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thoughts on film makers
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soopageek
Mike Nichols
There are few film makers in Hollywood with careers as depressing to watch unravel as Mike Nichols. His career as a director began with such promise with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 1966, followed by The Graduate in '67 and a few years later, the wonderful Catch-22 in '70. After that, he seemed to become the go-to guy for big budget films chomping at the bit for an Oscar nod. He struck gold with Silkwood in '83, but after that it was all downhill. The cute but problematic Working Girl, the cloying Regarding Henry, and the embarrassing Postcards From The Edge. The Birdcage was funny but uneven and more recently, Closer was just plain awful.

Robert Altman
I won't pretend that I've made it all the way through Altman's long list of film achievement, but I do have my bases covered on a lot the high points. It's safe to say I have a love/hate relationship with Altman films. On the one hand, his peculiar style, especially with respect to dialog was groundbreaking. Between the improvisation and the intentional use of overlapping conversation, the really good Altman film welcomes second and third viewings. On the other hand, it's this very style which makes his films difficult for a lot of moviegoers to tolerate, especially since the plot and character development is moved almost entirely through dialog and not action. Most all Altman films examine institutions: MASH (war, western medicine), Short Cuts (Los Angeles culture), The Player (Hollywood), Gosford Park (the Victorian British class system and Victorian murder mysteries), and Nashville (country music industry) are all good examples of the Altman style. Oddly though, my favorite is 1973's The Long Goodbye which breaks from these usual trappings and tells a good old-fashioned private eye story with a wise-cracking Elliot Gould in the lead role.

Jim Jarmusch
I don't get what people find so appealing about Jarmusch movies. Coffee and Cigarettes had its moments but as a whole was pretty boring. Broken Flowers was tedious to watch and I couldn't even make it all the way through Down By Law before turning it off in frustration. A big part of it is the snail's pacing of his movies, but also just that he's not very adept at moving the story without dialog, something which he attempts to do with frequency and fails miserably at it. There are often long periods without dialog where the viewer is expected to rely solely on the unspoken acting of his actors under his direction or the scenery/set under his direction, neither of which he seems able to do very well. I've gotten to a point that Jarmusch is dead to me. It will take a LOT of good things said by people I respect for me to watch any more of his garbage.

Billy Wilder
Whether as the screenplay writer, the director, or both, few could argue Wilder's impact on film-making. If I was pressed to list my top five film makers, he'd be there. He won Best Picture/Best Director Oscars for The Apartment in 1960 and won several other Oscars for screenplay and director in his career. He's responsible for giving us pop culture touchstones like Marilyn Monroe on the subway grate in The Seven Year Itch and the line "All right Mr. DeMille. I'm ready for my closeup" from Sunset Blvd.. The list of classic films he was behind just goes on and on: Some Like It Hot, Sabrina, Stalag 17, Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend, and A Foreign Affair. He even lent uncredited writing help to films such as Casino Royale and the original Ocean's Eleven. If your experience with older films is limited and you've never seen a Wilder film, you're really missing out on one of the greats of the industry.

David Fincher
Catch me in the right mood, and I'll argue that Fincher is the single most influential director of the last quarter century, and he did it with a single movie. He cut is teeth in the burgeoning CG effects side of the industry in the early 90s and used his powers to change not only the way CG is used, but the way people direct movies. At the time of its inception, CG was used for big budget effects as in, for instance, Twister. Fincher saw a different way it could be used, as a tool to achieve impossible compositions and camera movements, blended seamlessly with live action. A great example is early in Fight Club, when the "camera" moves through the window of the skyscraper, plunges dozens of stories, down through the pavement and ground, into the basement garage below the skyscraper and into the van to show the explosives - all in a single "shot". That sort of shot is so common place today that we think nothing of it, but it was a revolutionary bit of film making at the time. Another good example is in Panic Room. There's a really long tracking shot that begins outdoors, moves through a window, through the handle of a coffee pot, up the stairs of the house then through the banister rails and into a bedroom, stopping finally to show a pebble of plaster bouncing on a baseboard. Camera trickery aside, you also cannot understate the far reaching influence of The Game, Se7en, and Fight Club on the thriller genre as a whole: gritty yet stylish with the obligatory surprise revelation near the end.
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I agree with you on Jim Jarmusch, but he did make Ghost Dog, which is one of my favorite movies, if I'm in the right mood.

I came here to post that exact sentiment. I love me some Ghost Dog, and will watch any time it's on. I've never enjoyed other movies of his I've seen though.

You people are not helping... now that's two recommendations for a Jarmusch movie I've yet to see. I was trying to swear him off!

I'll third it. Ghost Dog is definitely worth watching. I've heard many good things about Dead Man but only made it about 30minutes in when I attempted it.

I'm a big Fincher fan as well, Fight Club is the only movie I've seen on the big screen more than once during it's initial run. Still ranks as one of my favorite movies of all time.

*sighs* I guess I'm going to have to watch Ghost Dog now.

I think the only films I've seen multiple times in their initial runs on the big screen were the first Star Wars and Burton's Batman. The only other films I've seen multiple times on a big screen are Rocky Horror Picture Show and Rear Window.

Nichols: Closer was pretty critically acclaimed, but it's never a great idea to adapt a play, in my opinion...that said, he did better with Carnal Knowledge...but I don't care for the Catch-22 adaptation or Birdcage translation at all...Charlie Wilson's was alright, but that was probably more due to Aaron Sorkin's involvment.

Altman: I think the Long Kiss Goodnight fits with all the others...it kind of mocks the gumshoe movie, although that was also done in Chinatown and that one with Paul Newman that I'm too lazy too look up at the moment...

Jarmusch: Somewhat overrated, but still groundbreaking...Down By Law is great, C&C is boring in parts, but all vignette films are, Dead Man is pretty brilliant and possibly the best thing Johnny Depp has ever done...

Wilder: I like him, but I don't know if I'd put him in the top 3 of the Hollywood studio generation...certainly I'd put him behind Hitchcock and Welles as a filmmaker...behind Sturges as writer...probably ahead of Ford, in my book...ahead of Hawks....ahead of Huston....maybe ahead of Capra...definitely ahead of Cukor...ahead of Wyler...who else am I missing? probably someone....

Fincher: I just think you're drinking or high when you wrote this one...but, hell, in the right mood I'd argue that Def Leppard was a brilliant homage to early 70s rock and not just-another-hair-band, so who am I to talk? But if you wanted to argue for innovating gritty/stylish, I'd go with Mann or Woo, even...




Hitchcock and Kazan both did well adapting plays for the screen. That said, I don't think it's fair to judge a film against the medium which the story may have initially sprung. It's an apple and oranges thing. Catch 22 was a good film. As good as the book? Probably not. On the other hand Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me we good films based on run-of-the-mill Stephen King stories.


Speaking of Kazan, maybe that's one more you were trying to think of. But I had Wilder in my top five of all time, not just the studio generation. My top 5 all time, since you're kinda pressing me here, would probably be Hitchcock, Wilder, Scorcese, Kazan, and Spielberg. I know you'll probably give me shit for that last one, but when considering sustained, quality output, he's hard to deny. His bad films are infinitely more watchable than a lot of directors' best efforts. As for Welles, what he accomplished with Citizen Kane was most certainly one the best directorial jobs ever, if not the best... but what else is there really other than that?

I guess I can see your point about The Long Goodbye except that I don't find that Altman typically mocks the institutions so much as examines them, with the glaring exception of his "LA" movies (The Player and Short Cuts) and possibly Nashville.

I was thinking primarily of Fincher's use of CG as a directorial tool when touting his influence. His influence on the thriller genre is certainly influential as well, but the argument can be made for a lot of other filmmakers of 90s as well.

It's funny, I never think of Kazan with those other guys...perhaps because he's European...but so it Hitchcock, so that logic makes no sense.

If you want to go on potential, remember that Welles never again made a film that wasn't butchered by the studios...but even aside from that, I like Touch of Evil and the one with Rita Hayworth...and Magnificent Ambersons....

Spielberg has the same problem to me as Michael Mann, in that he rarely manages to wow me...and Munich was the first time in forever that he had surprised me...as far as big budget directors, there aren't many that can rival him...though maybe Peter Jackson will 20 years from now...and his use/innovation with CG is pretty impressive, too.....

Also, I'm holding that last Indiana Jones against him forever. That vine swinging scene and the CGI monkeys made me want to hang myself.

If you're limiting it to English language directors, that's a pretty good list...otherwise I'd have to find room for at least Kurosawa.

Kazan seems more American to me than Hitchcock, at least he grew up here. I think most people do a head trick with Hitchcock since the most memorable part of his career occurred after he moved to the States, but he was already in his 40s by that time.

I agree with you on the Mann/Spielberg thing to a degree, but when you think about it, Mann really hasn't directed very many films. Heat and Ali were both good in very obvious ways, and Collateral wasn't half bad.

But when you look back over Spielberg's career, it's hard to turn a blind eye to what he's accomplished. Since the mid 70s as a director, the list of films he's been behind the proverbial megaphone for is phenomenal: Jaws, Close Encounters, the first three Indiana Jones movies, E.T., The Color Purple, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, and Jurassic Park. Add in all the executive producer credits from films like the Back to the Future franchise, Gremlins, Goonies, Poltergeist, Men In Black. Top it off with a couple of respected forays into television (Amazing Stories, Band Of Brothers), animation (Tiny Toons and Animaniacs), and as a mogul of DreamWorks and it's a career like none other in the history of the business. I think Spielberg's work is closer to Wilder and Kazan than, say, Hitchcock and Scorsese; it's highly palatable for mass consumption, and doesn't take a lot of risks. His films seep into the collective consciousness of pop culture, and he did it over and over again, at least through the 90s. It doesn't have the notable artistic flair of Hitchcock and Scorsese, but more of an artisan approach: solid with good craftsmanship.

I was limiting it to English speaking film. Open that can of worms and it'd be too difficult to consider. Especially with concern to Kurosawa, Godard, and Fellini. By the way, have you heard that the Weinsteins are remaking Seven Samurai?

I don't think I knew Kazan grew up here...I assumed he emigrated at some point as an adult.

I agree on the number of good films Spielberg has made...and I loved Indiana Jones as a kid...and I like a lot of the others (Jaws, Munich, Private Ryan, Minority Report, Close Encounters)...I just don't LOVE any of them, for whatever reason...I don't even mind that he stopped taking risk sometime after Jaws...I don't know what it is...sort of like Ron Howard to me...I generally know there's a good chance that his film will entertain me and and not suck, but I don't get excited for a new one...not like Scorsese.

I didn't know they were making Seven Samurai again...I actually really like The Magnificent Seven...


I've always loved Altman films for exactly the reason you have said...dialog.

And Fight Club is a great movie! I haven't seen it in a while and I think it's due to be viewed again. Liposuction anyone? Need ssoap?

I had a bit of of a Fincher-fest last year and revisited all of his films over the course of a week. I love Fight Club. It's taken a a beating in backlash over the years, but I think as time wears on, it'll find it's rightful place as a fairly substantial landmark film.

I am a total Jarmusch fanboy. I understand your points, but your complaints are actually some of the things that I enjoy about his style. Dead Man is probably the best thing he's done, in my book. And Coffee And Cigarettes sucks.


thanks for the culturing!

-*Clint*-

I must be the only cinema fan in the world who found "Fight Club" underwhelming. Fincher's films look great but none of them have ever really moved me.

Most of the Jarmusch films I watched did bore me, except "Dead Man," which was haunting, and one of my favorites, "Night on Earth." Maybe because he was forced to tighten things up because it was an anthology, the various vignettes work for me in a way that the longer Jarmusch stuff doesn't.

You've got me interested in seeing a lot of those Wilder films I am unfamiliar with...

I thought Closer was awful as well, but not a single person I asked thinks it's a bad movie. Wtf?

Before you rule him out...

You must see Mystery Train and Ghost Dog. Mystery Train is a bit slow-paced, but entertaining. I think you'll especially enjoy the soundtrack and Screamin' Jay Hawkins performance. Ghost Dog: the Way of the Samurai is quite interesting and Forrest Whitaker's performance is impressive.

I really think that QT and Robert Rodriguez showed Jarmusch's influence of interlocking tales in their movies (including Four Rooms).

Of course, I'm also biased from this experience :P

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