Thursday, 6 February 2014

My Favorite Directors

As a cinema enthusiast, I often get asked a certain set of questions. One of the most common ones is "what's your favorite director?" This is a question I get asked a lot and don't really have a definitive answer to, so usually I have to start listing the directors I like. I thought it might be worthwhile to compile some of my personal favorites into a list. I was thinking about doing a "top ten"-style list but I'm not going to rank them.

Since there's a lot of directors I like it would be hard to go into all of them, so for the purposes of this list, I'm going to focus specifically on those who I feel have had the strongest impact. For each, I also think I'll include a particular favorite of that director's work. I have selected four of which to discuss. I do present a fairly diverse body of work for each, though there may be some limitations (all of them are white men and only one is not American)

Also, some of you may be surprised to find out that Alfred Hitchcock is not on this list.

John Carpenter

 This is a character I might have been completely indifferent to if not for a specific project I did in High School examining his work. Carpenter also has a unique place on this list, as he is currently the only one of these directors I have actually had the opportunity to meet.

Carpenter is an interesting character with an extremely diverse range of work. He is often recognized as the "Master of Horror" but there is really so much more to him than that. He has done some excellent horror work (and in fact one of my favorite films of his fits into the horror genre), but he has also made some interesting action films, science fiction, comedy, and romance. In fact ironically my least favorite movie of his is Halloween, followed by The Fog (which I don't hate quite as much but still feel is weaker compared to some of Carpenter's other films), but barring those two exceptions there has never really been a film of his I can honestly say I didn't enjoy: even Ghosts of Mars and Escape From L.A.

I suppose what I like about Carpenter is his diversity. Though he is best known for his horror movies he enjoys trying out different things. 

The Thing

I like most of Carpenter's movies but The Thing has a tendency to stand out for me. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what makes this particular film work: between the solid acting with only two big stars (the others aren't completely unknown, but certainly aren't as well-known as Kurt Russell or Keith David), the brilliant special effects, the claustrophobic atmosphere, the total sense of paranoia that these men endure. It is a rare case of a remake that may actually have improved on its predecessor (The Thing From Another World is a decent movie in it's own right, but is also quite a bit different). 

Stanley Kubrick

2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey is one that often comes up when I'm talking about movies. This isn't just, in my opinion at least, Kubrick's ultimate masterpiece, but also one of my all-time favorite movies. In fact, this film may have had one of the most significant impacts on me, as it is possibly the movie that got me interested in cinema to begin with.

I could go on about everything that makes this film so great: the scientific realism, the visuals, the soundtrack. 

Sergio Leone

I'm not normally a huge fan of foreign cinema. I had to watch Fellini's  in cinema studies class and found it to be kinda frustrating and confusing. Sergio Leone, however, is an example of Italian cinema at its finest. He really only made seven movies (eight if you include his uncredited work on The Last Days of Pompeii), one of which (The Colossus of Rhodes) has more or less faded into obscurity, and all but one of the rest were spaghetti Westerns. 

What makes him interesting is how he handled his Westerns, not being confined to the formulaic structure of classical Hollywood. This gave him the opportunities to play with conventions in ways even John Ford (an earlier director known for his Westerns) could never imagine. To provide a simple example is the famous "quick-draw" move displayed by Clint Eastwood, which has been repeatedly copied in countless Westerns since (and taken to it's logical extreme in the case of Jim from Blazing Saddles). 

Even disregarding his influence, Leone's Westerns (and his one gangster film) are just so well executed. All of them feature extremely memorable characters ranging from Clint Eastwood's "Man With No Name" to the emotionally troubled demolition expert John Mallory in Duck, You Sucker! They also come with an excellent theme by Ennio Morricone, which always blends perfectly with the environment.

Once Upon a Time in the West

As great as The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly was, this was the movie that really showcased Leone's talent for Westerns. Here he took everything he learned from his previous films and created something entirely new. Of particular note is the use of sound, a trademark of Leone's, and minimal dialogue.

David Lynch

This one may sound massively hypocritical on my part. I have before voiced my disliking for Jean-Luc Goddard and lack of interest in the works of Fellini, and often refer to those films as "weird", yet I admire a man like David Lynch. As with many of these directors it is hard to pinpoint exactly what it is I like about his work. His more straight forward films are extraordinarily well-executed and have plenty of emotion (The Elephant Man and The Straight Story being two good examples). 

Perhaps it's the fact that he never tries to tie himself to one type of film and does whatever he wants. He never seemed to make the same movie twice, even if there were patterns that emerged among his work. In fact it's hard to find one particular film of his that stands out. Whereas with many of the other directors on this list, I can usually identify one particular film as their best, it is much harder to do so with Lynch. Most of his movies seem to have some element that stands out and remains in your head. 

Lost Highway

This particular movie is an interesting one and a good example of how Lynch plays with conventions and does his own thing. I personally find the whole structure interesting, how the film sets up one plot and draws us in only to abruptly change everything, introducing a new protagonist who has never been seen before and beginning a whole new plot with very few connections to the previous one (it is only at the end that both threads meet, and then things get weird).


  1. My favorite directors are Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Peter Jackson, Christopher Nolan and Francis Ford Coppola. I don't give much thought to directors, but those 5 are the ones that stand out most to me for their movies.

    I haven't seen much of Kubrick, only The Shining, but will be watching Eyes Wide Shut soon. David Lynch's Eraserhead looks interesting, might watch it on Hulu Plus sometime, but haven't seen any of his films. I also enjoyed most of Leone's first two "Man With No Name" movies, as well as Once Upon a Time in the West, but disliked GB&U. In closing, Carpenter is a good one. Halloween, Christine, The Thing, Ghosts of Mars. I do want to watch the "Escape From" pair and Big Trouble in Little China.

    1. All good choices. I'm not a huge Martin Scorsese fan but he's done a few pretty good movies (Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, The Aviator, Hugo).

      I do also respect Christopher Nolan, while I'm not a huge fan of his "Batman" trilogy (though I won't go out and say I hated it) I can say I admired "Inception" and "Memento" and I am curious about his upcoming "Interstellar".

      Naturally of course Coppola is also a very good choice. I'm quite fond of "Apocalypse Now". I haven't really been able to get into "The Godfather"'s story (mostly because there's so many characters and plot threads that are easy to lose track of) but it's hard not to respect it if nothing else for the period detail and the solid acting.