The fun is in the contrariness afterall.
Number 10 is Gregg Araki, the director of eight features; one of which I haven't been able to find (Splendor) and one of which was too dumb for words (Smiley Face), all of them shot on an almost micro budget and always innovative, bizarre and fascinating viewing. For me Gregg Araki encapsulates the kind of cinema America could make if it wasn't so fascinated with explosions and Jennifer Aniston's hair.
Essential: Mysterious Skin, Nowhere, Kaboom
Don't Miss This: Totally Fucked Up, The Doom Generation, The Living End
For Completists Only: Smiley Face

9th place for the first Asian director on my list, Wong Kar-Wai, director of the beautiful In The Mood For Love and it's slightly more surreal sequel 2046, spontaneous creator of the brilliant Chungking Express and one of the only men to make a Jude Law film watchable with his American debut My Blueberry Nights. Of his nine movies to date I've only missed his epic historical drama Ashes of Time and he even features in my noir-a-thon with his 1988 debut As Tears Go By. Possessor of a singular visual style for his films he owes a lot to the brilliant Australian cinematographer Christopher Doyle.
Essential: In The Mood For Love, Chungking Express, Fallen Angels
Don't Miss This: As Tears Go By, 2046, Days of Being Wild
For Completists Only: My Blueberry Nights

At number 8 sits my final choice, a late replacement for Vincent Gallo when I realised he didn't deserve a place for only two films yet when it came to placing Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn within the ten I felt he deserved a higher ranking. As a young film maker in Denmark growing up in a culture of Dogme95 it must have taken a strong willed and arrogant man to thumb his nose at von Trier et al and in this case a man with the talent to back it up. The Pusher Trilogy alone was enough to get him noticed but his output since then has been even better, and that's not even considering his early English language film Fear X.
Essential: Pusher, Drive, Bronson
Don't Miss This: Fear X, Pusher II, Valhalla Rising
For Completists Only: Pusher III

7th place is as high as I could allow my folly to place the youngest member of the ten, mumblecore director Aaron Katz. To label Katz as simply a mumblecore director is an insult, for me there's mumblecore and then there's mumblecore directed by Aaron Katz. His work stands out as much better than his contemporaries in the movement and has seen a huge growth in quality between Dance Party, USA in 2006 and Cold Weather in 2010, of all the ten on this list his is the work I am most envious of and the man I most want to emulate with my forthcoming work.
Essential: Cold Weather, Dance Party USA, Quiet City

This was a tough call, 6th place for quirky filmmaker extraordinaire Wes Anderson seems incredibly low for somebody who has yet to make a bad movie. I think having not seen Moonrise Kingdom yet may have something to do with it but also the fact that his films are a little lighter in their content than some others ahead of him. I am not a huge fan of Rushmore if I'm honest even though I did enjoy it and Life Aquatic just didn't sit right with me despite numerous attempts to enjoy it. I thought the way he transposed his cinematic style to stop motion animation with Fantastic Mr Fox was a particularly brilliant moment in his career however.
Essential: The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr Fox
Don't Miss This: Rushmore, Bottle Rocket
For Completists Only: The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

The Top 5 opens with Kevin Smith. Possibly the most improbable of all the final ten when you consider his affection for rubber poop monsters and dick & fart jokes and the fact that my growth as a person meant the outspoken QT was kicked off of the list but there's no denying the fact that Kevin Smith has got talent. I've said it previously but if Red State had any other directors name on it there would have been talk of Oscar nominations, it was a bold and brilliant movie and a complete change of pace for him. In addition to that I find him highly entertaining both as a person and as a storyteller. I don't care what anyone says Mallrats is a great movie.
Essential: Clerks, Red State, Mallrats
Don't Miss This: Chasing Amy, Dogma, Cop Out
For Completists Only: Zack & Miri Make A Porno

4th place for the only directing team on the list; The Coen Brothers have yet to make a bad movie. I might not enjoy the farcical nature of some of their cannon but that doesn't make them bad, if it wasn't for the less enjoyable Hudsucker Proxy there might not have been The Big Lebowski for example. Together they have created a body of work over the past 28 years that is second to none in terms of quality and watchability; their affection for film noir certainly goes a long way in my book too.
Essential: A Serious Man, The Big Lebowski, No Country For Old Men
Don't Miss This: Fargo, Miller's Crossing, Blood Simple
For Completists Only: The Ladykillers

3rd place may seem a little high for Kim Ki-Duk considering he has The Coen Brothers hot on his tail and I'm yet to see some of his more recent output but the movies I have seen have been of a quality almost unmatched in contemporary cinema. His attention to detail in his mise-en-scene and a rejection of dialogue has left an indelible mark on my brain, when I think of beautiful and mesmerising cinema I immediately think of Kim Ki-Duk.
Essential: Bad Guy, 3-Iron, Spring Summer Autumn Winter and Spring
Don't Miss This: The Isle, Samaritan Girl, The Bow
For Completists Only: Crocodile

It was a very close call between the last 2 on this list but despite his many plus points Steven Soderbergh didn't really stand a chance against my top pick. His range of projects alone is astounding, his ability to ressurrect himself twice in his early career equally so. Practicing the one for Hollywood and one for me approach has seen him squeeze Full Frontal in between intelligent box office fodder Ocean's Eleven and Solaris and indulge his artistic side with the much maligned Ocean's Twelve, he is responsible for quite a few of my all time favourite movies. Not to mention George Clooney's career.
Essential: The Limey, Solaris,  Traffic
Don't Miss This: Contagion, Sex Lies & Videotape, Out Of Sight
For Completists Only: Schizopolis, Underneath, Gray's Anatomy

There can only be 1 director perched in his ivory tower overseeing those lesser mortals out there making movies. Mike Leigh has been that man for quite some time, always creating something brilliant with film from his first movie Bleak Moments in 1971 right through to Another Year forty years later. His approach is unique and his achievements extraordinary. He specialises in the slice-of-life drama but his lighter moments are also something more than others can achieve thanks to the effort he goes to insert reality in to everything he does. He has made eleven TV movies and eleven cinematic features and except for Topsy-Turvy because of the Gilbert & Sullivan content I have enjoyed every moment of the time I've spent with him.
Essential: Secrets & Lies, Bleak Moments, Abigail's Party, Naked
Don't Miss This: High Hopes, Nuts In May, Life Is Sweet
For Completists Only: Career Girls, Topsy Turvy

As I said at the head of the post, go for it, don't hold back in your comments. I want to hear your opinions. I have an idea of some of the names you've missed seeing on the list but as far as I can figure it was deliberate on my part, nobody has been completely overlooked, I just didn't think that highly of them or I am yet to see even one of their films.


  1. Definitely surprised by the choice of Mike Leigh at a number one! Though I am not a fan of his, I do understand why others would like him. Love the rest of your guys in this list, though.

    The only director I haven't seen any of his films from his Kim Ki-Duk. He sounds like someone I could definitely get in to.

    Ah, it's a shame you didn't like Smiley Face! I've heard it's the perfect stoner comedy, in line with Pineapple Express and Dazed and Confused.

    1. I don't like stoner comedies, this is the major problem. I like Anna Faris and I gave it as much of a chance as I could stand but it was so intrinsically linked to getting high that I disliked it.

      If you missed my review of the Kim Ki-Duk film 3-Iron it should give you a good idea of what you'll be getting.

    2. I think the problem with stoner comedies is that they do have such a niche market, and are really catered to, well, people that are stoned at the time of watching them. Yeah, I can definitely see it being a problem if you don't like that kind of film, but I think I'll check it out anyway as I delve more into Akari's work (which I've been wanting to do for ages now, you've inspire).

      I'll check out your review at some point this week!

    3. Me? Inspired you? Hooray!

      Actually all of Araki's work has stoner elements to it, but not as an essential part of what the movie is about, hence my dislike for Smiley Face. He's a fantastic film maker, visually exciting and always challenging. I really hope you enjoy at least some of his work. And if you liked Pineapple Express I'm sure Smiley Face is for you.

  2. Katz is an interesting choice. I really liked Cold Weather and Quiet City. But over Bergman, Kieslowski, Scorsese, and Kubrick, not to mention Hitchcock and Billy Wilder?! Gasp! ;-)

    Love that you listed The Darjeeling Limited as essential.

    Should've guessed Mike Leigh would be on here, but I can't argue with his placement. He'd almost certainly make my honorable mentions.

    1. Josh, if Wes Anderson has made a film better than Darjeeling then I haven't seen it. He may never. If you like his style then its a smorgasbord of wonder. And it was the Katz movie you haven't seen that sold me on him initially, Dance Party USA; I've seen it multiple times and it reamins as powerful on repeat viewings, it stays in your head for days afterwards.

      I've not seen any Bergman or Kieslowski, they'd definitely be on a potential "Part 4" of drectors people love but that I haven't seen yet.

      Now here's some controversial opinions for you, I don't relly care for Hitchcock, sometimes if I realise a film is by him I'll put it back on the shelf. He's no M. Night Shyamalamamam but beyond the innovations he made he never really managed to capture me as an entertainer.

      Billy Wilder directer 26 feature movies and as much as I love 3 or 4 of them he worked in Hollywood when they were churning them out and quite a few of his films I have no interest in seeing.

      As for Scorsese, you have to go back to Taxi Driver to find a film I really, truly liked without reservations and Kubrick...he made The Killing and it took me multiple viewings to appreciate Dr Strangelove beyond that I am yet to really care.

    2. Totally agree on Darjeeling. Easily his best. And I will see Dance Party USA.

      Ooh, you have some great movies to see yet. There are plenty of directors I need to catch up on as well.

      That's fair on Hitchcock, Wilder, Scorsese, and Kubrick. A lot of people love their work (myself included), but not everyone does.

      Here's some controversial statements for you:

      M. Night Shyamalan's Signs is a masterpiece. Every element of the film is perfectly assembled, from the script to the performances to Shyamalan's direction.

      I don't see what's so great about Pixar, whose last great movie was Ratatouille. Don't get me started on Toy Story 3.

      I like the David Lynch films I've seen (The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive), but I don't see why he gets all of the praise that he does, especially for Mulholland Drive. It's great, but not *that* great.

      The Big Lebowski is highly overrated. Though Bridges is terrific as The Dude, the movie is just ok.

      Other than Fassbender's and Mulligan's performances, I wasn't that impressed with Shame. It's very good, but it wasn't one of last year's best films. I've seen it twice, and I thought the same thing both times. Also, I wouldn't even nominate Fassbender's performance.

    3. Whoa Josh! Way to let it all hang out!

      I find Shyamalam to be a one trick pony, a storyteller who gets off on laughing at how clever he is for tricking his audience.

      I join you on the Lynch front however, But then I'm not in to surrealist cinema, even the more mainstream efforts like his.

      I'm yet to see Shame, it's one of those films you;ve definitely got to be in the mood for but I'm intrigued by all the praise.

      I'm not going to sit here and tell you Lebowski is the greatest film ever, however it is great entertainment, especially as a noir/soleil update that owes a lot to The Long Goodbye.

    4. Haha. I tried.

      Really? I can see your point about being a one trick pony, but I've never gotten the "laughing" vibe from Shyamalan's films. (Haven't seen The Last Airbender though - not that it's essential.) I think he's a born storyteller whose work/style can be somewhat off-putting to people. Some of his films are very clever, but I don't get the impression that he's laughing about his cleverness.

      I do want to see more of Lynch's work eventually. Perhaps it will grow on me over time.

      I recommend Shame for sure. I just think it's a bit overpraised.

      Lebowski was entertaining, but I can't see the greatness in it. By the way, I need to see The Long Goodbye now. :)

    5. The Long Goodbye is essential Altman. Elliot Gould is my second favourite Marlowe and gives a perfect performance for Altman's vision.

  3. Interesting picks you don't hear about often. Have seen films from most of them. Really need to watch more Mike Leigh now. And The Long Goodbye is so great.

    1. I readily admit he's not for everybody but I just love the way Mike Leigh makes films. Some of them are very English and may not be for those outside of the UK but having said that he is very popular in France and it was the French who funded most of his cinematic efforts when the English wouldn't.

  4. What a fascinating and unusual list.

    Araki. I've only seen Kaboom and it didn't pique my interest enough to explore his other stuff. Perhaps I will give him another go.

    WKW, very happy to see him here, he's easily a top 5 director for me. Also agree with Fallen Angels being an essential title. It's every bit as good as its more well known sister film CK Express.

    Surprised to see Refn make it, considering your initial cold reception to Drive, but you're right, it's amazing that he managed to blaze his own trail out of Copenhagen.

    Katz. I agree he's the only mumblecore director that is any good, but he'd be lucky to make my top 200 directors.

    Wes Anderson. Funny, I didn't care much for Darjeeling but absolutely loved TLA.

    Kevin Smith. I'm still on the fence about him, I only seem to be able to enjoy his films after a few tokes.

    Coens. Don't have much to add here other than to say Miller's Crossing is my favorite of theirs.

    KKD. I badly need to catch up with him, because I always go for the more violent an visceral Korean films first. I have seen Spring Summer..., and it was excellent. Beautiful and mesmerising, as you say.

    Soderbergh. I greatly respect his ability to go all over the place, he's made some really random stuff, but I've yet to see a film of his that I truly love.

    Leigh. Another director I'm behind on for no good reason. The one title of his I've seen is Naked, can't say I remember much about it though. Will have to make it a point to check out more from your number one.

    1. Thank you! I probably couldn't have gotten it more unique to me if I'd tried.

      Araki isn't for everyone I'll admit, his early stuff could be seen as being immature when viewed the wrong way.

      Whilst I've never been stoned so cannot blame my love for Smith on that I know a certain percentage of his fans feel the same way you do.

      The Katz inclusion reflects a) how little I've actually watched in terms of non-english language cinema, b) how excited i am by his work so far and c) how very few new directors have appeared on my radar to take the place of those that have bored me recently.

  5. Great wrap up here Toby! I Love Kim Ki-Duk’s films, particularly Bad Guy and The Isle. Both are so remarkably disturbing but sort of beautiful. Obviously your number 2 pick made me insanely happy. Soderbergh is one of my all time favorites. And Mike Leigh… ah, I love him.

    Really superb picks here!

    1. Thanks Alex. And thanks for not picking up on your favourite directors who I have left out completely.