My 10 Favorite Directors Working Today: 3-1

This is the third and final 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, and then part two for 7-4. As a catch-up, those are.

10. David Fincher

9. Mike Leigh

8. Michael Haneke

7. Olivier Asssayas

6. Wes Anderson

5. Richard Linklater

4. Paul Thomas Anderon 

Now to the final three aka Not the Ones You Want.

3. Pedro Almodovar

Notable Filmography – Talk to Her, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Volver, The Skin I Live In, Bad Education, Law of Desire

Personal Favorite – All About My Mother

The master of the modern melodrama, Pedro Almodovar has been shaping absurd stories, flawed characters and lushly shot pictures for several decades now. In a time where even the slightest hint of eroticism is fumbled over, Almodovar has a comfortably sexy palette, talking about the physicality of love and all it entails in a manner that’s occasionally coy, sometimes direct and always engaging.

His narratives can seem absurd. Volver focuses on a mother who has killed her husband and is confronting her mother’s ghost. The Skin I Live In deals with the evolution of a person’s body and how it’s shaped by those around us via a Frankenstein-esque plot. Talk to Her dares to find a source of empathy for a person that has committed a horrifying, deplorable action against a woman. Each of these is a remarkable success, for Almodovar is able to bring the best out of any actor or actress he works with. He’s able to reach into the heart of an emotion to pull out its raw essence.

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For me, that’s best displayed in All About My Mother, where tragedy and emotional transcendence go hand-in-hand. On the back of a excellent cast, Almodovar presents an elegant story with a complex visual presentation that explores who we reach out for in a tragedy and the ways we evolve amidst it. The picture is rich in surprises, Almodovar lining each one up to achieve their greatest effect.

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2. Ethan and Joel Coen

Notable Filmography – Fargo, Inside Llewyn Davis, No Country for Old Men, Miller’s Crossing, True Grit, Blood Simple, O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Personal Favorite – The Big Lebowski

Frequently amazing, funny and thrilling, brothers Ethan and Joel Coen just keep humming along and releasing classics. Since Blood Simple gave us the Coens in 1984, they’ve made an absurd yarn about wannabe parents (Raising Arizona), buffoons looking for treasure (O Brother, Where Art Thou) and an innocent, naive businessman (The Hudsucker Proxy). Each one perfect or bordering on it. And that’s just the comedies.

We’ve also seen them deal with a pregnant cop out to solve a killing spree (Fargo), a blackmailing barber (The Man Who Wasn’t There) and a musician too out of his time and too much a prick to be a success (Inside Llewyn Davis) Each one perfect or bordering on it. And that’s just the dark-comedy/drama-comedy hybrids.

Coens have been able to go to the Old West (True Grit) and the eerie new one (No Country for Old Men) too. All along the way they’ve had a knack for finding the extra gag out of nowhere to underline a scene, been able to unleash truly scary individuals on the viewing public and present an ability to pinpoint the saddest of sad-sacks.

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In that deep array of masterpieces, The Big Lebowski is the gem I admire most. Dense with jokes in a way that can only be unearthed after the third or fourth viewing, it’s endlessly quotable (“Leads?!) and features a performance by Jeff Bridges that earns it’s every ounce of iconography. A cult classic of which I gladly pay dues.

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1. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Notable Filmography – L’enfant, The Kid With a Bike, Rosetta, La Promeese, The Silence of Lorna, Two Days, One Night

Personal Favorite – The Son

The most troubling and incorrect misnomer about Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s movies is that they’re miserable. Poor people porn for the classes above them. It’s a ridiculous notion that can only be read if one hasn’t actually spent anytime with their work. From the time they reworked their storytelling manner with 1996’s La Promesse, the Dardennes have drawn dramatic features of cinematic grace. Those that inhabit their releases may be in dire straits in the beginning or even end of the stories, but they are not the same people by the credits.

L’enfant contains a man willing to sell his newborn child in order to help his extremely meager situation. By its closure, we’re shown a person that has finally recognized the many misdeeds in life, at last growing up. The acts and misdeeds have shattered his life, though not without transforming him. Two Days, One Night works with the complicated the day-to-day tribulations of depression and the world economy. While doing so it walked past villainy into the truth; no two people’s circumstances are the same.

These are done with what it’s often referred to as the “Neo-neo realism” style. The approach is distinctly minimal, usually handheld shots of men and women engaging with one another from a grounded, human level. There are no grand camera movements. There is almost never any music. There is no need. What’s there are magnificent, impeccable scripts, of which they write, and acting that never, ever steps a foot wrong.

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This approach is sublimely represented in The Son. The picture almost plays out as if it were a mysterious thriller. We’re introduced to an older gentleman who teaches woodshop to wayward youths, many of which have criminal histories. One such kid catches his eye and we don’t know why. There is a hush to it all as the Dardennes patiently reveal every inch of their narrative. Action develops their characters and then vice versa. I’m not one to care about spoilers. That said, to give away where The Son goes is to deprive a person of an unparalleled experience. Roger Ebert said of The Son, “It is as assured and flawless a telling of sadness and joy as I have ever seen.”

There is misery one has to trek through when watching something by the Dardennes. You will come out the other side feeling bolder, with fresh eyes to the world. You will think you understand what makes the world tick a bit more.

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