10 Directors to acquaint yourself with: We all know Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas when it comes to blockbusters, Oliver Stone when it comes to controvoursey, Woody Allen for comedy but there are a lot of directors that the average filmgoer might not know of who are doing great work in the 21st century. Being familiar with these names of mostly up-and-coming directors will help you make a safer bet next time you’re in the movie theater line or videostore.
1. Fernando Meirelles: “Stick to your village and you’ll appeal to the whole world,” is the philosophy Meirelles preaches to global filmmakers trying to make it in the global era and one he perfected in the landmark 2002 film City of God, a gripping tale of a young photographer trying to make the most of a short-lived existence in the slums of Brazil. His follow-up which transported the Brazillian filmmaker to the shantytowns of Kenya in an adaptation of The Constant Gardener was received just as well this past year. In an ever-increasing global network of film, Meirelles is paving the way for third world filmmakers hoping to import a brand of filmmaking that retains their local flavor.
2. Wes Anderson: Anderson’s films are a delicately textured feast for the eyes and ears. Unique touches like David Bowie songs translated into Portuguese are infused into eclectic film scores and he pays equal attention to visual tones. His films often feature a central character surrounded by a colorful group of characters and by sorting out the kinks in the relationships in his life, he comes to the conclusion that love them or hate them, be greatful for all the people in your life because they come in handy someday.
3. Sam Mendes: His first film, American Beauty, struck a chord with the American public in capturing the depression of suburban conformity and won an Oscar. His second film Road to Perdition, didn’t get quite as acclaim as the first but still had its admirers (including myself, it’s a personal favorite of mine), while three times did not prove a charm for Jarhead, a film injected with just a bit too much testosterone to be effective. Still, traces of his distinct style are noticeable in all three films: Mendes tends to work from the outside in. In three entirely different settings, the Persian Gulf, The Mob Scene in Depression-Era Chicago, Mendes does a wonderful job, first and foremost, of portraying a world and the characters who inhabit it and the story takes off from there.
4. Stephen Sodebergh: First off, I have to admit that it’s kind of irritating how for such a self-proclaimed champion of independent filmmaking, it seems like the sole purpose of some of his movies is to give his friends Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, and George Clooney something to do. Faults aside, Sodebergh is a very innovative filmmaker whose never-ending desire to experiment makes it so that even if he comes up with a dud like Ocean’s 12 or Full Frontal, you have to give him credit for at least trying something new. When he gets it right, like in Traffic, the results can be classic
5. Rob Zemeckis-Stephen Spielberg’s lesser-known protégé has made some of the most memorable classics of the last 20 years showing great range and innovation. He has explored both the fun and serious sides of the sci-fi genre with the Back to the Future trilogy and Contact respectively. His wacky ideas include infusing the gangster film with animated cartoons in Who Framed Roger Robert and (along with co-writer Tom Hanks) basing an entire film on a marooned castaway befriending a volleyball in Cast Away and surprisingly both worked.
6. Kevin Smith-His humor is admittingly low-brow, but as crude humor goes, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more intelligent filmmaker than Smith. To treat his landmark film, Clerks (and now Clerks II) as representative of his work would not be giving him enough credit for his range. Chasing Amy is considered by some to be an insightful take on relationships (personally, I didn’t like it but others do), Dogma is probably one of the best religious satires ever made. While bashed by some, I found Mallrats is a great send-up to adolescent aimlessness. It’s moral is priceless: that the best things in life are the little joys (a new type of pretzel, a signing at the comic store, etc) that are found at your neighborhood mall. And that’s what it comes down to for Smith. Is there anything in life more serious than that?
7. Bryan Singer-Working with small budgets as shown with The Usual Suspects, Bryan Singer demonstrated his ability as a great storyteller. With bigger budgets and biggest casts, Singer has still retained the human element but great special effects were added. He has done much to resurrect the superhero summer blockbuster with X-Men and Superman Returns (my review of Superman Returns was bad, but I think that Singer did a good job with what was given to him), by bringing realism to the genre. I’m not certain of this but it’s a good bet that pretty much everything from The Hulk to The Fantastic Four to Batman Begins took cues from him.
8. Peter Weir-For the 1985 hit film Witness, one of the very few films to use Pennsylvania’s Amish country as its setting, Australian Peter Weir was brought over to Hollywood for the project because they wanted someone with an outsider’s sensitivity and that has been one of his trademarks. Weir shows extroadinary attention to detail in his films, which helped make 2003 sea epic Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, set during the Napoleanic Wars, one of the best period pieces to date. He also has a great track record of single-handedly transforming the careers of leading actors he has worked with: Harrison Ford in Witness, Robin Williams in Dead Poets’ Society, and Jim Carrey in Truman Show
9. Alexander Payne-Payne is a UCLA Film School grad who studied abroad in Europe during his undergrad days. It was there where he picked up a fondness for Italian neorealism and he is now basically this generation’s answer to The Bycicle Thief. His last two films, About Schmidt and Sideways have both won multiple accolades, and his first two Citizen Ruth and Election, a high school comedy made with MTV films have developed cult followings. Schmidt and Sideways are marked by brilliant casting choices and a humor that comes from the subtleties and joys of life and they are emotionally affecting in a way few movies are.
10. Edward Zwick-With Glory, Legends of the Fall, The Last Samurai and the upcoming Blood Diamond, Zwick is most at home making the epic. He is great at period pieces, capturing time and place, and the quality of the art direction in his films (The recreation of 19th century San Fransisco for the opening of Last Samurai, for example) gets taken for granted all too often. He infuses films with wonderfully intense action scenes, and for making his films borderline action/period piece hybrids rather than period pieces, he is often overlooked by the academy, although he did win an Oscar as producer of Shakespeare in Love.