Tag Archives: Film History

2018: A Noisy Year, and Time for Changes

I’ve been writing the same, tired “Year in Review” article for a few years now. With the exception of one particularly creative dive into Boethius, admittedly a deep track reference if there ever was one, these write ups have been unremarkable and, I confess, lazy.

I’ve been doing this blog for almost seven years now. I don’t think our pop culture discourse has ever been noisier. It also, has never been less creative.

I read the same article about the same movie probably four or five times, every time. The assessment of film has become of an inescapable groupthink, which more often than not settles on analysis that is an inch deep and a mile wide. This problem isn’t unique to film, it’s in writing about television, sports, politics, basically all of journalism. We’re drawn to the hot take, the short article, the snarky humor, the bland repetitive analysis.

So what does this have to do with the state of popular culture in 2018? After all, 2018 was the year that brought us the best superhero movie (Black Panther), the best series finale of a television show (The Americans), Spike Lee’s return to form (Blackkklansman), and Steven Spielberg’s return to blockbusters (Ready Player One). The year’s biggest movie, globally, was the culmination of a massive series of films the likes of which we haven’t seen before (Avengers: Infinity War). These are real achievements, but something about them feels hollow. That isn’t right.

Film is about images. Roger Ebert understood this and repeated it often. What is lacking from the conversation is how those images make us feel. What they mean. In the moment, and more importantly, in the next moment.

Everything isn’t meant to be compared to everything else before it. With so many legacy movies, series, and filmmakers out there, we’ve been obsessed with just that – legacy. Legacy before the ink of history is even dry. This constant comparison makes art disposable. The art isn’t appreciated for what it is, but for how it measures up to other art. This, in case I’m not being clear, is a bad thing.

You could write about Blackkklansman and compare it to Lee’s earlier work, or you can talk about how Lee uses the film as a sledgehammer to shake the audience out of complacency. You could knock Spielberg as overly nostalgic, or you could point out how he uses nostalgia as a tool to reveal the humanity of an artificial world in Ready Player One. Black Panther is many things to many people, but instead of writing about what everyone is talking about, you can look deeper and see how and why Ryan Coogler’s best shot is when Killmonger walks into the throne-room. Ignore the noise – what does art mean to YOU? That is what I’m to endeavor to answer in the future.

That brings me to what’s changing on this page going forward:

1) I’m not writing traditional reviews anymore. See a movie or show, or don’t. I’m going to be writing about my impressions beyond simply answering whether art is good or bad.

2) Historical context needs time to develop. A new rule: a film or series needs to be at least five years old to have its influence discussed, ten to be understood, thirty to be fully appreciated.

3) I’m changing up the format a bit and working on a few other changes. It’s time.

4) I’ll still do Game of Thrones and maybe other Power Rankings, but I’ll be more thoughtful about a character or group’s story in the broader context.

5) I’m going to write about more random topics. I like to do that.

Thanks for sticking with this experiment that I started in 2012. I’ll do my best to continue making it worthwhile.

D.G. McCabe

December 21, 2018

(C) 2018

The Great Oscar Re-Do Part 3 1976-2011

Everyone ready for part 3?  Sure you are!

1976 – Winner: “Rocky;” Should Have Won: “Taxi Driver.”  I know, I know, Rocky is your favorite sports film and its your inspiration for life in general.  Taxi Driver is the 1970’s, sorry everyone.

1977 – Winner: “Annie Hall;” Should Have Won: “Annie Hall.”  Star Wars is arguably more influential, but Annie Hall casts a shadow in its own right.  What Star Wars was to special effects, Annie Hall was to dialogue.

1978 – Winner: “The Deer Hunter;” Should Have Won: “The Deer Hunter.” And so it was, America bore witness to the costs of the Vietnam War.

1979 – Winner: “Kramer vs. Kramer;” Should Have Won: “Apocalypse Now.”  Kramer vs. Kramer hasn’t aged well now that we’ve accepted divorce as relatively commonplace in American life.  Apocalypse Now, however, is still as haunting as the day it opened.

1980 – Winner: “Ordinary People;” Should Have Won: “Raging Bull.”  Here’s another well publicized Oscar snub.  It remains a shame that Scorsese’s only Oscar is for his fourth or fifth best film.

1981 – Winner: “Chariots of Fire;” Should Have Won: “Reds.” Chariots won largely due to its impressive score, and Reds is a more complete film.

1982 – Winner: “Gandhi;” Should Have Won: “Gandhi.”  Blade Runner may ultimately prove to be a more influential film, but Gandhi, despite its flaws, is a more important one.

1983 – Winner: “Terms of Endearment;” Should Have Won: “Fanny and Alexander.”  Bergman’s long, autobiographical film did win Best Foreign Language Film, but it should have won the big prize too.

1984 – Winner: “Amadeus;” Should Have Won: “Amadeus.”  Amadeus’ narrative may be heavily fictionalized but it is a fantastic film nonetheless.

1985 – Winner: “Out of Africa;” Should Have Won: “Ran.”  Ran is Kurosawa’s last great epic and possibly the greatest screen adaptation of King Lear.

1986 – Winner: “Platoon;” Should Have Won: “Platoon.”  Platoon is Oliver Stone’s best film by a longshot and I couldn’t justify replacing it here, although it had some strong competition from Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters.”

1987 – Winner: “The Last Emperor;” Should Have Won: “The Last Emperor.”  Stone’s “Wall Street” is close second, but Bertolucci’s epic has more historical importance on a global scale.

1988 – Winner: “Rain Man;” Should Have Won: “Akira.”  Rain Man is a fantastic, well acted movie, but it did not launch an entire genre into critical and global acceptance the way Akira did.

1989 – Winner: “Driving Miss Daisy;” Should Have Won: “Glory.”  Glory is the greatest film about the American Civil War, although it should be said that 1989 is another tough year to call with “My Left Foot,” “Cinema Paradiso,” “Do the Right Thing,” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” also released.

1990 – Winner: “Dances with Wolves;” Should Have Won: “Goodfellas.”  Dances with Wolves looked so great in 1990 but has lost its luster, while Goodfellas’ reputation has only improved over the years.

1991 – Winner: “The Silence of the Lambs;” Should Have Won: “The Silence of the Lambs.”  I haven’t been giving enough due to amazing acting performances, and this film has two of the best.

1992 – Winner: “Unforgiven;” Should Have Won: “Unforgiven.”  Clint Eastwood’s deconstruction of the Western myth continues to be an important film.

1993 – Winner: “Schindler’s List.”  Should Have Won: “Schindler’s List.” Spielberg’s masterpiece in every respect.

1994 – Winner: “Forest Gump;” Should Have Won: “Pulp Fiction.”  Yes “The Shawshank Redemption” is a fantastic film as well, making this as good as a three-way tie.  The tiebreaker goes to Pulp Fiction, however, for its influential dialogue.

1995- Winner: “Braveheart;” Should Have Won: “Toy Story.” Could anyone have predicted what revolution Toy Story would launch in animation?

1996 – Winner: “The English Patient;” Should Have Won: “Fargo.”  It was a bit of an upset at the time and it’s still a head scratcher as to why Fargo didn’t win.  I would venture to suggest that The English Patient is a more conventional film.

1997 – Winner: “Titanic;” Should Have Won: “Titanic.”  Titanic has been intensely criticized over the years, but it remains a popular and important film.

1998 – Winner: “Shakespeare in Love;” Should Have Won: “Saving Private Ryan.”  It made no sense at the time and over the years it makes less and less sense.

1999 – Winner: “American Beauty;” Should Have Won: “American Beauty.”  I almost put “The Matrix” here, but American Beauty is an important film in its own right.

2000 – Winner: “Gladiator;” Should Have Won: “Gladiator.”  Although Gladiator has been criticized over the years I think it has aged well and it remains a worthy selection.

2001 – Winner: “A Beautiful Mind;” Should Have Won: “Amelie.”  Peter Jackson’s first installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy is great too, but they really are one single film.  Amelie is a landmark of French cinema and superior to A Beautiful Mind.

2002 – Winner: “Chicago;” Should Have Won: “Chicago.”  It had been a while since a musical made the kind of impact on a year that Chicago had on 2002.  It keeps its spot despite tough competition from “The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers,” “Spirited Away,” and the underrated “Gangs of New York.”

2003 – Winner: “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King;” Should Have Won: “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.”  Lord of the Rings is basically one film, and its third part deserved all of the accolades in received in 2003.

2004 – Winner: “Million Dollar Baby;” Should Have Won: “Sideways.”  I think Million Dollar Baby’s controversial ending pushed it over the top of Sideways at the time.  Sideways remains a better film.

2005 – Winner: “Crash;” Should Have Won: “Brokeback Mountain.”  I personally find Crash pretentious and pushy.  Its victory over a superior and more important film is a testament to the power of good marketing.

2006 – Winner: “The Departed.” Should Have Won: “The Departed.”  The Departed is far superior to its source material, “Infernal Affairs,” and one of Scorsese’s finest films.

2007 – Winner: “No Country for Old Men;” Should Have Won: “No Country for Old Men.”  No Country remains the Coen brothers’ best film.

2008 – Winner: “Slumdog Millionaire;” Should Have Won: “Wall-E.”  Slumdog Millionaire is a good film, but Wall-E somehow merges Chaplin with Kubrick to create possibly the best animated film of all time.

2009 – Winner: “The Hurt Locker;” Should Have Won: “The Hurt Locker.”  It’s far too early to knock this movie out of this spot, although I would posit that someday a movie will prove itself to be more influential and important.

2010 – Winner: “The King’s Speech;” Should Have Won: “The King’s Speech.”  A lot of people feel “The Social Network” should have won but I disagree.  I think The Social Network is so much creature of its time and place that it will someday land in the category where “The Graduate” currently resides.  The King’s Speech has more timeless qualities.

2011 – Winner: “The Artist;” Should Have Won: “The Artist.”  Let me say that I have no idea what will turn out to be the best picture of 2011 and I don’t believe that anyone else does either.  As I’ve said before, The Artist is essentially an homage to previous, better films and does nothing to move the artform of motion pictures forward.  Still, I can’t justify replacing it just yet with another movie, although I hope that someday I will.

That’s a wrap!  Thanks for reading!

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe

The Great Oscar Re-Do (Part 2: 1951-1975)

Here’s Part 2 of Cinema Grandcanyonscope’s Great Oscar Re-Do:

1951 – Winner: “An American in Paris;” Should Have Won: “An American in Paris.”  1951 was a competition between An American in Paris and A Streetcar Named Desire, and it’s close enough that I wouldn’t be able to argue with either result.

1952 – Winner: “The Greatest Show on Earth;” Should Have Won: “Singin’ in the Rain”  This is often listed at the top of the list of greatest Oscar snubs, especially considering when most people imagine a Western, they are imagining High Noon.  Still, it is Singin’ in the Rain that has stood the test of time from 1952 rather than either of these films.

1953 – Winner: “From Here to Eternity;” Should Have Won: “Tokyo Story.”  From Here to Eternity was the best American film of 1953, and I had difficulty bumping it from its perch.  It is high entertainment, but Tokyo Story is high art.

1954 – Winner: “On the Waterfront;” Should Have Won: “Seven Samurai.”  This one stings a bit, and “Rear Window” came out in the same year as well.  “On the Waterfront” is one of the greatest American films by any estimation, but Seven Samurai is a far more important film.

1955 – Winner: “Marty;” Should Have Won: “Pather Panchali.”  Ernest Borgnine’s greatest performance deserves the recognition it received, but Pather Panchali is the milestone that marks the start of a truly world cinema.

1956 – Winner: “Around the World in Eighty Days;” Should Have Won: “The Searchers.”  What many consider John Ford’s greatest work is meditation on the destructive power of vengeance where the supposed hero and supposed villain are basically the same character.

1957 – Winner: “The Bridge on the River Kwai;” Should Have Won: “The Seventh Seal.” Some years had an embarrassment of riches.  The Bridge of the River Kwai is one of Lean’s finest films, but it is flawed in ways that The Seventh Seal isn’t.

1958 – Winner: “Gigi;” Should Have Won: “Vertigo.”  Vertigo is now considered by some polls to be the greatest film of all time, but it was actually a commercial flop when it come out.  That is probably the reason it did not win Best Picture in 1958.

1959 – Winner: “Ben-Hur;” Should Have Won: “Ben-Hur.”  While it’s true that Ben-Hur has been surpassed in the epic genre and in some respects it hasn’t aged well, it won everything in sight in 1959 for good reason.

1960 – Winner: “The Apartment;” Should Have Won: “Breathless.”  Oh 1960, what to do with you?  Billy Wilder’s greatest film (The Apartment), Kubrick’s first great epic (Spartacus), Hitchcock’s most popular film (Psycho), or the French Citizen Kane (Breathless)?  L’Avenntura, and La Dolce Vita also came out that year.  In final analysis, the French New Wave changed everything in cinema as an artform and Breathless is a worthy representative from that movement.

1961 – Winner: “West Side Story;” Should Have Won: “West Side Story.”  West Side Story has had so much praise lavished upon it that I won’t repeat that here, except to say that I recently watched it and I still can’t get Bernstein’s score out of my head.

1962 – Winner: “Lawrence of Arabia;” Should Have Won: “Lawrence of Arabia.”  Peter O’Toole’s Lawrence blows out a match and the scene transitions to the sun rising over the desert, and to cinema’s greatest adventure.

1963 – Winner: “Tom Jones;” Should Have Won: “8 1/2.”  8 1/2 is the greatest movie about the art of making movies.

1964 – Winner: “My Fair Lady;” Should Have Won: “A Hard Day’s Night.”  I pose the following – the Academy picked the wrong musical in 1964.

1965 – Winner: “The Sound of Music;” Should Have Won: “The Sound of Music.” I pose the following – the Academy picked the right musical in 1965.

1966 – Winner: “A Man for All Seasons;” Should Have Won: “Persona.”  Bergman once said of Persona, “Today I feel that in Persona, and later in Cries and Whispers, I had gone as far as I could go. And that in these two instances when working in total freedom, I touched wordless secrets that only the cinema can discover.”

1967 – Winner: “In the Heat of the Night;” Should Have Won: “In the Heat of the Night.”  It must have been tough awarding a primarily American award in the 1960’s when so many great and influential foreign films were coming out.  Still, In the Heat of the Night is an important American film and deserves its spot here.

1968 – Winner: “Oliver!;” Should Have Won: “2001: A Space Odyssey.”  This one is hard to imagine, but the Academy loved musicals in the 1960’s since so many of the older voters were nostalgic for the “Golden Age” of musicals earlier in the century.  If movies like Oliver! were the past, movies like 2001 were the future.

1969 – Winner: “Midnight Cowboy;” Should Have Won: “Midnight Cowboy.”  Midnight Cowboy and Easy Rider were the harbingers of the New Hollywood, and either could be considered best picture of 1969, so I’ll defer to the Academy.

1970 – Winner: “Patton;” Should Have Won: “Patton.”  I almost put “MASH” here, but Patton is a good choice too.

1971 – Winner: “The French Connection;” Should Have Won: “The French Connection.”  The French Connection is the epitome of early 1970’s action cinema.

1972 – Winner: “The Godfather;” Should Have Won: “The Godfather.”  The greatest American film.

1973 – Winner: “The Sting;” Should Have Won: “Day for Night.”  Day for Night actually did win Best Foreign Film in 1973.  The Sting is a fun movie with great actors, but Day for Night is the last of the great French New Wave masterpieces and may be Truffaut’s greatest film.

1974 – Winner: “The Godfather, Part II.”  Should Have Won: “The Godfather, Part II.”  I’ve heard some arguments for Chinatown but none that have really convinced me.

1975 – Winner: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest;” Should Have Won: “Jaws.”  One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest won everything there was to win in 1975, but Jaws changed everything about the film industry.  Also I find that Jaws has aged better.

Now we’re rolling.  Stay tuned for Part 3!

(c) D.G. McCabe

The Great Oscar Re-Do 2012 (Part One: 1927-1950)

Awards season is upon us! Here’s a fun little exercise – what was really the best film for every year of the Academy Awards?  I’ll admit I’m slightly re-imagining the Oscars since they really are awards for American films primarily.  I’ll try to keep to that and only select a foreign films sparingly, although that will be tough to keep to in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  The following is my opinion, and it’s just a fun exercise since I realize Hollywood people do not have magical powers to veer into the future and never have.  Today 1927-1950:

1927 – Winner: “Wings & Sunrise: A Tale of Two Humans;”  Should Have Won: “Metropolis.” It’s close and critics love Murnau’s Sunrise, but Metropolis was ultimately more influential.

1928 – Winner: None; Should Have Won: “The Passion of Joan of Arc.”  The Oscars took a bit to grow into their format, as there were two winners in 1927 but none in 1928.  Dryer’s masterpiece is a landmark of cinema, however, and quite possibly the pinnacle of silent film.

1929 – Winner: “The Broadway Melody;” Should Have Won: “Man with a Movie Camera.”  I did my research since the Sight and Sound Poll came out, and Man with a Movie Camera is one of the first demonstrations of the potential of film as an artform completely separate from the theater.

1930 – Winner: “All Quiet on the Western Front;” Should Have Won: “All Quiet on the Western Front.”  They don’t always get it wrong that Academy, and in 1930 they awarded the Best Picture to the first realistic portrayal of warfare committed to celluloid.

1931 – Winner: “Cimarron;” Should Have Won: “M.”  Fritz Lang invented the police procedural in M, and fans of CBS shows have been thankful every since.

1932 – Winner: “Grand Hotel;” Should Have Won: “Grand Hotel.”  What were the Hollywood Golden Age films like?  This one is considered a good representative.

1933 – Winner: “Cavalcade;” Should Have Won: “Duck Soup.”  The Academy hates comedy, but with the Marx Brothers being as influential as they were, the film considered their best deserved more recognition.

1934 – Winner: “It Happened One Night;” Should Have Won: “It Happened One Night.”  Another old Hollywood classic that people still enjoy today, and one of Capra’s best.

1935 – Winner: “Mutiny on the Bounty;” Should Have Won: “Mutiny on the Bounty.” 1935 wasn’t a particularly notable year in film so I’ll defer to the Academy’s judgement.

1936 – Winner: “The Great Ziegfeld;” Should Have Won: “Modern Times.”  Florenz Ziegfeld’s ultra-mega-huge celebrity had a lot to do with this biopic’s success, but Chaplin’s masterwork belongs in this spot.

1937 – Winner: “The Life of Emile Zola;” Should Have Won: “The Grand Illusion.”  The Grand Illusion is possibly the greatest pre-war French film.  “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” is a close runner-up.

1938 – Winner: “You Can’t Take it With You;” Should Have Won: “The Lady Vanishes.” It’s close but Hitchcock’s first great film trumps Capra’s fourth or fifth.

1939 – Winner: “Gone with the Wind;” Should Have Won: “The Wizard of Oz.”  I could produce a long list detailing why the Wizard of Oz is a better film but I don’t have that kind of time.

1940 – Winner: “Rebecca;” Should Have Won: “The Grapes of Wrath.”  And likewise to 1938, John Ford’s masterpiece trumps Hitchcock’s eighth or ninth best film.

1941 – Winner: “How Green was My Valley;” Should Have Won: “Citizen Kane.”  Duh.

1942- Winner: “Mrs. Miniver;” Should Have Won: “The Magnificent Ambersons.”  Orson Welles should have gotten two Oscars in a row, as many critics and historians feel Ambersons is almost equal to Kane.

1943 – Winner: “Casablanca;” Should Have Won: “Casablanca.”  Double Duh.

1944 – Winner: “Going My Way;” Should Have Won: “Double Indemnity.”  A bit of a surprise going down the list and not seeing this one.

1945 – Winner: “The Lost Weekend;” Should Have Won: “Children of Paradise.”  This wouldn’t have happened in 1945 but Children of Paradise deserves its due if only for the seemingly insurmountable conditions during which it was made. “Rome, Open City” is a close second.

1946 – Winner: “The Best Years of Our Lives;” Should Have Won: “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  It’s a Wonderful Life wasn’t appreciated until years later when it was revived by television.

1947 – Winner: “Gentleman’s Agreement;” Should Have Won: “The Lady from Shanghai.”  Orson Welles had already angered everyone in Hollywood by this point in his career, so this one got predictably shut out.

1948 – Winner: “Hamlet;” Should Have Won: “Bicycle Thieves.”  Due respect to Sir Lawrence Olivier but the Academy awarded the wrong foreign film best picture in 1948.

1949 – Winner: “All the King’s Men;” Should Have Won: “All the King’s Men.”  1949 wasn’t a banner year for movies so I’ll defer to the Academy.

1950 – Winner: “All About Eve;” Should Have Won: “Rashomon.”  All About Eve is a good movie, but the effect of Rashomon on how movies are made can’t be overstated.

Join us for Part 2!

(c) D.G. McCabe

 

Film Preservation

I recently watched “These Amazing Shadows,” a 2011 documentary on the National Film Registry, the history of American cinema, and the work of preserving culturally, aesthetically, or historically significant films.  I had previously known that 80% of all silent-era films and 50% of all pre-1950 films have been lost over time.  Generally speaking, once a film finished its run in the theaters it was no longer considered valuable (although some films such as Gone with the Wind and Casablanca were often re-released).  Therefore, the studios would lock the films away in vaults to collect dust and deteriorate.  It would be one thing if the films collecting dust in vaults had been made of more durable material, but unfortunately the fragile, highly flammable nitrate that most films were made of before 1950 requires specialized care.  Basic neglect, vault fires, and even pests were these films’ worst enemies, so it is impressive that any of them survived to the present day.

The importance of preserving our film heritage cannot be overstated.  While this may seem to be an obvious assertion when thinking about classic films, important documentaries, or historical or cultural touchstones, it is even true for lesser forms of film.  After all, you can’t call a film “great” without have some schlock to compare it to.  Furthermore, schlock can be very entertaining given the right circumstances and the right amount of wit.

An interesting example of a film that probably seemed unimportant at the time but has been preserved by the National Film Registry is known as “Gus Visser and His Singing Duck.”  The film is a test film created by Theodore Case when he was developing the first process that could consistently match sound to film.  The film is only a minute and a half and is pretty goofy (and available on YouTube).

Now, one would think that the studios would have jumped at the chance to add sound technology to film.  In fact, studios were reluctant to add sound processes to their movies.  For instance, no less a superstar as Charlie Chaplin absolutely hated the idea.  Case effectively got the Studios to buy into his sound process by making goofy demonstration videos, so it is important to know how he got these people’s attention when he pitched them the idea. (Clarification: Case and Lee De Forest first demonstrated their sound-on-film process in 1923The Gus Visser Film was made in 1925 and was not one of the 18 films that Case and De Forest used to demonstrate their process to the public at the Rivoli Theater in New York City on April 15, 1923.  It is however, demonstrative of the type of Vaudeville performances that were shown that evening. DGM)

Anyway if you are interested in film preservation, here are some links:
The National Film Registry

The National Film Preservation Foundation

The Film Foundation

(c) D.G. McCabe

Top Twenty Directors List

To begin my film discussions, I would like to start with a list that I hold near and dear.  For those of you who know me, you have probably heard me recite this list, possibly more than once.

Here’s the background.  Back in 2006,  having noticed hundreds of “best film of all time” lists I realized that there weren’t nearly as many lists of the greatest directors.  At the time, I was in law school and I needed a good distraction to prevent myself from going batty, so I started doing research, got myself a Netflix subscription, and got to work.

That being said, here’s the list, complete with a few of the directors’ most important films (no more than five) and a brief description of them.

1) Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998).  Some notable films: Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1954), Ikiru (1952), Ran (1985), The Hidden Fortress (1958).

When you watch a Kurosawa film, you may be struck by the number of conventions that seem familiar, but it’s because he invented them.  “The Emperor,” as he was known in some circles, directed 32 films from the early 1940’s until shortly before his death in 1998.  Kurosawa drew inspiration from Shakespeare, the samurai stories of medieval Japan, and his own personal experiences in post-war Japan and used all methods available to him to tell those stories exceedingly well.  It often appeared that he had the power to harness nature itself and bend it to his will.  In some of his later work, he used color film for the first time.  Like fishing with dynamite – it just wasn’t fair.

2) Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980). Some notable films: Rear Window (1954), Psycho (1960), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), Notorious (1946).

Hitchcock started his career in silent films, and to him, images came first, and everything else was flourish.  Images of a man with a broken leg spying on his neighbors with a telescope, a biplane firing upon a cornfield, a knife cutting up a shower curtain, and hundreds of others are seared into our popular imagination.  He started his career in his native England and moved to Hollywood in 1940.  Overall he directed 65 films and six seasons of a popular television series.

3) Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007). Some notable  films: Persona (1966), The Seventh Seal (1957), Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Wild Strawberries (1957), Fanny and Alexander (1982).

I once went to an open house at the Swedish Embassy, and when I mentioned that most of what I learned about Sweden I knew from Bergman, the tour guide responded, “Well, we’re not all that depressing.”  Bergman’s films were more than an endless Scandinavian winter of despair though, and even his darkest films have a silver lining.  Bergman’s 63 films deal with themes more in the realm of literature than film: the silence of God, the mental illness of a loved one, growing old, the alienation of modern society.

4) Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999).

Some notable films: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Full Metal Jacket (1987), Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), Paths of Glory (1957).  Is Kubrick the greatest American director?  It’s close, but I think he edges out John Ford.  He only made 16 films, but he never made a bad one (even Eyes Wide Shut is not a bad film).  I always like to think that Kubrick excelled by making his audience uncomfortable, but the reason his films make us uncomfortable is because he is showing us a part of ourselves we’d rather not acknowledge.  Still, we keep coming back.

5) John Ford (1894-1973). Some notable films: The Searchers (1956), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), Stagecoach (1939), How Green Was My Valley (1941).

John Ford is best known as the man most responsible for the rise and fall of the Western.  He made so many so well that he set an impossible standard for the genre.  Most of the directors on this list that followed Ford have referred to him at one time or another as an influence.  Although some of his 146 films feel dated now (and his depictions of Native Americans in his early work leave much to be desired), his best work features some of the deepest characters and best performances in all of cinema.

6) Fredrico Fellini (1920-1993). Some notable films: 8 1/2 (1963), La Dolce Vita (1960), La Strada (1954), I Vitelloni (1953), Amarcord (1973).

I sometimes don’t know where to begin with Fellini.  The first of his 24 films were squarely in the Italian neo-realist camp, but then something happened around 1960 when he started using the conventions of the realists to tell stories in unconventional ways and create possibly the most unique style in all of cinema.

7) Orson Welles (1915-1985). Some notable films: Citizen Kane (1941), The Lady from Shanghai (1947), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Touch of Evil (1958).

Orson Welles was many things (actor, writer, radio star, frozen food salesman) and few of the 42 films he directed are widely seen today (the majority of them are shorts and documentaries).  One stands above all of the others of course, but Citizen Kane was not Welles’ only masterpiece from behind the camera.  His films were some of the first that felt like they could be real when you watched them, and he made them a decade before the Italian neorealists or the auteurs of the French New Wave.

8) Francois Truffaut (1932-1984). Some notable films: Jules and Jim (1962), The 400 Blows (1959), The Last Metro (1980), Day for Night (1973), Fahrenheit 451 (1966).

Speaking of the New Wave, I don’t think it had a more versatile director that Truffaut.  The “French coming of age film” is arguably his invention, but it was Truffaut’s knowledge of film that really set him apart from other directors.  He knew what worked and what didn’t, and it allowed him to transcend genres in ways that even some of the directors I have ranked ahead of him could not match.

9) Martin Scorsese (1942 – ). Some notable films: Goodfellas (1990), Raging Bull (1980), Taxi Driver (1976), The Departed (2006), Cape Fear (1991).

So far, Scorsese has made 51 films.  His best work deals with characters at the margins of society, and his best stories deal with subjects we’d rather have swept under the rug.  The images that stay with us from his films are oftentimes the most shocking and violent, but the context that Scorsese places around those images make us consider their meaning rather than simply recoiling from them.  Even when Scorsese reaches beyond what we usually think of as his comfort zone, he never loses his ability to place intricate context around memorable images.

10) Charles Chaplin (1889-1977). Some notable films: City Lights (1931), Modern Times (1936), The Great Dictator (1941), The Gold Rush (1925), The Kid (1921).

For a time, Charlie Chaplin was the most famous man in the world.  Once the British vaudeville actor got behind the camera (he starred in 86 films and directed 73), he was one of the first people to see that film could be art and not just silly or melodramatic images flashing across the screen.   It is hard to overstate the importance of Chaplin’s work, especially his later films, in the development of the comedy genre.

11) Jean-Luc Godard (1930 – ). Some notable films: Breathless (1960), Vivre sa Vie (1962), Pierrot le Fou (1965), Alphaville (1966), Week End (1967).

Godard made the best of his 97 films in the 1960’s.  He’s still making movies, largely unbeknownst to American audiences.  Breathless alone has been called the French Citizen Kane for its innovations (the jump cuts especially).  To some, his work may seem like experimentation for experimentation’s sake, but his creativity has influenced many of the best post 1960’s films.

12) Stephen Spielberg (1946 – ). Some notable films: Schindler’s List (1993), Jaws (1975), E.T.: The Extraterrestrial (1982), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).

This one is more controversial than it needs to be.  Spielberg has 48 films in the can, and yes, some of them are terrible.  One thing that I always remember about Spielberg though is his interest in the macro-story – the story of the world in which his characters live.  He doesn’t dwell on the day-to-day lives of his characters, and if they come off a little flat sometimes it is only because Spielberg is eternally preoccupied with the magnificence around them, and by extension around all of us.

13) David Lean (1908-1991). Some notable films: Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Brief Encounter (1945), Doctor Zhivago (1965), Great Expectations (1946).

Speaking of magnificent, there are the 19 films of David Lean.  While Chaplin and Hitchcock were born in England, it is Lean who was the master of a uniquely English cinema.  His undisputed masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia and his other big budget epics have given him a  reputation in the United States as a master of large scale, Hollywood productions.  Still, in many ways it is his early Noel Coward and Dickens adaptations that set him apart by demonstrating his unique awareness of English culture.

14) Fritz Lang (1890-1976). Some notable films: Metropolis (1927), M (1931), The Big Heat (1953), The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933), Fury (1936).

Metropolis is the first great science fiction film, and of his 46 films, it is probably Lang’s best known.  Even so, Metropolis is a bit of an outlier in Lang’s German period.  Most of his pre-1936 films built the foundation of what became known as the police procedural genre (later, television producers would owe him an enormous debt of gratitude).  After Lang fled Germany in 1936 rather than work for the Nazis, his work in Hollywood served as the bedrock of another important genre: Film Noir.

15) Vittorio De Sica (1901-1974). Some notable films: Bicycle Thieves (1948), Umberto D (1952), Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (1963), Shoeshine (1946).

De Sica is best known as the director of Bicycle Thieves, but he made 36 films and starred in 156.   De Sica and others developed one of the most influential movements in film history – Italian Neorealism.  The basic idea behind Neorealism was that film should imitate life as closely as possible.  By doing so, it would break through the conventions of popular cinema to give the audience a heightened awareness of social issues, specifically the plight of working class Italians after World War II.  While other directors such as Roberto Rossellini were important to the movement, De Sica’s films are probably the best known and most influential internationally.

16) Yasujiro Ozu (1903-1963). Some notable films: Tokyo Story (1953), Late Spring (1949), I Was Born, But…(1932), Floating Weeds (1959).

Ozu’s films are slow meditations on the nature of family and human relationships.  If Spielberg is eternally preoccupied with the magnificent worlds his character inhabit, Ozu was his counterpoint.  His 54 films do not have plot twists or fantastic adventures, but instead focus on the daily lives of ordinary people in pre and post war Japan.  Ozu is also well known for his distinctive artistic style (low angle shots, using scenes from nature to pace his films, having actors speak directly into the camera, etc.).

17) Satyajit Ray (1921-1992). Some notable films: Pather Panchali (1955), Aparajito (1956), The Chess Players (1977), The Visitor (1991), World of Apu (1959).

The Bollywood style is iconic of Indian cinema, but it is the Neorealist influenced style of Ray that is often referred to as the apex of Indian art cinema.  If Bollywood represents escapism in Indian film, Ray represents the confrontational with his unforgettable meditations on poverty.  Both styles are valuable, but Ray casts a larger shadow over Indian art cinema than any single director does over Bollywood.

18) Luis Bunuel (1900-1983). Some notable films: Belle de Jour (1967), Un Chien Andalou (1929), The Exterminating Angel (1962), The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), Viridiana (1961).

Bunuel was close friends with Salvador Dali, and what Dali is to art, Bunuel is to cinema.  The first of his 34 films was a collaboration with Dali, and despite the fact that it makes absolutely no sense, Un Chien Andalou remains one of the most influential short films ever made.  His later work is more accessible, but never loses the unique dreamlike qualities that made Bunuel an icon of surrealist art.

19) Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1948). Some notable films: Battleship Potemkin (1925), October (1928), Alexander Nevsky (1938), Ivan the Terrible (1944).

Eisenstein may not have invented the montage or the propaganda film, but he might as well have.  Eisenstein’s first films glorified the Russian Revolution on behalf of the Bolsheviks, but he fell out of favor with them for time while he traveled the world.  He earned their favor again with his later films which are credited with inspiring the Russian army during World War II.  What we have of Eisenstein’s work is impressive, but I can’t help but think what could have been if he was free to fully explore his genius without the Soviet government breathing down his neck.

20) Robert Altman (1925-2006). Some notable films: Nashville (1975), MASH (1970), Gosford Park (2001), McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), Short Cuts (1993).

There are 89 feature length films, television programs, and documentaries that credit Robert Altman as a director.  He started as a television director, loved working with ensembles and without a script, and the results are often as messy and hilarious as daily life.  If there ever was a director who could be called the master of controlled chaos, it was Altman.

The next ten (in alphabetical order by last name): Woody Allen, Michelangelo Antonioni, Frances Ford Coppola,  Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog, Buster Keaton, Spike Lee, F.W. Murnau, Jean Renoir, Billy Wilder.

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe