When we go to see a movie, what draws us to the types of pictures we want to see? What makes us go to movies? First and foremost there is the story itself. An intriguing subject will draw us to the big screen. Actors and actresses are also good reasons to see a picture. People may want to see a Mel Gibson or a Meg Ryan flick. The audience is more interested in the stars themselves rather than the content of the picture. If we see the film simply because of the actor or actress, the person is a real Hollywood movie star who has gained worldwide recognition and success. I usually go to Anthony Hopkins pictures because he will never, under any circumstances, disappoint. He always comes through with a stellar performance. Other actors, like Tom Cruise or Winona Ryder, have had their ups-and-downs; the downs usually because another key element is missing. That element is direction. The director is much like the actors in a sense. The directors may not be on the screen but their presence in the picture is made known through their styles and the choices they make in their direction.
The director provides the backbone and structure of the film. Think of the most famous and critically acclaimed directors in the business today. When I think of the movie Jaws, I think of it as a Steven Spielberg flick, not a Roy Schneider or a Richard Dreyfuss flick. Even though they are fantastic actors, the real star is Spielberg. Spielberg, Scorsese, Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola, the Coen brothers, David Lynch, Tim Burton, and Oliver Stone are directors with an ever-present, unique style of direction which is different from anyone else. And they’re all good.
I would see any film made by the directors listed above, regardless of who is in it or what the story is. As bold and daring as that may seem, I have faith in their techniques and their ability to entertain. One can always depend on these directors to deliver the goods. Spielberg can unfold remarkable fantasies and epic pictures before our eyes in a childlike, but extremely mature style. Martin Scorsese is a master of rough-edged stories involving crime, struggling to survive on the streets, real life Mafia tales, and religious battles between man and God. Woody Allen, even if he is little extreme, is one of the most sophisticated comedians in the film business because his humor is hilarious and also incredibly intelligent and very reflective of our own lives and personalities. Coppola is a master storyteller with an excellent eye for artistic enthusiasm and a well-rounded repertoire of various movie genres. The Coen brothers are geniuses of black comedy, extravagant and flamboyant camera techniques, and bittersweet stories (all of them written by the Coens). David Lynch is just plain twisted and bizarre. His movies, strange and unusual as they are, are still very well done. Tim Burton, like Lynch, makes extraordinary movies that are peculiar as well as remarkable. Burton is not quite as serious minded as Lynch and utilizes a more imaginative and cartoon-like atmosphere in his films. Despite Burton’s childlike imagination, his movies always have a gothic atmosphere that makes his work beautiful, often funny, and sometimes very chilling. Oliver Stone can tackle a very bold and controversial issue or just tell a simple story with not too much fat to chew on. Either way, his style has an extremely potent emphasis on editing, camera angles, use of color, and fast and slow motion. Watching Oliver Stone’s work is almost like watching MTV, except much more inventive and actually worth your time.
These nine directors are some of the best people working in cinema today. In the next issue, I’ll discuss some of the excellent directors who have passed on to that great film studio in the sky.