02 March 2019

Good Directions

I love movies. All kinds, all genres, short or long, old or new, serious or funny, at home or in a theater. Since I don't much like reality shows or anything else on network television these days, most of what I watch are movies and bingeable TV series via Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. And I own a boatload of DVDs, so if I can't find something else I'll watch one of those again. And again.

I have also decided that there's a definite way to verify your status as a film fanatic. You know you're a hopeless movie addict if and when you choose to watch (or avoid) a movie depending on who directed it. When you start picking movies based on directors' names the same way you would pick novels or short stories based on authors' names . . . well, you're probably ready to check into the Harrison Ford Clinic.

One thing that impresses me about directors (I feel the same way about composers of music)--is that it's a job I admire and respect but would never have the talent to do, myself. I understand how authors do their work, and I can at least make a good try at that--but succesfully directing a film? My hat's off to those who can do it and do it well. I'm even one of those nerds who pay as much attention, during the Oscar telecast, to the Best Director category as I do to the others. Heaven help me.

The following is a list that seems to change from time to time, and it'd be hard to rank them because their movies are so different, but here are my 25 (probably) favorite film directors, living and deceased:

Robert Zemeckis --
Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, Flight, Contact, Cast Away, Beowulf, Romancing the Stone

Steven Spielberg --
E.T., Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Duel, Lincoln, Schindler's List, Munich, Amistad, Jurassic Park

The Coen Brothers --
Fargo, Miller's Crossing, The Big Lebowski, Raising Arizona, Blood Simple, No Country for Old Men

Sergio Leone --
Once Upon a Time in the West; For a Few Dollars More; The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Alfred Hitchcock --
Vertigo, Rear Window, North by Northwest, Marnie, Notorious, Rope, The Birds, Rebecca, Psycho

M. Night Shyalaman --
Signs, Unbreakable, The Sixth Sense, Glass, The Visit, Lady in the Water, Split, The Village

John McTiernan --
Die Hard, Medicine Man, Predator, Rollerball, Nomads, Basic, The Hunt for Red October

Quentin Tarantino --
Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, Reservoir Dogs, The Hateful Eight, Death Proof, Planet Terror, Jackie Brown

John Carpenter --
The Fog, Halloween, The Thing, Sin City, Vampires, Starman, Christine, Escape From New York

Martin Scorcese --
Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, The Departed, Gangs of New York, Mean Streets, Casino, Raging Bull

James Cameron --
Alien, The Terminator, Titanic, Avatar, The Abyss, Aliens, True Lies, Xenogenesis, Terminator 2

Ridley Scott --
Gladiator, Thelma and Louise, Hannibal, Black Rain, The Martian, Black Hawk Down, Blade Runner

Frank Darabont --
The Shawshank Redemption, The Mist, The Majestic, The Woman in the Room, The Green Mile

Ron Howard --
Ransom, Backdraft, A Beautiful Mind, Splash, Far and Away, Cinderella Man, Cocoon, Apollo 13

Sydney Pollack --
The Firm, Tootsie, Three Days of the Condor, Absence of Malice, Jeremiah Johnson, Out of Africa

Sam Peckinpah --
The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs, The Getaway, Junior Bonner, Ride the High Country, Major Dundee

John Ford --
The Searchers, The Quiet Man, Rio Grande, Stagecoach, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Howard Hawks --
Hatari, Red River, Rio Bravo, To Have and Have Not, The Outlaw, Sergeant York, The Big Sleep

Mel Brooks --
Young Frankenstein, The Producers, High Anxiety, Spaceballs, Silent Movie, Blazing Saddles

Richard Donner --
Superman, The Goonies, The Omen, Ladyhawke, Maverick, Assassins, Scrooged, Lethal Weapon

Don Siegel --
Dirty Harry, The Killers, Charley Varrick, The Shootist, Madigan, Coogan's Bluff, Hell Is for Heroes

Lawrence Kasdan --
Body Heat, Silverado, Wyatt Earp, Grand Canyon, French Kiss, Dreamcatcher, The Big Chill

John Huston --
The African Queen, The Maltese Falcon, The Misfits, Key Largo, Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Sidney Lumet --
Twelve Angry Men, Network, Serpico, The Pawnbroker, Fail-Safe, The Verdict, Dog Day Afternoon

Clint Eastwood --
Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, American Sniper, The Beguiled, Pale Rider, Sully, Mystic River

The list isn't foolproof. Even geniuses (genii?) like Spielberg and Shyamalan occasionally turn out a 1941 or a Last Airbender--but not often. I'm usually pretty confident that movies made by these directors will be worthwhile, and sometimes great. (Runners-up: George Lucas, Nora Ephron, Billy Wilder, Peter Jackson, David Cronenberg, Joel Schumacher, Francis Ford Coppola)

NOTE: If you don't care much about this kind of thing, I completely understand. Not many folks do. If you do notice, and follow, certain directors, let me know who you like, and who you don't. As I said, my list changes regularly.

Meanwhile, keep watching those good movies and reading those good novels and stories. Next time I'll tackle favorite authors, and we'll be on more common ground.

As Colonel Bogey once said, have a great March.


  1. Lots of great choices here, John. I'll just mention one: Rope. When I first saw it I was lukewarm on it. But I've seen it many times now and it's grown to be one of my favorite Hitchcock movies. So good on so many levels.

  2. Good listing. I like Stanley Kubrik, Milos Forman, Claude Lelouch, Fran├žois Truffaut and Michelangelo Antonioni.

  3. I'll add a few of my favorite directors:

    Rob Reiner: This is Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride, Stand By Me, When Harry Met Sally, Misery

    The Coen Brothers: The Hudsucker Proxy, Fargo, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, No Country for Old Men, Barton Fink, The Big Lebowski, Miller's Crossing, Raising Arizona

    Ivan Reitman. but mostly his earlier stuff: Ghostbusters, Animal House, Stripes, Meatballs

  4. Paul, the unique thing about Rope is (as I'm sure you know) it was filmed in one long and uninterrupted take (or at least edited to appear that it was one shot). Interesting idea.

    Good ones, O'Neil. I should've included those, especially Kubrick.

    Michael, I just flat forgot about Reiner when I put the list together. Reitman too--I bet I've watched Stripes a dozen times. I included the Coens, and I especially enjoyed Buster Scruggs. Different, to say the least. I think one reason Scruggs was so much fun for me was it was like a written anthology, or a collection of shorts. And all of them were well done--I watched it again the other night. The only Coen movie I didn't like was Inside Llewyn Davis.

    Thanks, guys.

  5. Great list. I'd add
    Peter Weir - Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Last Wave, The Year of Living Dangerously, Witness, The Mosquito Coast, Fearless, The Truman Show, etc.
    Wim Wenders - The American Friend, "Paris, Texas", Wings of Desire, Faraway So Close!, Hammett, and many more
    Frederico Fellini and his protege, Lina Wertmuller
    Wes Anderson - Rushmore, The Darjeeling Limited, Moonrise Kingdom, etc.
    Noah Baumbach - The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding, Greenberg, Frances Ha, While We're Young, The MEyerowitz Stories

  6. Hey Eve -- I'm a little surprised at how many I left out, and how many great directors there are. I should certainly have included Peter Weir--Witness is one of my all-time favorites.

    Thank you for the additions!!

  7. Hi John, I'm not really a movie buff, but I play a silly absolutely free game on the internet you might enjoy at HSX.com (Hollywood Stock Exchange). When you sign up, you are given $2 million of imaginary money & the objective is to build a portfolio of movies, stars, & derivatives based around specific real-life events, such as the Oscars. The game makes a spreadsheet for you, so you always know where you're at. I spend a few minutes a day there. I have been playing for about 15 years & am worth $447 million in pretend money.

    So, since I'm not into movies, why do I play this game ... so I can get used to dealing with large sums of money over a period of time without freaking out !!!

    Anyway I cannot stand Shyamalan (sp), I thought The Sixth Sense was the dumbest thing I've ever seen, unless it would be The Big Lebowski. Well, you asked.

  8. Elizabeth -- Thanks for the note, and the suggestion about HSX--I gotta check that out. As for Shyamalan, I totally understand--a LOT of folks don't like his movies. But I sure do. I didn't like Airbender, or The Happening, but I enjoyed most of his others, especially Signs, Sixth Sense, The Village, Lady in the Water, etc. I think he's a great storyteller. And I absolutely love The Big Lebowski. To each his own . . .

    Thanks for the comment! Don't spend that 447 million all in one place.

  9. Excellent list John! You might like director John Dahl. He made a trio of neo-noir flicks (Kill Me Again, Red Rock West, The Last Seduction) in the late 80s-early 90s that are outstanding.

  10. Thanks, Larry. Good suggestion. I LOVED Red Rock West--and not many people seem to have heard of that movie.


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