The Ten Directors You Should Know (and Watch)

A limited number of filmmakers have garnered world-wide acclaim through a definitive style and understanding of the medium. These range from the American Giants (such as John Ford, Stanley Kubrick & Martin Scorsese) and Independents (Paul Thomas Anderson, Terence Malick & Spike Jonze) to International Visionaries (Francois Truffaut, Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni & Andrei Tarkovsky).

The following is a list of directors whose work has been equally vital and vivid and yet often overlooked. In other words, these are the filmmakers who you might not know but should:

Agnes Varda, France

Style: French New Wave, personal, human and direct

Quote: If we opened people up, we’d find landscapes.

Key Films: La Pointe Courte (1955) Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962), The Gleaners and I (2001)

John Boorman, UK/USA

Style: New American, raw and intuitive

Quote: I think they’re all bold films, for better or worse.

Key Films: Deliverance (1972), Excalibur (1981) & Hope and Glory (1987)

Jim Jarmusch, USA

Style: Eclectic, character based & banal dialogue

Quote: I talk kind of slowly. I think slowly. I like slow music. I like slow films.

Key Films: Down by Law (1986), Night on Earth (1991), Dead Man (1995) & Paterson (2016)

Michael Haneke, Austria

Style: Spare and metaphoric

Quote: How much can I not spell out when constructing a film and still not frustrate the audience?

Key Films: The Seventh Continent (1989), White Ribbon (2009) & Amour (2012)

Jafar Panahi, Iran

Style: Quietly defiant, personal and spare

Quote: I have a tendency to make “film time” the same as “real time”.

Key Films: The Mirror (1997), This is not a Film (2011) & Taxi (2015)

Bruce Sweeney, Canada

Style: Lost, uncertain and unresolved

Quote: I have a lot of anxieties and insecurities.

Key Films: Dirty (1998) & Last Wedding (2001)

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgium

Style: Working class, responsible and realistic

Quote: Film helps you think and reflect. It’s a quiet kind of conversation.

Key Films: The Son (2002), The Child (2005), Two Days, One Night (2015)

Susanne Bier, Denmark

Style: Influenced by Dogme 95, unblinking focus on relationships

Quote: You can’t be ashamed of big emotions if you make movies.

Key Films: Open Hearts (2002), After the Wedding (2007) & In a Better World (2010)

Lynn Ramsay, Scotland

Style: Brooding, personal and challenging

Quote: You’ve got to stick up for what you believe in. If you don’t do that, you’re doing a disservice to the audience.

Key Films: Morvern Caller (2002), We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) & You Were Never Really Here (2017)

Hirokazu Koreeda, Japan

Style: Meditative focus on family dynamics

Quote: You can no longer interpret the true value or purpose of family based on the antiquated traditional tropes of society.

Key Films: Like Father, Like Son (2013), After the Storm (2016) & Shoplifters (2018)

The Greatest Films Ever Made: The Top Thirty (#1-10)

Welcome once again to my can’t-miss list of the greatest films ever made. To review, the criteria is as rudimentary as I can make it: a) The immediate impact of the film and b) The compulsive need to see the film again and again. Yes, these are films I will think of on my death bed. The top ten films ever made..:

1. Aguirre, Wrath of God (Werner Herzog, Germany, 1972)

Indelible line: “I am the wrath of God. Who else is with me?” (Aguirre)

Lasting impression: The futility of man’s desires

2. No Country for Old Men (Joel & Ethan Coen, US, 2007)

Indelible line: “What’s the most you’ve ever lost on a coin toss?” (Chigurh)

Lasting impression: Silent, relentless, unforgiving pursuit

3. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, Japan, 2001)

Indelible line: “If you want to eat me, eat this first.” (Chihiro)

Lasting impression: Train ride with spirits across the flooded plain

4. Cleo from 5 to 7 (Agnes Varda, France, 1962)

Indelible line: “I always think everyone is looking at me, but I’m only looking at myself.” (Cleo)

Lasting impression: Adrift in the city

5. The Deerhunter (Michael Cimino, US, 1980)

Indelible line: “This is this. It ain’t something else. This is this.” (Michael)

Lasting impression: Not knowing what to do, knowing exactly what to do

6. The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, US, 1939)

Indelible line: “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too.” (Wicked Witch of the West)

Lasting impression: Flying monkeys filling the sky

7. Loveless (Andrey Zvyagintsev, Russia, 2017)

Indelible line: “Twelve and a complete savage. Cries for no reason.” (Zhenya)

Lasting impression: Caution tape blowing over the frozen landscape

8. The Cranes Are Flying (Mikhail Kalatozov, USSR, 1957)

Indelible line: “What the hell kind of mother are you?” (Passing motorist)

Lasting impression: Running from her self, finding an orphan son

9. The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick, US, 1998)

Indelible line: “In this world, a man, himself is nothing.” (Sergeant Welsh)

Lasting impression: The natural world in contrast to the warfare of man

10. Taxi (Jafar Pahani, Iran, 2015)

Indelible line: “They make your living a hell. Just let it go.” (Nasrin Sotoudeh)

Lasting impression: Who knew that defiance could have such a friendly face?

And, thinking you might want just a little bit more, here are the ten films that just missed the cut (in chronological order):

Sherlock Jr. (Buster Keaton, US, 1926)

Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, USSR, 1927)

Tokyo Story (Yasujirō Ozu, Japan, 1953)

Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, US, 1980)

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (John Hughes, US, 1987)

Superbad (Greg Mottola, US, 2007)

Gommorah (Matteo Garonne, Italy 2008)

The Florida Project (Sean Baker, US, 2017)

Shoplifters (Hirokai Kore-eda, Japan, 2018)

Capernaum (Nadine Labaki, Lebanon, 2018)

The Greatest Films Ever Made: The Top Thirty (#11-20)

Welcome back to my can’t-miss list of the greatest films ever made. Once again the criteria is basic, almost instinctual: a) The immediate impact of the film and b) The compulsive need to see the film again and again. In other words, these films are not only entertaining but will leave a lifelong imprint on your brain. And so the next ten of the greatest films ever made..

11. Adaptation (Spike Jonze, US, 2002)

Indelible line: “What if the writer is trying to create a story where nothing happens?” (Charlie)

Lasting impression: Kaufmann breaks every screenwriting rule to create an incomparable script

12. Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson, US, 2006)

Indelible line: “Why a fox? Why not a horse, or a beetle, or a bald eagle? Who am I?”

Lasting impression: Kylie’s eyes and lots of frantic digging

13. 2001 (Stanley Kubrick, UK/US, 1968)

Indelible line: “I’m sorry, Dave. I am afraid I can’t do that.” (HAL 9000)

Lasting impression: Silence, punctuated by breathing, in space

14. Cast Away (Robert Zemeckis, US, 2001)

Indelible line: “I don’t know why!” (Chuck Noland)

Lasting impression: Waves washing up on the beach, denoting prison

15. Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, US, 2002)

Indelible line: “That’s that.” (Dean Trumball)

Lasting impression: The arrival of the harmonium and unexplained car crash

16. The Celebration (Thomas Vinterberg, Denmark, 1998)

Indelible line: “He raped us. Had sex with the little ones.” (Christian)

Lasting impression: Christian refusing to stop making his speech

17. Jaws (Steven Spielberg, US, 1976)

Indelible line: “1,100 men went in the water. 316 men came out. Sharks took the rest.” (Quint)

Lasting impression: A wide shot of the open ocean and then the music

18. Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio De Sica, Italy, 1946)

Indelible line: “Why should I kill myself worrying when I’ll end up just as dead?” (Antonio)

Lasting impression: The lone bicycle on an empty street

19. The Sacrifice (Andrei Tarkovsky, USSR, 1986)

Indelible line: “Don’t worry. There’s no such thing as death.” (Alexander)

Lasting impression: The tiny house and then the big house burned to the ground

20. The Graduate (Mike Nichols, US, 1967)

Indelible line: “I can see in the dark, you know. I’ve been here quite a while.” (Mr. Robinson)

Lasting impression: The saddest of happy endings

The Greatest Films Ever Made: The Top Thirty (#21-30)

Looking for a film to watch? Welcome to my can’t-miss list of the greatest films ever made. Rather than employ a convoluted set of criteria, citing genres, eras, directors, etc, I use two basic guiding principles: a) The immediate impact of the film and b) The compulsive need to see the film again and again. In other words, these films are not only entertaining but will leave a lifelong imprint on your brain. Without further ado, here are films #21-30…

21. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, US, 1976)

Indelible line: “How you got to teach a course in anything is amazing!” (Marshall McLuhan)

Lasting impression: A marvelous array of one-liners and gags

22. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, US, 1973)

Indelible line: “Yeah, let’s talk business, Mike. First of all, you’re done.” (Moe Greene)

Lasting impression: Anti-heroes bathed in golden light

23. Honeyland (Tamara Kotevska & Ljubomir Stefanov, Macedonia, 2019)

Indelible line: “I’m not dying. I’m just making your life misery.” (Hatidže’s mother)

Lasting impression: Isolation and silence

24. Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, US, 1989)

Indelible line: “The story of life is this: static.” (Radio Raheem)

Lasting impression: The heat of an intense summer day

25. Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch, US, 1995)

Indelible line: “You had the last philistine. This one’s mine.” (Benmont Tench)

Lasting impression: The nearest truth to the Wild West ever offered

26. Being There (Hal Ashby, US, 1979)

Indelible line: “Life is a state of mind.” (President Bobby)

Lasting impression: A fable for the digital world

27. Dazed and Confused (Richard Linklater, US, 1993)

Indelible line: “Now me and my loser friends are gonna buy some Aerosmith tickets.” (Pink)

Lasting impression: It’s remarkable how accepted and cool bullying can be

28. Elephant (Gus Van Sant, US, 2003)

Indelible line: “Fuck, anyway, Mr. Luce. Whatever.” (Eric)

Lasting impression: Mundane life punctuated by brief and shocking violence

29. Gilda (Charles Vidor, US, 1946)

Indelible line: “Gilda, are you decent?” (Ballin) “Me?” (Gilda)

Lasting impression: Rita Hayworth, the epitome of soft focus and key lighting

30. Short Cuts (Robert Altman, US, 1993)

Indelible line: “Marian, you’re not wearing any pants!” (Dr. Wyman)

Lasting impression: Everyone’s life is an utter mess

Top Ten Film Disappointments

Life is full of disappointment, people letting you down, letting yourself down. It’s a shame that the place I seek solace from this – film – offers the same:

Toklat (Robert Davison, Sweden, 1971) The first film I ever saw in a theater, and it was awful. Shots of a bear randomly stitched together. Yes, disappointment starts early.

Juggernaut (Richard Lester, UK, 1974) Advertised as an edge-of-your-seat thriller but in reality was all talk and no action. Terrible fare for a 11-year-old.

Sorcerer (William Friedkin, USA, 1977) I have never been more excited for a film, nor more disappointed. The poster was the best part. Top ten Film disappointmentsSouthern Comfort (Walter Hill, USA, 1981) A bunch of guys wandering around in a swamp. Sounds existential but not.

Conan The Barbarian (John Milius, USA, 1982) The prototype for why all comic books fail on the screen.

Return of the Jedi (George Lucas, USA, 1983) The only thing worse than an Ewok is a Jar Jar.

Legend (Ridley Scott, USA, 1986) Alien, Blade Runner…and then this?!? Legend - Top ten Film disappointmentsAliens (James Cameron, USA, 1986) How to Ruin a Franchise 101.

The Godfather III (Francis Ford Coppola, USA, 1990) Not as bad as everyone says, but Ms. Coppola is. I also had a guy behind me explaining Godfathers I & II to his girlfriend. The Godfather IIIInherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA, 2014) The problem with a high bar is that you have to maintain it. (See also Woody Allen, post-2000)

Movie Day: “The Bear” to “Catch-22”

Movie Day The Bear to Catch 22

Watching films is an addiction, consumed one by one, regardless of story or value, but for how they are shot – the lights, shots and edits, watching as as alien, trying to understand the language of this world through Annaud’s The Bear, Zemekis’ Castaway and Luketic’s Paranoia. Movie Day: "The Bear" to "Catch-22Finding the moments, beautifully or ridiculously rendered: Redford’s Ordinary People, Hiller’s Silver Streak, NIchols’ Catch-22 (Mike Nichols, 1970). Movie Day: "The Bear" to "Catch-22And then the day is gone, lost in the confusion of make belief, and you are an alien no longer, just tired.

“Get Out” & “Women”: Script Isn’t The Thing

There’s supposed to be something like three stories, right? Boy Meets Girl. Boy Kills Father. Boy Gets Old. Whatever the number of seminal narratives, it’s all derivatives of derivatives now, exemplified by Jordan Peele’s ballyhooed Get Out. Get Out" & "Women": Script Isn't The ThingWhile the film is a compelling attempt to address the hypocrisy of whites pretending not being racist, the story mashes up Scream, Being John Malkovich and Driving Miss Daisy and is plodding at best. There is no character development nor even plot, nothing to consider in the individual, except that we’re just derivatives of derivatives of ourselves.Get Out" & "Women": Script Isn't The Thing20th Century Women, ironically this year’s choice original screenplay at the Oscars, represents more laziness, offering moronic short-hand for finding truth in accepting our silly old selves. Quirky, they call it.Get Out" & "Women": Script Isn't The ThingBoth films fall into a blithering tradition, initiated by heralded auteurs with such films as Breathless, Easy Rider, and The Last Picture Show. Get Out" & "Women": Script Isn't The ThingRather than offer an arc or delve into the intricacies of character, these films offer things to look at, moments to be consumed, and then we’re needing more. Get Out" & "Women": Script Isn't The Thing

Utopia: No Place Like There

Utopia: No Place Like There.

a. Derived from the Greek, meaning no place or not on a map, the word was re-purposed by Sir Tomas More 500 years ago to mean paradise.

Utopia: No Place Like Thereb. Modern-day Utopian stories are usually revealed to Dystopian: Forbidden Planet, Logan’s Run,The Truman Show, The Beach, and Pleasantville,Utopia: No Place Like There

Oscars 2017: Best Live-Action Short

Oscars 2017 Best Live Action Short. This year’s Oscar nominations for Best Live-Action Short are all European: The Woman and the TGV (Switzerland), Silent Nights (Denmark), Time Code (Spain), Enemies Within (France) and Sing (Hungary). Oscars 2017: Best Live-Action ShortAnd while all have obvious merits, most fail at the short format, striving instead to be an abbreviated feature. Aske Bang’s Silent Nights is the most flawed in this regard – cramming in a passionate on-again-off-again affair, a mugging, death of a parent, deportation and sudden pregnancy into 30 minutes. Oscars 2017: Best Live-Action ShortTimo von Guten’s The Woman and the TGV, although entertaining and meticulously shot, suffers from a kind of Amelie envy. Best Live-Action ShortKristof Deak’s Sing and Selim Azzazi’s Enemies Within briefly focus on the key of the short format – that of a specific and intense relationship – but both lose focus in the end. Oscars 2017: Best Live-Action It is only Juanjo Gimenez’s Time Code – the shortest of the entries at fifteen minutes – that understands the structure of short films. Oscars 2017: Best Live-Action ShortIt delivers from beginning to end with humor and insight into the human condition while never overshooting its mark – people are happier when they accept themselves.