Wednesday, 26 May 2010

10 directors who excite me now...

Don’t know why I fancied writing about this today, but here are my top 10 active filmmakers. I don’t mean the “top 10 greatest living directors”, but rather, this is a list of directors whose work I am still excited by and always eagerly anticipate. Of course, the best living directors could include people whose powers have long since diminished: Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg and Jean-Luc Goddard could all be considered “great” directors, but when was their last “great” film? Yes, these guys can still make good films: Woody Allen releases one good film a year, generally. But however good ‘You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger’ is, chances are it won’t hold a candle to ‘Manhattan’ or ‘Annie Hall’, in the same way that ‘The Terminal’ and ‘Munich’ aren’t destined to be remembered as being up there with ‘Jaws’ and ‘ET’.

Of course, this doesn’t mean to say that the next Spielberg film won’t be a classic, but it’s all about expectations, isn’t it? And as far as Spielberg is concerned: unless it’s a fourth Jurassic Park movie, I’m not interested.

I also haven’t included Armando Iannucci (‘In the Loop’), Chris Morris (‘Four Lions’) or Martin McDonagh (‘In Bruges’), because although their films are probably some of the most exciting I have seen in the last few years (and I eagerly await their next efforts) I want to focus on directors whose films have consistently dazzled me. Anyway, with that proviso, on with the list (in no particular order)…

Wes Anderson
My favourite film: 'Bottle Rocket' (1996)

Wes Anderson is possibly my favourite current director. I have never been left disappointed by one of his films (though I know many didn't like 'Life Aquatic' or 'Darjeeling Limited' overly). I love how good-natured his movies are and how the portagonists are vulnerable and childish people, fond of being in teams and of being liked. Anderson's films aren't cynical and they exist as a celebration of life and of colour. I feel moved and uplifted by scenes in all his films to date and whatever his next project after the splendid stop-frame animation 'The Fantastic Mr. Fox', I am very excited.

The Coen Brothers
My favourite film: 'The Big Lebowski' (1998)

A slightly more complicated relationship exists between me and the Coen's, but only slightly. This is only reasonable though: they have made many more films than Wes Anderson after all. Basically, they had a bad patch with 'Intolerable Cruelty' (2003) and 'The Ladykillers' (2004), the latter being a god-awful remake of a genuine classic Ealing comedy, and wisely took a few years off to return in a blaze of glory with the Oscar-winning 'No Country for Old Men' in 2007. Now they are following up my favourite movie of last year ('A Serious Man') with another remake (although they insist it's more of an adaptation of the book than a remake) as they prepare to release 'True Grit' this December. Jeff Bridges (the Dude himself) is taking on John Wayne's own Oscar-winning role as Rooster Cogburn and I am pretty excited. After all, 'No Country' was, for all intents and purposes, a modern Western and it was incredible. I have faith.

Anything written by Charlie Kaufman
My favourite film: 'Adaptation' (2002)

The only writer on this list (although he did direct 'Synechdoche, New York' himself), Kaufman, in his work with Spike Jonze ('Being John Malkovich' and 'Adaptation') and Michel Gondry ('Human Nature' and 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind') has proven himself a genius time and time again. All his films have endless replay value for me, and each time I learn a little more about them. They are probably the most endlessly rewarding films ever made.

Christopher Nolan
My favourite film: 'The Dark Knight' (2008)

Here's a man who has never steered me wrong (so far)! It is a close three-way tie for his best film ('Memento' and 'The Prestige' are just as good as 'The Dark Knight') but his second Batman film excited me the most of all of them. My favourite superhero movie and the first/last time I really got excited at stunts and set-pieces in the last ten years of cinema. I love it! 'Inception' (due out very soon) looks... interesting (the trailer gives almost nothing away), but I have no reason to doubt that Nolan will deliver again.

Hayao Miyazaki
My favourite film: 'My Neighbour Totoro' (1988)

The best living animator. That's all I have to say. 'Ponyo' was great and whatever he makes next will be great. Sorry if that doesn't sound objective, but his films move me and excite me. Like Wes Anderson, there is an innocence and naivety about his work which is charming but never twee. Just too good. Soon he will retire, but I hope we get a few more classics yet.

Werner Herzog
My favourite film: 'My Best Fiend' (1999)

What can I say about the insane genius that is Herzog? Whilst I did enjoy the likes of 'Rescue Dawn' and 'Bad Lieutenant', I proberly prefer his documentaries these days. I suppose that's mainly because he narrates them and because he never tackles any subject matter in a traditional way. When he films penguins it is to find their inherent madness and obsurdity. One of my favourites is a short from 1977 called 'La Soufrière', in which he travels to a volcano that is about to errupt and films it up close, with no regard for his own safety. I am looking forward to whatever he does next, as well as a UK release of 'My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?'.

Paul Thomas Anderson
My favourite film: 'Punch-Drunk Love' (2002)

This guy is just amazing. 'Punch-Drunk Love' is possibly my favourite film of all time and 'There Will Be Blood' (2007) is right up there too. Then we have 'Magnolia' (1999), 'Boogie Nights' (1997) and 'Hard Eight' (1996). Basically he is like no one else, visually and in terms of the way he tells a story. 'Punch-Drunk Love' and 'There Will Be Blood' unite the music and the image like nothing else I've seen. His next film is getting me very excited indeed, especially as 'The Master' stars Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

Takeshi Kitano
My favourite film: 'Hana-bi' (1997)

Probably best known here as the presenter of 'Takeshi's Castle', an odd Japanese gameshow, or as the sinister, evil bloke at the start of 'Battle Royale', but Takeshi 'Beat' Kitano is an institution in his native land. A stand-up comic, turned actor, turned award winning, internationally recognised director. He can do anything, from straight police thrillers like 'Violent Cop' and 'Sonatine', to slapstick comedy in 'Getting Any?' (maybe the maddest film ever), to the more poignant, festival friendly 'Hana-bi' (which won the Golden Lion in Venice in 2007), establishing him as the most internationally relevant Japanese filmmaker since Kurosawa. He also tackled the long-running 'Zatoichi' franchise in 2003, making a damn fine samurai film too. I am yet to see his 'Takeshis' trilogy (released 2005, 2007 and 2008 to bad reviews) which is more autobiograhical, but I am excited to see his latest film 'Outrage', which played at Cannes.

Brad Bird
My favourite film: 'The Iron Giant' (1999)

The second animator on my list (although his next film is 'Mission Impossible 4' in live-action), Brad Bird caught my attention with 'The Iron Giant', an overlooked Warner Brothers animation. That film has such loving attention to detail it is perhaps the best non-Disney, American feature animation ever. He then went on to work for the great PIXAR and made 'The Incredibles' (my second favourite superhero film) and 'Ratatouille' (which also ain't bad). I am not super enthused to see 'MI4', but I would like to see whether he takes a unique visual style into live-action, like animators Burton and Gilliam have in the past. Could be interesting.

George Lucas
My favourite film: 'Star Wars' (1977)

A real wild card pick here! Since 1971's 'THX 1138', George Lucas (a peer of Spielberg, Milius, Coppola, Scorcese and De Palma) has made just five films as a director. 'American Graffiti' (1973) is a classic that inspired many immitators (not to mention the TV show 'Happy Days') and launched the career of Ron Howard (Lucas also gave Howard his first directorial job with 'Willow'). Then he made 'Star Wars' in 1977 and everything changed, for Hollywood movies and for Lucas. He didn't direct the sequels, or his 'Indiana Jones' screenplays, only returning to the director's chair in 1999 with the first of three critically despised Star Wars prequel movies (which I enjoyed). The last of these came out in 2005. But will he ever direct again? Will he ever make a non-Star Wars related movie? You see, that's why Lucas excites me as a director. I am intigued about what he would make and how he would make it if he ever decided to stop riding the Star Wars gravy train. His first three movies were classics, what happened?

1 comment:

  1. Great list. I really enjoyed Reading that and agree with all your selections, some of them were pleasant surprises (one of them I have to admit to not knowing). Such a wonderfully diverse mix of styles you could see nothing else but movies by these guys and still have a varied diet of entertainment. Can't wait to see inception a director whose reaching his prime and a really exciting cast lead by my favourite young actor. Again, great list.