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My Top 10 Directors: 2004 Edition

 

Some of my recent Film Pies have been a bit half-assed (I’ve been busy) so I thought I’d lift my game over the next 3 weeks and profile my top 10 directors, actors and actresses. I might try to make it a regular column each year.

 

This week I’ll start with directors.

 

The two criteria I have set are as follows. Firstly, the director must have made at least one film in the past 5 years. This way my list isn’t cluttered with directors currently not working or from a long lost era. That’s not to say there weren’t great directors back then but I want my list to include only those currently in the business. Secondly, the director must have made at least two great films. I don’t want one-hit wonders or directors who are yet to prove themselves.

 

Based on this, I came up with a short list of 42 directors. I trimmed this down to about 15 and then after a bit of chopping and changing, finalized a top 10.

 

So without further adieu, here are my top 10 favourite directors of the moment (in reverse order)…

 

10. Spike Jonze

Previous Credits: Being John Malkovich (A+), Adaptation (A)

Coming Soon: Where The Wild Things Are

Both of Jonze’s films were written by Charlie Kaufman (who received most of the acclaim) but it takes an equally brilliant mind to transform Kaufman’s writings into a visual form. Being John Malkovich was my favourite film of 1999 and Adaptation was my 6th favourite film of 2002. They are both filled with crazy scenes but I love the ending of both films. The closing credits of Being John Malkovich show a great visualization.

 

9. Peter Weir

Previous Credits: Master & Commander (A), The Truman Show (A-), Dead Poet’s Society, Gallipoli

Coming Soon: War Magician and Pattern Recognition

One of only two Australian directors on my list (although Phillip Noyce and Baz Lurhmann were unlucky to miss out). Weir is an unsung hero and never makes a bad film. The Truman Show was described by Time Magazine as the film of the decade when it was released back in 1998. Master & Commander showed that nothing is unachievable as he crafted an epic adventure from a screenplay without an ounce of romance. Of his last 7 films, he’s been nominated for an Academy Award on 5 occasions. That is an amazing strike rate and I defy anyone to find a better one. He’s yet to win of course but hopefully it’ll only be a matter of time.

 

8. Curtis Hanson

Previous Credits: 8 Mile (A), Wonder Boys (A), L.A. Confidential (A)

Coming Soon: In Her Shoes, Lucky You

The above ratings say it all. His last three films have been worthy of an A in my book and that ain’t bad! L.A. Confidential was considered his best (he won an Oscar for the screenplay) but I have a soft spot for Wonder Boys. It’s a perfect character movie and I own both the dvd and have the film’s poster blockmounted on my wall. 8 Mile was considered a strange choice for Hanson but he made a very entertaining film with a non-actor (Eminem) in the leading role.

 

7. M. Night Shyamalan

Previous Credits: The Sixth Sense (A-), Unbreakable (A-), Signs (A-)

Coming Soon: The Village

He’s only made 3 films but all play with your mind in a different way. The Sixth Sense put him on the Hollywood map but his next two films (which not as many people saw) were equally good. What’s exciting is that you never know what to expect. Who knows where the screenplay is heading? And boy can he leave you on the edge of your seat! The upcoming The Village looks to follow a similar vein and I’ll be there on opening day to be shocked yet again.

 

6. David Lynch

Previous Credits: Mulholland Drive (A+), The Straight Story (A)

Coming Soon: ???

Mulholland Drive was my top film of 2002 and you only have to see it to know how original it is. That’s not to say that you’ll like it (I know many who didn’t) but he’s one of the few directors of the modern era who loves radical experimentation. He’s never revealed what Mulholland Drive is all about which only adds to the film’s mystique. The Straight Story proved he can take a conventional story and also make it interesting. Featuring the late Richard Farnsworth, The Straight Story was a G-rated Disney flick with the ultimate feel good ending. No future projects announced yet but I’m sure he’s cooking up something good.

 

5. Lars Von Trier

Previous Credits: Dogville (A), Dancer In The Dark (A-), Breaking The Waves (A+)

Coming Soon: Manderlay

Few will have seen the films of Lars Von Trier but was first introduced to this Danish filmmaker when saw the amazing Breaking The Waves at the 1996 Brisbane International Film Festival. He never works with a big budget and his films look very grainy and amateurish but out of it all comes through a passionate story. Dogville was released here in Australia last December and I gave it glowing review in my Film Pie column. Not for everyone, but his stylings are for me.

 

4. David Mamet

Previous Credits: State & Main (B+), The Winslow Boy (A-), The Spanish Prisoner (A)

Coming Soon: Spartan, Whistle

Mamet is the complete package. He can both write and director. Some of his major writing credits (apart from the above) include Hannibal, Wag The Dog, Ronin, Hoffa, The Untouchables and The Postman Always Rings Twice. He also works as a playwright and currently has a play showing in West End, London called Oleanna and it stars Aaron Eckhart and Julia Stiles. Like a few other directors I’ve spoken of, I love his deliberate style. He doesn’t rush his stories or use fast-paced editing or big special effects. Every shot is precisely chosen.

 

3. Ethan Coen

Previous Credits: Intolerable Cruelty (A), O Brother, Where Art Thou? (B), The Big Lebowski (B), Fargo (A+)

Coming Soon: The Ladykillers

I could recite a hundred lines from Fargo and The Big Lebowski because I have seen them about a hundred times. They are the masters of mixing comedy and drama. Their films are hilarious but there’s usually a darker undercurrent which you’ll be thinking about long after you see film. The final scene in Fargo is a beautiful example. The Coen brothers (Ethan and Joel) usually work with the same crew and they make a formidable team. They both won the Oscar for the screenplay of Fargo. If you haven’t seen their films, then I ask, why not???

 

2. Paul Thomas Anderson

Previous Credits: Punch Drunk Love (A), Magnolia (A+), Boogie Nights (B+)

Coming Soon: ???

If I ever get off my ass and make a film, Paul Thomas Anderson would be my inspiration. His techniques are so original. Where do I begin? I love the way he uses the same camera for minutes on end to follow characters around the set. I love his use of music and how some scenes are written around a song instead of vice versa. I love his casting and the use of actors such as Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly and Philip Seymour Hoffman. I own all three of the above DVDs and they’d be some of the most frequent movies I watch (particularly Magnolia). He’s young, confident and always looking for something new. What more can you ask for in a director?

 

1. Scott Hicks

Previous Credits: Hearts In Atlantis (A-), Snow Falling On Cedars (A+), Shine (A+)

Coming Soon: ???

I guess the reason I have Australian director Scott Hicks in the top spot is because of one simple reason. I’ve been reviewing films for 8.5 years now and Hicks is the only director to have made two films I have given an A+ grade to. Those films being Shine and Snow Falling On Cedars. Hicks is a beautiful director who captures scenes from the perfect angle. Just last week I watched Hearts In Atlantis again and found even more to be amazed about (I’m amazed a lot). He would have to be my favourite director of the moment and if he were to churn out a film tomorrow, I’d be there about any other director.