Wednesday, October 13, 2010

15 Directors Meme

I'm posting this after seeing it on FlixChatter, a blog I linked to from IMDb. The idea is to list 15 directors who have shaped the way you watch movies (obviously a practice of film nerds like myself). To quote directly from FlixChatter: "These are auteurs whose work I admire, even if I don’t necessarily go and see every single one of their films. Some of their work [has] defined my taste in movies and some are those that I could watch over and over again." I've decided to limit myself to directors whose work I can explicitly identify as formative to me as a film watcher. They're listed here in alphabetical order, by last name. The movies listed in parentheses are concrete examples of their formative influence (not just "favorites"). I follow up the list with a brief commentary on a few of my choices.

1) Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Punch Drunk Love)
2) Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille)
3) James Cameron (Terminator 2, Avatar)
4) Joel & Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men)
5) Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth)
6) Peter & Bobby Farrelly (Dumb & Dumber, There's Something About Mary)
7) Alfred Hitchcock (Strangers on a Train, Vertigo)
8) Stanley Kubrick (Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey)
9) Michael Mann (Heat)
10) John McTiernan (The Hunt for Red October, Die Hard)
11) Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away)
12) Martin Scorsese (The Departed, Gangs of New York)
13) Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Alien)
14) Steven Spielberg (Jurassic Park, Jaws)
15) Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds)

"Look at all the blood..." young Joseph Mazzello intoned with reverent awe, staring at the empty Hawaiian field later to be filled in with a digital hulking Tyrannosaur tearing at its prey. At 9 years old, in my movie theater seat, I was that kid, seeing the digital creation he only pretended to see, no less awed by the life force spilling from the predator's mouth. I saw the film at precisely the right moment for it to impress a movie-watching framework upon my mind that has lingered nearly twenty years: movies at their most thrilling and important fabricate vital, visceral experiences which involve the viewer vicariously and, sometimes, voyeuristically.*

Many of the films on this list fit this description, and it has a noticeable lack of cerebral, ennui-ish fare (French New Wave, Terence Malick, etc.). Some films end up standing in for other things, like the fact that No Country for Old Men preceded my interest in noir and hard boiled stories and so ended up more of a direct influence than Chinatown or The Big Sleep even though both of those earlier films are genre forebears of the later one. Other films, like Pulp Fiction, get weeded out because their influence had so permeated pop culture by the time that I saw them that they seemed fresh more in historical perspective than in their contemporary cultural landscape.

I left off two directors I really like, Steven Soderbergh and Edgar Wright, simply due to the derivative nature of their films. They may be masters of the derivative (I love The Limey) but the work doesn't register as innovative enough to be called influential, unless you consider creative derivativity** to be the post-modern meta distillation of Pulp Fiction's inevitable legacy. Where Tarantino transcends his own trajectory, however, comes especially with the poignancy of Kill Bill, Vol. 2's ending but even more so with the deconstructionist take on war and vengeance that was Inglourious Basterds (whose line "Frankly, watchin' Donny beat Nazis to death is is the closest we ever get to goin' to the movies" fits neatly with my aforementioned framework). Wes Anderson might also fit this category, though he has enough eccentricity to find his own directorial voice on a regular basis.

And lastly, I've included some movies here unlikely to be considered "great films" by anyone, yet I consider their influence unquestionable. They say comedy is murder, and it's due in no small part to the fact that what makes people laugh is so darned inconsistent across demographic groups. That said, the Farrelly brothers have made some gut-bustingly hilarious movies which I suspect divide people sharply*** into those who love their movies, those who regard them as infantile and boorish, and those who regard them as masterpieces of infantile-boorish absurdity. Of course I'm in the latter camp, albeit with caveats if you press me on the subject. Additionally, John McTiernan has never been called an auteur (that I know of) but many of his films have a direct, analog, blood-and-guts urgency missing from so many contemporary, synthetic action spectacles.****

*Take that, V for Vendetta.
**I made this word up, I think. It's a derivative of derivative and creativity. Isn't that so meta?
***Just like Jesus! :D
****Film critic David Edelstein has described his boredom with epic digital conflicts as "CGI ennui."


Kate said...

Love the coinage of derivativity! Was reading today about derivation in the world's languages and what you did there is technically called 'blending' (or portmanteau). It's a very productive type of derivation in English and, interestingly enough, Hebrew and Japanese (although it's basically absent from most Indo-European languages). Just a little nerdy note for you! :)

Mike Rad said...

Leave it to you to bring the linguistics insight! I think that "derivativity" reflects a lot of what's trending in popular culture, esp. with a lot people reusing 80's iconography for their own ends. My new favorite TV show is NBC's Community, which I didn't expect to like but ended up responding to the dynamics of its ensemble and its wittily constructed pop culture infused plot-lines. The episode that got me hooked was an extended Goodfellas homage where the value of chicken tenders in the college cafeteria became a means to power within the group and the school at large.