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The Greatest American Director Working Today


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#1 of 115 OFFLINE   Ernest Rister

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Posted June 04 2004 - 07:26 PM

WHO, IN YOUR OPINION, IS THE GREATEST AMERICAN DIRECTOR WORKING TODAY?

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I'm going to go way out on a limb here, but I think Clint Eastwood is the greatest American director working today. I suppose I make this claim because he doesn't put himself between his camera and his subject, he doesn't need to worry about placing his "personal stamp" on his films in a visual sense - his personal authority comes through in the material and themes he chooses to tackle. Restraint is his hallmark -- not hellzapoppin camera moves, or pretentious attempts at auteurist gimmickry. If Scorsese is on one side of the spectrum, trying to invent new ways to expand film language, Eastwood is absolutely on the other, using the existing language of film to probe honestly into the American experience, without auteurist distraction. Flaubert once said, "An author in his work must be like God in the universe - present everywhere, visible nowhere". That's Eastwood, and I love him for it.

I so admire his work, especially his quirky personal films, like Bronco Billy and Honkytonk Man. I think A Perfect World is one of the most underappreciated movies in recent memory (as well as the film that contains Kevin Costner's best work on screen), and yes - I'll even admit admiration for Bridges of Madison County, a beautiful, gentle tragedy. I don't think his performance in his White Hunter, Black Heart worked for me when I saw it back in 1990 or so, but even then I admired his bravery to try such a large character piece, and I liked the film. Outlaw Josey Wales, Play Misty for Me, Perfect World, Honkytonk Man, Bird, Unforgiven, Mystic River -- it's an incredible body of work, one that any young film student would do well to study.

So that's my choice. I also admire Mike Nichols for his quiet profesionalism, and Martin Scorsese for opposite reasons -- I admire Scorsese because he has the nerve to make "Scorsese films" in the first place.

Spielberg is a neo-classicist, a modern craftsman that transcends Alfred Hitchcock and Walt Disney when he's working on all cylinders (like the spider sequence of Minority Report).

The 90's have been littered with Scorsese wannnabes with loud mouths and post-modern body counts -- I don't need to lost their names, you know who I'm talking about.

What I miss are the John Fords, the pros like Robert Wise...I also miss the ability for films to be quiet. Perhaps that's why I refuse to pan Robert Zemeckis as a director, because his Contact and Cast Away are two of the best directed modern films I've ever seen, not just visually, but sonically. Those who make the most nise get the most attention...but the most seen does not mean the most deserving.

There are other great American directors (Coppola - Francis, anyway), but Eastwood is my pick for #1.

Yours?

#2 of 115 OFFLINE   Max Leung

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Posted June 04 2004 - 07:48 PM

I would go with Spielberg...Schlinder's List, Indian Jones, A.I. (how many other directors create a "flawed masterpiece"?), Jaws, The Color Purple. An amazing body of work in virtually every film genre - SF, fantasy, drama, mystery, suspense...just incredible! Now if only he did comedy (errr...I don't consider 1941 very successful on that count) and romance...oh well. Nobody is perfect. Posted Image

To be fair...maybe it is his collaboration with Janus Kaminski that makes his work so compelling. These guys might as well be joined at the hip.

I will have to watch more Eastwood movies. I have a hunch that you may be right...Eastwood is solid. Not a one-trick pony for sure.
Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him...a super-callused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.

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#3 of 115 OFFLINE   Eric.

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Posted June 04 2004 - 08:06 PM

I would give my vote to Martin Scorsese .I would base this on Raging Bull alone,everything he has done after that has been an added bonus.I firmly believe that RB was the most criminally overlooked movie in history at the time of it's release.It stands today still better than most of the stuff being released with all the bells,whistles and hype.

#4 of 115 OFFLINE   Ernest Rister

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Posted June 04 2004 - 08:16 PM

Spielberg is freakishly talented - he knows the language of film the way Mozart knew the piano. The story of Spielberg has yet to be written (amazingly enough). As Dreyfuss said at the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony for Spielberg, Spielberg was receiving a lifetime achievement award while still in his 40's, which means, he's going to receive two lifetime achievement awards.

The AFI award was in 1993 -- look at Spielberg's work since 1993. Amazing. It just proves to me that Spielberg's talent has yet to really flesh itself out - I truly think his best films are ahead of him.

Eastwood, on the other hand, is at the top of his game -- Mystic River is likely to be his Mary Poppins - a culmination of all the films Eastwood had made before. Female obssession, crime drama, personal ambiiton, recrimination, the unending chain of violence, the tragedy of self-loathing, the failure of redemption, self destruction, self destruction, self destruction....and hope.

Eastwood is the greatest American director working today, because all of his films are about the American character, from Parker to Wales to Munny to Kincaid. Spielberg works on a more universal plane. Eastwood's feet are dirty with American dust.

#5 of 115 OFFLINE   Ernest Rister

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Posted June 04 2004 - 08:27 PM

Raging Bull is indeed a work of art, maybe the best film of the 80's...but I think Ordinary People gets a bad rap because the Academy made the wrong choice (as usual). Ordinary People is a wonderful film - and here is where I get into trouble - I think Good Will Hunting is a pale imitation of Ordinary People, in fact, Ordinary People is ten times the film that Good Will Hunting is...because it is so painfully honest. Good Lord - the scene where Donald Sutherland realizes his wife has no love for their surviving son, and he tells her? There's nothing in Good Will that comes close to that kind of immediate tragedy.

So Ordinary People gets a bad rap - it is an outstanding film. It's not Redford's fault it beat Raging Bull...blame the AMPAS, who seems to make a tradition of picking the wrong film year after year after year...

#6 of 115 OFFLINE   Adam_S

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Posted June 04 2004 - 08:55 PM

Spielberg is what I immediately thought, but as for representing america, I'd have to say the Coens have the best grasp. They never let themselves get nasty in a depiction and they know just how to accent a subculture of americana to get the most humour out of it.

I've not seen allof Cameron Crowe's work, but Almost Famous/Untitled puts him on the list, in my opinion (and yes I loved Vanilla Sky and I've not seen the spanish film but he made that distinctly American as well).

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#7 of 115 OFFLINE   george kaplan

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Posted June 05 2004 - 12:09 AM

Maybe Speilberg, maybe Woody Allen, but I think I'd actually give the vote to John Lassiter.
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#8 of 115 OFFLINE   Haggai

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Posted June 05 2004 - 02:21 AM

I guess I'll go with Scorsese. It's been a while since he's made a really great movie, but he's had very few mis-fires over his long career, and his highest level work--Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and I guess I'd include Mean Streets on the outskirts there as well--is basically untouchable. I don't think anybody else working today has reached those heights, and not many directors in history ever have either.

Speilberg is certainly up there as well. And hey, somebody's gotta get on Ernest's bad side here:

Quote:
The 90's have been littered with Scorsese wannnabes with loud mouths and post-modern body counts -- I don't need to lost their names, you know who I'm talking about.


Heh, let me take a wild guess. An obvious candidate is, in fact, my favorite director working today: Tarantino. Five movies, all of them at a remarkably high level, with more versatility than he usually gets credit for.

#9 of 115 OFFLINE   Haggai

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Posted June 05 2004 - 02:23 AM

By the way, George--who?

#10 of 115 OFFLINE   Ernest Rister

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Posted June 05 2004 - 02:36 AM

"Heh, let me take a wild guess. An obvious candidate is, in fact, my favorite director working today: Tarantino."

Nope - I thnk Tarantino is a unique American director, but again, one at the start of his journey. Its the Tarantino wanna-bes and the Scorsese crib artists I'm referring to. All style. All lighting. All flash. Zero substance in their camerawork. Not going to say the people I'm referring to as it would lead to a revolt - but Tarantino is not one of them.

#11 of 115 OFFLINE   Jim_K

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Posted June 05 2004 - 02:39 AM

These are the film-makers that garner the most interest from me whenever their name is attached to a project.

Top 3 Greatest

Martin Scorsese - though his last few films were misfires they're always interesting to say the least.

Steven Spielberg - the master showman. nuff said.

Quentin Tarantino - His mastery over the film medium speaks for itself no matter what his "critics" have to say. Has the balls to stick with what interests him the most without bending over to please the elitists. Bravo Posted Image

As for Eastwood, his more recent work (haven't seen Mystic River yet) has ranged from Brilliant/excellent (Unforgiven, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, White Hunter Black Heart, etc.) to average/mediocre (Blood Work, Space Cowboys, True Crime, Absolute Power, Perfect World) to piss poor (Rookie). Hard to proclaim him the "Greatest American Director" though I admire his work when it's on track.


I have plenty of other favorite American Directors but this thread is only about Greatest so there it is.


There are plenty of other American Directors that I admire their past work but have seem to have "lost their way" i.e. Coppola, Stone, etc.
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#12 of 115 OFFLINE   Ernest Rister

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Posted June 05 2004 - 02:48 AM

You're working on the last ten years - if you're going to rate Eastwood's work, try going back to the 70's. If we went back ten years in Spielberg's career we'd be starting with one of his worst films of all time - The Lost World: Jurassic Park.

#13 of 115 OFFLINE   Haggai

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Posted June 05 2004 - 02:59 AM

Glad we're not locking horns over Tarantino, Ernest. And I guess you don't want to sidetrack the thread by talking about directors you don't like, but I'm sure we can handle the potential of a revolt if it comes to that!

#14 of 115 OFFLINE   Jim_K

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Posted June 05 2004 - 03:06 AM

well The Lost World is a guilty pleasure for me so his worst film would be either Hook or 1941, though I know the later film has a cult following here for some odd reason. Posted Image

Going back further with Eastwood produces better results (Play Misty For Me, High Plains Drifter, Outlaw Josey Wales) & some films I liked but wouldn't consider great achievements in the least (Heartbreak Ridge, Pale Rider, Sudden Impact, Firefox, Gauntlet)

I've seen Bird but remember little about it for some reason. Honkytonk Man & Bronco Billy are also very dim in my memory banks, probably should watch these again.

The Eiger Sanction was a dud.

It's hard to ignore those mediocre films of the past 10 years or so. Though Perfect World was admittedly better than average.
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#15 of 115 OFFLINE   george kaplan

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Posted June 05 2004 - 03:19 AM

By the way, George--who?
John Lasseter. He's directed only 3 films (he's currently directing a fourth). All three are great films, including 2 that are amongst the greatest 25 films ever made in my opinion.
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#16 of 115 OFFLINE   Haggai

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Posted June 05 2004 - 03:24 AM

Ah, the Toy Story/Bug's Life guy, I finally looked him up successfully on IMDB. I should have known who directed those movies to begin with.

#17 of 115 OFFLINE   Ernest Rister

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Posted June 05 2004 - 03:30 AM

"And I guess you don't want to sidetrack the thread by talking about directors you don't like, but I'm sure we can handle the potential of a revolt if it comes to that!"

There are few directors I don't "like", but there are many films whose direction I question. Does that make sense? I don't personalize these issues - I try to speak about film craft from an objective standpoint. I would refrain from saying "I don't like David Fincher" and would say "I think the camera-through-the-toaster shot in Panic Room was a pointless bit of directorial hubris".

#18 of 115 OFFLINE   Haggai

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Posted June 05 2004 - 03:47 AM

Yeah, Ernest, I see what you mean.

#19 of 115 OFFLINE   Mike Broadman

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Posted June 05 2004 - 05:46 AM

I would say Scorsese- his best films are, IMO, the greatest in and since the 70s. Just Taxi Driver alone would land him in the hall of fame, but then he came back with Goodfellas to create such an iconic film. He also gets extra credit in my book for making a beautiful concert film out of The Band's last concert.

Two more directors not mentioned that I think should be at the top:

At the risk or stirring the pot too much, I would say Spike Lee is up there. Yes, some of his films are weak (so are some of the others by directors mentioned here). But Jungle Fever and especially Do the Right Thing updated the way race, economics, and society are addressed in film, something that was desperately needed. While the technique was crude, it became highly influencial in bringing some "street" feel to film that came afterwards.
But then he showed his highly developed technique in the greatest biopic film I've ever seen- X, a surprisingly balanced, engaging, and yes, educational film.
His last feature, 25th Hour, sees him successfully trying his hand at "mainstream" but still keeping his style, creating a truly compelling work.

Ridley Scott- the quality and diversity of his work speaks for itself. Classic sci-fi (Alien, Blade Runner), wonderful war film (Black Hawk Down), ancient epic (Gladiator), empowering chick flick (Thelma & Louis), all done with taste and elegance.

#20 of 115 OFFLINE   JonZ

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Posted June 05 2004 - 06:02 AM

My favorites in the past 2 decades have been:
Scorsese (Raging Bull, Goodfellas)
Speilberg(SL and SPR)
Oliver Stone(Platoon, JFK, Nixon,Everything except U Turn)
Joel Coen(Except the horrible Intolerable Cruelty)