The 40 Best Film Directors According To The Guardian
November 14, 2003 8:00 AM   Subscribe

Is David Lynch Really The Best Director In The World? The Guardian, along with many other Europeans, seems to think so, in an impressive but very subjective (not to say that dreaded word quirky) list of the best 40 film directors. (More inside.)
posted by MiguelCardoso (95 comments total)
Europeans seem to overrate (or just compensate?) American film-makers they see as unappreciated in the U.S. Is it the Jerry Lewis phenomenon all over again?

Perhaps it's a consequence of the relative failure of the auteur theory in American film criticism - and, specially, in the public at large. In Europe, films are almost always referred to prefaced by the director's name (i.e. "David Lynch's Blue Velvet") whereas in America you get the feeling moviegoers often see and praise a film without remembering the name of the person who made it. What gives?
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:01 AM on November 14, 2003

Here's Gore Vidal's famously provocative opinion on directors as auteurs.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:03 AM on November 14, 2003

The list in itself is useful and educating, if one doesn't pay any attention to the order of placement.
posted by azazello at 8:08 AM on November 14, 2003

Umm... no Spielberg?
posted by ph00dz at 8:13 AM on November 14, 2003

Oh, and thanks for the link. Very useful reading, subjective opinions notwithstanding.

Nice to see Miyazaki on the list, but if he's there, Takahata and Oshii shouldn't be far behind - I certainly rank them above some on that list.

Also, I'm not very knowledgeable about living Russian directors, but somehow I'm not sure if Sokurov is there due to his relative merits or just because of his substantial pandering to the West compared to other Russians.
posted by azazello at 8:18 AM on November 14, 2003

Is David Lynch Really The Best Director In The World?

Hell No. From this list, I'd take Ang Lee, Steven Soderbergh, Pedro Almodovar and David Fincher over him any day. And ph00dz, I guess Spielberg isn't, you know, quirky enough.
posted by widdershins at 8:18 AM on November 14, 2003

Oh what the holy hell? Lars Von Trier all the way down at #37, past the timeless hack Tarantino, past the blowhard Moore, past Malick who has directed only three films, past the Wachowski Brothers (?!?!) who directed only two solid films (Bound and The Matrix)-- good at best.

Goofy list. But nice to see Errol Morris up there.
posted by xmutex at 8:19 AM on November 14, 2003

DePalma? Kurosawa? Hello? Also Hugh Wilson's landmark work, "Police Acad...... Forget it.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 8:22 AM on November 14, 2003

I like David Lynch okay, but I'd have put Scorsese at #1. But my cinematic tastes lean more toward gritty realism I guess. It's also good to see Errol Morris there. "The Thin Blue Line" was a mindfucker. I ask only one thing: if Michael Moore and Gus Van Zant (some of who's films I've enjoyed) can make the list, is there no room for Kevin Smith and Richard Linklater?
posted by jonmc at 8:22 AM on November 14, 2003

I think I mangled my grammar there. I meant to say that I've enjoyed some of both Moore and Van Sant's films.

And the phrase "mangled my grammar" sounds unnervingly like "mangled mu grandma" which would just be wrong. This is the price you pay for sleeping through english class, kids.
posted by jonmc at 8:25 AM on November 14, 2003

Soderbergh, ugh. Solaris sucked. It destroys the book far more thoroughly than Tarkovsky's version. Ocean's Eleven is a meritless flick.

Spielberg has his faults, but he should be on such a list one way or another.

KevinSkomsvold: I think they're only talking living directors, so Kurosawa is out.
posted by azazello at 8:25 AM on November 14, 2003 [1 favorite]

Umm... no Spielberg?

It's a list of the best directors.
posted by kindall at 8:26 AM on November 14, 2003

While I can respect a lot of these choices, the game-playing (or rather propaganda) aspect of the list is tiresome. To say that there's room on this list for Fincher, the Wachowskis, David O. Russell, Linklater, Wes Anderson, Michael Moore, Jonze, Payne, PT Anderson, Tarantino, and Haynes -- whom I set apart for their relative youth, their small number of films and the fact that they work primarily with American money -- but not for Spielberg, Burton, Peter Jackson, De Palma, even Cameron -- is just being vogueish, even and particularly in the case of their top 40 directors "leading the way," as the copy reads. (The idosyncratic nature of Lynch's work or the Coens' work virtually disqualifies them from a "leader" role.) Particularly if you try to score those directors using that ridiculous arithmetic scoring system -- and I don't approve of such literal-mindedness, but since that's the nature of this beast -- do you really think the directors I just mentioned can't do better than these scores (Fincher's) on a 20-point scale?

Substance 12
Look 16
Craft 16
Originality 14
Intelligence 16

I mean, whatever, it's another list, but, for instance, I've been looking more and more at Spielberg's films recently, and to say that he doesn't make a best-40 list is just silly.
posted by blueshammer at 8:28 AM on November 14, 2003

Dude, Cameron made Titanic. He's voted off the island. Forever.
posted by xmutex at 8:31 AM on November 14, 2003

jonmc: Richard Linklater is on the list at 31.
posted by pascal at 8:31 AM on November 14, 2003

posted by goethean at 8:31 AM on November 14, 2003

jonmc: Richard Linklater is on the list at 31.

oh. I'm a dipshit. sorry.

Stll no Kevin Smith, though.
posted by jonmc at 8:33 AM on November 14, 2003

Seriously, blueshammer and ph00dz, what is it about Spielberg that you like so much? To me, he seems competent and entertaining (sometimes), but is more of a cinematic Stephen King than, say, a Milan Kundera.
He's a decent storyteller, but a bit of a hack, no?
posted by signal at 8:36 AM on November 14, 2003

Glad to see a healthy representation of Asian directors--especially Miyazaki and Takashi Miike. For all our recent attempts to rip it off, we in America don't appreciate Asian cinema enough.
posted by jpoulos at 8:36 AM on November 14, 2003

And I would like to add:

What? No Tom Tykwer?
posted by signal at 8:38 AM on November 14, 2003

Kevin Smiith? Clerks, good. Anything else? Mind-numbing, teeth gnashing, awful awful awful.
posted by xmutex at 8:42 AM on November 14, 2003

"So...why wasn't Sanjit Ray included?"
"Y'know, the Apu Trilogy guy."
"...Never heard of him."
"I see Andrzej Wajda isn't on the list either...and what about Jiri Trinka?"
"Are these actual people who've directed films, or merely acted in them?
'Cause it sounds to me like you're just making these names up."
posted by Smart Dalek at 8:42 AM on November 14, 2003

Scorsese or possibly, Coppola.
posted by nyxxxx at 8:45 AM on November 14, 2003

I'd put Lynch and Morris in the top five any day. Spielberg I can live without, although Burton and DePalma should be in there. So should Spike Lee and the Quay Brothers. (Oh, the Quay Brothers are too quirky?)
posted by kozad at 8:46 AM on November 14, 2003

going out on a limb here...i'm thinking that the compilers of the list were more interested in quirky, visual filmmaking that seems underrepresented in commercial hollywood films. which explains the absence of spielberg (who has how many directing oscars to his name?) et al. even for a list that fits that criteria, it seems lacking in a few things.

the absence of jane campion was both surprising and disappointing. i still haven't seen in the cut but i understand it finds her in the wiggy holding pattern that began with portrait of a lady. still, her previous films (particularly sweetie and the short "a girl's own story") could stand head-to-head with many of the directors on this list.
posted by pxe2000 at 8:46 AM on November 14, 2003

no kurosawa?

my god, wait iS this for living directors. No Coen Brothers?

Miguel you stop this bus right now, i want to call the Guardian.
posted by clavdivs at 8:47 AM on November 14, 2003

Excellent list as far as content. The order is ridiculous though. I would have added Tykwer, Satyajit Ray,
and Polanski and took off the Wachowskis and Payne (though I like both). And though I like Ramsay, she doesn't exactly have a lot of content to wade through--probably would have included Agniesjka Holland or Chantal Akerman instead. Also, no Kieslowski? Hmm.

And of course, I'd move Michael Haneke to the top place. :)

On preview, clav, Coens are there.
posted by dobbs at 8:48 AM on November 14, 2003

uhm, clavdivs, did you click the link at all? The Coens are #3.
posted by xmutex at 8:48 AM on November 14, 2003

It's an OK list marred by some pathetic, politically motivated choices. David Lynch is really good, but has yet to make the A list.
The most important filmmakers alive, though not very active, are obviously Ingmar Bergman (a true genius) and Francis Ford Coppola. I'm happy to see Paul Thomas Anderson and Wes Anderson, and amused by the 100% unjustified mention of that liar Michael Moore. And Terrence Malick at #5? The Thin Red Line is a completely useless, rambling, dated movie.
Also it's pretty stupid not to include John Woo, the most influential movie director of the last 20 years from the technical POV.
posted by 111 at 8:49 AM on November 14, 2003

Kevin Smiith? Clerks, good. Anything else? Mind-numbing, teeth gnashing, awful awful awful.

What about Chasing Amy & Dogma? I admit he's made a few clunkers, but his bring the punk DIY ethic to mainstream cinema and presenting aimless, non-beautiful young people in realistic settings and attitudes earns him a place on this list, me thinks.
posted by jonmc at 8:51 AM on November 14, 2003

I second the nod for Tim Burton and would like to add John Sayles to the list.

and clav, the Brothers Coen are at numbah three
posted by whatnot at 8:53 AM on November 14, 2003

The Thin Red Line is a completely useless, rambling, dated movie.

And your opinion of it isn't politically motivated? Hell, I'm pro-death penalty and I found the movie spellbinding.

On preview: Ditto on John Sayles, and his novels are amazing too. Fuck Fox News, he's the ultimate in fair and balanced. Rarely has a politically aware writer been as empatetic as Sayles.
posted by jonmc at 8:56 AM on November 14, 2003

Chasing Amy was painful to watch.
posted by archimago at 8:57 AM on November 14, 2003

I cannot fucking believe David Lynch did not make this list. Auggh!
posted by ericost at 8:58 AM on November 14, 2003

No Kubrick? What a mess.

On preview: what are you talking about ericost?
posted by dgaicun at 8:59 AM on November 14, 2003

111, The Thin Red Line is a brilliant film, though admittedly not for everyone. Malick's the only American director I can think of who hasn't made a false move. And I assume they included Moore because his documentaries have been seen by more people than any other documentarian, living or dead. Why you would consider FFC among the most important filmmakers alive is beyond me though. He hasn't made a top-notch film in 30 years (GII and Conversation). John Woo's pretty much a one trick wonder, no? How many times can you show the same shots of a guy diving through the air with a gun in each hand?

And I'll be first to jump in and say I'm glad Tim Burton's not on the list. He hasn't made a good film since Pee Wee. :)
posted by dobbs at 9:02 AM on November 14, 2003

We wouldn't want to live in the places [Lynch] takes us. Somehow, we suspect, we do.

This is very apt.

Also, where the fuck is Krzysztof Kieslowski? Although he did die in 1996.
posted by the fire you left me at 9:03 AM on November 14, 2003

ericost was joking.

I think it's only living directors, hence no Kubrick or Kurosawa or Kieslowski (or maybe it's a "K" thing).

Oh, the Quay Brothers are too quirky?

If Miike can make the list, there are no limits. I think it's an oversight. They should be on there.
posted by jpoulos at 9:05 AM on November 14, 2003

I agree with Lynch... maybe not #1, but in the top 5. I like the inclusion of Takeshi Kitano as well.
posted by jbelshaw at 9:09 AM on November 14, 2003

funny, ericost.

The Thin Red Line is a completely useless, rambling, dated movie.

And your opinion of it isn't politically motivated? Hell, I'm pro-death penalty and I found the movie spellbinding.

I think there's a Red/Blue disconnect here.

what is it about Spielberg that you like so much? To me, he seems competent and entertaining (sometimes), but is more of a cinematic Stephen King than, say, a Milan Kundera. He's a decent storyteller, but a bit of a hack, no?

Spielberg's got all the goods. I don't detect the least trace of hackery in his last three films (A.I., Minority Report, Catch Me If You Can). Not that I'm saying there was significant traces before that, but that run of movies is amazing -- it's been matched, but not beaten, by anyone in the past 10 years. That he usually makes popular movies is often held against him, but he's not Chris Columbus -- these are smart movies, and art all the way. His movies earn their emotion and thrills without exploitation, and considering how emotional and thrilling they tend to be, that's quite a statement.

Where's muckster, our world film expert?
posted by blueshammer at 9:09 AM on November 14, 2003

(Also, along with the Quays, I'd probably put Svankmajer.)
posted by jpoulos at 9:09 AM on November 14, 2003

is there no room for Kevin Smith

I should think that anyone who made Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back would have removed himself from consideration for any award for life.
posted by rushmc at 9:14 AM on November 14, 2003

It's a goddamned shame that J. O. Incandenza never gets any respect. Where's the love for Blood Sister: One Tough Nun? Or Found Drama I-IV?

posted by COBRA! at 9:23 AM on November 14, 2003

Oh, I admit that film sucked, but I have a strange feeling it sucked on purpose, so he could put the characters to bed. But like I said, the acheivements of Clerks (a brilliant slice-of-life made on what would be most movies catering budget); Chasing Amy (an very unconventional love story in many ways) and Dogma (a dissection of religion that manages to go far beyond knee jerk propoganda), he is on par with a lot of the directors who did make the list, like say Van Sant, who's pooped out a few clunkers as well.

Also, where's Todd Solondz?
posted by jonmc at 9:25 AM on November 14, 2003

Circling a junior high school in a windowless van clutching a fist full of candy bars would be my first guess.
posted by dong_resin at 9:53 AM on November 14, 2003

While I am a Kevin Smith fan, I don't think that he belongs anywhere near this list, because its best DIRECTORS, and SMith is a much better writer. His directing style (as he's admitted many times) pretty much consists of setting up a static shot and letting people talk for 5 minutes. Similarly, Lynch definitely belongs at #1 for Directors, but if they were compiling a list of the best writes, I wouldn't want him anywhere near it.

On preview: Same deal with Todd Solondz. Great writer, average director.
posted by emptybowl at 9:54 AM on November 14, 2003

Seems ridiculous to include Larry & Andy Wachowski since t hey haven't really done anything but make those matrix movies, and 2 of those kind of sucked. But my fave directors, Cronenberg & the Coen bros, are on the list so that's cool. I agree John Sayles & Tim Burton should have been included.
posted by zarah at 9:55 AM on November 14, 2003

His directing style (as he's admitted many times) pretty much consists of setting up a static shot and letting people talk for 5 minutes.

Which is kind of appropriate, considering that his subjects live in a world where the main issues confronting them are inertia, boredom and staticity (?).

I'm a fanboy. I admit it.
posted by jonmc at 9:57 AM on November 14, 2003

I too think John Sayles is a great director. He is one of those rare directors who has a definite unique style (one can always tell a Sayles film when one is watching it) and hasn't made a terrible movie (Sunshine State is my least favorite and it's still a reasonably decent film.) I cannot fathom why he's not on the list.

I used to like Tim Burton in the early days, before I felt like he was copying himself. I still enjoy his films, but I sense that he's past his prime.

Of course, reading what I just said, I realize John Sayles can perhaps just as easily be accused of copying himself. Hmm. Throw 'em both on the list, then.
posted by evinrude at 10:02 AM on November 14, 2003

What emptybowl said. Kevin Smith isn't much of a director, no matter how much you may enjoy his films.

Nice to see Takeshi Kitano on there. It's a shame that a nation of adolescent Spike TV watchers will now know him as "that Most Extreme Elimination Challenge Guy".

Have to agree with others here about the Wachowski Bros, too. Just because you've got gimmicks and technology and an idea, that doesn't mean you can direct your way out of a paper bag.
posted by Kafkaesque at 10:03 AM on November 14, 2003

Although he did die in 1996.

You answered your own question.

But I'm surprised that Stephen Frears didn't make it to the list, though he might be regarded as the anti-Lynch: a British director who's sometimes regarded as being too much in bed with Hollywood. But Dangerous Liaisons, The Grifters, and High Fidelity hold their own in the mainstream list, and his very British films from the 80s are among the best of the era: My Beautiful Laundrette and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid are a great counter-point to the Thatcherite vision of Britain. And Dirty Pretty Things is a return to that kind of social contrarianism: it's the a film that anyone saturated by tabloid headlines on the evils of asylum-seekers ought to be made to watch.
posted by riviera at 10:04 AM on November 14, 2003

If you want to get technical, only one of the Coen Brothers (Joel) directs. The other one produces.
posted by emptybowl at 10:04 AM on November 14, 2003

I guess Herzog hasn't been too prolific of late, but I'd still put him on any Best Director list. Sadly, my old love Wenders has made such crapulent films lately I wonder if he's even the same guy. This is eerily reminiscent of the Ridley Scott Alien - Blade Runner - Gladiator - Black Hawk Down descent into poop. Can two great films excuse a spotty portfolio?
posted by Kafkaesque at 10:16 AM on November 14, 2003

emptybowl, that's only credit-wise. they've said many times in interviews (and their cast has said so as well), they both do everything.
posted by dobbs at 10:17 AM on November 14, 2003

Yep, any "Best Director" list that includes people like Quentin Tarantino and Steven Soderbergh over people like Werner Herzog or Jim Jarmusch is kinda crappy.
posted by lilboo at 10:20 AM on November 14, 2003

I'm chuffed to see Walter Salles on there. Central Station and Behind the Sun are two of the best movies I've seen in the past five years, and City of God, which the list notes that he co-produced, has been by far and away my favorite movie of this year. He's single-handedly given Brazilian cinema a distinction of quality.

I'm a bit surprised to see Gasper Noe on there. I've not seen Seul Contre Tous, but Irreversible is one of the most difficult and painful movies I've ever seen. Not to say that it was bad or poorly directed, I just didn't think enough people would watch the whole thing or be able to stomach enough to separate themselves from their emotions and see the artistic aspects of it. There were some beautifully shot scenes in it.
posted by Ufez Jones at 10:25 AM on November 14, 2003

Herzog is the Trent Reznor of directing : boringly self- indulgent, cliched and embarrassing.
posted by the fire you left me at 10:27 AM on November 14, 2003

This is no more or less stupid or interesting than any similar list on any of a thousand movie-buff blogs. Anybody can toss together a list of directors who happen to strike them as top-notch at that particular moment (always managing to forget some, about which they will kick themselves, and be kicked by others, later); they're fun to read and argue about and instantly forgettable. The thing that pushes this into the "stupid" column for me is that they include Samira Makhmalbaf, who's quite good and (who knows) may someday be among the best, and omit her father Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who's been among the very best for at least a decade now.
posted by languagehat at 10:28 AM on November 14, 2003

Herzog is the Trent Reznor of directing

That's hardly surprising coming from the Peabo Bryson of MetaFilter.
posted by Kafkaesque at 10:30 AM on November 14, 2003

Though I wouldn't have said this before Mulholland Drive, I completely agree with Lynch's ranking at #1. That's an amazing film, and it really served to illuminate Lynch's entire back catalogue for me. I might be a bit biased, though, since I've always been interested in the relationship between the conscious and the subconscious, and I can think of no artist in history (not Joyce, not Bunuel) who handles the subject better than Lynch. His films are just so convincing: they feel like dreams. But maybe I'm convinced because they feel like my dreams, and your dreams are more like a Jodorowski movie, so YMMV, I guess.

For me, the most glaring omission from this list is Moshen Makhmalbaf. I find it strange that the list included his daughter, and cited him as "one of Iran's greatest film-makers", but neglected to include the man himself--a very active director--in the list. Give me a Makhmalbaf movie over a (sleep-inducing) Kiarostami movie any day of the week. He's definitely in my personal top five.

On preview: like languagehat said.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:41 AM on November 14, 2003

as languagehat said, top-lists are inherently stupid, but this is particularly weird in its obsession with American directors (even weirder, it comes from a British paper)

I agree with those who argued that Bergman (of course), Spike Lee, Frears, DePalma should have joined the list

also, Gonzalez Inarritu is a very interesting filmmaker.

Oliver Stone may be unpopular but Platoon and Salvador (and the sheer cinematic talent of JFK, NBK and Any Given Sunday) are hardly worse than Gaspar Noe or Michael Moore's movies

and I can't believe nobody mentioned Imamura, Bertolucci, Godard, Resnais, Marker (who as visionary can kick the Wachowski boys asses every day of the week, twice on a Sunday), Chabrol, Francesco Rosi, and the true king of Comedy Mario Monicelli (comedy directors and actors all over the world are still stealing stuff from his movies)
posted by matteo at 10:43 AM on November 14, 2003

It's a goddamned shame that J. O. Incandenza never gets any respect. Where's the love for Blood Sister: One Tough Nun? Or Found Drama I-IV?

COBRA!, you raise a good point, but everyone knows Incandenza's true masterwork was Very Low Impact. "A narcoleptic aerobics instructor struggles to hide her condition from students and employers." Now that's a film! Eat your heart out, Gus Van Sant!

Anyway, maybe Incandenza didn't make the list because he's dead.
posted by gompa at 10:45 AM on November 14, 2003

ok, resume the bus
but no kurosawa?

whew, Coens at #3. this is good and tanky tanks XM
posted by clavdivs at 10:45 AM on November 14, 2003

Maybe, it's just me, but most of David Lynch flies right over my head. I always feel like there's a joke being played and I'm the butt of it, because I don't get it.
posted by jonmc at 10:47 AM on November 14, 2003

Yes - Lynch is THE man! And Spielberg might have made the list if he ever exercised a modicum of self-restraint. There's always a point in his films where he goes over the top and I have to hurl things at the screen, leave the cinema or turn the TV off. If he weren't so indulgent, he might have made a good film.
posted by tabbycat at 10:53 AM on November 14, 2003

Although young, surely David Gordon Green is better than the crumbling Kevin Smith.
posted by the fire you left me at 10:56 AM on November 14, 2003

For Your Consideration:
Peter Weir
Robert Altman
Milos Forman
Bernardo Bertolucci
Roman Polanski
Oliver Stone

also, Tim Burton, as others here have mentioned. I'm pleased to see the Coen's finish so high, and I do think that Lynch belongs right at the top of the list.

The Wachowski's need to go, and I'm puzzled by the inclusion of Pavel Pawlikowski (Last Resort must be one HELL of a film), who doesn't even seem to merit an entry on the IMDB.

I also agree with the assessment of Moore - "but his political commitment would be nothing without the film-making skills to back it up" - completely true. He knows how to tell a story with a camera, whatever you might think of the stories he tells.

I'm also a big Kevin Smith fan, but he'd be the first to say he's a lousy director. He's a great writer, and he directs films so he can keep control of the text. Also great but not great enough for this list: John Waters; Richard Lester; George A. Romero; Peter Jackson;
posted by anastasiav at 10:57 AM on November 14, 2003

There's always a point in his films where he goes over the top and I have to hurl things at the screen, leave the cinema or turn the TV off.

Exactly how I feel! Saving Private Ryan would have been a complete and moving film--a powerful existentialist statement, even--without the sappy footage of the old man crying in the graveyard surround by his loving family tacked on artificially (and indulgently) at the end.

Still, no one is as technically proficient as Spielburg. So fluid and (apparently) effortless.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:01 AM on November 14, 2003

Thats' exactly it, Mr_Roboto. Spielberg has done so much that he makes it look effortless. From the campy fun of Indiana Jones to the sci-fi of Minority Report, he continues to try new things and new challenges. There was actually a nice defense of his work in the NYtimes the other day. Sure, his work isn't as "challenging" as some of these other folks, but to dismiss him is pretty irresponsible. Especially when folks like Michael Moore are included.
posted by ph00dz at 11:09 AM on November 14, 2003

no one is as technically proficient as Spielburg

not even Scorsese or DePalma?
posted by matteo at 11:16 AM on November 14, 2003

Beware all ye who diss Herzog while Mr. Esque is within earshot.

No one has mentioned Mike Leigh. Naked is in my all-time Top Five.
posted by jpoulos at 11:24 AM on November 14, 2003

not even Scorsese or DePalma?

Well, past a certain point it's a matter of opinion, of course, and these are all great directors. But, as I said, it's Spielberg's apparent effortlessness that impresses me most. When Scorsese puts an impressive tracking shot or creative camera angle on the screen (and I'm thinking of a few shots from "Gangs of New York" in particular, now), I think to myself, "Now that's some impressive directing!". With Spielberg's work, though, it all just flows--I never think about the impressive camerawork until after the movie. The technical skills serve the movie, rather than the other way around.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:30 AM on November 14, 2003

No Kubrick? What joke.
posted by reidfleming at 11:39 AM on November 14, 2003

anastasiav, I completely agree with the six on your list. I'd add in Luc Besson (minus the atrocity that is Messenger: Joan of Arc) and Ridley Scott. Burton is very hit-or-miss for me, though. Spielberg is a master, but like many here I find him a little heavyhanded with the emotions. Subtle he is not. Still, I'll forgive the creator of ET just about anything.
posted by widdershins at 11:41 AM on November 14, 2003

Dear people who for some reason do not seem to get it: ONLY LIVING DIRECTORS.

Kubrick's not going to lead the way any more.

So yeah: Polanski, Solondz, Jarmusch, Altman, Stone. WTF?
posted by xmutex at 11:55 AM on November 14, 2003

Folks, the list is Best Living Directors (aka directors who are "leading the way").

But any list that omits filmmakers like Robert Altman, Jim Jarmusch, Guy Maddin, John Sayles, Mike Leigh, Peter Greenaway, Werner Herzog, Jean-Pierre Jeneut, Francois Ozon, or Erick Zonca -- all of them far more original than any of the folks on the list -- is suspect. If you're going to put 23 year old filmmakers on the list, then why not Michael Kelly? And the Wachowski Brothers? Ang Lee? You've got to be kidding.
posted by ed at 12:01 PM on November 14, 2003

Also: Eric Rohmer, still making movies in his eighties, and embracing digital?

If anything, the list proves the irrelevance of Jean-Luc Godard, who isn't dead yet.
posted by ed at 12:05 PM on November 14, 2003

ed, unless you've seen films by every filmmaker on the list (and I'm betting you haven't unless you are a programmer at Cannes or Toronto or a very well known critic), a statement like "all of them far more original than any of the folks on the list" is ridiculous. I like many of Altman's films but "far more original" than Miike (who I can't stand, but will admit is original)? Hardly. Leigh (Naked's a fave of mine) "more original" than Lynch or the Coens? How so? Herzog (pretty much irrelevant these days) and Jeneut (mostly style over substance) more original than Michael Haneke, one of the masters of mise en scene in cinema history? Not bloody likely.

Also, can you provide a link for Michael Kelly? I couldn't find him at the imdb.
posted by dobbs at 12:24 PM on November 14, 2003

I suspect he means Richard Kelly, of Donnie Darko.

Forgot to mention Altman in my earlier post, although I have to say that maybe his "leadership" period is over.
posted by blueshammer at 12:37 PM on November 14, 2003

If anything, the list proves the irrelevance of jean-luc godard, who isn't dead yet.

Or the fact that most of the directors on the list are flapping about in his wake, and that of Chris Marker, shows how far out in front he still is. This young woman, #36's 14 year-old kid sister, is already better than most of them. As is Leos Carax.
posted by liam at 12:50 PM on November 14, 2003

dobbs: Specifically, I was referring to the American filmmakers on the list, which spawned the (I confess) above hyperbole.

Scorsese: Great craftsman, but the days of Taxi Driver and Goodfellas are over. Know any young filmmakers who are bragging about Gang of New York or Kundun in the same way that they awed over the Steadicam walk a decade ago in Goodfellas?

Soderbergh: Schizopolis was the most innovative thing he did. But now he's turning out tired remakes instead of astutely edited films like The Limey or careful studies like King of the Hill. Case in point: Next film: Ocean's Twelve.

Tarantino: A 40 year old adolescent who showed some maturity with Jackie Brown, but now appears to be content with paying empty homages to other films.

Ang Lee: Tried the comic panel visual thing with The Hulk, but failed stylistically (where American Splendor succeeded), thought the comic book was classical and completely misunderstood the Hulk canon; fell flat on his ass with Ride Like the Devil and shouldn't even belong on the list if only for that piece of turd alone.

David O. Russell: A solid filmmaker, but what's he doing on this list? He hasn't made a film in years (although I Heart Huckabee's is set for next year).

The Wachowski Brothers: Created two of the most boring and insipid films of 2003 (although admittedly I've only seen Reloaded).

And if David Fincher gets on the list, then Alex Proyas deserves it, particularly given the fact the Wachowskis ripped off Dark City.
posted by ed at 1:34 PM on November 14, 2003

I think this sums it up.
posted by uftheory at 1:46 PM on November 14, 2003

the fact the Wachowskis ripped off Dark City

Most interesting is the fact that "Dark City" was produced by Andrew Mason, who later went on to executive produce both "The Matrix" and "The Matrix Reloaded." So the connection may not be all that coincidental.

Personally I really liked both Dark City and The Matrix. Sure they're both exploring similar themes, but if you strip enough away to say that one is the other, then you could do the same with, say, The Truman Show. Certainly the aliens motives and their methods of control in Dark City are very different to those of the programs in The Matrix. The notion that the Wachowskis had the plan and plot for The Matrix before they made Bound would cast doubt on the "rip-off" theory.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 2:59 PM on November 14, 2003

You know, the Guardian's proofreading department is notoriously bad, so this whole thing could be a typo.

Dark City and The Matrix both "ripped off" Philip K. Dick (UBIK and Time Out of Joint, in particular), plot-wise. And visually, they both "ripped off" Batman and Metropolis....blah, blah, blah...fundamental catachresis between the phenomenal and noumenal as exemplified by Aristophanes' The Frogs.

brek kek kek kek, ko-ex, ko-ex
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:42 PM on November 14, 2003

You have Moore but no Maysles brothers?
Tarantino but no Polanski?

And we are to forget Spike Lee, Ron Howard, and Robert Altman so easily?

posted by jazzkat11 at 4:54 PM on November 14, 2003

Yes, he is, to respond to the initial question.
posted by blissbat at 7:47 PM on November 14, 2003

oh geez. i really don't want to do this.

folks, dark city ripped off metropolis. if you're going to get angry that a movie ripped off another movie, please make sure the movie you're talking about did not blatantly steal several shots/scenes from another, well-respected movie.

thank you. that is all.
posted by pxe2000 at 8:57 PM on November 14, 2003

ed, yeah, I figured you were zoning in on the Americans. no big deal. I guess I have a pet peeve with things like "best movie ever" or whatever.... :)

i think fincher's easily a more talented filmmaker than tarantino. also, i disagree with your assessment of Soderbergh. i think he's topnotch. Solaris definitely had problems, but i thought full frontal was excellent and the limey (which you mentioned) and out of sight are superb. i think the limey is one of the better films about a criminal in the last 20 years, much owed to lem dobbs brilliant script, too.

i didn't care for dark city in the slightest (don't even recall if i made it through it, actually), but to each his own i suppose.
posted by dobbs at 8:59 PM on November 14, 2003

As far as I can see, the Guardian doesn't tell us what criteria they gave the panelists. Best living director (even if long retired or past his prime)? Best currently active director (based on recent work)? Best director of "this generation" (which might explain Altman not making the cut)?

If this had been a French critics list, Clint Eastwood have been near the top. He's the inexplicable Jerry Lewis of recent times. A Cahiers du Cinema poll had Bridges of Madison County tied for best film of the 1990s.
posted by Daze at 9:43 PM on November 14, 2003

Mr. Lynch gets my vote. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is my favourite film.

Most of the list is ridiculous, though. No Terry Gilliam? I mean... WTF dude?
posted by Blue Stone at 5:30 AM on November 15, 2003

Yes yes yes
SPIKE LEE, please!!! i want him in the top 10. He is IMPORTANT.
posted by Sijeka at 1:15 PM on November 15, 2003

dobbs: Funny you should mention Lem Dobbs. He wrote Dark City as well. :)
posted by ed at 12:25 AM on November 16, 2003

...Where's George Lucas?

He's at home, washin' his tights!
posted by Perigee at 5:05 AM on November 16, 2003

hey ed, i certainly mean no disrespect towards your love of dark city, as i too have a few films i enjoy that most people look askance at. however, whenever the matrix/dark city plagiarism issue comes up -- here and elsewhere -- i frequently ask how dark city fans can stand by their accusations of plagiarism when that movie itself steals pretty obviously from metropolis. for all of my abundant problems with the matrix, the wachowski bros. have at least stated their sources up-front, where neither proyas nor his fans have acknowledged his debts. if you want to elaborate on this contradiction, i would love to hear your thoughts. thanks!
posted by pxe2000 at 12:35 PM on November 16, 2003

whoopsie, how did i miss this thread?

languagehat is right in that these kinds of lists are sort of pointless because every single one of us would obviously have made a different list. the only value they have, as far as I'm concerned, is suggesting good stuff we might have overlooked otherwise. Instead of screaming for John Sayles/Spike Lee/Joel Schumacher to be included or wondering why the hell von Trier is below the Wachowskis, I'll be content with going down the list and filling in gaps of extraordinary films I might have missed. For instance, if you haven't seen "Morvern Callar" or "The Man Without a Past" yet, it's time you ran out and rented them.
posted by muckster at 8:47 AM on November 17, 2003

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