In deciding to become a regular reviewer of films, there are some things that quickly become clear that film critics know that the general audiences doesn’t usually care much about. One of those things is ample knowledge of directors. It’s a bit of a feather in the cap if you can speak intelligently with another movie-lover about directors, their tendencies, their shortcomings, etc. We don’t pretend to be professional critics by any means, but we do have some directors we always look forward to seeing.
I’ve never actually sat down and thought about my favorite director. I hear many critics go into movies and quickly think to themselves, “Oh, that’s definitely a ______ film.” I admire that ability to identify nuances in a film pointing to its creator, but I also don’t always want to be aware of that going in. So I had to peruse through my movie collection to see if the movies I buy reveal what directors I like. My search quickly resulted in the Coen brothers standing out. Maybe that’s cheating for this list, but they’re kind of a package deal. I’m sorry to say that I haven’t seen a couple of their latest creations (Inside Llewyn Davis, A Serious Man), but what I have seen I’ve loved. They’re some of the most original directors around as they also write much of their material including the likes of Fargo and The Big Lebowski, receiving an Academy Award for the former. They’ve shown they also excel when they do adapt a prior work. They won three Academy Awards for adapting Cormac McCarthy’s novel, “No Country for Old Men”, including Best Picture. And their take on “True Grit” was beautiful in a way many thought westerns couldn’t be. They consistently put out great films that excel in just about every aspect of film making.
Honorable Mentions: David Fincher makes beautiful films that also succeed in having an edge. Bryan Singer, except for the likes of Superman Returns and Jack the Giant Slayer. Ben Afleck has turned in solid films with the short time he’s been on the director seat, but need a bit larger sample size. Ridley Scott and Robert Zemeckis have made some films I really cling to as well.
I love this Charlie Rose interview with the Coen brothers along with Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin when ‘No Country for Old Men’ came out. They aren’t exactly known as being media darlings. That comes out just a bit here, but when they do open up it’s very cool to hear.
Christopher Nolan emerged onto the indie scene with Following (1998) and quickly established himself with Memento (2000) and Insomnia (2002) before blasting into the atmosphere with The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005-2012), Prestige (2006), Inception (2010), and this year’s sci-fi epic Interstellar. One of the things I really appreciate about Nolan is he fills his movies with philosophical and moral questions that essentially elevate what would otherwise be a straightforward action formula to a more robust and thoughtful story. An example of this is the moral dilemma (debated here) regarding the potential greater good of healing a city by covering for a murderer. Because Nolan likes to wrestle with these kinds of issues, Christians have much to chew on with regard to assessing his films through a biblical worldview. I like to think of Nolan’s films as a nice, souped up muscle car operating on all cylinders. No one else can blend complex issues and stunning imagery the way Nolan can!
Picking a favorite director is a pretty difficult task. For me picking my favorite is like picking my favorite movie; I would need to do genres or categories. Some have a talent and skill in specific genres. However, I started thinking about favorite movies that I have and continue to watch as “go to” movies one director really stood out: Steven Spielberg.
Indiana Jones, E.T., Always, Hook, Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park, Saving Private Ryan, Minority Report, and most recently as a repeated watch War Horse. He has directed some movies that I grew up with that I have in turn enjoyed sharing with my children. Spielberg has a specific eye and a way of approaching a movie. He tries to pull you into the screen and get you involved in story that he is sharing with you.
There wasn’t another director that had as many “go to” films on my list. However, there are a couple that I do want to give a nod to as my Honorable Mention list. Frank Capra, Richard Attenborough, George Lucas, Kenneth Branagh, and James Cameron.
Here is a good interview on 60 Minutes. (It’s kind of long, so if you find something better, that’s fine with me.)
There are a lot of directors in Hollywood and not many of them can be differentiated just on their visual style. Tim Burton, however, it’s one of those few. From Batman to Edward Scizzorhands to Alice in Wonderland, he has a remarkable visual style that cannot be missed. He also manages to weave incredible stories, whether they be remakes or renditions or original stories. That’s exactly why seeing every film of his is on my bucket list.
Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride Piano Scene:
This was difficult to narrow down, but my choice for favorite director has to go to Peter Jackson. No other series of movies has impacted me the way that Lord of the Rings has…well maybe Star Wars, but I have very low opinion of Mr. Lucas. When the first LOTR movie came out, I had never heard of Tolkien or the universe that he had created. I was blown away by the Fellowship of the Ring and felt compelled to further explore this new fantasy world. Before The Two Towers came out, I read all the books and was completely obsessed with all things LOTR. Peter did an amazing job of transforming Tolkien’s books into film. It’s because of him that I expect every movie to be 3 hours long and have an extended edition. Outside of LOTR, I’ve had very little exposure to his other films and in the future he will probably be mostly known for his work with LOTR and the Hobbit, but that’s ok.
J.J. Abrams, M Night Shyamalan, Jon Favreau
For me, the task of choosing just ONE favorite director seemed basically impossible. There are so many incredible filmmakers whose work I love and admire, but as I started to narrow the field, it came down to two: Howard Hawks and Alfred Hitchcock. While I am tempted to write a lengthy analysis to compare and contrast these two great directors (which I may yet do), I’ll just focus on one for now. Howard Hawks—or “The Silver Fox”—is one of the greatest filmmakers in history. During his career spanning almost 50 years, he directed films from nearly every genre: war film (The Dawn Patrol (1930)), gangster film (Scarface (1932)), screwball comedy (Bringing Up Baby (1938) and His Girl Friday (1940)), action adventure (Only Angels Have Wings (1939)), noir (The Big Sleep (1946)), western (Red River (1948) and Rio Bravo (1959)), musical comedy (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)), and historical epic (Land of the Pharoahs (1955)). Hawks also worked with some of the greatest on-screen talents in Hollywood’s history, and enjoyed working in collaboration with his lead actors. He also cast Lauren Bacall in her first film role in To Have and Have Not (1944) playing opposite Humphrey Boghart, thus creating the “Bogey and Bacall” phenomenon.
Some of my personal favorite films directed by Howard Hawks are Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, To Have and Have Not,The Big Sleep, and Red River (which put John Wayne on the map, and is my favorite Western). Hawks believed that the key to creating a good film was to make sure there were a few great scenes and zero bad ones–and he created some of the greatest scenes in cinematic history. Oddly, Hawks was not appreciated by American cinema critics in his own time; it was a group of French critics in the 1950s who recognized his creative genius. And while he was never awarded the Best Director Oscar, the Academy honored him with an honorary lifetime achievement award in 1975 (the same goes for Alfred Hitchcock, who was honored in 1968). When Hawks was finally honored by the Academy, the citation described him as “a giant of the American cinema whose pictures, taken as a whole, represent one of the most consistent, vivid, and varied bodies of work in world cinema.”
Honorable mentions for my favorite director include: Alfred Hitchcock, Frank Capra, Billy Wilder, Akira Kirosawa, François Truffaut, Woody Allen, Joe Wright, Tim Burton, and Christopher Nolan.
Here are some funny moments from the side-splitting, laugh-until-your-face-hurts Bringing Up Baby (if you haven’t seen it, please do yourself a favor):
We would love to hear from our readers. Who are some of your favorite directors?