Author Topic: A Director's Greatness  (Read 306 times)

1SO

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A Director's Greatness
« on: January 26, 2018, 12:30:11 AM »
I'm interested in continuing this conversation. This morning my replies might have come off as defensive or even aggressively defensive. I would like to hear from others, read a conversation that isn't directed at me and my strong beliefs.

What criteria do you judge directors on? Is it the names that appear most often among your favorite films must therefore be your favorite filmmakers? Is it based on the particulars of their style? The way you can spot a Wes Anderson film with just a few frames or a Tarantino or can call out a shot as being Spielbergian?

I believe it was Jonathan Rosenbaum (who I normally don't care for) that said a favorite director's most interesting film to watch is the one widely regarded as their worst because that's when you can see all their usually great decision making ending up in disaster. It's recognizable while at the same time creating the opposite reaction than they normally do.

What about when a bad director makes a great movie.

What does it mean to have a movie in your personal Top 10 from a Director you wouldn't consider one of your favorites?

oldkid

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Re: A Director's Greatness
« Reply #1 on: January 26, 2018, 02:10:17 AM »
I don't think that uniqueness or being distinct makes a great director.  Michael Bay is clearly distinguished apart from other directors, but that doesn't make him good.

Random thoughts on the topic:

I think that if we are going to call someone a "great director" it means at least that we will call a certain number of her/his films "great".  That doesn't mean they have to be in our top 100, but if we have five films of a certain director in our 100-200 list, we can still fairly call them "great." 

We would argue about "greatness" just like Basil called Tarantino and Wes Anderson "bad" because he disliked most of their films.  I would argue that Cameron is a great director even though I think almost all of his films are mediocre watches because technically he is amazing and because he is accomplishing his goal of making original films that are among the most popular films of all time. 

George Lucas and Chris Columbus began huge franchises, huge films, but are they "great" directors?  Is Victor Fleming a "great" director because he directed two of the great classics of all time, and that less than a year apart?  Just because a director can make great films doesn't mean he is a great director.  But it doesn't mean she isn't.

My formula might be:
A consistently realized unique vision + more than a single film I would consider a "favorite" + high technical levels + the ability to draw great performances (or to edit them into greatness) + the ability to have a voice despite studio pulling strings

I have a Roland Jaffe film in my top 5 (The Mission) and I cannot call him a great director.  The Mission is an amazingly realized film, a level of quality I haven't seen in any of his other films. (Although The Killing Fields comes close.  But Super Mario Brothers?)

It does so happen that my favorite director (Miyazaki) also has three films in my top 10. I don't think that's coincidence.  My second favorite (the Coens) have one in my top ten, and one other in my top 100.  But they have such a unique voice despite a variety of genres and styles, I think their body of work speaks louder than their individual films. 

"It's not art unless it has the potential to be a disaster." Bansky

MartinTeller

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Re: A Director's Greatness
« Reply #2 on: January 26, 2018, 08:54:24 AM »
High-quality output, at least twice. There should be some level of consistency, taking into account that risk-taking is an admirable characteristic but one that can lead to failures. One great film in a career is too easy to dismiss as a fluke (Martin Brest's Midnight Run comes to mind). And as much as I love The Night of the Hunter, I can't rightfully call Laughton a great director without more evidence. There isn't a formula for "X% of the films must be great" or something like that. A lot of it boils down to a certain something that connects with you. Still, the favorite directors that come to mind all have a pretty high ratio of good-to-bad (in my opinion) movies.

I think the studio system makes it difficult to gauge Hollywood directors before the 60's. They had less control. In other cases, however, to me it seems fair to say that a director should be held accountable for all aspects of a film. If a film has great imagery but lousy performances, isn't that ultimately on the director? Shouldn't a director make the most of a bad script (or not choose bad scripts in the first place, or get them rewritten)? This is why I tend to stick to the idea that the directors I love are the ones who make the movies I love.

What does it mean to have a movie in your personal Top 10 from a Director you wouldn't consider one of your favorites?

As I said above, a fluke. I watched 7 other Nobuhiro Yamashita films in hopes of finding something that connected with me as deeply as Linda Linda Linda (my #5). None of them came anywhere close.


MartinTeller

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Re: A Director's Greatness
« Reply #3 on: January 26, 2018, 08:58:13 AM »
Boy, it's been over 6 years since the last FS Top Directors project/poll. We should do that again. I see a bunch of changes I would make to my list.

1SO

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Re: A Director's Greatness
« Reply #4 on: January 26, 2018, 10:46:12 AM »
The Director Ratings Priject is only 2 years old.

1SO

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Re: A Director's Greatness
« Reply #5 on: January 26, 2018, 11:10:41 AM »
Of my 5 Star films the only director who appears more than once is John Lasseter, but the Toy Story films are much like a studio system collaboration. Lasseter isnít even my favorite animation director. That would be Brad Bird, who has The Incredibles in my Top 25 and Ratatouille a little ways down.

Most of my Top 25 are those perfect combinations of Director with material that brings out their best.

Mike Nichols: The Graduate
Jonathan Demme: Silence of the Lambs
Paul Greengrass: United 93
Curtis Hanson: L.A. Confidential

Fine directors but I wouldnít call them the greats. Itís not like Scorsese making Goodfellas.

DarkeningHumour

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Re: A Director's Greatness
« Reply #6 on: January 26, 2018, 01:13:11 PM »
I never got around to making an official list of my favourite directors, but were I to do that now, it would likely look something like this (in no particular order):

Akira Kurosawa
Hayo Miyazaki
Joseph Mankiewicz
Paul Thomas Anderson
The Coen Brothers

Let's break it down.

They all have multiple movies in my Top 100, except JM who only has one, but most of his other movies are dark green for me. Also, his one movie is All About Eve, so suck it, everyone else. By memory, AK has 3, HM 4, PTA 3 and the Coens 2 or 3. Out of the five directors, 4 have one movie in my Top 10. I've seen all or most of their filmographies, except JM and AK, and it's all mostly green, with the odd orange laying around.

PTA's weakest movie is  Hard Eight, which was his debut. I must rewatch The Master sometime because it didn't do much for me but I couldn't explain why. There are a few Coen movies that I have trouble connecting with, notably their more personnal, Jewish efforts like A Most Serious Man. I mostly love them when they're making comedies but they sometimes fall flat. I rewatched Burn After Reading recently and it was mediocre compared to the rest of their work. I wouldn't call any of it terrible. I haven't seen a single mediocre Mankiewicz but I need to watch many more and I've avoided the Kurosawas that are not widely hailed as masterpieces, which is why I can like everything there.

I would point out that they're all writer/directors (JM not always) and singularly proficient in their craft. The Coens are among the best writers of dialogue and screenplays of their age and Miyazaki is probably the best animation direction of all time. They've all mastered the art of making movies, from the editing to camera placement. They're also excellent at casting and directing their actors. Kurosawa/Mifune and PTA/PSH are some of the best director-actor collaborations of all time, and I am not even going to mention the Coens regulars.
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1SO

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Re: A Director's Greatness
« Reply #7 on: January 26, 2018, 04:53:38 PM »
Martin, what would you say about Kenji Mizoguchi? I always thought of him as a favorite director of yours but I didnít see anything in your Top 100. Is he like Kitano with me?

oldkid

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Re: A Director's Greatness
« Reply #8 on: January 26, 2018, 06:44:15 PM »
One of the things I find amazing about PTA is that he pulls amazing performances out of one-note performers  (Burt Reynolds- Boogie Nights; Adam Sandler- Punch Drunk Love; Tom Cruise- Magnolia) and he can even draw great performers to the next level of greatness (PSH, Joaquin Phoenix, Daniel Day Lewis, Julianne Moore)

That's a characteristic that only some directors have, but that is certainly something I look for: does a director create a context in which an actor might give one of their best performances.

This is why Wes Anderson and Yorgos Lanthimos wouldn't make my "great directors" list.  Anderson is great at art design, but the mold in which his actors are poured into is too limiting, in my opinion, and Lanthimos even more so.  The performances might or might not fit into the overall approach to a work, but it is stifling an actor, not giving them freedom to work.
"It's not art unless it has the potential to be a disaster." Bansky

1SO

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Re: A Director's Greatness
« Reply #9 on: January 26, 2018, 08:04:02 PM »
Love it. I can agree with all of that, but then how would you apply that to Kubrick and Hitchcock? The two directors most often considered the greatest are not known for drawing out great performances. They more fit a limiting mold.