Friday, November 20, 2015

Top 10 Favorite Directors

So here's my list of top 10 filmmakers. Don't forget to check out Clint's list over at Guy with a Movie Blog too!

1. Akira Kurosawa

Kurosawa takes the top spot on the list for the simple fact that I've rated more of his movies 10/10 than any other filmmaker. His work speaks to me in a certain way. His wonderful framing and intense action. His blending of Eastern and Western. In fact during his lifetime he was often more revered abroad than in his native Japan because he was thought to be "too western", and with his hero being John Ford, that's maybe not too surprising. But the comic relief in Kurosawa movies works better than in Ford's and I think Kurosawa has the title of greatest action director ever for his iconic work like the rain soaked finale of Seven Samurai, or the intense and surprisingly beautiful action in Ran.

All of that and yet a more humane movie is hard to come by than his Ikiru, about a man determined to do something good with his wasted life before he dies of cancer. Or even his High and Low, which poses a basic philosophical question of if we're all the same, when a business mans son is thought kidnapped but just when he's ready to mortgage everything and pay the ransom he finds out it was his drivers son that was taken. Is that mans child any less worth saving? Would you give up everything you've professionally worked for to save the child of another person?

But ultimately Kurosawa's movies are so damn entertaining. His command of pace and story were second to none. His films have everything, and so it's not surprising at all that he takes my top spot.

2. Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese's name is one I've known for probably my whole life. Part of the "Movie Brats" of the 1970's (along with Spielberg, Lucas, De Palma, and others) he has carved out a career of remarkable breadth, even if people often think of him as the "gangster movie" director (which is odd because he's only made 5 gangster pictures in a career of nearly 40 films). His fluid camera work and his impeccable editing collaboration with Thelma Schoonmaker (who has edited most of Scorsese's movies) gives his movies a feel like no other. No matter how influential he's been to subsequent generations, there's no mistaking a Scorsese movie.

I've seen something like 25 of his movies and the only one I don't like (1983's unpleasant The King of Comedy) is some people's favorite of his. Scorsese' work covers just about all the filmic grounds that can be covered. He's done gangsters movies, yeah, but also period romance (Age of Innocence), musical (New York, New York), family (Hugo), women's empowerment (Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore), classic Hollywood remake (Cape Fear), religious (his powerful Last Temptation of Christ), and everything else. And he's been a master at it all.

3. Alfred Hitchcock

What more can be said about Hitchcock? He's probably the most written about director in cinema history, the most studied, and one of the most commercially popular. He wanted to, and did, play us in the audience like a piano. He could ratchet up the tension at will. And if you read the extraordinary book Hitchcock/Truffaut, in which admirer and legendary filmmaker in his own right Francois Truffaut talks to Hitch about literally every one of his movies, you see that none of it was by accident. Hitch knew how his movies worked on audiences and he knew why. He happily shares with Truffaut secrets like why we never see the whole courtyard in Rear Window until exactly the most impactful moment. He could've shown it earlier to give a certain visual reference for us, but he knew how it would play if he waited until later. That kind of insight and care into filmmaking is truly wonderful to see. And the genius is that even when you know what he's doing, you're not surprised by it and you know the trick of the magic, he still makes it work.

4. Buster Keaton

Buster Keaton was not just a great screen presence, he was also a hell of a filmmaker. Though often credited to others or co-directors, reading a biography of Keaton showed that the creative force of the film was always Buster. Often he allowed a co-director credit even though all the guy had done was run the camera while Keaton was in front of it. Notorious for getting on set and just kinda feeling things out until it felt right to put the camera a certain place and stage things a certain way, he'd sometimes even take breaks to start up baseball games with the cast and crew until inspiration struck. Sadly, after signing a contract with MGM (all his most famous work had been produced independently of the big studios, and friend Charlie Chaplin advised Keaton to turn away the contract and stay independent), that all went downhill. He lost his creative freedom, his spark (as he fell into depression and alcoholism), and eventually his popularity. Thankfully, his work was revived in the 1960's and his popularity has only risen since. But it's not his MGM work that's remembered (other than his first one, The Cameraman, which he still had control of), but all that great silent comedy that has stood the test of time. And when you see what a great action filmmaker he was, and how technically ambitious he was (especially in Sherlock, Jr.), there's no denying his spot among the greatest of directors.

5. Werner Herzog

I've always loved Herzog's movies, but since I've started on a kind of quest to see more from him, he's risen on this list. The haunting Aguirre, the Wrath of God, with its nightmarish journey through the jungle, had always stuck with me, as had the dreamy camera work in Encounters at the End of the World. But now I've seen the remarkable imagery and stories he's given us with Lessons of Darkness, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, and others. His uniqueness is evident, but the more I see from the master, the more I love his movies.

6. Steven Spielberg

Spielberg is one of the few directors pretty much everyone knows by name. That's not always a good thing, since appealing to the masses generally takes a certain blandness to play to everyone. But Spielberg is as much an auteur as any other director. You see the recurring themes of broken families and the resulting stress that occurs, regular people in extraordinary circumstances, or even his ability to induce awe in us. Whether it's the Mother Ship in Close Encounters, multiple moments in Jurassic Park, or E.T. and Elliot flying across the full moon. Spielberg has probably given us more iconic moments in the pop culture collective consciousness than anyone. And on top of all of that, he's also a great storyteller. Sometimes his movies are too long, but he still generally makes them pop narratively in a wonderful way. He might be the most popular director ever, but that's no reason to be snobby and not include him on a list like this, he's popular with me too.

7. Woody Allen

I was late to the Woody Allen party. I saw Sweet and Lowdown when it came out, and thought it was fine but nothing too special. Years later, after seeing and loving Match Point, I decided I'd go on a bit of a Woody Allen quest and watch at least his most famous movies (Annie Hall, Manhattan, Crimes and Misdemeanors) and found myself floored at what I saw. Unlike many, who prefer "his earlier, funny movies" I prefer everything post-Annie Hall, when he stopped making gag-filled episodic comedies and started creating characters and really became a terrific visual filmmaker. I could now go back and really appreciate the genius of Sweet and Lowdown, but also his musical Everyone Says I Love You, and start anticipating his new movies like Vicky Christina Barcelona and Midnight in Paris. I even love some of his lesser work like Scoop. And so he's become one of those few filmmakers who I will watch their movie simply because it's their movie.

8. Alfonso Cuaron

I vividly remember sitting in the theater, with only 2 or 3 other people, when the cut to black happened at the end of Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men, and I've never been more stunned at a movie. I couldn't say anything more than "wow" for a few minutes. I'd been taken to the movie by a friend, and thought I would enjoy it because I'd enjoyed Cuaron's previous two movies, Y Tu Mama Tambien and the third Harry Potter movie, immensely. But after Children of Men I needed to go back and see everything I could from him, which wasn't a lot, just his modern set Great Expectations and 1995's A Little Princess, which is one of the great family movies ever made. So I was hooked, I loved his use of single takes, even when they're stitched together to simply play as a single take (which is the case in the extraordinary attack on the city in Children of Men as well as the wonderfully romantic "long take" in Great Expectations). When Gravity came out, Cuaron blew me away again. It's one of the few movies I've ever seen multiple times in the theater. I can't wait for what he'll do next, as he's already created an amazing resume.

9. Joel and Ethan Coen

The Coen Brothers are one of those filmmakers that I have always loved but sometimes forget about. From the first time I watched Raising Arizona (I couldn't have been older than 6 or 7) something about their weird, unique movies always spoke to me. Even times I wasn't as crazy about the movies as others were (like Barton Fink), their films are still fascinating to watch. And sometimes I come back to them years later and find that I love them wholeheartedly, which was the case with Miller's Crossing, which I thought was just okay initially but upon rewatches found to be an astounding movie. And they also have movies like No Country for Old Men and The Big Lebowski that no matter how many times I've seen them, if I start watching I can't stop.

10. Hayao Miyazaki

Hayao Miyazaki is one of the few filmmakers able to inspire true awe in me. That he does it in animation is all the more impressive. His recurring themes of environmentalism, flight, and young, strong female heroes are always welcome sights on screen. Even in his lesser films like Porco Rosso, there is a poetic sequence of flying above the clouds that is one of the most affecting scenes in any animated movie. He also can go from sweet, familial movies like My Neighbor Totoro to rip roaring action like that in Castle in the Sky or Princess Mononoke. You could go on and on about the amazing stuff in Miyazaki's movies (haven't even mentioned the God Warrior in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind) but it's better to just watch them!

Honorable mentions to Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Guillermo del Toro, and Richard Linklater.

No comments: