I follow @NextBestPicture on Twitter, and he’s recently started a discussion about people’s top ten favourite directors. Apparently, it was spurred on by Christopher Nolan’s claim that Stanley Kubrick is the greatest director of all time. In classic SATC fashion, it got me to thinking…who are my top ten directors? What does one base that decision on? Favourite films, overall filmography quality, influence in cinema history, innovation…the list could go on. I’ve tried to include all of these things in my reasoning. So here we go…
- Alfred Hitchcock
The Birds. Vertigo. Rear Window. North by Northwest. Psycho. All are films that every film lover should have seen. All are films by the one and only Alfred Hitchcock. A perfectionist if there was one, Hitchcock created intricate, tightly controlled films that often feel as claustrophobic as the on-set conditions were. Even his lesser-celebrated films, such as Rebecca, Marnie, and Strangers on a Train, are superior to 90% of modern cinema output. For psychological thrillers, you need to look no further than Hitchcock. Just make sure you don’t bit your fingers off whilst your biting your finger nails.
- Denis Villeneuve
I don’t think anyone could have done a sequel to Blade Runner as well as Villenueve did. He managed to take inspiration from the original and create something both unique and faithful to the original. An almost impossible task, but Villeneuve did it. But those who’ve followed Villeneuve’s career should have had faith. Prisoners was my first Villeneuve experience, and from that point on I was hooked. Enemy was my second experience, and I couldn’t turn away. Jake Gyllenhaal always impresses, but his performance as two characters in Enemy is perhaps his finest. Arrival is one of the great science fiction films of our times, and one of the greatest science fictions films FOR our times. And Blade Runner 2049 is maybe even better than Arrival (and better than the original Blade Runner?).
- Christopher Nolan
It’s hard to dismiss Christopher Nolan, isn’t it? I’ve soured on Nolan a little since The Dark Knight Rises. Dunkirk bored me to death, and Interstellar was only intermittently brilliant. But I can’t deny that even those three films are spectacular to look at. However, from Memento to The Dark Knight (and maybe Inception), Nolan has crafted some of the best films of the new millennium. There’s nothing more to say about The Dark Knight. It’s an era-defining film. But even Batman Begins is one of the great comic book films. Memento is a statement of intent, a statement that tells every other filmmaker to up their game or move aside. But I’d say my favourite Nolan film is The Prestige, a film that warrants, nay demands, repeated viewings. Even though I’ve soured on him a little, his releases are still a must-see for me. One of the great visionary directors of our times.
- Stanley Kubrick
Kubrick could take any genre or topic and make a masterpiece. Horror. Science fiction. Period drama. War. Erotic thrillers. You can’t simply watch one of his films once. Repeated viewing only serve to reveal more and more secrets, more and more themes. Every shot is a painting, every shot is a painstaking, torturous but wonderful exercise in intricate filmmaking. Even when nothing’s ostensibly happening in Kubrick’s films, there’s so much to take in. A true visionary in film history, Kubrick left a legacy that influenced hundreds of film makers. He also left simply great films behind as well.
- Ridley Scott
Scott would be on this list merely for making Gladiator, my favourite film of all time. But what he does in life, echoes in eternity. So he gave us Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise, Legend and Prometheus. Okay, that last one was a joke. Looking at his career, Scott has made more average/awful movies than great ones (especially post-Gladiator). But those great Scott films will live on forever. He created the best science fiction horror film ever made (and that ever will be made). Blade Runner set the template for almost every subsequent science fiction film. And Gladiator…is just the best!
- Nicolas Winding Refn
Okay, I haven’t seen any of his Danish films (much to my shame). But from his English output alone, he ranks as one of the most intriguing and fascinating modern filmmakers. It’s Drive that alerted me to his presence, and that remains his greatest work. However, his latest offering, The Neon Demon, came pretty darn close. I’ll admit I’m not a big fan of Only God Forgives, but that’s the only stumbling block I’ve seen from Refn (and I’d recommend it to anyone for something completely different). Bronson is a magnificent piece of work, and Valhalla Rising is a beautiful exercise of pure cinema, with nary a word in sight. Drive would be enough to insert Refn into this list (my 3rd favourite film of all time!), but he always manages to make a must-see film.
- Darren Aronofsky
Okay, I’ll admit it: I still haven’t seen Noah, and could do with watching The Fountain a few more times to fully appreciate it. But an Aronofsky cinema release is a must-see for me. A friend introduced me to Aronofsky through Requiem for a Dream, and I’ve never looked back since. Pi is perhaps his purest film, but Black Swan is splendid cinema (I ranked it #4 in my Top 10 Films Of All Time). The Wrestler, perhaps his most straight-forward film, receives bonus points for exploring the world of pro wrestling (one of my guilty pleasures!). And I loved the hell out of mother!, a cinema experience unlike anything else in 2017. Aronofsky is a breath of fresh air.
- David Cronenberg
Unlike some of the directors on this list, I don’t think Cronenberg has worsened with age. Sure, he’s moved away from science fiction and horror to thrillers/psychological dramas, but he’s managed to retain that special something that separates him from the rest. His early movies look very dated nowadays, but they still have the power to shock and disgust. That’s Cronenberg’s modus operandi, and he almost always manages to hit that sweet spot. I’d say his magnum opus is The Fly, a science fiction/body horror/romance that blends all three genres beautifully and contains Jeff Goldblum’s greatest performance. But that’s closely followed by Crash, a fantastic adaptation of the Ballard novel (bonus points!). He’s matured with age, making the likes of A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, which stick close to the quality of his peak filmmaking films. Not only that, but his films possess a psychological maturity that most others films lack. Even among the gross-out moments, there’s always some peculiar insight or theme to absorb. Truly a one of a kind film maker.
- James Cameron
Cameron is the master of the sequel, isn’t he? Terminator 2 and Aliens are exemplary sequels. Those two alone would push Cameron into this list. However, add The Terminator, The Abyss and True Lies to that list, and you have something very, very special. I’ve never watched Titanic (nor have any intention of watching it), and Avatar and derivative but good-looking fast food cinema. However, Cameron’s stretch from The Terminator to True Lies produced four of my all-time favourite films (I really, really like True Lies. But I don’t love it). Almost every second of Terminator 2 is ingrained in my brain; of course, I prefer The Terminator as a piece of stripped down film, but T2 is blockbuster cinema that’s still mind-blowing today (I watched it in 3D on the special cinema release last year. Stunning!). Unfortunately, Cameron may be dedicated to Avatar sequels for the rest of his life, but I could watch T2 from now until the end of my life and never be bored.
- Steven Spielberg
A list without Spielberg would not really be a list of great directors, would it? I don’t think there’s another choice for the top spot. Even now, forty years into his film career, a Spielberg release is still big news. Of course, his post-2000 output has had more misses than hits (Ready Player One ranks among my least favourite Spielberg films, for example), but in his late 70s/80s/early 90s output is second to none. Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List…and he’s another director to put out an almost-flawless adaptation of a J.G. Ballard novel (Empire of the Sun), which is an added bonus. Without Spielberg, modern day Hollywood cinema would look a lot different. It owes him a limitless debt.
The Coen Brothers
Agree or disagree? Any you’d take away or add? What is your Top 10?
Click here for Hammy’s Top 10 Films of All Time
Hitchcock, Nolan, Kubrick, Scorsese – all greats! Also lots of love for David Lean and Amma Asante
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Cheers! Amma Asante? Not familiar with that name
Great post 🙂 Truth be told, I cannot really argue with any of the choices. Nevertheless, I would rank Hitchcock for number one, but that is just me. Glad to see Cronenberg on here. I personally believe that he is just a master filmmaker. Nobody else but him could have adapted J.G. Ballard’s Crash without a scratch. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂
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Cheers! Cronenberg is a master filmmaker!