Monday, September 28, 2009

Personal-Style Top 10 Film-Makers

Picture the scene. I wanted to do a movie-related Top 10, and decided on directors (since I'm a firm believer in auteur theory). But I didn't want to just have a standard list of the usual towering giants that everyone turns to. Plus there were names that kept lingering around, but for different reasons...

So, I decided on three different lists, but that's too much for one post. So this is the first in a trilogy. Here we have my own Top 10 directors, excluding what I consider the usual suspects. Next up will be exactly those - the Top 10 of mega-icons. Then finally, my Top 10 of shame: directors that I know I'll like, but that I've only seen one (great) movie each. And that I'm going to make an effort to dig into further.

Links are to Wikipedia, the Internet Movie Database, and some 3rd place - the most interesting I could find. Then a list of the movies I like, or at least remember enjoying in the (sometimes distant) past. The one in bold is extra special, and it's linked somewhere too. Then some other nonsense.

Miller's Crossing
1. The Coen Bros. [Wiki ~ IMDB ~ Misc]
Joel Coen (b. 1954) / Ethan Coen (b. 1957)
Blood Simple (1984), Raising Arizona (1987), Miller's Crossing (1990), Barton Fink (1991), The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), Fargo (1996), The Big Lebowski (1998), The Man Who Wasn't There (2001), No Country for Old Men (2007)

Man, the Coen Brothers made a lot of amazing movies, especially when you consider how many are genre exercises mixed with dark humor. Miller's Crossing stands out because the gangland's so original, the humor's more subtlely hilarious, and the cast is phenomenal. Finney, Polita, Turturro, Buscemi, even Gabriel Byrne. Up to this century, even the Coens' underestimated ones are all excellent!

2. John Sayles (b. 1950) [Wiki ~ IMDB ~ Misc]
Return of the Secaucus Seven (1980), The Brother from Another Planet (1984), Matewan (1987), Eight Men Out (1988), The Secret of Roan Inish (1994), Lone Star (1996), Silver City (2004)

Secaucus 7 was the pre-Big Chill, but I liked it on cable even back in high school. I personally admire Sayles - working his way up from writing horror schlock, developing independently, staying true. I even bought his book! Matewan is one of the best left-wing movies ever made, and was probably as influential on my early political thinking as the Dead Kennedys. Altman-esque in his handling of large ensembles, his feeling for humanity, and in sticking to his vision.

3. Terry Gilliam (b. 1940) [Wiki ~ IMDB ~ Misc]
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Time Bandits (1981),
Brazil (1985), The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), Twelve Monkeys (1995), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

I've liked Monty Python, and Gilliam carried that anarchic feel at least through Munchausen, with decreasing silliness. Brazil deserves all the respect - DeNiro bit part!! It's lyrical, harrowing, funny, and eternally topical. Twelve Monkeys always seems underrated to me, maybe because the cast is more big-name than expected for such a sci-fi head-trip. If only he'd been able to make the Watchmen movie...

4. Sam Peckinpah (1925-1984) [Wiki ~ IMDB ~ Misc]
The Wild Bunch (1969), Straw Dogs (1971), The Getaway (1972), Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973), Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), Convoy (1978), The Osterman Weekend (1983)

I literally just learned that Osterman Weekend was Peckinpah - another mid-'80s cable-tv staple. Wild Bunch is one of the greatest westerns. Straw Dogs is a gut-wrenching revenge fantasy. McQueen and MacGraw together in The Getaway (plus Struthers and Slim Pickens). But Alfredo Garcia distills all of Peckinpah's ideas about manhood, honor, violence, love, hopefulness, hopelessness, and liquor. The doomed quest of a downtrodden man, like the movie itself, like the director himself.

Harold & Maude
5. Hal Ashby (1929-1988) [Wiki ~ IMDB ~ Misc]
Harold and Maude (1971), The Last Detail (1973), Coming Home (1978), Being There (1979)

Harold and Maude - so misunderstood. It's a youth culture film that tells the young not to get all hung up with their navel-gazing. It's a comedy with a lot of suicidal tendencies. It's a romance between a young man and an old woman, with plenty of opponents to voice their hearty disgust. It's light-hearted until it makes you feel strongly about these people. Don't get hung up. The rest of Hal Ashby's movies all have wildly different feels to them, but he was an effective professional.

6. Sidney Lumet (b. 1924) [Wiki ~ IMDB ~ Misc]
12 Angry Men (1957), Fail-Safe (1964), Serpico (1973), Murder on the Orient Express (1974), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Network (1976), The Wiz (1978)

Talk about someone who knew what he was doing. Every Lumet movie I've seen has been great, and I've only seen a small portion. Serpico, Dog Day, Network - that's a murderers row of '70s classics. But 12 Angry Men is simply one of the best ever. (I'm showing my left wing again, right?) Henry Fonda bankrolled it, and he wants to make sure you get the message. Be a decent person, a good citizen, stop being a jerk and a racist. America's depending on you, jerk.

7. John Frankenheimer (1930-2002) [Wiki ~ IMDB ~ Misc]
The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Seven Days in May (1964), Seconds (1966), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)

Seven Days in May will always be overshadowed by The Manchurian Candidate. But Rod Serling wrote it! JFK allowed filming in the White House for the first time! It's got Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas! It's about a possible fascist military plot to overthrow the kind, liberal president... (I'm doing it again, huh?) Anyway, Moreau is the most unintentionally hilarious film since the heyday of Ed Wood.

Spirited Away
8. Hayao Miyazaki (b. 1940) [Wiki ~ IMDB ~ Misc]
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984), My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Princess Mononoke (1997), Spirited Away (2001), Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

No politics in Miyazaki - well, except for the environmentalism in Mononoke. But Spirited Away is the best, a truly surrealistic Alice-in-Wonderland tale with even darker currents. The parents-turned-to-pigs-for-slaughter and demon-bathhouse-slavery themes might not be for the kiddies, but it did win an Oscar.

9. David Lynch (b. 1946) [Wiki ~ IMDB ~ Misc]
Eraserhead (1977), The Elephant Man (1980), Dune (1984),
Blue Velvet (1986), Wild at Heart (1990), Mulholland Dr. (2001)

Speaking of extremely weird scenarios, David Lynch made this one movie... or many. The Elephant Man is probably the place to start if not already into Lynch. It's a pretty serious, good movie. Eraserhead is just completely insane. And Blue Velvet is about the collision between a serious, good boy and a completely insane man. It goes surprisingly quickly from extremely disturbing horror to eminently quotable comedy - within the movie and as a whole.

10. Ridley Scott (b. 1937) [Wiki ~ IMDB ~ Misc]
Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982), Legend (1985), Gladiator (2000)

Although Gladiator was good, I still think Babe should have won the Oscar. Alien successfully kick-started sci-fi/horror as a legit genre. Great movie, but I wish it had been Blade Runner instead. Then we would have had 30 years of serious Philip K. Dick-inspired sci-fi head games set in film noir dystopian futures. Instead of Species or whatever...

Little more epic that I planned. More Berlin Alexanderplatz than Lawrence of Arabia! Next up: the heavy-hitters.

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