The Ten Best Directors of All Time Relay Race

Just a few hours ago, the wonderful and talented writer Nostra at My Filmviews started a brand new blogathon, entitled the Ten Best Directors of All Time Relay Race. Now, if you’re a blogger or read blogs, you may have noticed Nostra’s simple but clever blogathons trailing around from site to site recently. Nostra has started the still-continuing Ten Best Actors and Ten Best Actresses blogathons, both of which I’ve had the privilege to have participated in. Now, the newest one has piqued my interest more than ever, as it aims at highlighting an aspect of filmmaking I find even more intriguing and powerful than acting: directing. Here’s how the blogathon works, in Nostra’s words:

So what’s the idea behind the relay? I’ve created a list of what I think are the ten best directors. At the end of the post I, just like in a real relay race, hand over the baton to another blogger who will write his own post. This blogger will have to remove one director (that is an obligation) and add his own choice and describe why he/she did this. At the end the blogger chooses another blogger to do the same. We will end up with a list (not ranked in order) which represents a common agreement of the best directors. If you are following the relay race it is also a great way to be introduced to new blogs!

So who are The Ten Best Directors of All Time? Well, here are the ten Nostra has started off with:

Alfred Hitchcock

Quentin Tarantino

Stanley Kubrick

Steven Spielberg

Hayao Miyazaki

Darren Aronofsky

Martin Scorsese

Joel and Ethan Coen

Akira Kurosawa

Christopher Nolan

Boy. Boy oh boy oh boy. This is a tough one. A hell of a tough one. I’m familiar with all of these directors except for Miyazaki, however I won’t remove him because I think that would be unfair. By process of elimination, here’s what I was thinking: “I can’t remove Kurosawa, Scorsese, Kubrick or Hitchcock. They’re timeless and incredibly influential. No way. The Coens are awesome, Spielberg refined the adventure genre, and Tarantino is just damn good. I won’t touch Miyazaki, because I’m not familiar with his work.” That only left Aronofsky and Nolan. Now believe me – believe me­ – this was a bloody difficult decision. I still partially regret it because I know a few bloggers who will be very pissed off at me for it, and will probably remove my choice or just be angry at me for doing it. But put yourself in my shoes: I have to remove someone. Those are the rules. Be disappointed, be angry, be frustrated – all that’s fine, but at the end of the day, someone has to go. And I apologise profusely to huge fans of his work, but the filmmaker I am removing is Nolan. Why? Well, first of all, before anyone rushes to call me “unqualified” to make that decision, I will say I have seen every single one of his films, and I do love some of them. Memento and Inception will remain two films that startle and refresh me with their power and originality. But as a whole, the rest of Nolan’s work just doesn’t impress me as much. I don’t hate any of his films, but let’s just say some of them didn’t impress me as much as they did others *cough The Dark Knight*. But let me please remind you one final time that I do think Nolan is a really good filmmaker. Got it?

So… who am I adding? I know what you’re probably expecting: some ridiculous foreign name no one has heard of, yadda yadda yadda, obscure arthouse bullshit. I know some (not all) of you are probably expecting some unpronouncable name that’s “nowhere near the same league as the others.” I apologise if I sound like I’m getting angry, because many of my favourite filmmakers have been described as these things before, and I want to clear up that I hope you won’t groan and roll your eyes when I make my selection. I put a lot of thought into it, so I hope it’ll be taken seriously, and not just hang on the end as “the obscure guy Tyler put in there to fuck with us.”

That said (and I hope you’ll forgive me for that rant which was probably not aimed at you), my choice is the wonderful Pole who made great films in Poland and France and died too young, in 1996 at the age of 54. What is his name? Of course, it is my absolute, definite favourite filmmaker of all time, Krzysztof Kieslowski. Who is he, some of you may be asking? Well, in the 70s, 80s and 90s, he directed some of the most memorable, beautiful, stunning films in creation, including the famous Three Colours trilogy, the sensual The Double Life of Veronique and the epic ten-part masterwork The Decalogue. In my eyes, everyone who proclaims they love film needs to see at least one of the films in this man’s delightful, superb catalogue.

So there you have it. For this post I’ve had to make two difficult decisions: who to remove and who to add, and while I’m reasonably happy with the result, I of course want to know what you think, so leave a comment below.

As for the most important thing… who am I going to pass this onto? Well, I think I’ll pass it onto the man who passed Nostra’s last blogathon onto me, the talented filmmaker Alex Withrow of And So It Begins…

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Posted on June 5, 2012, in Lists, Movies, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 54 Comments.

  1. I can definitely see the logic when you have to weigh up Aronofsky and Nolan – I’d take out Nolan as well. I’m so, so glad that you didn’t take out Miyazaki 😀 He’s one of my personal favourites, and I think you’d like his work! I almost thought you’d put in Bergmann – I really can’t wait to watch the Three Colours Trilogy now, great choice!

    • I thought I’d put in Bergman too, but I was rewatching Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique last night and my heart ached so badly. God, I love Kieslowski. He died too young. And the sad truth is, he won’t last long in this list despite the fact I truly believe he’s better than all the others. Ah well. Whatever happens happens, I guess.

  2. Nice to see it up so quickly! I must admit that this list seems a lot harder to change and there are going to be some controversial decisions I think 🙂

    Who’s this unpronouncable director you’ve chosen? 😉 I must admit that I have not watched any of his movies and know I should really change that. Will make an effort to watch them!

    • There are going to be some very controversial decisions. I’m glad you made it so hard though; it’s going to force people to really think. However, it might lead people to just continuously knock off the one or two directors at the bottom of list and the initial eight or nine that are more popular and generally agreed upon might stay the same forever. Who knows? It’ll be interesting to follow.

      I know you’ll like Kieslowski. In fact, the reason I added him instead of Bergman was because Kieslowski’s films are a lot easier to watch if you’re new to his kind of movies. They’re beautiful, not too “arty” and very delightful to watch. I think that if more people gave him a chance, they’d see they really like him.

  3. Venkateshwaran

    Hey Tyler its great that you have added Kieslowski. And for Nostra, ‘You wont regret on Tyler’s decision at all once you watch the above mentioned movies. Btw, is this blogathon ranking is based on Reputation, magnitude or the style of the directors, because I could see a lot of mainstream directors in place which can also have the likes of Ozu, Fellini..But one thing is sure, Kieslowski might not sustain till the last one just for the lack of his reputation

    • I will definitely check out his movies. It’s based on whatever the blogger thinks once he/she gets the baton to do their post. It makes it interesting to read the reasons why people remove and add a specific director.

  4. I agree with your choice on the removal of Nolan from the list of ten. While he has done some great stuff, his whole career so far has too much the flavour of a well planned commercial trajectory about it whereas nearly all the others including your addition all leave you feeling they did it from the heart (even if it did not always work out!).

    • While Nolan has managed to achieve great commercial success, i don’t think that was his main plan. In the special features for Memento, in a interview he mentions a fascination with memory, and i feel that is present in all of his works. I think he just happens to straddle the line between commercial and arty in a way that works commercially

      • Interesting thoughts. I like the psychological side of his films, but there are times when he attempts to combine that with well-executed action sequences that come across more often as ridiculous set pieces than anything else. Sometimes they work though, as in Inception. Though I much prefer his earlier, low-budget films.

        • I don’t really mind the combination of psychological and action, but then again we do have different taste in movies. I’m not actually a huge Nolan fan, but i just don’t agree with the idea that he as chosen his movies based on commercial viability, which is what i thought was being implied here. Even batman, his most mainstream work to date relates to his fascination with memory, as Bruce waynes memory of what happened to his parents are a huge part of his character, and most likely why Nolan wanted to do Batman begins in the first place.

          • Again you’ve got my interests with your ideas. I don’t remember much about the Batman movies; I enjoyed them quite a bit but left them at that. Perhaps I need to see some of Nolan’s films again before I make proper judgement (I do own Memento and Inception, and I think both are great).

    • I agree, Nolan’s career has been based significantly on commercial films.

  5. Ooh great pick. Just today I was searching for White in a DVD library. Still haven’t found it, but his other stuff has been just phenomenal.

  6. Luke Caxford

    I would have taken out Darren Aronofsky. I think he’s overrated. Kieslowski was a good choice, but I think Peter Jackson is missing from that list.

  7. If you ask me, I would keep Hitchcock, Kurosawa, Kubrick, Scorsese and replace the others with Howard Hawks, F.W. Murnau, Jean Renoir, Fritz Lang, Ingmar Bergman, and John Ford. I may keep a spot for Jean-Luc Godard…
    I’ve launch a poll and I invite you all to join! Here are the details: http://cinephiliaque.blogspot.ca/p/mid-poll.html
    I hope to get many various lists! Feel free to spread the word!

  8. God bless you for this. For me including Nolan in any ‘greatest’ list is just an eye sore. The last 15 minutes of TDK and the third act of Inception were just laughable. And what a wonderful addition with Kieslowski – his movie are so unique, delicate and complex I can watch them over and over again and always find something new.

    • He is kind of overrated, but I certainly don’t hate him. He doesn’t really deserve to be on this list, I guess would be the easiest way to put it. Glad you like the addition of Kieslowski, he is a phenomenal director.

  9. Again it strikes me: no women. But then again, I couldn’t think of one that deserves to be in this one.
    I’ve only seen Blue, but I definitely need to see more of Kieslowski – and yeah, Nolan isn’t one of the greatest directors I think. Good but there’s still room for improvement.

    • No one’s more annoyed that there are no female directors on here than me, believe me. Some of my favourite female directors just wouldn’t last long there (such as Chantal Akerman, Agnes Varda, Claire Denis, etc).

  10. Good choice Tyler. Can’t recommend enough seeing the Three Colors Trilogy in order and in their entirety. The ending of Red leading up the final frame gave me chills. Stunning. Also check out The Decalogue and The Double Life of Veronique. These are must see’s for serious film buffs. Now if you can set aside 18 hours to see them all

    • I can’t recommend Kieslowski enough either. Even his early films are fantastic. The Scar and Blind Chance are very underrated, and Camera Buff and No End are among his greatest films.

  11. While i liked Dark Knight more than you, i realize someone had to go and you gave good reasons for why you chose Nolan for that. And i definitely need to check out more Kieslowski, especially since you said in another comment here he isn’t too arty

    • He’s not very arty. Some of his films have an arty look, but it never turns the viewer off or makes them feel distaste. He’s one of the most accessible and wonderful of foreign filmmakers.

  12. Kieslowski is perfect. I’ve only seen the Trois Couleurs and The Double Life of Veronique as well as some early documentary shorts. He’s someone I’m really interested in as I’ve been back and forth on whether or not about doing an Auteurs piece on him. The only problem is that I really want to see a lot of his early work in the early to mid-1970s and I don’t know where to find them.

    • I haven’t seen much of his pre-1976 work but I have seen the short film Tramway which I liked. His early films from 1976 to 1985 are all great, so I recommend you see them if you can. Kieslowski is a genius, plain and simple.

  13. thefilmfreak

    It’s very kind of you to be sensitive to Nolan fans, but let’s be honest, he’s not a top 10 consideration. Personally, I don’t think he’d even make my top 50. But that’s me. I don’t see how it’s even comparable to pit a legendary director such as Kieslowski, whose films have stood the test of time and are considered masterpieces by many, against someone who has made some good films, but nothing I would call a masterpiece; and we have no idea if he’ll even be considered relevant in 20 years.

    The only directors from the original list that I would say are locks are Kubrick, Kurosawa, and Hitchcock. There are some great directors on that list, but there are greater directors out there, including your choice of Kieslowski, Bergman, Bunuel, Fellini, Godard, Truffaut, Tarkovsky, Altman, Welles, Wilder, Ozu, Hawks, Bresson, Lynch, Lang and Allen, to name but a few.

    • I agree Nolan isn’t great and that the directors you listed are infinitely better. He did kind of stick out like a sore thumb on that list. I hope some true greats are put on the list instead of lesser filmmakers.

    • Finally, a comment I can agree with 100% (by thefilmfreak) – the first to remove Scorsese also and leave only Hitchcock, Kurosawa and Kubrick, I couldn’t believe this list; how could any of the other ones be considered great directors, much less in the same league as these three and the ones filmfreak mentioned in the second paragraph. A well-made film is not great art, it just shows the director has mastered the craft.

  14. I would have booted Nolan or Aronofsky so fast it’d make the fanboys heads spin. They’re not even among the best directors working right now, much less all time. Godard would have been my pick, though I can think of about 20 directors I’d love to spotlight.

  15. Hey, Kieslowski is one of the greats! I’ll back you all the way on that addition.

    I also agree with axing Nolan. Unlike you, I don’t think he’s that great of a director. He’s not terrible, but there are a slew of directors working today that are much better directors than Nolan.

  16. Sad to see Nolan go so quickly. He’s done some fantastic work making non-linear narratives work and be accepted by the film going masses.

    I’ve not heard of Kieslowski, but will probably keep an eye out for his works.

    • I will concede that he has made some surprising and wondrous achievements in such a short time span, even if they don’t always appeal to me.

  17. Aronofsky and Nolan may become some of the best directors ever, but at this point their body of work isn’t big enough. Nolan has made some of the best of the Hollywood Blockbusters which is a great skill, but artistically he shouldn’t make the list.
    I love Three Colors, Double Life, and Camera Buff, but I struggled with the Decalogue.

    • You’re right, a decent body of work does help.

      The Decalogue is probably best approached as ten separate films rather than one whole work. Watch them like you would ten normal films, and not all at once.

  18. Nice to see this blogathon already moving at a swift pace! I dig Nolan quite a bit, but you’re right in that it is preemptive to list him as one of the top ten of all time. I haven’t seen anything from Kieslowski, unfortunately. Would you recommend starting with the Three Colors trilogy?

    • If you’re looking to start some Kieslowski, definitely begin with the Three Colours trilogy. It’s the best starting point. Follow it up with The Double Life of Veronique, then A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love. If you find you enjoy those, then try The Decalogue.

  19. Nolan definitely needed to go, and Kieslowski is an excellent choice. I’ve seen everything except a few of his shorts, one of my favorites.

  20. What a fantastic idea for a blogathon!

    It’s a good mix of directors here, meaning that they’re not all known for, say, sci fi films. Someone like Michael Bay is only good for one thing, big budget action films!

  21. Not surprised by your removal. I love Nolan but I understand you don’t share that sentiment.

    I was convinced you’d add Bergman or Bela Tarr, clearly I was mistaken 😀

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