So, John over at Hitchcock’s World had run a bloggers relay last month calling for the Ten Most Influential Directors of All Time. That is such a loaded question, such a subjective list, and the response (both the ones removed and added…as well as the ones no one would touch) says a lot. Opinions were all over the place. This got me thinking about not just the directors I feel are the most influential, but the specific directorial achievements I consider to be the most influential, or at least the most spellbinding. I have to admit, compiling a list was incredibly hard because limiting myself to ten meant excluding some really impressive work.
I can’t even order these. Like, I’m presenting them to you in chronological order because, well, I can.
So, I’m going to call shenanigans (yes, I stole your word Mario) on myself for compiling a list that DOES NOT include names like Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen, Jane Campion or Jean-Luc Godard, but this was HARD to narrow down. But this isn’t a list of the ten best directors or even the ten best directorial achievements but the ten directorial efforts that I think beautifully shape what makes film so special.
UGH, I don’t even want to put a label on it. This list was my Sophie’s Choice and so labeling it is hard, because it makes me feel like I’m shaming the one’s that missed the cut. Let’s just call this Ten Directorial Efforts We Should All Appreciate and call it a day.
|F.W. Murnau / Sunrise (1927)|
When you watch Sunrise, it's quite a jarring experience. You completely forget that you are watching a film made in the 20's, let alone a silent film. Sunrise was so far ahead of its time that it's scary. The themes are so human, the acting is so complex, but the film is so beautifully composed that your eye is drawn directly to the screen as Murnau uses such detailed visual techniques to create something so visceral, so intoxicating.
|Charlie Chaplin / City Lights (1931)|
To say that Charlie Chaplin was one of the first, and greatest, pioneers of film-making in general would be an understatement. I mean, the man's body of work and contribution to the way we watch, make and appreciate films is unsurpassed. In City Lights, he uses such charm and elegance to create a beautiful romance, but it is his depth of comedic timing and playful techniques that make this film such a wonderful experience. Physical comedy has never been so rich!
|Orson Welles / Citizen Kane (1941)|
Often looked at as one of the greatest directorial efforts of all time, the fact that this was Welles' very first film is even more impressive. It's a shame that he was never appreciated during his prime. When you watch Citizen Kane, it feels so fresh and exciting and raw and purposeful, even today.
|Francois Truffaut / Jules et Jim (1962)|
I've stated many times here that Jules et Jim is my favorite film of all time. I've also stated that I feel that French cinema is superior to all. This film is a prime example as to why. Full of vibrancy and life, Truffaut captures just the right fluctuations of tone here. He delivers something so light and effortless and yet so weighty in its themes and the dramatic tension of the climax is so incredibly powerful. His comedic, jubilant touches help highlight that climax, which sneaks up on you!
|Francis Ford Coppola / The Godfather (1972)|
For me, this is the definition of epic cinema. I know that many prefer the sequel, but in my eyes it was never done better than the first go around. The way that each scene is framed, elongated and milked, but never in a way that feels too much or out of place. Coppola finds every detail and makes it sing in a way that very few directors have been able to. This is a film to be studied, dissected and emulated.
|Wim Wenders / Wings of Desire (1987)|
I can still remember the first time I ever saw this film. I think I watched the entire film with my mouth literally open. There is such an imaginative use of texture in this film, whether it comes from the framing or the way that light (and color/lack there of) is used. The progressive nature of the themes are so beautifully subtle that they really make you work for your reaction, but it's worth it. A restraint that is admirable, many directors could learn a thing from Wenders' construction here.
|Baz Luhrmann / Romeo + Juliet (1996)|
Many...many people hate this movie. Many find it offensive and amateur and outlandish and preposterous, but the beauty of it all is that the film is all of those things and yet perfectly balanced because of it! During the height of the MTV empire, Luhrmann took hold of that culture and ran with it. I think the biggest lesson learned from Luhrmann is that he is always true himself, and he proved with this masterpiece (yup, I said it) that you can pay homage to the classics without being a lifeless copycat. So much life, so much passion; such stunning results.
|Sofia Coppola / Lost in Translation (2003)|
It's been done before, and it's been done since...but Coppola's soulful direction of Lost in Translation is one of the best examples of pure, organic storytelling. No gimmicks, no frills, no dramatics...just beautiful, heartfelt honesty. The work with the actors, the framing of each shot, the progression of thematic development...it's so rich and lovely.
|David Fincher / The Social Network (2010)|
Lightning in a bottle. Yup, that's what he did! I mean, looking at the source material and the story itself, you'd never imagine that a film about the Facebook empire would be a cinematic masterpiece, but in all honesty this is one of the greatest films of all time, and it is so because of Fincher's attention to details and progression of atmosphere. It's intense and driven and yet there is this undeniable charm and such snarky wit that the film transcends and becomes something so full, so unique. I can't think of anything like it.
Damn you Oscar!
|Alfonso Cuaron / Gravity (2013)|
It's weird to think that Cuaron is the ONLY director on this list to have won the Oscar for the aforementioned film. What Cuaron has done here though, is pretty much shape the way that film can, and will, be made from now on out. Forget Avatar. Forget Inception. You can even forget 2001: A Space Odyssey. THIS is the look of sci-fi today and this will forever stand as a true beacon of film advancement. Every human sense is explored and highlighted in this film. I have never walked out of a theater and felt the way I did after watching Gravity. I felt like I saw light, felt life, heard life in a richer and clearer way. It gets under your skin, and stays there.