Monday, July 7, 2014

The Ten Most Influential Directors of All Time...

I've been waiting to get my hands on this particular relay race.  I love exploring a director's body of work and seeing how influential they have become to the masses of new age directors coming up to take the reigns.  So many incredible directors have paved the way for the influx of inspired directors we have making movies today.  P.T. Anderson, Joe Wright, David Fincher, Steve McQueen, Xavier Dolan, Rian Johnson, Sophia Coppola...the list goes on and on.  One day (and possibly even now) these newish directors will be influencing their own followers, but for now we can focus on the directors who spent a lifetime (sort of) making it possible for these new guys to step up to the plate.

Now, this relay was started by John over at Hitchcock's World, and since then we've seen it take shape in unexpected ways.  I like the way that this is shaping up.

I'm going to go ahead and rank the current ten, so as to make my decision clearer.

Haters to the left, this was such an obvious and easy #1.  No disrespect to any of the legends on the list, but Kubrick is one of those rare directors who created his own genre.  You can't classify his films as anything other than Kubrickian.  And look at all the great directors he has inspired to create such vivid and identifiable films.  Look at the way he tackled such formulated genres and breathed so much identity and character into them, all the while maintaining his own signature tone.  2001, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Eyes Wide diverse and yet so clearly visionary.  His influence is clearly seen in so many directors we adore today, from the likes of Steven Spielberg (who famously took over for Kubrick with 2001's A.I.), Michael Haneke and current trend-setter, David Fincher.

Hitchcock reinvented the thriller in a way that no other director has reinvented anything in the history of cinema.  In fact, he defined it.  He took out a black magic marker, wrote over the word, bolded it, underlined it, wrote in the exclamation marks and then took one of those gaudy yellow highlighters and colored over it.  Then he wrote an entire book on it, signed it and mailed it to every director out there.  Gauntlet dropped.  Since then, nearly every thriller/horror movie worth it's weight in gold has taken what they have learned from this master and tried to put their spin on it.  But that is just is their spin.  Hitchcock already went there.  

As Mario so brilliantly put it, Citizen Kane looks like it could have been shot last week.  This man was SO far ahead of his time.  It's kind of a shame that he was critically dismissed so much and taken advantage of in his prime and pretty much disregarded as an arrogant young man who just didn't know what he was doing and yet he is now seen for all his genius.  And it goes further than Citizen Kane.  The Magnificent Ambersons, Touch of Evil, Macbeth, The Trial!  His filmography may be limited, but his impact was HUGE!

And for the record, he was also an incredible actor!

Remembering that this is a list about influential directors has bumped this name up to the #4 position.  Quite frankly, I'll be honest here.  I've never seen any of his short films (which was all he made).  Still, I've seen the images and as a film lover, I cannot deny the influence he has had on so many filmmakers today.  This is a man who loved his craft, loved film, and paved the way for other lovers of film to do what they love and give it to the rest of us.  

I really need to get my hands on his work, ASAP.

Maybe Spielberg should have points deducted for influencing such hacks as Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich, or maybe the fact that he shows them up every time he delivers a blockbuster our way should earn him points; I haven't decided, but regardless of my personal feelings towards his filmography (I think he's vastly overrated as a filmmaker), his influence is undeniable, and that is what this list is about.  His influence is EVERYWHERE, and he's earned it.  He has built a varied resume, has defined the sci-fi blockbuster and has continued to remain relevant.  I personally prefer when he has fun (Jurassic Park>>>>Schindler's List) but the fact that he knows how to manipulate the camera, regardless of genre, is not something to be taken lightly.

Coppola dabbled in a lot of smaller genres and produced films that many would not associate with him (Peggy Sue Got Married) and yet what he will always be associated with is something so incredible is earns his spot among the greats.  Yes, for me, Coppola defined the epic.  Look at the scope of his films.  They are so grand, so impactful.  Without his grace, many new directors (Wright, Dominik, Anderson, Malick) would not have the understanding of how to compose and create such languid movement in their films.  Coppola knew how to let things rest, build and then explode when necessary.  Tension is created in minimalist movements, and his work with actors was extraordinary!  

Yes, he's the most recent face on this list and while I made a small spiel about these new directors taking a backseat here, I have to admit that Tarantino's influence is already so prevalent today that he deserves this inclusion.  His style is so slick and so unique and yet he is able to make it work in whatever realm he chooses to assert himself.  I love me some Scorsese, but Tarantino has done more for the gangster flick that he has when you consider the way in which he has evolved it.  

Leone, in many ways, reminds me of what Coppola has done to film, and in many ways I feel as if he inspired Coppola to be as great as he was.  He has such a short filmography and yet they all deal with time and the passing it (including the way in which he paced his films) in such an inspired and influential way.  He created the epic with such visual depth and knew how to implant such arresting atmosphere.  For all the young directors claiming Coppola inspired them, they should thank Leone for giving Coppola a push.

I am going to get so much flack for putting Scorsese at #9, but there is a reason for this.  Scorsese, for me, is a great filmmaker that kind of rests as a mere filmmaker.  I could watch a Scorsese film and not know that it was his film.  He's kind of like a Ridley Scott (a filmmaker that I love).  He has a great knack for putting a film together, and he has proven himself in so many genres, and yet he doesn't really have a thick identity as a filmmaker.  He makes great movies, and yet I don't see his influence.  You could try and make a claim that he helped define the gangster genre, but then again...what did he do to make it so different?  Like I mentioned above, Tarantino did more to shape it than Scorsese has.

So that brings me to my #10 and the one that I am shaving off:

There is really only one reason for this, and it may be a poor one but it is one that I will  use shamelessly.  I only have room on this list for one director that I am unfamiliar with, and while he may have been just as influential as Melies, Melies is one that I have at least a basic knowledge of, as a director (I haven't seen any of the films made by either of these men).  So, while Griffith may have been far more influential than I am aware of, I'm cutting him loose and making room for a certain director I find to be not only one of the most influential directors of all time, but possibly the best director ever...

I'm sure that John was praying that this list would never come my way because he knows I love Godard and I know that he loathes him, but it is here and I am not going to let this opportunity pass.  Yes, I considered Charlie Chaplin, since he deserves to be on this list over everyone sans Kubrick and Hitchcock, but whatever.  What Godard has done to foreign cinema and for cinema in general is incredible.  Love him or hate him, his style is so unique and so his own.  He understood how to spark a revolution, and the way that he combined political awareness, dramatic tensions and the lighthearted antics of a generation was impeccable.  His films defy genre completely.  In my humble opinion, every filmmaker should be required to study his 60's work before even attempting to make a film.

So that is it for me.  I'm out and I'm passing the baton over to my buddy Josh at The Cinematic Spectacle.  I have a feeling I know who he's going to include, and it's about time that this list earn a few more foreign filmmakers!

The contributions so far:


  1. Oh boy, I thought this might happen sooner or later. As soon as you were passed the baton I had a feeling you were going to pick Godard.

    The sad thing is I might actually have to agree with you on some level that the guy was influential. Much as I hate his work (I've already gone on a rant about how Alphaville is one of the most pathetic science fiction movies ever made) he did make an impact. If he hadn't I probably wouldn't have been forced to watch his films three classes in a row.

    Admittedly, it was a bit of a surprise to see D.W. Griffith come off. I haven't seen much of his work but I would have thought it would be hard to argue with the fact that he pioneered most modern film making techniques.

    1. Yeah, it was hard for me to decide who to ax, but because I was unfamiliar with Griffith and Melies I decided one of them had to go. Despite not having seen any of their films, I do know more about Melies and am at least familiar with the imagery of his films, so I kept him (and ranked him high because I'm aware of his influence).

      Yeah, I had to keep in mind what this list was about, so I'm glad you at least appreciate that Godard, love him or hate him, was incredibly influential. I mean, like I noted, I think Spielberg is awfully overrated and yet I ranked him at #5 because his influence as a filmmaker is undeniable.

      Now, if this were a list of my FAVORITE filmmakers, that ranking would be a little different.

  2. Griffith is a tough cut. Not that I'm complaining. I nearly got rid of him myself merely for Birth of a Nation. Like John said though, the man did pioneer most movie making techniques.

    For me, Scorcese definitely has a signature style. I know his best known movies are gangster flicks, but they're just part of what he does best. He added most of the grit to gritty urban dramas. Films about city life, particularly New York City were never as frank and grimy as they are now before Mean Streets and Taxi Driver. For a specific example of his influence look no further than David O. Russell's American Hustle. Everything about it screams Scorcese. Since you kept him, I guess I'll stop there.

    1. I love Scorsese, don't get me wrong, and I think he has range that most don't credit him (since he's mostly known for his similar films). I guess I just don't always see a common thread. I guess you could say he has that grit thing down, and I do see that transcended to films like King of Comedy (which is one of his best works) as well as the obvious ones like Taxi Driver, but compared to the rest of the list (who are so unique) I just don't know if he fits.

      One of the best, sure...but the most influential? It's a thin line I guess...

    2. With this kind of thing it's easy to let your personal feelings get in the way. You're supposed to be able to take into account the question. That's why I've been bracing myself for when someone inevitably added Godard to the selection because I knew there was a chance it could happen even if I wasn't sure exactly what case would be made for his entry. Evidently he's important or otherwise I wouldn't keep being forced to watch his terrible movies for cinema studies classes.

      To bring up an analogy of sorts, if I ever get passed the baton in the "Ten Most Iconic Movie Characters" relay the person I'd immediately want to take out is James Bond largely because of the sexism in his films and I feel he doesn't deserve the acclaim. However, I also couldn't exactly make a case that he isn't iconic, just that I don't think he deserves to be popular, so I'd probably have to find someone else. As for who I'll just have to see who's in the running when/if I ever get passed the baton.

    3. Yup, the question is the key here.

      Either way (influential/best) though, Godard deserves to top the list ;-)

  3. Godard over Griffiths.... I'll fucking take that.

    1. Godard is a god. He deserves this.

  4. I have no allegiance for Griffith, only from what I read in film class (um...15 years ago), so I'm all for bouncing him off the list. And, as I told you before, I really like that you ranked the directors included...that took some stones, right there.

    But, with that ranking, and the selection of Scorsese as LAST on your list, I feel I must tell you, in my opinion, that's f--king blasphemy! Sure, there are films that don't feel very Scorsese (say...Hugo, for example), but damned near every single one of them are exceptional.And while a Scorsese film may not have a concrete identity, you and I both know when a film feels like it was made by him (cough...American Hustle..cough).

    And as for the gangster genre? He is the motherf--king gangster genre. Sorry, it's just that I love Goodfellas and Casino as if they are my actual children. I lose my shit.

    1. I know, I know! It's not that coming in last place was a bad thing, not on a list like this. I mean, all ten are great (well, I don't care much for Spielberg as a whole...) but I was merely trying to weigh out the actual influence these guys had.

      It's all subjective, obviously.

  5. Thanks again man! Yeah, Griffith would be my cut here too, since I haven't seen ANY of his work yet.

    Ugh. I might *have* to cut Leone.

    1. Truth is, any cut would be a loss, but if I know who you're adding, it's worth it for that immense gain!