Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Straight Ignorance at Its Finest

I don't know from Empire Magazine, but I don't mind admitting it. Now, how come they can't admit that they don't know from movies? IMDb reports that Empire just published a list of the 10 Greatest Film Directors of all time, and despite the total and instant irrelevance of this list, this is the kind of thing that drives me crazy. Y'all know that Nick's Flick Picks likes nothing better than a good movie list, debatable and unsatisfying as they always are. But what is the point of circulating some nonsense? Here were Empire's anointed:

1. Steven Spielberg
2. Alfred Hitchcock
3. Martin Scorsese
4. Stanley Kubrick
5. Ridley Scott
6. Akira Kurosawa
7. Peter Jackson
8. Quentin Tarantino
9. Orson Welles
10. Woody Allen

Now, let's not even get started on the sentence in the IMDb clip that says, "Surprisingly, acclaimed film-makers such as Star Wars director George Lucas, Charlie Chaplin, and Tim Burton, fell short of inclusion." And let's not even deal with the "Sir" I'm apparently s'posed to affix to Ridley Scott's name. (Surely they'll rescind that in the wake of Kingdom of Heaven?)

What is the point of publishing a list like this? I know I'm up on my high horse, but seriously, this is like me making a list of the 10 Greatest Basketball Players of all time, i.e., the 10 Basketball Players I Have Heard Of, Because Everyone Has Heard of Them. I can only judge based on celebrity, 'cuz I have no sense of basketball history, the finer techniques of the game, or how to discern an excellent player who isn't a spotlighter or a showboater. I have no grasp of subtlety or tradition, much less of women basketball players, or of basketball players outside the USA. What I know about basketball players is about a fraction more than I knew in the delivery room.

As I tell my students often, just because I know how to turn on a light-switch doesn't make me an electrician.

I'm'a take this list over to the Cinemarati Roundtable and see if we can come up with some ballots that are at least a li'l bit respectable. I'm not saying none of the 10 names above should qualify, but for all of them to qualify is just kind of embarrassing, and they fill such obvious quotas (#6 = "Foreign Director We Have Heard Of," #7 = "Man of the Moment," #9 = "He Directed Citizen Kane"...)

I don't know how you make a list like this without factoring in historical importance and factors of influence, but even leaving out the gigantic innovators (Porter, Melies...), the 'experimental' and avant-garde pioneers of different eras (Brakhage, Deren, the Vertov group...), the documentarians (Flaherty, Wiseman, Kopple...), the animators.... since the Empire list doesn't even pretend to cover any of that, I'll stick to the stated parameters and propose:

10 Great(est?) Directors of All Time...
1. Ingmar Bergman
2. Robert Bresson
3. Orson Welles
4. Alfred Hitchcock
5. Charlie Chaplin
6. F.W. Murnau
7. Andrei Tarkovsky
8. Max Ophüls
9. Howard Hawks
10. Luis Buñuel

Runners Up...
Josef von Sternberg, Robert Altman, D.W. Griffith, Fritz Lang, Buster Keaton, Chantal Akerman, Ousmane Sembene, Douglas Sirk, Abbas Kiarostami, Shohei Imamura, Vittorio De Sica, Stanley Kubrick, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Terrence Malick

My Bad That I Haven't Seen Enough...
Jean Renoir, Satyajit Ray, Carl-Theodor Dreyer, Sergei Eisenstein, Theo Angelopoulos, Alain Resnais, John Ford, Michael Powell, Victor Erice, Eric Rohmer

Bigger Bad That I Haven't Seen Any...
Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujiro Ozu, Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti, Jacques Rivette

10 Directors Who Still Need To Convince Me...
1. Jean-Luc Godard (though I could change my mind about him)
2. Akira Kurosawa
3. Federico Fellini
4. Martin Scorsese (he's made some masterpieces, but he's too inconsistent)
5. Francis Ford Coppola (ditto)
6. Billy Wilder (ditto again)
7. John Cassavetes (keep on ditto'ing)
8. Hou Hsiao-hsien
9. Krzysztof Kieslowski
49. Um, Sir Ridley Scott (he's an admirable visualist, but c'mon)

10 Working Directors I Am Most Excited About...
(Excluding the living members of above lists)
1. Claire Denis
2. David Lynch
3. Todd Haynes
4. Aleksandr Sokurov
5. Jane Campion
6. David Cronenberg
7. Samira Makhmalbaf
8. Lynne Ramsay
9. Pedro Almodóvar
10. Michael Winterbottom

Obviously, there are second-guessable inclusions and wack omissions all over these lists. Plenty of people know way better than me, but I'm not running scared of Empire magazine. I'd still like to believe I can tell the difference between Andrei Rublev and Amistad, or Persona and Gladiator. Meanwhile, the AFI has got the next affront to good film sense already in the hopper.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous goatdog said...

Gah! This is mind-boggling. I think I'll make a list of the ten directors who would be best at basketball. Kudos to you for coming up with some interesting lists in response to this. I'm shocked--shocked!--to see Wilder on your "convince me" list. The Apartment, Some Like It Hot, Ace in the Hole (!!!), Sunset Blvd., A Foreign Affair (mmmm...Marlene)... that's enough to convince me. And why is Lubitsch not on any of your lists? He seems right up your alley.

You may notice that I'm not attempting to make a list of my own.

10:18 AM, June 08, 2005  
Blogger Nick Davis said...

Don't get me wrong, I'm being a stingy bastard on that "Convince Me" list. Several of those directors have more than one masterpiece to their names that I absolutely love, but they've also directed other pictures that make me question whether they're really All-Time Top 10 material. (That's the only, admittedly ludicrously high criteria we're dealing with here. The cinema would be worse without any of these directors in it.)

For Wilder: Love Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, and Some Like It Hot, but The Apartment is acrid and overpraised, and The Lost Weekend incredibly awkward. The other Wilder picture I've seen is Witness for the Prosecution, which even he thought was ho-hum. Clearly a glittering career, but I'm not a full-time convert. (Haven't seen Ace in the Hole yet.)

Scorsese: Taxi Driver, New York, New York, and Raging Bull are a magisterial trio, though Pauline Kael's got some points in her put-down of RB. Outside that trio, there are plenty of others I love for various reasons, but there's no question he's a bit of a ham, and since The Age of Innocence, Bringing Out the Dead is the only one of his movies I've really bought.

Coppola: Anyone who pulls off The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, or The Godfather, much less all of them, is a genius, and I'm also a big Dracula fan, but he's had such a strange career otherwise. Still, it's not like I'm impugning the talent of these people.

Cassavetes: A Woman Under the Influence is an all-time favorite, Opening Night a personal treasure, and there's nifty stuff tucked into Love Streams, but as a whole body of work, it can sometimes get a little much, no?

1:06 PM, June 08, 2005  

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