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 (#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

When In Doubt…Turn to Herzog

A couple of excerpts from a recent The New York Times interview with Werner Herzog:

Why are you inclined to interpret nature as being “monumentally indifferent”? I advise you to go outside on a clear night and look out into the universe. It seems utterly indifferent to what we are doing. Now we are taking a very close look at the sun with a space probe. Look at the utmost hostility of the hundreds of millions of atomic bombs going off at the same time in its interior. So my personal interpretation of nature comes from taking a quick look at the stars.

How do you derive meaning from life if life is indifferent? Life is not indifferent. The universe is indifferent. But just trying, itself, is something I should do.

Did you ever find out who shot you? I was shot at various times. You mean here in Los Angeles?

Yes. No, I wasn’t interested.

When you pulled Joaquin Phoenix from the car accident, did you know it was him? Yes, although he was upside down in this car, squished between airbags that had deployed and wildly trying to light a cigarette.

That could be an image from one of your films. I knew he must not light his cigarette, because there was gasoline dripping and he would have perished in a fireball. So I tried to be clearly commandeering to him and tell him not to. But I was worried that if you gave him a command, he would strike his lighter even harder. So I managed to snatch the cigarette lighter from his hand. Then it became completely clear that it was Joaquin. But I didn’t want to speak to him after. I saw he wanted to come over and thank me. I just drove off.

How do you see your relationship to Hollywood? I enjoy being marginally involved. Just a few days ago, I did some voice recording for a “Simpsons” episode, and I did it in such a wild way. So wild that the director and some people who sat with me in the room burst out laughing before I ended my line. I had to be relegated into the control room, because twice in a row they started laughing. I said, “Gentlemen, I have not even finished my line yet.” In a way, “The Simpsons” is a bold intellectual design.

Excerpted from New York Times article: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/03/23/magazine/werner-herzog-interview.html?referringSource=articleShare