Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Ten...of Many!

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.

Ten...of many!

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.


  1. This is a fucking great list as I agree with all of these choices except for Murnau as I haven't seen Sunrise which I hope to see sometime this year.

    1. You should see Sunrise! It's such an amazing film. You'd love it!

  2. Some very inspired choices, sir. Especially Baz Luhrmann's underappreciated Romeo + Juliet. You have my respect for that. You're right, though. Any number of other movies could've been picked for this. Just some others off the top of my head:

    Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman - The General
    Fritz Lang - M
    Sidney Lumet - 12 Angry Men
    Alfred Hitchcock - Psycho
    Steven Spielberg - Jaws
    The Wachowskis - The Matrix
    Spike Lee - Do the Right Thing
    Quentin Tarantino - Pulp Fiction

    And so we can understand what can happen if we don't have a good director -

    Ed Wood - Plan 9 from Outer Space

    1. Hitch! How'd I forget Hitch?!?! I'd probably put him here for sure, and for Psycho at that. What an amazing example of progression of filmmaking! But at who's expense?

      Maybe Fincher?

  3. I agree that any list of 10 directors is going to leave out some greats. Mine would include John Sayles and Whit Stillman at the expense of some legends. What can I say?

    You have a lot of great choices on your list. I might have called out Luhrmann, but I just saw Moulin Rouge and loved it. So it's hard to argue with any of them. Plus, it really comes down to personal preference.

    1. Yeah, personal taste and variety. I really wanted to showcase a variety of styles of direction. I mean, I contemplated Ridley Scott (for Blade Runner) and Kubrick (for 2001) and then thought...too much Sci-Fi for a list of only 10.

      That is also why Godard isn't here. I love him, and have often sited him as my favorite director, period, but Truffaut was on the list for pretty much the greatest movie of all time, and Godard's style was very similar.

  4. Great list! I haven't seen a lot of the classic ones (shocker!) but I agree with the modern ones you have on here for sure!

    1. I urge you to see the classics mentioned here...they are all great films!

  5. This list is so you, and it's BRILLIANT! :)

    I really need to rewatch Sunrise, as it's probably been 3 or 4 years since I last watched it. It's great to see City Lights on here too. I just bought it in Criterion's sale, and I can't wait to check it out on Blu-ray!

    1. Thanks man! I almost want to turn this into a relay...but there are so many of those going on right now, and I have some other ideas for blogathons that I'm waiting on until we finish up Twice a Best Actor...which ends TOMORROW!!!

  6. This list is so great, and your writing is so charming. Francis Ford Coppola and Sofia Coppola in the same list! That's crazy (and fantastic).
    What other François Truffaut films would you recommend? I've seen just The 400 Blows and loved it.

    1. Day for Night is a favorite of many. I also really loved The Woman Next Door, and then there are classics like Shoot the Pianist and The Story of Adele H. The Bride Wore Black is fun. He's made some fantastic films! The whole Antoine story (there are 5 films) is incredible to explore as well. Hope you discover some gems!