5. David Cronenberg
A strong advocate for government funding who has been heavily supported by the Canadian government, Cronenberg is an originator of the body horror genre, which seeks to explore fears of bodily transformation. In earlier films such as Shivers (1975), the modification of the human body by scientists results in the breakdown of society. Later on, this chaos became more personal (e.g. The Brood), while his remake of The Fly showed scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) being altered by his experiments.
Cronenberg has been influenced by writers such as William S. Burroughs and Vladamir Nabokov and in 1991 he adapted Burrough’s novel, Naked Lunch. Widely seen as un-directable, in the latter Cronenberg managed to blur the lines between reality and delusions brought on by the characters’ drug addiction. In recent years, he has made several mainstream movies, including Eastern Promises and A History of Violence (one of his highest budgeted and most accessible films to date). His latest feature, Maps to the Stars is his first set in Hollywood and is in competition at Cannes. Starring Robert Pattison and three time collaborator Sarah Gadan, it tells the story of the dysfunctional Weiss family, headed by a father who is psychotherapist to the stars.
The progression of Cronenberg’s movies tends to be from the social world to the real life. They are strongly influenced by surrealism and philosophy. Despite somewhat of a move away from body horror, he still isn’t afraid to shock, using lots of medium shots to accentuate the human face and conversation. To achieve such spectacular acting performances, he has famously said he doesn’t storyboard, preferring to let his actors move around the set.
4. Alexander PayneAlexander Payne’s latest film, Nebraska, documents the journey to Nebraska of an alcoholic man, Woody and his son David, because Woody (Bruce Dern) believes he has won a million dollars. Shot in black and white (against the wishes of distributors, Paramount), it has been well reviewed and was nominated for 6 Film Independent Spirit awards.
Before directing and writing his first feature, the comedy Citizen Ruth, in 1996, Payne worked in various roles on film and television. His second film, Election, was also a comedy, satirising both politics and high school life. The successful About Schmidt, Sideways and The Descendants followed. Payne has won two Academy Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay, for Sideways and The Descendants.
Payne’s films are starkly realistic. Male characters frequently deal with life changes; in About Schmidt, Schmidt has retired from his pedestrian job and embarks on a road trip, while both Woody and David deal with issues in Nebraska. Adultery also features strongly. Mostly, his characters are unremarkable Americans who are well portrayed. Rather than being visually distinctive ( many are quite minimalist), the common themes and characters portrayed on low budgets make Alexander Payne’s movies distinguishable from others.
3. Jim Jarmusch
Jarmusch has cemented his identity as the darling of the independent film movement with his latest vampire offering, Only Lovers Left Alive. A career- independent film-maker, he made his first feature Permanent Vacation, on $12000 (mainly consisting of misdirected scholarship funds from NYU). His acclaimed 1984 film, Stranger Than Paradise was followed by hits including Down By Law, Mystery Train, Night On Earth and Broken Flowers (the latter securing him a ‘first look’ deal with distributors Fortissimo).
Jarmusch has always been known as a conventions breaker . Stylistically, his films are influenced more by European and Japanese cinema than American. His scripts rarely stick to the standard three act structure. In Down By Law and Mystery Train, he used parallel narratives, becoming an early icon of the American ‘road movie’. In the nineties, he experimented more with genre, including the 19th century American period western, Dead Man. This was hailed as a visionary masterpiece by critics, although Jarmusch was both lauded and castigated for his portrayal of violence and native Americans.
After the release of Ghost Dog, Jarmusch took a five year break, citing a creative crisis post 9-11, before releasing the short film collection, Coffee and Cigarettes. Jarmusch’s unhurried films focus on mood and character development. Music plays a key role in creating brooding scenes and emphasising mood- notable musicians featured on his soundtracks have included Neil Young and Tom Waits. With their rich dialogue and developed characters, his films have been described as having the tempo of jazz.
A favourite at Cannes, Jarmusch has been awarded on four occasions at the festival, including winning the prestigious Grand Prix in 2005 for Broken Flowers and the Palme D’Or for best short film for Coffee and Cigarettes in 1993.
2. Wes AndersonFrequently described by colleagues as meticulous, Wes Anderson’s attention to detail has produced some of the most visually interesting films of recent years, including his latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Anderson made his feature debut in 1996 with Bottle Rocket. Based on a short film made with Luke and Owen Wilson, it focused on the elaborate plan of a trio of friends to pull off a robbery and go on the run. This began a collaborative relationship with Owen Wilson, with whom Anderson was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Screenplay for The Royal Tenenbaums. A box office hit, The Royal Tenanbaums is a comedy about a successful artistic New York family and its ostracised patriarch. This was followed by several quirky comedy dramas, including the critically acclaimed Moonrise Kingdom, which opened Cannes in 2012. Since 1998, Anderson’s films have been produced by his own company, American Empirical Pictures.
There are a number of common threads throughout Wes Anderson’s films. They often feature loners or eccentric characters and share themes of discontent, longing, alienation and elitism. His settings are colourful and surreal, with an emphasis on small details such as books and monogrammed luggage. His cinematography is kinetic, with the narrative crafted and edited like a stage play. From large tracking shots to the minor elements in each set and costume, Anderson takes care of everything. This doesn’t appear to deter actors from working with him: Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Jason Schwartzman and Anjelica Huston are amongst a long list who have appeared in multiple Wes Anderson films.
1. Richard Linklater
A winner of the Silver Bear in Berlin, Richard Linklater’s latest film Boyhood, has already been described by critics as his best yet. Shot over 12 years, it tells the story of a divorced couple trying to raise their son, using the same child actor throughout and renewing Linklater’s collaboration with Ethan Hawke.
A self taught writer and director, Linklater was one of the first talents to emerge during the independent film renaissance of the 1990s. An advocate for film-makers telling their own stories, Linklater states he still has many low budget ideas. Slacker was made on a budget of $23,000 by his production company, Detour film- production and grossed over $1.25 million in box offices. Many of his stories take place over a 24 hour period in the characters’ lives, including the successful Before Sunrise, the first in his trilogy written with Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke.
Famed for their beautiful dialogue, words have been described as the action in Linklater’s movies. Impressive backdrops (such as Vienna in Before Sunrise) have been used to frame conversations. Many of his films explore what he terms, ‘the youth rebellion continuum,’ focussing in fine detail on generational rites and mores with compassion. Known as a relaxed director who gets the most out of his actors, Linklater was responsible for one of Jack Black’s best films, School Of Rock.
Technically, Linklater trialled digital cameras early on, and animated Waking Life ( 2001) using rotoscoping techniques. Although many of his films lack pacing changes and are visually similar, Linklater’s characters are so rich and likeable that movie goers frequently leave the cinema with a certain feeling of zen.
Author Bio: Suzanne Rath is a writer, producer and the founder of Idle Wrath films (@IdleWrath). She’s currently in pre production on a short, Fairy Fort, to be shot in September. A strong advocate for independent film, she’s a member of the Kino Sydney Association, which runs a monthly open short film screening for emerging film-makers and their audience.