Friday, March 13, 2009

Listology: 50 Greatest Active Directors pt. V, 10-1

At last, the conclusion of this epic response list. The winners, as i see them:

10. HAYAO MIYAZAKI - He's been called the Japanese Walt Disney, and from what i've seen, this is certainly the case. Miyazaki has stayed true to 2D animation, and builds spectacular dreamscapes for the sorts of honest stories and fables that don't require gimmicks and self-referential or topical humor. Each one is timeless in presentation and method, and each is magical. We get them a little delayed in America, and frequently dubbed, but even so...they hold their own. Don't judge Japanese animation until you've seen Princess Mononoke, Sprited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, Kiki's Delivery Service, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, and My Neighbor Totoro.

9. WOODY ALLEN - As a human being, you may find him a terrible creep. That's fine, we can all understand that, but don't pretend he hasn't left a huge mark on cinema in the 5 decades he's been a part of it. Allen's known for neurotic, self-absorbed sex comedies (really, most should are technically 'dramedies') and human dramas whose high strung characters have shaped the formation of the comedic character as well as the way we envision New York City. Allen makes a movie about once a year, and while there have been rough patches and unsuccessful experiments, for the most part he has a pretty high number of critical successes. His 'earlier' work: Annie Hall, Manhattan, Sleeper, Bananas, etc. is generally considered his best, but he's still managing to surprise with films like last year's stellar Vicky Christina Barcelona.

8. TERRY GILLIAM - Gilliam's a former Monty Python trouper (he directed, wrote, acted, and animated) and a visionary who frequently tackles massively complex fantasy projects and is notorious for encountering bad luck production problems and turning into an overstressed basket case on set. While several of his project attempts will never come to be, the ones that have (Brazil, Time Bandits, Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Twelve Monkeys, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas) are frequently dazzling pieces only Gilliam could have made.

7. STEVEN SPIELBERG - Though he's widely considered to be incredibly influential and successful, i'll be honest with you, i'm not the biggest Spielberg fan. Yes, his films are largely runaway box office successes and impacting pieces of movie magic, but i've always found him a little bit dull. Spielberg is a great director, undoubtedly, and my opinion matters little in the face of mass appeal. But i would argue that while Spielberg makes technically good films, they aren't infused with enough of any special flavor...and he's lost a lot of the fearlessness he had in the days of Jaws and Close Encounters. But for those works, the Indiana Jones films, the war epics, and the sci-fi action flicks, Spielberg is your man for traditional, old school Hollywood movie movies.

6. TIM BURTON - That's right, bitches, I put Tim Burton ahead of Spielberg. You know why? Because where Spielberg distances himself from his own films, Burton throws himself into them. You know a Tim Burton film when you see one, and they splice genres and mix cult sensibility with slick modern fantasy in a way that's so precisely just south of mainstream it's almost uncanny. Musical costume drama slasher flicks (Sweeney Todd), sci-fi/horror/suburban satire romances (Edward Scissorhands), nostalgic fantasy dramedy adventures (Big Fish).... everything under the sun and then some.

5. WES ANDERSON - This Anderson involves himself in almost every aspect of his films. He writes, directs, produces, controls cinematography as well as his own advertising, and carefully selects the perfect soundtracks. All of Anderson's films (love them or hate them) are intricate in their presentation of themes that have become a trademark of Anderson's milieu. Family dysfunction, damaged characters, emotional distance and time-warped prep style feature heavily in films like Rushmore, Royal Tenenbaums, and the Life Aquatic, but in spite of the barriers created by the frequently deadpan characters, we always get a sympathetic light and a humorously beautiful film from Wes Anderson.

4. PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON - Unrelated, PT Anderson makes massive sweeping films with heady themes and hypnotic cinematography. He paces himself and builds up dense narratives that allow for an interconnectivity between his diverse, frequently unhinged characters and their environment/culture. His films have serious staying power (i.e. Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood), and as his career continues his powers may only increase.

3. DAVID LYNCH - Lynch, like Fellini, has his own commonly used adjective to describe things that are frequently surreally screwed up. Things are 'Lynchian', many things. Things like severed body parts in lawns, dancing little people, FBI agents eating pie, loud white noise, stories that tear apart the illusions of Americana and open up a gate to hell. Those things. Lynch's films are the sort you can't shake because you've never seen anything quite like them. He's got a huge cult following of Lynch-mobber art house freaks has attempted things with narrative structure and complexity no sane man would. His movies often seem like puzzles, and while the answers may be completely inaccessible to us, they're always worth the attempt. See: Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Dr., Inland Empire and TV series Twin Peaks.

2. QUENTIN TARANTINO - Tarantino is a great director because he lives and breathes cinema. He's channeled an obsessive love of film and transformed it into a successful career (like Scorsese) by mastering the art of the cut-up homage and a form of visual (play)giarism. He swipes from the best of every underappreciated cult genre and re-packages it all into highly original storylines with his own personal flair. He redefined independent cinema in the mid-90's with Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs and has created his own mashed up genre of ultraviolence. This man takes on an active, hyper-excited role in the films he makes and is involved at almost every level.

1. MARTIN SCORSESE - Equally, (if not even more) in love with film than Tarantino, is the too-often Oscar-snubbed Scorsese (he's actually a film historian). Scorsese's tackled nearly every genre (yes, even musicals, costume dramas, religious pseudo-histories and documentaries), and done so largely with much success. He is the crime film (Goodfellas, Mean Streets, Casino, The Departed, Taxi Driver). He is the biopic (Raging Bull, The Aviator). His films are cast perfectly, and no one has ever used DeNiro as well. Do you need any more evidence? No. Come on. I don't think you do. Scorsese, unlike Spielberg, never stopped taking major chances.

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