The greatest directors in Hollywood (part two)

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Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese. Photo: Warner Bros

In response to the outcry at Edgar Wright’s departure from Marvel’s Ant Man, we began our list of the twenty greatest directors in Hollywood. Click here for entries 11-20, and read on for the top ten.    

10. Guillermo Del Toro

From the kaiju and jaegers of Pacific Rim (showing Michael Bay how to film a good mech fight), to the creatures of Hellboy, the twisted mind of Guillermo Del Toro has given cinema some of the most imaginative, terrifying monsters of all time. Pan’s Labyrinth‘s fantasy realm serves as an allegory for a period during the Spanish Civil War, resulting in a visually arresting, emotionally stirring masterpiece that exposes the effects of the traumatic events on a little girl’s psyche. The nail-biting chase scene set at a mythical dinner table has to be seen to be believed.

9. James Cameron

Photo: Sony Pictures
Photo: Sony Pictures

The third and final director on this list to be linked with the Alien franchise (sorry Paul W.S. Anderson…), James Cameron took Ridley Scott’s tense sci-fi horror, upped the ante and turned it into one of the best action movies ever made in Aliens. Not content with immortalising one Feminist icon with Ellen Ripley, Cameron also created Sarah Connor, the heroine of the Terminator franchise. Featuring mind-blowing time travel paradoxes, a menacing, break-out performance from Arnold Schwarzenegger, and special effects that still hold up to this day, the first two Terminator films are a high watermark for blockbuster cinema. Cameron’s film releases have become less frequent as of late, but despite criticism for the clichéd storylines in Titanic and Avatar, the director still managed to push the boundaries of cinematic FX in both, with the latter in particular creating a fully realised fantasy world never before realised onscreen.

8. Wes Anderson

The viewer can tell that a film is by Wes Anderson from just the first few frames – bird’s-eye-view shots, side-scrolling through ornately-designed locations, a British invasion soundtrack, an eclectic cast, occasional stop-motion animation, and staccato dialogue delivery all make his films recognisable, charming, and fun. Beneath the quirky surfaces are often thoughtful meditations on death and the transience of life’s great moments (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Grand Budapest Hotel), whilst Rushmore and Moonrise Kingdom are possibly the definitive coming of age films of this generation.

  7. Brad Bird

Photo: Warner Bros
Photo: Warner Bros

Every Pixar film from 1995-2010 is a masterpiece, but viewers are unlikely to be able to tell a Peter Docter effort from a John Lasseter one. Brad Bird is the exception to this, bringing to The Incredibles and Ratatouille a slick, Futurist visual style, along with a combination of razor sharp satire and affectionate humour. His first foray into live action, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, is one of the most riotously fun, breathlessly exciting popcorn flicks of recent years, continuing the trend where every MI sequel actually improves on the last one. The jewel in his career crown is surely the criminally underrated The Iron Giant, updating Ted Hughes’ novel to a Cold War setting, with breathtaking hand drawn animation, and staggering emotional depth.

6. Christopher Nolan

The world’s most consistent and inventive director of mainstream blockbusters, Christopher Nolan has not yet made a bad film. His works are never less than mind-bending – from Memento, which tells its entire film noir mystery backwards, to Inception’s famous dream within a dream concept – yet they are made with such style and craftsmanship as to be accessible and popular with mass audiences. The Dark Knight trilogy is unsurpassed by any other superhero franchise – three crime dramas that explore the character of Batman in an unprecedented depth, and introduce iconic villains, peaking with Heath Ledger’s Joker, that almost succeed in wiping the memory of all previous iterations of the characters.

5. Quentin Tarantino

Photo: Miramax
Photo: Miramax

Quentin Tarantino directs some of the coolest films ever made, each movie proving endlessly quotable, with characters who define the term ‘badass’. The majority of his output features a wronged character enacting ‘great vengeance and furious anger’ upon their oppressors, and what follows is 1½ to 3 hours of crackling, pop-culture saturated dialogue, electrifying performances and sharp bursts of bloody violence, all punctuated by the liberal employment of pop, rock and soul music. Who can forget the gruesome ear-slicing scene in Reservoir Dogs, Jules and Vince’s ‘Royale with cheese’ conversation in Pulp Fiction, the Bride’s climactic fight with the Crazy 88 in Kill Bill Volume 1, the ‘face of Jewish vengeance’ in Inglorious Basterds, or Django Unchained’s intense dinner scene erupting into the mother of all shootouts? Tarantino can also be thanked for making stars out of the likes of Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman and Christoph Waltz, as well as resurrecting the careers of John Travolta and countless others.

4. Woody Allen

His personal reputation may be tarnished by scandal, and his post-‘90s output is decidedly shaky, but Woody Allen’s impact on the film industry is impossible to ignore. The ‘70s saw the era of his sublime farces, which surprisingly and delightfully hold up to this day. The greatest of these, Love and Death, manages to work as a silly, Chaplin-esque slapstick comedy, a vehicle for Allen’s never-ending stream of sharp one-liners, and a satire of Russian literature and history. 1977’s Oscar-winning Annie Hall is a timeless examination of the nature and anguish of human relationships, and despite its frequent comic digressions marked a turn towards more serious, philosophical filmmaking that continued throughout the next decade or so, in works like Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors and Husbands and Wives. Allen has extracted career-best performances from his muses including Diane Keaton, Mia Farrow and Cate Blanchett, and when appearing onscreen himself, defined the public conception of the neurotic Jewish stereotype.

3. The Coen Brothers

Photo: Working Title
Photo: Working Title

Not one Jewish philosopher comedian for this entry, but two. The finest purveyors of thoughtful, layered filmmaking working today, the Coen Brothers take different genres of film, from modern western (Blood Simple, No Country For Old Men), to road runner-esque farce (Raising Arizona), gangster (Miller’s Crossing), murder mystery (Fargo) and spy comedy (Burn After Reading), and apply their own unique style. Often eschewing traditional narrative movement, the directing duo create wonderful, quirky characters and seem to let situations involving them emerge organically. Every film has its own tone that is both distinctive and recognisably Coen Brothers, from the screwball misadventures of Jeff Bridges’ ‘The Dude’ in The Big Lebowski, to the melancholic wanderings of Oscar Isaac’s eponymous 1960s folk musician in Inside Llewyn Davis.

2. Steven Spielberg

Just when arthouse fans thought it was safe to go back to the cinema, Steven Spielberg unleashed Jaws in 1975, singlehandedly inventing the blockbuster, and changing the silver screen as we know it forever.

Photo: Universal
Photo: Universal

The acknowledged ‘big four’ of family entertainment – JawsRaiders of the Lost ArkE.T., and Jurassic Park – are film’s definitive escapist spectacles, yet all touch subtly on universal themes that explain their timelessness and appeal to all ages, from E.T.’s depiction of loneliness and friendship, to Jurassic Park’s exploration of the idea that ‘life finds a way’. Spielberg’s ventures into more serious territory have proven equally triumphant – Schindler’s List is, documentaries like Shoah aside, the most powerful rendition of the Holocaust ever committed to screen. Particularly noteworthy are the scenes at Auschwitz, and a certain moment where Spielberg’s camera follows a girl in a red coat to her death, drive home distressingly the indescribable human loss that the Final Solution entailed. Saving Private Ryan returned to the WWII setting, filming battle scenes in a way that every war film since has strived to emulate, whilst stunning biopic Lincoln proved that the director still retains the power to captivate audiences in the fourth decade of his mainstream career.

1. Martin Scorsese

Photo: Columbia
Photo: Columbia

From the moment Robert De Niro’s Johnny Boy entered the red-lit bar to the tune of ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ in 1973’s Mean Streets, Martin Scorsese has ruled over the Hollywood landscape. Shocking and brutal character study Taxi Driver laid bare the mind of a psychopath, and captured the alienated American psyche post-Vietnam. With Raging Bull Scorsese filmed boxing violence to look beautiful, and took the immensely unlikeable figure of Jake La Motta and fashioned him as a tragic hero. Goodfellas revolutionised modern filmmaking – hundreds of fast-paced sequences were voiced over with nearly three hours of narration and a rocking soundtrack, turning a movie into a music video, albeit one with great depth and captivating performances by its stars. The Departed won Scorsese his long overdue first Oscar, with an intriguing and complex story showcasing the skills of Leonardo DiCaprio, his second most frequent collaborator after De Niro. Shutter Island was a woefully under-appreciated psychological horror with a flooring twist, and The Wolf of Wall Street returned to Goodfellas and Casino territory with its fantastic exposé of the excesses and corruption endemic in the heart of the world’s financial centre.

Martin Scorsese is the essential director for any serious film fan, creating unmissable films of our time, but which will endure for all time.

Disagree with the entries on this list, or think anyone has been unfairly missed out? Write in the comments section below. 

One thought on “The greatest directors in Hollywood (part two)

  • For future reference:
    Actors of fully Jewish background: -Logan Lerman,
    Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mila Kunis, Natalie Portman, Bar Refaeli, James Wolk,
    Julian Morris, Esti Ginzburg, Kat Dennings, Erin Heatherton, Odeya Rush, Anton Yelchin, Paul Rudd, Scott Mechlowicz, Lizzy Caplan, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Gal Gadot, Robert Kazinsky, Melanie Laurent, Marla Sokoloff, Shiri Appleby, Justin Bartha, Adam Brody, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Gabriel Macht, Halston Sage.

    Actors with Jewish mothers and non-Jewish fathers -Jake Gyllenhaal, James
    Franco, Scarlett Johansson, Daniel Radcliffe, Alison Brie, Eva Green, Emmy
    Rossum, Jennifer Connelly, Eric Dane, Jeremy Jordan, Joel Kinnaman.

    Actors with Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers, who themselves were either
    raised as Jews and/or identify as Jews: -Andrew Garfield, Ezra Miller, Alexa
    Davalos, Nat Wolff, James Maslow, Josh Bowman, Ben Foster, Nikki Reed, Zac Efron.

    Actors with one Jewish-born parent and one parent who converted to Judaism
    -Dianna Agron, Sara Paxton (whose father converted, not her mother), Alicia
    Silverstone, Jamie-Lynn Sigler.

    Reply

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