The tradition of foreign directors plying their wares in tinsel town is a story as old as Hollywood itself. Utilizing all the current technology available, filmmakers are now able to mount handsome productions from anywhere in the world. More and more Hollywood is going after these directors instead of the other way around. With recent examples of Del Toro, Jackson, Cuaron and McQueen taking both Oscar acclaim and box office numbers the trend shows no signs of slowing down.
Because the term ‘Hollywood’ is somewhat abstract I’ve tried to focus on films within a particular director’s oeuvre that were either financed/distributed by a Hollywood production company or seem more “American” when compared with the rest of their output. People like Lean, Lubitsch, Sirk or Hitchcock who began their careers elsewhere and then flourished in America have been discounted as they are to my mind some of the most Hollywood directors of all time.
10. Robocop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987)
Dutch director Paul Verhoeven had a string of successful action/science fiction pictures in the late eighties through the end of the nineties. Usually masquerading as bone-headed action romps. Verhoeven’s films for Hollywood were heavily satirical pieces whilst maintaining their emphasis on pure entertainment. Often with a generous helping of visceral violence.
Starting with Robocop in 1987 starring Peter Weller, Nancy Allen & Kurtwood Smith. Robocop is set in a dystopic future Detroit dubbed “Delta City”. In a Death Wish style plot Weller’s character Murphy is killed by Clarence Boddicker (played by Smith) then revived by the OCP corporation as an unstoppable crime fighting robot. Murphy is supposed to have no memory of his former life but little by little he begins to remember and sets out to gun down those responsible for his demise.
Robocop is a great film, we get all the action anyone could want with a whole slew of terrific physical effects. In a memorable scene one of Boddicker’s henchman is dispatched in a vat of toxic waste emerging horribly disfigured.The makeup work is incredible. Likewise for Weller’s Robocop, towards the end we see Murphy with his headgear off and to this day the seamless image of the melding of man and machine is unparalleled.
Unlike the recent remake Verhoeven’s Robocop has something to say about society, crime and artificial intelligence. Whether you’re unfamiliar or have seen it a million times, check it out. It’s worth the price of admission alone for the hilarious television ads interspersed throughout, something the director would later revisit with the propaganda messages in Starship Troopers.
9. Zabriskie Point (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1970)
Antonioni’s 1970 meditation on hippie culture is an interesting picture. Coming off the success of Blow Up he made this damning portrayal of American life for MGM. Apparently the original ending had an airplane sky-writing “Fuck You, America”. Unsurprisingly this was cut by the studio heads.
The film begins with a gaggle of college students spouting revolutionary rhetoric reminiscent of Godard’s Sympathy for the Devil. The shadow of Kent State and Altamont hang heavily over proceedings. “If you shoot ‘em in the back, be sure to drag ‘em inside”, which generally sums up the feeling of the film.
The two main characters Mark and Daria end up hanging out in the desert for a spell. This is emblematic of the minimal plot of the movie which is really non-existent. Instead Antonioni relies more on tone.
It does start to sag heavily in the middle of the picture with some meandering Easy Rider-esque montages. It’s worth watching for some exceptional cinematography including a great highway sequence set to ‘You Got The Silver’ by the Rolling Stones and of course the infamous Pink Floyd ending.
8. Sunrise (F.W. Murnau, 1927)
The man who gave us Nosferatu delivers a wonderfully redemptive tale of a couple in and out of love here with Sunrise. The original title was A Song of Two Humans. George O’Brien plays The Man, Janet Gaynor The Wife and Margaret Livingston is The Woman From The City.
The Man and The Wife are a put upon couple struggling to make ends meet. When The Woman seduces O’brien’s character and convinces him to murder his Wife in a hastily concocted plan it starts a hazardous chain of events.
In scene after scene Murnau astounds us with his mastery of the form. Early on in the picture a lengthy reconciliation scene is played out after O’Brien’s plan goes awry. It’s heartbreaking to watch.
Even if you’re relatively new to silents, give this one a shot. The film moves along at a brisk clip and is filled with beautiful photography and even a few laughs.
7. The Fly (David Cronenberg, 1986)
Cronenberg even to this day is more associated with his earlier “body horror” work which is a shame as he’s done so many different kinds of films. All of which deal heavily with transformation of the self. Both physically and metaphysically. Nowhere is this more true than in his remake of The Fly.
One of Cronenberg’s most concise pictures, we find Goldblum’s Seth Brundle awkwardly trying to impress Veronica (Geena Davis) at a function. Brundle coaxes her back to his lab where he teleports one of her stockings using his telepods. After some hesitation Veronica begins to document his progress.
Although still seen as a gross out horror by a great many people. The Fly is really a tragic love story. Instead of a couple growing gradually apart we have Brundle violently changing over a short period of time. At first for the better but ultimately for the worse.
Cronenberg’s deft touch is on full display here, we have a tight script, some low key humor and incredibly economical direction. Combined with the astounding makeup work and physical effects The Fly doesn’t just hold up today but packs just as much of a punch as it did on first release.
6. Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)
Polanski made this gritty detective noir in 1974 before returning to Europe. It would be his last production in America. Rivaling anything Hawks or Wilder produced in the 40′s this sprawling gumshoe yarn is one of the best pictures of all time and certainly one of the best to come out of Hollywood in that decade.
Jack Nicholson stars as Jake Gittes a down on his luck private investigator with a blurry past in Chinatown. He get’s wrapped up in a labyrinthine caper involving Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) and her father Noah Cross played by the late, great John Huston. Nicholson carries the film, he’s in virtually every scene and he delivers one of his greatest and most subtle performances.
Much has been written about Chinatown and with good reason. Polanski revitalized the noir genre and gave us a mystery for the ages. Towne’s script jumps off the page and indeed won him an Oscar for his trouble. The photography is second to none and the rewards are plentiful even after multiple viewings.