I love talking about movies. So do you. Why else would you be here? In the discussion process, it’s very easy to become enthusiastic about certain directors and their films. And the unfortunate byproduct of the genius of these various directors is that it’s easy to fixate on them, often at the detriment of other moviemakers who have plied their craft with similarly deft touches. If you’re a regular reader, you’ve seen at least a few articles about Ingmar Bergman, Buster Keaton, Louis Malle, Luis Buñuel, Martin Scorsese, Edgar Wright, and the Coen brothers. But there is a humongous list of other directors that I love just as much, if not more, than many of the names on that list. Here’s a list of directors that I don’t write about nearly enough.
Would you believe that John Huston is one of my favorite directors? You’d never know it. But look at this list of top-quality films he’s made: The Maltese Falcon (1941); Key Largo (1948); The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948); The Asphalt Jungle (1950); The African Queen (1951); The Misfits (1961); The Night of the Iguana (1964); The Man Who Would Be King (1975); and Under the Volcano (1984), amongst others. That is some tremendous quality. He’s best known for his AFI Top 100 movies but The Night of the Iguana is one of my all-time favorites. At least part of the appreciation for Huston’s films stems for an appreciation of the man, himself. He was a rebel at heart, embracing revolution and despair in his films like few have.
I don’t write about Chaplin much because any time I get the urge to write about classic silent comedy, I instantly pine for Buster Keaton’s films. And yet, I’d hate for anyone to think that my Keaton love makes me dislike Chaplin. Far from it. Chaplin was incredible as a performer, as a comic actor, and as a trailblazer in cinema. Between Keaton and Chaplin (and Harold Lloyd), Chaplin is the most popular with the masses. There is a completely valid reason for that. He was an icon who deserves his place in the pantheon.
I really wish that Cassavetes was more widely known. If you’ve ever watched an independent American film, whoever made it owes a debt to Cassavetes. It’s impossible to watch Cassavetes films and not see the roots of the best 80s and 90s American independent films. The beauty of it is that Cassavetes films were firmly planted in the American cinematic tradition, but took on a decidedly European arthouse flair.
Speaking of American roots, Sam Peckinpah was phenomenal in embracing all of the things that make up American excess in film, and doing it at a time when it wasn’t really done. Peckinpah’s films were violent, bloody, and sexually titillating. He did all of the things that cause people to poke fun at American cinema, but he was the first. And more importantly, he did it right, in a way that feels absolutely perfect when he did it. And everyone else since then seems like a hack.
Guillermo del Toro
There are a ton of fantastic directors working today. I love to acknowledge a lot of them–Edgar Wright, P.T. Anderson, Darren Aronofsky, and Wes Anderson are just a few. And yet, the one that I’ve barely mentioned is right up there with all of them. Del Toro has his feet firmly planted in the tradition of classic sci-fi and horror, is willing to take on CGI, and does it all seamlessly. I’d go so far as to say that nobody uses CGI as effectively as del Toro. The effects are never ever the story in his movies, nor are they a crutch. No director working today does a better job of splitting the middle of my desire to be entertained and my desire to see impressive movie-making.
This is very much a similar script to what I wrote about John Huston. Hitchcock is one of my very, very favorite directors and I’ve never once bothered to write about him in depth. I think it’s because I’m intimidated by the sheer depth of his genius. That’s sort of a ridiculous thing to say. I understand that much. But more so with Hitchcock than any other director, it’s true. I guess what I’m saying is that there are no words at all that I could produce that would properly pay tribute to the dirty old man.
Altman’s MASH (1970) was a turning point in film, a coming out party for the famous realism embedded in his overlapping dialogue. From that point until his death, all he did was chisel out a spot among the American masters, all from an outsider’s perspective. His filmography is impressive. In addition to MASH, he also made Nashville (1975); a Bergman homage with 3 Women (1977); McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971); Secret Honor (1984); Short Cuts (1993); and Gosford Park (2001). He deserves more attention than I’ve given him.
Fritz Lang was a monster of early cinema. M (1931), Metropolis (1927), and his first two Dr. Mabuse films are widely considered some of the very best films ever made. He was a champion of expressionist film. He fled Germany and the Nazis in 1934, coming to the U.S. to make several films that would serve as the segue between expressionism in Europe and film noir in the U.S. Those films were a large part of the bedrock that helped create American film noir. The French New Wave loved him, with Jean-Luc Godard even placing him in Contempt (1963).
The independent film revolution of the 1990s took place when I was in high school and college. I got to see it up close. I’m familiar with, and have covered, a lot of the films and champions of that movement–Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, and the Coen brothers have all been popular topics. But I didn’t really tackle most of Spike Lee’s work until much later on, after the indie party was over. Most of the time, I was annoyed that I’d waited so long. Do the Right Thing (1989) is a very deserving member of the AFI Top 100. Malcolm X (1993) is an engaging, fascinating biopic. Jungle Fever (1991), Crooklyn (1994), and Clockers (1995) all have their charms, as does 25th Hour (2002). He conquers very uniquely American themes, and does it with a style all his own.
Michael Powell (and Emeric Pressburger)
This sin is two-fold. Not only have I neglected to properly write about Powell, and Pressburger by proxy. I have also failed to see most of their films. I’ve seen Black Narcissus (1947) and The Red Shoes (1948), which were both fantastic films. I’ve also seen Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960), which is one of the best arthouse horror films you’ll ever find. And that’s it. This means that I haven’t seen The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), 49th Parallel (1941), The Small Black Room (1949), I Know Where I’m Going! (1945), or The Thief of Baghdad (1940). The duo has been honored by the Criterion Collection, and I’ve only just scratched the surface.