This is the second part in a short-series where I, probably foolishly, try to determine who my favorite director is at this time and place. Take a read of part one here to see why I’m doing this and my thoughts on 10-8, which for those just joining me, are – in descending order – David Fincher, Mike Leigh and Michael Haneke. Now, onto my 7-4.
7. Olivier Assays
Notable Filmography – Clouds of Sils Maria, Clean, demonlover, Irma Vep, Carlos, Something in the Air, Boarding Gate
Personal Favorite – Summer Hours
One of cinema’s great chameleons, Olivier Assayas brings a human scale voice to his movies that, no matter how different the subject matters or stories, makes them quite remarkable. Be it the story of a revolutionary (Carlos), a woman struggling with sobriety (Clean) or a contract killer (Boarding Gate), Assayas in both his writing and directing never goes for easy melodrama. His characters bare a history in their movements that give their actions density.
This is not to imply that an Assayas picture is dry or stuck in neo-realism. Irma Vep is playful, skipping between narratives and the film within a film. Something in the Air is romantic and comfortably dangerous, a narrative about rebellious youth that is as enigmatic as the radicals upon which it’s focusing.
A favorite is hard to select, particularly for a filmmaker with as diverse a collection of projects. Summer Hours is the one I think of most though, a look at a wealthy family’s dealing with one another, death and art. If it wasn’t so damn perfect, one might be able to lob a misguided claim of snobbery its way, but this would be a fool’s errand. With flawless acting, Assayas stages scenes of sibling disagreements that feel achingly true and tender, all with an ease that never begs for seriousness.
6. Wes Anderson
Notable Filmography – The Grand Budapest Hotel, Rushmore, Moonrise Kingdom, Bottle Rocket, The Fantastic Mr. Fox
Personal Favorite – The Royal Tenenbaums
Now that we’ve come to accept Wes Anderson for what he is, it’s all the easier to love him. Around the time of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited many of us, myself included, lost the forest for the trees. Anderson’s visual style, diorama-esque concoctions with a certain leveled perfect symmetry and whimsy, was too much the focus. Anderson makes comedies with slight, if significant, degrees of quirk. To expect different because they appear to lack weight is silly.
For one thing, Anderson’s films have always had an emotional bent to them. Back in the beginning it was a desperate attempt to find a path in life (Bottle Rocket). In his most recent endeavor (The Grand Budapest Hotel), it was too find some source of decency in it. Along the way there have been various familial quibbles, sons and daughters yearning for parental guidance and a stream of laughs via wry dialogue or clever visual cues that are often imitated, never replicated.
Perhaps the finest example of this is still The Royal Tenenbaums. Its dollhouse nature is certainly apparent on the outside, but the heart inside it beats loudly. Watching Gene Hackman’s titular Royal come to terms with what a horrific dad he’s been to his three children weaves great musical beats (his go-carting through city streets with grandsons) and simply shown tragedy (Richie’s suicide attempt). As pure a comedic masterpiece as there is in this century.
5. Richard Linklater
Notable Filmography – Boyhood, Dazed and Confused, Before Midnight, Before Sunrise Slacker, School of Rock, Bernie, A Scanner Darkly
Personal Favorite – Before Sunset
After Boyhood, it’s hard to call Richard Linklater an underappreciated director. Yet, I run into people all of the time who haven’t seen a single film in the Before trilogy. Oh well.
Over twenty-five years, Linklater has notched to his belt a tale of love that is unmatched. Before Sunrise is as sweet and enticing as the first blooms of desire. Before Sunset mines panging for what could’ve been with precision and passion, with an ending that might as well be the definition of perfect. Closing it up, for now, is Before Midnight, rummaging around in the day-to-day of two people being together for a lifetime.
Linklater has built a career on relatable people and the ways they talk to one another, skipping past the self-aware zingers or rat-tat-tat banter for something that resembles how Americans actually speak. This isn’t all Linklater knows how to do. His eye for what’s funny is remarkable, even when shooting for the family audience (School of Rock). He can make a paranoid thriller that pushes technology (A Scanner Darkly) or grand nod towards an industry and the guts inside it that make it function (Fast Food Nation). It’ll be a delight to see what else is in store.
4. Paul Thomas Anderson
Notable Filmography – Boogie Nights, The Master, Magnolia, Inherent Vice, Punch Drunk Love, Hard Eight
Personal Favorite – There Will Be Blood
Seven films into his career, Paul Thomas Anderson has made seven great films. That’s certainly promising.
Anderson’s vision seems to know no bounds. His shot composure is second-to-none. His mastery of tone is supreme, whether it’s in drama (The Master), comedy (Inherent Vice) or the surreal (Magnolia). Comfortable in ensembles or even Adam Sandler (Punch Drunk Love), Anderson’s movies sink their teeth into the American Dream. With Boogie Nights he looked at its frantic underbelly. In The Master, the Dream’s openness comes to light and the various webs that come from such a vast society are under the microscope.
There Will Be Blood tackles – arguably – America’s two biggest tent-poles; oil and religion. With towering imagery, the film ventures to unearth these icons sordid past, our dependence on them and the manipulations that burst forth when bowed to them. In a lesser director’s hands the commentary would read as easy or cynical. Via Anderson, the themes flow freely and astutely.