Top 5 Best Directors of All-Time — Top 5 Tuesday
Celebrating the best directors in cinema history.
Greetings and welcome once again to another Top 5 Tuesday!
I’m a director guy. I respect all of the jobs within filmmaking but nothing is more special to me than the person who oversees it all. Obviously they can’t do what they do without the major amount of talents below them, but they are the leaders. Well, unless you count the suits above them. But we aren’t doing that because that’s no fun!
So in honour of my favourite film job description, here are my top five directors of all-time. This is sure to stir debate and I welcome that, so hit me up with your own top fives in the comments below.
5: Martin McDonagh/John Michael McDonagh
I’m beginning my list by breaking the rules. Martin McDonagh gets more respect than his brother John Michael, even though they have similar styles. In my eyes they are a team even though they release separate movies, and truthfully, I can’t figure out which one I like more. I love what these guys do.
Admittedly, my love of them comes more from their writing than the actual direction of the film. They are certainly competent directors in all facets, but their strength is in the darkly comedic screenwriting that they do. These guys aren’t afraid to go in any direction that they want, but they don’t offend for the sake of offending. Their scripts are legitimately clever and they often get wonderful performances out of the people delivering the lines.
Attach a McDonagh to a project and I’m instantly intrigued.
Martin McDonagh’s best movies: In Bruges, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
John Michael McDonagh’s best movies: Calvary, The Guard.
4: Denis Villeneuve
I wrote at length about Villeneuve in this article so I encourage you to check that out. Okay, you back? Villeneuve is one of the few directors that I adore who doesn’t write most of his scripts. He did write a couple of them, but his rise to fame has come about because of his ability to bring other people’s words to life.
And bring them to life he does! This guy is the most visually stunning director working today. Every frame of Blade Runner 2049 is something you can slap on your wall and show all your friends, but it doesn’t end there. Sicario, Enemy, Arrival, Prisoners, etc.–they’re all gorgeous in their own ways.
If I had to point to one specific strength of his filmmaking style it’s the sense of dread that he’s able to induce in whatever he touches. It’s not in everything he creates but it’s in many of his films. He can create such an oppressive atmosphere that even if someone is just driving down the street–like in Sicario–it’s terrifying. Oh Canada.
Best movies: Sicario, Blade Runner 2049, Arrival
3: Stanley Kubrick
There’s very little that I can say about Kubrick that hasn’t been said a million times by critics all over the world. The guy is not only one of my favourite directors of all-time, the guy is seen as one of the greatest among film buffs everywhere. It’s for good reason because the guy’s filmography is brilliant.
The guy is obviously known for his talent and the stories around the process. He’s known for his cold detachment that doesn’t go so far as to disown the viewer. He’s known for the Kubrick stare. He’s known for his camera movements.
So let me just add an anecdote that is personal to me. Kubrick was not a horror director for the most part, but his movies occasionally scared me. No, I’m not talking about The Shining, which is wonderful in its own right–I’m talking about 2001: A Space Odyssey and Eyes Wide Shut.
The beginning part of 2001 with the monolith legitimately terrified me, and Eyes Wide Shut had the same impact on me. Why? I’m not entirely sure, but the guy managed to tap into something–perhaps primal–in me and exposed fear I didn’t know I had. Don’t psychoanalyze me.
Best movies: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Eyes Wide Shut, Dr. Strangelove, The Shining and Full Metal Jacket.
Here’s a controversial opinion: I don’t like A Clockwork Orange that much.
2: Andrei Tarkovsky
I admire Tarkovsky so much and when I discovered his flicks a whole new world opened up to me. With that said, I don’t want many directors to ape his style. The primary reason for that is because I don’t really want to see the medium embrace these long shots all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love them when done correctly and I appreciate them immensely when you are suddenly treated to a ten minute unbroken shot in a movie that you didn’t necessarily expect that from. I even respect the occasion movie leaning into the style.
But the reality is, people aren’t going to do it like Tarkovsky. A lot of directors will fall flat because they don’t have the knack for memorable imagery and pacing that Tarkovsky had. A lesser filmmaker would just make tedious movies that bore the audience with solitary shots that last for fifteen minutes. I like him being rather unique within cinema, but people like Béla Tarr made great careers for themselves by employing similar philosophies.
Tarkovsky made intellectual but emotional movies, and they never felt as long as they were. He influenced my own preferences quite a bit and I reference him more than almost any other filmmaker…
Best movies: Stalker, Ivan’s Childhood, The Mirror and The Steamroller and the Violin.
1: Harmony Korine
…Except this guy. I mention Harmony Korine a lot more than I do anybody else in the entire industry because he’s one of two artists–the other being Kurt Vonnegut–that I would consider a role model. There are a lot of artists that I take influence from and acknowledge, but Korine is something else.
With that said, a Korine film is an experience that may not translate as well to a casual viewer, even though he’s gotten a little more mainstream over time. Even with his more recent output he has maintained a degree of originality that I haven’t seen with anybody else. A Korine film is undoubtedly a Korine film and it’s impossible to ignore that.
Not everybody will love what he does because he is challenging and doesn’t seem to care what people think. His character shines through and I will always seek out what this guy does. One of my favourite things to do is make someone watch Gummo because whether someone hates it or loves it, they’ve always had a fascinating reaction to it.
Best movies: Gummo, Spring Breakers, Mister Lonely and Julien Donkey-Boy.
He is an Ingmar Bergman guy.