Wednesday, February 20, 2013

My 100 Favorite Directors - UPDATED!

White Men Can't Jump, But Women Can Make Movies

      Tangential thoughts should never be the subject of a blogpost's title, garnering a spotlight that for such cognitive foibles is unbecoming. How dare they project their dubious presence in a textual world greater than that supplied by 12 font, max. But inspiration strikes us in abnormal ways. Our minds tend to process that abnormality through some sort of systematic deconstruction. What materializes is an idea, an insight, some measure of understanding that our discordant and chaotic synapses illuminate. Yes. I realize the caption, which I suspect has fueled your impetus to continue reading, suggests a relationship between two extreme phenomena; phenomena that is purely meant to be jarring because of its bizarre juxtaposition. But hyperbole is a valuable tool of provocation. Strange observations trigger strange curiosities, and, according to the logic immortalized in Tarantino's Django Unchained, if your curiosity is piqued, your attention will surely follow.
      Now that I've managed to string together a succession of seemingly random thoughts (randomness rules the blogosphere, right!?), deforming the utility of a proper introduction in the process, it is imperative to identify why I've made some additions in my ongoing "Favorite Filmmakers" series. A series that began modestly, serving only to encapsulate my 100 favorite directors has now ballooned to 170. Wow! 
      One thing I've learned in my nascent blogging career is that lists invariably take on lives of their own. The notion of ten is a creative albatross. The scriptures become irrelevant. Mythologizing ten no longer suffices and its apparent cachet is dwarfed by the potential discoveries underlying more encompassing affairs; like bests of 100, 111, 154, 170! To what lengths these lists grow, though, is a complete and utter mystery. But the journey to that point, if film has ensnared your romantic impulses as feverishly as it has mine, is exhilarating. 
      The genesis of this edition is in no small part owed to the accommodating spirit of Melissa Bradley, bastion of femininity, goddess of charity, curator of wit, and owner of Melissa's Imaginarium. She deserves the lion's share of credit for encouraging me, in measures both relentless and heartfelt, to seek out the substantial work of many gifted female directors, with whom to an uncultured point prior I woefully neglected. Because of her tenacity seven new terrific women directors now occupy a spot in my "Favorite Filmmakers List," joining the brilliant Chantal Akerman. And while five percent representation is meager, nothing to write home about, it does signal, perhaps, a more egalitarian actualization of the standards required to achieve prominence in filmmaking. 
      Most of the noted publications that I consulted in my fervent pursuit of these essential filmmakers were the result of careful research, and sadly among those noted publications, women were almost unanimously overlooked. The popular They Shoot The Pictures website, for instance, only recognized 6 women in its celebration of the Top 250 directors. So, while I'm far from rectifying the egregious imbalance, I'm not quite as prohibitive as TSTP, which essentially functions as a quantitative breakdown culled from the myriad lists that circulate the Interwebs. It's not their fault, either. The resulting calculus, as you can see, is pretty unsettling. And it needs to change. 
      One woman who is almost destined to grace a future incarnation is the burgeoning talent, Samira Makhmalbaf, who has at the tender age of 33 already demonstrated an almost preternatural command of cinematic language. But the movement towards stark equality, and not some timid cosmetic artifice designed to acquiesce the comfortable cultural masses, is essential if film is to evolve to the point where it has become a truly representative artistic medium. And by film of course I'm referring to the robust stewardship afforded to a director whose work harnesses the medium's real expressive power. 
      Though film is a collaborative process, exemplifying the creative competencies of extraordinarily diverse professionals, the director is the key figure. He or she imbues the final product with his or her vision. Unless, as circumstances often dictate, certain directors have proven incapable of solidifying the multitudinous components into a cohesive whole, or distilling their proclivities of passion into a tangibly coherent narrative, or calibrating the film's spiritual essence into something visually palatable. Or perhaps it's just a case of obscene producer interference. I guess the one certainty that underlines film production is there's always someone else to blame. But I'm of the ardent belief that forging the artistic merits of a film or concocting its entertainment value is the director's chief responsibility. The bulk of blame or praise that follows is mostly theirs to absorb. 
      Without further ado, my 16 newest additions are awaiting your feedback.
      *Also, here's my initial post of "My 100 Favorite Directors"
      **Here's my first updated post of "These Go To 11 Favorite Directors" (i.e. #s 101-111)
      ***And here's my last updated post of "My 100 Favorite Directors" (#s 112-154)

      P.S. I really need to consider consolidating all of these posts. A gigantic, orgiastic collection that houses all my favorite directors may be the logical course of action...

Agnès Varda
La Pointe Courte, Cleo from 5-7, Le bonheur, Vagabond

Claire Denis

Beau travail, The Intruder, 35 Shots of Rum, White Material

Edwin S. Porter

Life of An American Fireman, The Great Train Robbery, Jack and the Beanstalk, Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend

Gaspar Noé
Carne, I Stand Alone, Irreversible, Enter the Void

Georges Méliès
A Trip to the Moon, An Impossible Voyage, Infernal Cake Walk, The Eclipse, Black Imp

Jane Campion
An Angel at My Table, The Piano, The Portrait of a Lady, Bright Star

Jonathan Demme
Melvin and Howard, Stop Making Sense, Swimming to Cambodia, Something Wild, Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia, Neil Young: Heart of Gold

Kathryn Bigelow
Kathryn Bigelow Picture
Point Break, Strange Days, The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty

Leni Riefenstahl

The Blue Light, Triumph of the Will, Olympia: Part I - Festival of Nations, Olympia: Part II - Festival of Beauty 

Lynne Ramsay
Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar, We Need To Talk About Kevin, Swimmer

Maya Deren
The Witch's Cradle, Meshes of the Afternoon, At Land, A Study in Choreography for Camera, Ritual in Transfigured Time

Richard Brooks
Richard Brooks Picture
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Elmer Gantry, In Cold Blood, The Professionals

Sergei Parajanov
Sergei Parajanov Picture
Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, The Color of Pomegranates, The Legend of Suram Fortress, Ashik Kerib

Stan Brakhage
By Brakhage: An Anthology, Volume One (consists of over 36 shorts)

Stanley Donen

On The Town, Singin' in the Rain, Charade, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Stephen Frears
Stephen Frears Picture
The Hit, The Grifters, High Fidelity, The Queen 


  1. The best addendum list post yet! Great directors aplenty, and some of them absolutely essential! I'm also applauding wildly the distaff entries - terrific filmmakers - and all the more satisfying as additions to this list as you had to (unfairly) work a bit harder to track them down. At some point - if you keep this post series going and keep the new entries falling on both sides of the gender lines - THIS BLOG will become one of the references for the next blogger who wants to research some talented directors and watch their filmic output. Kudos all the way there and back for this one Matty!

    1. Thanks so much, Craig. I can't begin to sufficiently express how pleased I am to read your encouragement. I started this series because I wanted to illuminate the directors who had an important influence on me. Many of these directors were instrumental in nurturing my relationship with film as it has grown more substantial. If a direct consequence of this is that it steers budding film enthusiasts into lesser traveled directions as they embrace and explore the history and culture of film, then for me it's a job well-done. I'll pat myself on the back. Nothing would bring me a greater smile.

  2. That will make Melissa very happy!
    Georges Méliès was a good addition. After seeinig Hugo, I'm amazed what he did with so little. All in the ambition.

    1. Hi, Alex!

      It's funny. I had the same reaction after watching Hugo. Méliès was a true pioneer. He deserved more public recognition. Scorsese and Kingsley gave him just that: a beautiful, heartfelt homage for us future generations to absorb and embrace. And to say thanks.

  3. I cannot even begin to tell you how happy this list makes me. And the amazing shout out just brightened my night. Thank you very much, my friend. In spite of my chiding, I have never encountered a more enthusiastic or open-minded approach to film. You bring a breath of fresh air to the world of cinema studies and I always walk away from your blog feeling a little smarter about film. I agree wholeheartedly with Craig's above comments and will recommend that my nephew, an aspiring filmmaker, read many of your posts.

    The women on this list are tremendous. I have long been an admirer of Campion, Bigelow and Ramsay. I must admit I am shamefully ignorant of the work of Samira Makhmalbaf and will have to correct that immediately. I've learned something new as usual when I come here.

    Bravo, Matt! An incredible list that will continue to grow, adding more female directors in future for sure.

    1. Music to my ears, Melissa. Music to my ears :)

      I could not possibly take sole credit for the construction of this list. Your relentless prodding, all in good fun, was indispensable. Without your influence, the breakdown would perhaps grow more disturbingly imbalanced. So, once again, thank you!

      If I could convert your positivity into currency, I'd be the richest man in the world. I really can't express my gratitude without approaching brazen sentimentality, but it has to be said. I am truly grateful to have met the likes of you in the blogosphere and I can't convey this appreciation enough. It's people like you who make reading comments sections, despite their deservedly suspect reputation, an absolute pleasure.

  4. I saw Claire Denis's "White Material" last Summer (or Fall, maybe) and it was an interesting movie. One of my film festival buddies recommended it to me because he was annoyed that so many other movies like Alex and the Chipmunks get so much buzz and make a killing at the box office, yet, movies like White Material doesn't get as much play in theaters, etc.

    I've been meaning to see "We Need to Talk About Kevin" after reading good things about it for months. I like the Duplass brothers, which led me to finding out about this movie. My editor highly recommends it...he said its really good, so I look forward to watching it when I send The Raven and Source Code back to Blockbuster.


    1. Hi, Nicole,

      I share the sympathies of your film festival friend. It's disheartening when you realize how myopic the business interests of Hollywood are and how art suffers as a result. But unfortunately, if Alex and the Chipmunks are what the people demand, that is what they shall receive. Hollywood is first and foremost a business. It is a shame, though, because film is at its best when it serves the functions of art. White Material is an extraordinary visual, almost poetic experience. It frustrates because it doesn't pretend to have all the answers. Interpretations are meant to vary drastically because Denis refuses to succumb to mechanical plot contrivances.

      We Need to Talk About Kevin is my favorite Ramsay film. Aside from the terrific performances, especially Tilda Swinton's, the film has a real deliberate pacing, which is free of both artifice and the non-essential. What survives the editing room is the film's essence. A chilling, suspenseful tone is sustained. Ramsay demonstrates tremendous discipline and insight for visual economy.

      Thanks for stopping by :)

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