For a while now I was considering doing a list of my ten favourite filmmakers, but decided it was pointless; the choices would be obvious as those directors are ones I rave about all the time. So instead, I’ve decided to compile a list of fifty great filmmakers whose work I admire, as well as up to three of their best films based on what I’ve seen. Ranking them is a pointless task, so I’ve listed them in alphabetical order – except of course for my top ten, who are ranked at the bottom of this post after the initial 40.
Before we begin, here are ten honourable mentions – directors who didn’t quite make the list but are definitely worth talking about, in alphabetical order: Pedro Almodovar, Joel and Ethan Coen, David Cronenberg, David Fincher, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Dusan Makavejev, Terrence Malick, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Alain Resnais, Agnes Varda.
And without further ado, here is the top 50!
Until recently, I had only seen one Akerman film, but decided to rectify that by starting a marathon of her work that is still continuing. It has only made me appreciate her contributions to cinema even deeper. Excellent Films: Hotel Monterey (1972), News from Home (1977). The Best: Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975).
Whether its romantic stories of gentle, sweet affection or emotionlessly bleak comedies about empty lives, Roy Andersson is a master in any genre. My favourite living Swedish filmmaker, his works are unusual, offbeat but always brilliant. Excellent: A Swedish Love Story (1970), World of Glory (1991), You the Living (2007). The Best: Songs from the Second Floor (2000).
Like Akerman, this is a filmmaker whose work I’m still discovering, but I’m enjoying so much of it. Slow, contemplative cinema that is also beautiful and heartwarming. Excellent: The Traveling Players (1975), Eternity and a Day (1998). The Best: Landscape in the Mist (1988).
The loneliness of all humans may sound like a daunting, depressing subject, but in Antonioni’s hands it became transcendent and powerful, always enriching and stunning. Excellent: L’Avventura (1960), Red Desert (1964). The Best: L’Eclisse (1962).
Notorious for ordering his actors not to ‘act,’ and making them do take after take of the same scene, Bresson was a difficult director but his unique methods bore amazing results. Excellent: Diary of a Country Priest (1951), Mouchette (1967). The Best: Au Hasard Balthazar (1966).
I prefer her work immensely to that of her father’s. It immerses me in the screen in such a fantastic manner with its subtlety and wonder that it’s hard to resist. Excellent: Lost in Translation (2003). The Best: Somewhere (2010).
Carl Theodor Dreyer
Though later in his career his creative output slowed down somewhat, Dreyer’s movies never lost their kinetic religious and spiritual energy and marvellous B&W beauty. Excellent: The Passion of Joan of Arc (1927), Day of Wrath (1943). The Best: Ordet (1955).
*gulp* I’ve only seen one Eisenstein film so far (but that will be rectified very soon!) and it’s one of the best movies ever made. No argument. The Best: Battleship Potemkin (1925).
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
This is another director whose work I’m only just digging into, but he’s seriously impressing me. Fassbinder’s cinematic output was incredibly prolific, and the results were rarely disappointing. Excellent: Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974), The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978). The Best: Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980).
Ah, Fellini. When this man was in his element, he was in his element. Early in his career Fellini achieved success after success, and the sheer power of his greatest films make his worst ones still look great. Excellent: Nights of Cabiria (1957), La Dolce Vita (1960), Amarcord (1973). The Best: 8 ½ (1963).
I’ve only seen one film from Abel Gance, but in fairness his films are tremendously difficult to find and the one I saw was pretty fucking amazing (and stunning underseen). His incredible, stunning contributions to cinema will never be forgotten, and just thinking about his 1927 silent masterpiece floors me. The Best: Napoleon (1927).
Love him or hate him, you’ve got to admit the contributions this guy’s made to cinema are ones we really couldn’t live without (well, I think so anyway). Excellent: 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1966), Week End (1967). The Best: Vivre sa Vie (1962).
Just barely missing the cut for my top ten directors of all time, Herzog’s movies shine in every way. Whether it’s his iconic voice narrating the documentaries or the distinct faces and personalities of actors such as Klaus Kinski and Bruno S. lighting up the screen, there’s really heaps to love about Herzog. Excellent: Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972), The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner (1974), Heart of Glass (1976), Woyzeck (1979), Fitzcarraldo (1982). The Best: Stroszek (1976).
His many words of wisdom regarding cinema are only half as memorable as his stunning movies themselves, each of them standing alone as a powerful work. Excellent: Vertigo (1958), Psycho (1960). The Best: Rear Window (1954).
There’s a scene in Kiarostami’s film Taste of Cherry where the protagonist walks into a construction site where sand is thickening the air. He sees his shadow in the dirt and then sits in silence for a minute or two, the sand ferociously whipping him. This sequence alone is all anyone will ever need to see in a movie to understand true sadness and utter despair. It’s mindblowing. Excellent: Through the Olive Trees (1994), The Wind Will Carry Us (1999), Ten (2002). The Best: Taste of Cherry (1997).
Kurosawa’s magnificent epics defy expectation and blow the mind. Forever he will be known as an incredible filmmaker, and that’s exactly what he is. Excellent: The Seven Samurai (1954), Ran (1985). The Best: Ikiru (1952).
Someone the other day referred to Mike Leigh as ‘the British John Cassavetes’ and I have to say, that description sounds surprisingly apt, if a little strange. Excellent: Naked (1993), Another Year (2010). The Best: Secrets & Lies (1996).
Justification for Leone’s presence on this list? If you really need any, check out the first 15 minutes of Once Upon a Time in the West. Excellent: A Fistful of Dollars (1964), The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1967), Once Upon a Time in America (1984). The Best: Once Upon a Time in the West (1968).
Arguably one of the most interesting American filmmakers in recent history, Richard Linklater’s movies defy expectation and explanation and invite audiences to sit and genuinely feel something, which doesn’t happen in American cinema properly as often as it should. Excellent: Before Sunrise (1995), Tape (2001), Before Sunset (2004). The Best: Waking Life (2001).
Few knew how to make a movie like Lumet, and few will again. What a man. What a director. What an auteur. Excellent: 12 Angry Men (1957), Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007). The Best: Network (1976).
Now here’s an underrated director. Each of the great Louis Malle’s are unique, interesting, and in a completely different genre than the last. Malle made films about everything, and heck if he didn’t do it brilliantly. Excellent: Elevator to the Gallows (1957), Murmur of the Heart (1972), My Dinner with Andre (1980), Au Revoir les Enfants (1987), Damage (1992). The Best: The Fire Within (1963).
Recently deceased but still damn important and interesting to discover, Chris Marker invented and then revolutionized the “essay film” genre and is arguably one of the most interesting, thought-provoking directors to ever have existed. Excellent: La Jetèe (1962), Grin without a Cat (1977). The Best: Sans Soleil (1983).
The most ‘recent’ director on this list, it didn’t take much for Steve McQueen to jump on my list of favourite directors. I saw one of his films and admired him immediately. I saw another and became downright obsessed. Excellent: Shame (2011). The Best: Hunger (2008).
Perhaps a controversial choice, though one I’ll fight to defend. Gaspar Noè (or as me and my girlfriend call him, Gaspar No Way!) has made three stunning, excellent feature films that I admire for their raw energy, power and the effectiveness of their controversial content. Excellent: Carne (1991), Irreversible (2002), Enter the Void (2010). The Best: I Stand Alone (1995).
Auteur, mastermind, film enthusiast and director of loooooong ass movies, Jacques Rivette jumped onto my favourite directors list with one movie and will probably stay there. Excellent: Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974), Va Savoir (2004). The Best: La Belle Noiseuse (1991).
Scorsese. We love him. How is it possible not to? Even when he makes bad movies, they’re still kind of awesome. Don’t deny it, you know they are. Excellent: Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), Casino (1998), The Departed (2006). The Best: Goodfellas (1990).
They don’t call him the next Andrei Tarkovsky without a reason. His style resembles Tarkovsky, but Sokurov is in a realm of excellence all his own. The man is stunning. Excellent: Russian Ark (2002). The Best: Mother and Son (1997).
I haven’t seen Dark Horse yet but I think I’ll like it. I seem to be the only person who really liked Life During Wartime, and I find myself coming to the defense of other Solondz films more than I should have to. The man is more than a provocateur; he’s an inspirational genius. Excellent: Happiness (1998), Palindromes (2006). The Best: Storytelling (2001).
While he’s had his fair share of misses to go with the hits, I cannot deny the man who directed Natural Born Killers a place on this list. That’s one of the best-directed movies I’ve ever seen. Excellent: JFK (1991). The Best: Natural Born Killers (1994).
A twenty-four year career consisting only of seven films, Tarkovsky made all those seven phenomenal. Back in January I did a marathon of all his films (the ones I had seen as well as the ones I hadn’t) and was thoroughly blown away. What a genius. Excellent: Solaris (1972), Mirror (1975), Stalker (1979), Nostalghia (1983). The Best: Andrei Rublev (1966).
More than just Keaton or Chaplin in colour with sound, Jacques Tati was an inspirational and hilarious comedian in a realm of his own. Wonderful, wonderful man. Excellent: Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (1953), Mon Oncle (1959). The Best: Play Time (1967).
A man who consistently made great films and really was the first key staple of the French New Wave, Truffaut always stunned and amazed. Excellent: Shoot the Piano Player (1960), Jules and Jim (1962), Day for Night (1973). The Best: The 400 Blows (1959).
Gus van Sant
More impressive when he stepped out of the mainstream to the more minimalist arthouse genre (where he definitely seems more comfortable), Gus van Sant’s wonderful style, love of offbeat personalities and excellent ability makes all his films feel great. Excellent: Drugstore Cowboy (1989), Good Will Hunting (1998), Last Days (2005). The Best: Gerry (2002).
Lars von Trier
Oh Lars you fucking asshole. How awesome you are. Excellent: Europa (1990), Breaking the Waves (1996), The Idiots (1998), Antichrist (2009). The Best: Dogville (2003).
Can’t exactly say I’m well versed with Welles and his filmography but what I have seen has amazed me. Excellent: Touch of Evil (1958). The Best: Citizen Kane (1941).
Another director from which I’ve only seen one film. Dammit! Still, that one film was orgasmically awesome. The Best: Man with a Movie Camera (1929).
If Fellini was a director of extravagantly empty Italian lives, Visconti was a more low-key but still stunning director of beautifully full ones. Excellent: Le Notti Bianche (1957), Rocco and His Brothers (1960). The Best: The Leopard (1963).
A great director who made a name for himself with astonishing, often daring movies, Billy Wilder both challenged mainstream Hollywood in the 40s and 50s and rode on its wave, directing masterpiece that have ensured his name in the annals of important film history. Excellent: The Lost Weekend (1945), Sunset Blvd (1950), Some Like It Hot (1959), The Apartment (1960). The Best: Ace in the Hole (1952).
Is it just me or do we need a comedy director on here? Perhaps one of the best of them all, Wright’s frenetic directorial style has resulted in two of the funniest movies ever made and one of the best TV shows. Excellent: Hot Fuzz (2007), Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010). The Best: Shaun of the Dead (2004).
After his early retirement Yang fought a battle with sickness and lost, but I will always remember him. Most of his films are cruelly underseen and some stunningly unavailable, but the ones I’ve seen have mesmerized me and won my devotion forever. Excellent: Yi Yi (2000). The Best: A Brighter Summer Day (1991).
The Top Ten
Often regarded as one of American cinema’s most important auteurs, Stanley Kubrick didn’t make a whole lot of movies but the ones he did make were, more often than not, insanely brilliant. He traversed all the genres, from horror to comedy, and rarely slipped up along the way. His manic attention to detail has inspired countless directors since. Excellent: Paths of Glory (1957), Dr. Strangelove (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Barry Lyndon (1975). The Best: Eyes Wide Shut (1999).
To make a judgement about Ozu from one of his films is impossible. All his movies stand together as one collective work, each film complementing all the others in their simplicity and wonder. Movies like Early Summer don’t work as well if you don’t consider them alongside Ozu’s other work. He often told the same story, one of family life in turmoil, only changing the particulars, but it never felt like Ozu was copping out. An Ozu film is difficult to turn off and ridiculous to hate. His movies are about the real lives we all live, each of them one of many episodes telling the tales many of us experience ourselves, of childhood, adulthood, marriage, divorce, and family. Watching an Ozu film is like sinking into a similar-but-different world where one can immediately feel at peace. I adore all his work. Excellent: The Only Son (1936), Late Spring (1949), Floating Weeds (1959), An Autumn Afternoon (1963). The Best: Tokyo Story (1953).
Jim Jarmusch is the most important and wonderful director of the American independent cinema scene. Since the early eighties he has been churning out wondrous indie classics, on varied budgets, and has almost always scored a winner. In fact, there’s not a single film of his I hate, and there are some I love a hell of a lot. I’ve seen all his movies, and they’re warm, comforting and strangely powerful. They pull us in to a new world that seems familiar and invite us on journeys most directors don’t care to create so lovingly. Excellent: Down By Law (1986), Mystery Train (1989), Night on Earth (1991), Dead Man (1995), Broken Flowers (2005), The Limits of Control (2009). The Best: Stranger than Paradise (1984).
Paul Thomas Anderson
Is there an American director whose films I anticipate more than Paul Thomas Anderson? Heck, probably not. He’s made surprisingly few movies, and yet I love all of them. None of them suffer from gaping flaws, all of them are excellent. Even Hard Eight, which I feel is tremendously underrated, ranks up there with the best of them. I can’t wait for The Master. Excellent: Hard Eight (1996), Boogie Nights (1997), Punch-Drunk Love (2002), There Will Be Blood (2007). The Best: Magnolia (1999).
Lynch, man. Fucking LYNCH, man! Excellent: The Alphabet (1968), Eraserhead (1976), Blue Velvet (1986), Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), Lost Highway (1997), The Straight Story (1999), Mulholland Dr. (2001). The Best: Inland Empire (2006).
Buñuel. One of the most daring, controversial and radical of all filmmakers. Nothing was sacred to Buñuel. He targeted everyone. The religious, the upper class, the otherwise flawed… he found something in them that to him, was silly, and made fun of it. And he always, always did it in a way that was original, hilarious, provocative and fucking awesome. No one compares to Buñuel. Excellent: Un Chien Andalou (1929), L’Age D’Or (1930), Los Olvidados (1950), Viridiana (1960), The Exterminating Angel (1962), Simon of the Desert (1965), Belle de Jour (1967), The Phantom of Liberty (1974). The Best: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972).
I could tell you what I think of Bèla Tarr’s movies. But words would be underselling them. Excellent: Almanac of Fall (1985), Damnation (1988), Satantango (1994), The Man from London (2006), The Turin Horse (2012). The Best: Werckmeister Harmonies (2000).
No living director seems to have a better understanding of the world we live in than Michael Haneke. And few directors have ever had the ability to communicate their social message as brilliantly as Haneke does. No, I’m not talking about the gruesome and off-putting Funny Games. That’s one of his least intelligent movies (though I do like it). Haneke’s filmography is literally bursting with greatness. Every feature is stunning. Even the cold, dark and hauntingly sparse ones have an incredible energy and brilliance. No movie is bad. Few are disappointing. All, in my mind, are brilliant statements about the world today that never miss a beat. Excellent: The Seventh Continent (1989), 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994), The Piano Teacher (2001), Cachè (2005), The White Ribbon (2009). The Best: Code Unknown (2000).
Krzysztof Kieslowski directed some of the most beautiful films that have ever been made. He saw the poignancy in real life and translated it beautifully to the screen. His movies deal with real life situations and echo the turmoil of Kieslowski’s home Poland, in a time during which Kieslowski made his earliest films whilst suffering from numerous hurdles and difficulties to overcome. He did so splendidly, and his early films are resounding works of power. However, they were only the beginning. Later in his career he churned out even more impressive and beautiful movies. He died too young, but through his films he lives on. Excellent: Camera Buff (1979), No End (1985), The Double Life of Veronique (1991), Three Colours: Blue (1993), Three Colours: White (1993), Three Colours: Red (1994). The Best: The Decalogue (1988).
And here it is. The big number one. The boss of them all. The king. Ernst Ingmar Bergman, who directed more than sixty films. Of the 44 feature films that are actually available, I have seen 40. I guess you could say I’m obsessed. That would be putting it lightly. Since March of last year, when I first discovered the man after several studious recommendations from John at The Droid You’re Looking For, I have obsessively tracked down as many films as possible from the director as well as studying his life and career through various writings, books and documentaries (including the revelatory Bergman Island, included on The Seventh Seal Criterion release). What have I gathered from all this? Well, simply put, that Bergman is the greatest filmmaker who has ever lived, and one of my favourite people in the entire world. In interviews he seems so calm, well-informed and knowledgeable about film, as well as having an acute, powerful memory and a mesmerizing way of articulating his thoughts into words and – by extention – films. He has made a few rotten apples – let’s not even talk about All These Women, Crisis and The Serpent’s Egg – but for the most part the number of absolutely perfect films the director has created is astonishing. I’ve given fourteen of his movies 10/10 ratings and glowing reviews, and to see them for the first, second, third or whatever time is to delve into his deep, personal world of wonder and contemplation. I’m not religious, but if I were, Bergman would be my deity. He is one of the finest human beings to have ever walked this Earth. And that is the truth. I will list some of his most excellent films, but I refuse to pick his best. Excellent: The Seventh Seal (1957), Wild Strawberries (1957), Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Winter Light (1962), The Silence (1963), Persona (1966), Cries and Whispers (1972), Scenes from a Marriage (1973), The Magic Flute (1974), Autumn Sonata (1978), Fanny and Alexander (1982).
So… what do you think of the list?