Thursday, September 07, 2006

Top 22 Directors: Part I: 22-11

Here's a list of my twenty-two favorite directors. I'm not trying to present some authoritative view of the twenty greatest directors of all time, in the history of cinema, Francis Ford Coppola's certainly more notable than Sofia in the overall development of movies, but for me personally, Sofia's work has been more affecting. The way I see it, this list's order is determined by who I'd be most excited to see a new film by. Along with the name, there's the number of films I've seen by this person, as well as the number of films they have in my personal top 100 and the number of points they have, with 100 being 1, etc.

22. Bob Fosse
Seen: 4 (of 5)
Top 100: 1
Points: 37
Best Film: All That Jazz

Fosse is best known for his choreography work, but unlike a lot of multitaskers, his films are uniquely cinematic entities. All of his films are based around show business, usually focusing on the negatives, but occasionally showing us why people get involved in the first place. He's got a very dynamic camera and can edit a musical sequence better than anyone. All That Jazz is an extremely inventive film, most notably in the finale, one of the best film endings of all time. His most harrowing film is Star 80, a brutal assault on the viewer with one of the bleakest endings of all time. That film shows that he can work well outside of the musical genre.

21. Lars Von Trier
Seen: 4 (of 8)
Top 100: 1
Points: 65
Best Film: Dogville

Lars Von Trier makes films that frequently frustrate me, he challenges the viewer and I think that the strength of emotional reactions to his material indicates the power of his filmmaking. His 'Golden Heart Trilogy' bothered me at times, but the end of Dogville rebukes a lot of the criticisms there and provides his oeuvre with a violent catharsis. His relentless experimentalism is refreshing, if nothing else, you can always count on Lars to create something different.

20. Terrence Malick
Seen: 4 (of 4)
Top 100: 1
Points: 35
Best Film: The New World

Malick makes films that invite you into a world. Much like Wong Kar-Wai he forsakes traditional narrative for voiceover laden, philosophical and emotional journeys into moodiness. He's at his best when dealing with very simple stories, like the love triangles of The New World and Days of Heaven. In this context, he allows nature to represent the characters' emotions, and gets to show off his always gorgeous photography.

19. Gaspar Noe
Seen: 2 (of 2)
Top 100: 1
Points: 75
Best Film: Irreversible

Like Trier, Noe makes films that actively confront the audience, challenging the viewer to look away. I Stand Alone is a really difficult film to watch because Noe so thoroughly immerses you in the mindset of its racist, psychotic main character. Then with Irreversible he creates his first masterpiece. It's one of the most technically dazzling films of all time, wowing you with the photography while simultaneously horrifying you with the intensity of its content. Very few films could accurately be called an experience, but Irreversible is. It's a film that changed the way I view the medium.

18. George Lucas
Seen: 5 (of 5)
Top 100: 3
Points: 229
Best Film: Star Wars

I think of Lucas more as a storyteller than a director. He didn't have to actually direct Empire or Jedi to get his vision across. However, his direction is still notable, Star Wars changed the possibility of what could be done with science fiction cinema by creating another universe that is totally believable. In Star Wars, I find it hard to believe that cameras are there or even that these people are acting, watching those films completely erases the layer of fictional awareness. People say that Lucas ended New Hollywood with Star Wars, but by creating a film that conveyed his unique vision in a traditionally creative bankrupt genre he was doing the same thing that Coppola did to the crime genre with The Godfather. It's only what happened after that caused things to go bad.

17. Gregg Araki
Seen: 6 (of 8)
Top 100: 0
Points: 0
Best Film: The Doom Generation

Araki is another director who's notable for making really challenging films. His early work is very hyped up, always messing around with film convention, be it in the meta titles on Totally F***ed Up or the genre extremism of Doom Generation. He puts a lot of effort into making visually interesting compositions and backing them with great soundtracks. Mysterious Skin is more emotional than his previous films and manages to keep the visual greatness even in a more realistic narrative world.

16. Kim Ki-Duk
Seen: 6 (of 12)
Top 100: 1
Points: 11
Best Film: 3-Iron

Kim Ki-Duk is a filmmaker who works almost exclusively with visuals and music, frequently spotlighting mute characters who communicate through facial expressions and touch rather than through words. In this sense, he makes uniquely cinematic films and there's a lot of joy to be had in watching him construct worlds out of shots. He's got a fantastic eye and can create really powerful moments through the combination of visuals and music. Sure, he's a bit repetitive, every film seems to be involve water and/or prostitutes, but his films are always interesting, so more power to him.

15. Robert Altman
Seen: 11 (of 35)
Top 100: 1
Points: 8
Best Film: Nashville

Altman's made so many films, it's hard to pin down a specific style. I could easily see the guy who made Nashville making Short Cuts, or the guy who did Images making 3 Women, but connecting everything is more difficult. However, Altman is notable for making realistic films, in the sense that they capture words as spoken, not as scripted, and emotions in an underplayed way, trauma internalized rather than shouted out. I respect Altman for continuing to work, and excel, well in to old age. A Prarie Home Companion is one of the best films of this year and his filmmaking is still innovative and exciting.

14. Park Chanwook
Seen: 4 (of 6)
Top 100: 2
Points: 67
Best Film: Oldboy

Seeing Park's Oldboy for the first time was one of my most exhilarating film viewing experiences. The effortlessness of his craft is dazzling, each frame a beautiful composition and the stylistic flourishes, backed by over the top orchestral techno score left me really happy that such a cool film existed. Lady Vengeance was one of my most anticipated films of last year and it messed with my expectations quite a bit, however I've come to love the more serious approach to vengeance he takes there. No director has a better eye for composition, for creating a really striking image, than Park.

13. Sofia Coppola
Seen: 2 (Of 2)
Top 100: 2
Points: 73
Best Film: Lost in Translation

Sofia Coppola is an even better director than her father, and I love Francis Ford's work. Both of Sofia's films exists in a dreamy realm not far removed from Wong Kar-Waiville, a world where absolutely gorgeous visuals and perfectly chosen music illustrate stories of everyday events that happen to be hugely important to the characters involved. She understands the fact that cinema is a visual medium first, a storytelling medium second, and all the critics who complained that nothing happened in Lost in Translation totally missed the point. Those moments of nothing, beautiful pauses, are where the soul of the film lies. I'm eagerly awaiting Marie Antoinette.

12. Michel Gondry
Seen: 2 (of 2)
Top 100: 1
Points: 80
Best Film: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Gondry is arguably the most innovative visual director working in film today. In his music videos, he went to many crazy places, and is the only director in this CG age who's still able to make you ask "How'd they do that?" Beyond his videos, he's made one masterpiece. Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind is a totally unique fusion of very real emotional drama and surreal visual dreamscapes. It was such a leap for Gondry and I'm confident he's going to keep things going in his next feature, the soon to be released Science of Sleep.

Part II Coming Soon

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