August 28, 2007
The Greatest Directors Ever... according to Total Film
The famous British magazine "Total Film" has released a list of 100 directors which they consider as "the greatest". As always happens with this kind of lists, many personal favorites will be missed, the order of the list will shock some, and a notorious lack of movies in "foreign" (i.e. non-English) languages will take place. Still, I'd say it's a pretty good list (although of course, I disagree with it in many places), mainly because it's not about who's the best but about who has been influential to cinema in general. And I think they got the first spot right.
Here's the Top 10 (with the comments published by the magazine editors), you can check the rest of the list here:
10 David Fincher
“Some people make movies so they can have a big house,” says Fincher. “Some people do it so they can date Swedish models... If I wasn’t making movies I would be drunk and homeless.” The MTV auteur who segued from Rolling Stones’ and George Michael vids to the fascinating failure of Alien3, Fincher’s do-or-die vision eventually delivered the seminal Se7en, mirrored this year by Zodiac’s more muted but no less intelligent take on fractured masculinity, obsession and loneliness (and, oh yeah, a serial killer). Hardly prolific, but Fincher’s smarts, wit and eye are unsurpassed in his generation; even his popcorn pictures (The Game, Panic Room) are a different league. Always pushing the technical envelope, he matches his meticulousness with mordant humour and a growing sense of humanity. Expect third Pitt hook-up, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, to stun you. Kubrick has an heir.
Picture perfect Fight Club. A beautiful and unique snowflake.
9 Peter Jackson
The ring master
A bashful, only child growing up in Pukerua Bay, New Zealand, Peter Jackson latched onto the 8mm camera he was given at the age of eight, forging a small talent that became big.
Jackson’s early work – camp splatter movies Bad Taste and Braindead, influenced by George A Romero – segued into the rapturous, teen-lesbian murder tale Heavenly Creatures and the mature, visionary storytelling of The Lord Of The Rings. “It was a giant undertaking,” says Jackson of his three-film, five-year odyssey, “but I consider it a personal film – my film of a lifetime.”
Maybe so, but now that he’s finally laid to rest his obsession with King Kong, a liberated Jackson can funnel his extraordinary filmmaking talents into more intriguing artistic-multiplex synergies – including, he says, a return to his gorehound roots.
First up, Alice Sebold’s ghost-child drama Lovely Bones, the perfect vehicle for his rhapsodic blend of visceral emotion and transporting fantasy.
Picture perfect The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Eleven hours of pure cinematic majesty.
8 Stanley Kubrick
Even in death – it’s still hard to believe he’s gone – Kubrick remains a semi-mythic figure, hidden behind a thicket beard, monolithic intellect and the front gates of his Xanadu-like mansion. Bizarrely, he’s greater than any one of his 13 truly unique films. After WWI trench-tragedy Paths Of Glory, Kubrick became less interested in humans than humanity itself, driving actors to hundreds of identical takes in his obsessive search for perfection. Even Dr Strangelove (an original, brilliant, terrifying nuclear comedy that equates military might with big, swinging dicks) and Lolita (sex and power again) reach us through a God-like POV that belongs to him and none of his characters. He fish-eyed Big Questions through some of the most unforgettable spectacles in cinema: 2001’s celestial enigma; The Shining and A Clockwork Orange’s mesmerising horrorshows; Full Metal Jacket’s clinical destruction; Eyes Wide Shut’s end-of-century sign-off. Daring, demanding and unique.
Picture perfect 2001: A Space Odyssey. To infinity and beyond.
7 Ingmar Bergman
“At times, the demons can be helpful. But you have to beware. Sometimes they will help you along to hell.”
Ingmar Bergman knew what he was talking about. Survivor of a cracked faith and four broken marriages (a fifth ended when his wife died of stomach cancer), the Swedish auteur made a career out of “the ability to attach my demons to my chariot” (The Seventh Seal, Shame, Scenes From A Marriage, Autumn Sonata, Fanny And Alexander).
And if his chariot’s wheels occasionally threatened to come off, that only helped Bergman work through his crises of creative confidence in movies like Persona and Hour Of The Wolf, positing the artist as charlatan.
Honing his uncluttered style over 60 years and 50-odd films, he shoots his tortured protagonists in looming, luminous close-up, his camera performing keyhole surgery to extract tumorous lies. It is, as critic David Thomson puts it, a “cinema of the inner life”, revelatory in every sense.
Picture perfect Persona. Bergman’s silent scream.
6 Orson Welles
It’s almost forgotten that, apart from the stalled projects, TV ads and ballooning waistline, Welles’ ‘thwarted’ post-Kane career is a roll-call of masterpieces and locked-down classics. Ever the showman mythologiser, Orson was well aware of this. The fabulous wreckage of The Magnificient Ambersons, Shakespearian epic Chimes At Midnight, inky noirs Touch Of Evil and Lady From Shanghai, conjuror’s trick F For Fake… all dance between ambition and failure, truth and illusion, character and destiny, fact and fiction. Welles’ thrill at the possibilities of the medium are palpable, along with his mastery of camera, sound, editing and performance. He was a true genius. And his exhilarating imagination still kicks hardest in that astonishing debut. Greatest lists are nothing but consensus. That Kane keeps topping them means few of us could do without it.
Picture perfect Citizen Kane. Believe the hype.
5 Francis Ford Coppola
“Anything you build on a large scale or with an intense passion invites chaos,” said the great lost beard of new Hollywood. He started out small, mind. Plucked from film school by Roger Corman in ’62, on $90 a week, Coppola shot the shocker Dementia 13 in Ireland. Cheap axe-ploitation? Sure, but it kick-started his eclectic career, which sprawls from the claustrophobic intensity of The Conversation to the sun-drunk Finian’s Rainbow. Isolation is a key theme, possibly because at nine, this son of a concert flautist fell ill with polio and had to be kept indoors. After the grandiose Godfather films, excess consolidated his myth and almost destroyed him, financially in the case of One From The Heart and physically in the case of Apocalypse Now. “My film is not a movie,” Coppola said. “It’s not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam.”
Picture perfect The Godfather: Part II. A journey into the heart of darkness.
4 Howard Hawks
This one-time car racer made silents in the ’20s but really flew in the talky ’30s. His motto was modest: “Make a few good scenes, don’t annoy the audience.” But he was actually magnificently complex, being a crowd-pleaser who made genre (screwball comedy, westerns, film noir, science-fiction, musicals) pieces his own, a writer of “realistic” dialogue who made non-realist entertainments and a man’s man who directed legendary female performances. He was also a genius talent-spotter, pairing Bogey’n’Bacall – first in classy war romance To Have And Have Not and then in labyrinthine noir The Big Sleep. As ’50s French critics recognised, he was the studio helmer as auteur, the populist as artist. Bringing Up Baby, Red River, Rio Bravo… who can match him now?
Picture perfect Screwy newspaper rom-com His Girl Friday.
3 Steven Spielberg
The universal entertainer
“I always like to think of the audience while I’m directing. Because I am the audience.” From movie brat to movie mogul, Steven Spielberg has never lost the common touch. The first thing he ever saw at the flicks was The Greatest Show On Earth (1952); a couple of decades of home-moviemaking, film school and TV apprenticeship later (Duel was grand enough to go big-screen outside the US), he was the new Cecil B DeMille. And exactly 30 summers after the epochal Jaws, he was still packing in the popcorn-eaters with War Of The Worlds.
But being the most successful director on earth comes with a price: ever since ET (“maybe the best Disney film Disney never made” – Variety), Spielberg has been stereotyped as a sentimentalist, more at home with reassurance than risk. Truth is, he’s rarely rested on those billion-dollar laurels, always looking to evolve his craft despite the constants that recur across his work (absent dads, kids in jeopardy, scores by John Williams).
In fact, finally bagging Oscars for Schindler’s List spurred Spielberg into beginning a drive for complexity rather than complacency, making films like Saving Private Ryan, AI and Minority Report. A trailblazer who works at a phenomenally fast rate – who else could make WOTW and Munich in the same year? – he’s too much of a craftsman to cut corners. “Spielberg has always maintained obsessive quality control,” says critic Roger Ebert, “and when his films work, they work on every level.”
Picture perfect ET The Extra-Terrestrial. Aliens and alienation.
2 Martin Scorsese
Little Marty wanted to be a priest, but he could never square the seminary with his one true religion: movies. So he got busy channelling all that misplaced morality through the lens of a movie camera…
Scorsese has now spent 40-odd years tapping the vein of violence pulsing beneath the skin of the Italian-American dream. Yet still no living director comes close to his delirious cocktail of movie scholarship, blazing technique and the kind of actorly respect that coaxes looming turns from both Oscar-winners and phoner-inners.
Like any lapsed Catholic, he’s obsessed with blood and body, but the ultraviolent rep is just a byproduct of his grand passion: power. “Growing up, I saw power exercised in two ways,” says Scorsese. “The power of the church and the power of the street, which was exercised through violence.”
His films are most thrilling when they mesh the two: street scenes and biblical themes (greed, punishment, redemption). The mob stories (Goodfellas, Casino) unfold in worlds where being ‘made’ is both blessing and curse; where enemies and Godlike ‘bosses’ spare or snuff out life at will.
He’s not married to the mob. There are towering tales of men at war with their own natures (Raging Bull, Taxi Driver), prescient celebrity-cult satire (King Of Comedy), smart biopics (The Aviator). The tardy Oscar nod was a career box ticked, but for Marty, it’s always been about one thing: the movies.
Picture perfect GoodFellas. Stand-out guys.
1 Alfred Hitchcock
Hitchcock is cinema. No director has been more manipulative or downright entertaining. “Some films are slices of life,” he noted. “Mine are slices of cake.” His wit and intelligence is there for all to gasp at – but was his heart as cold as some have claimed, including the blonde actresses he allegedly tormented? He likened actors to cattle, insisted on storyboarding every shot, and worked from a gloriously cruel creed (“Make the audience suffer as much as possible.”)
This east-end boy got his break in movies designing titles. His third credited gig as director, 1927’s The Lodger, brought his knack for suspense to the fore. (The film also featured the first of his celebrated cameos).
International acclaim greeted The Man Who Knew Too Much in 1934 and by 1940 he’d debuted in Hollywood with the gothic Rebecca. His thrillers could be dark and demented (Spellbound) or just plain wicked (Rope) but with each picture, his technique grew more innovative...
Hitchcock was at his peak in the ’50s and early ’60s: Rear Window, Psycho and The Birds were playful masterpieces that disorientated and indicted the voyeuristic audience; North By Northwest is perfect; and nowhere in cinema is the rug pulled out more dramatically than when Janet Leigh decides to freshen up in Psycho...
Sure, after the sexually charged Marnie in 1964, his creativity waned. But so what? There’s more deviancy and daring in one frame of his ’50s films than most directors manage in a lifetime.
And Hitch just pips Marty to the top spot because, as our eight-page special shows, he may be long gone but his influence lives on...
Picture perfect Vertigo. Hitch scales new heights.
- Source: www.totalfilm.com