It is not uncommon for great artists to have periods where their work does not match that which gave them artistic credibility in the first place. It has happened to authors, painters, composers and directors. And, in some cases, directors have naturally declined with age (hence why Tarantino is committed to retrieving after 10 films).
This list attempts to cover some great directors who have fell on hard times in terms of quality cinematic output. Moreover, the list is a relative to the kind of quality films the said director has made, so while some of their contemporary films may be decent, they are lesser than what we know they are capable of.
10. Woody Allen
Some might find it erroneous that Woody Allen features on this list, but it is indisputable that his recent films have not been up to the standard of his 20th century ones. Although he has released a number of relatively entertaining and engaging pictures (Midnight in Paris (2011), Cafe Society (2016), Blue Jasmine (2013)), they are obviously weaker than the films out of which he made his name.
Allen has not been dwindling in terms of the rate at which his films are distributed- one per year- but in terms of the quality of them. For a while now, it has felt like Allen has been going through the motions with his films, not really offering us anything new or genuine. They lack the acerbic wit of Annie Hall (1976), and Allen has been unable to find a suitably surrogate for himself.
Certainly, his recent films are not bad by any stretch. In most cases, they are better than most other recent releases. But, nonetheless, they lack the memorability of his earlier films.
9. Tim Burton
Tim Burton’s visual style and his set designs are some of the most recognisable in cinema. Many have tried to capture his unique style without success. Burton’s Beetlejuice (1988), Ed Wood (1994) and Edward Scissorhands (1994) showcase the very best he has to offer. Engrossing, atmospheric visuals- along with sympathetic, eccentric characters, Burton has cemented himself as a favourite of many.
However, more recently, Burton has not been at his best. It has felt like he has rested on his laurels, making similar films over and over without imbuing them with passion or heart. This is readily evident in Alice in Wonderland (2008) and Charlie and the a Chocolate Factory (2005). What made Burton’s successful films great was the energetic originality of them; for him to return to his filmmaking heights he has to recapture this.
8. Oliver Stone
Known for his seamless, human ability to provoke political discussion, Oliver Stone is one of the best agitators in modern cinema. His anti-war film Platoon (1986) realistically portrayed the tragedy of the Vietnam War better than the many other acclaimed films that dealt with the subject.
Similarly, JFK (1991) is a filmmaking masterclass, as Stone is able to coherently and engagingly cram a mass of subversive information into the film to compel us to doubt the official narrative of Kennedy’a assassination. It is scathing and angry; but also emotional and balanced.
Arguably, though, since Nixon (1995), Stone has not made a film up to the standard we know he is capable of. His films have remained political (Snowden (2016), World Trade Center (2006)), but they have lacked rich political discussion and Stone’s unique skill to condemn self-serving political institutions and governments. However, this has still manifested itself in Stone’s public appearances and his books.
7. Spike Lee
Spike Lee is one of the most important African American directors living. His engagement with race relations in America is always informed by history and experience, and his films help to highlight underlying racial issues. Lee’s most successful works- Malcolm X (1982) and Do the Right Thing (1990) are cinematic tour de forces. Lee is able to both take pride in his heritage, and also deplore the way that African Americans have been treated in America.
Undoubtedly, there is something kinetic and alive about these films; as they are the product of intense passion.
Of late, Lee’s output has been much less regular. In addition to this, the films that he has directed have been notably subpar. They have failed to tell captivating, layered narratives, and have featured characters that have been wafer thin. This has been readily apparent in Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014).
6. Brian De Palma
Brian De Palma is an underrated director. He knows his craft as well as any of the other directors that emerged with him in the New Hollywood film period (Lucas, Scorsese, Coppola, Friedkin, Spielberg). De Palma’s films have an urgency and sense of importance that is heightened in comparison to the ordinary picture.
This is best represented in Scarface (1983); his memorable mafia epic. Even for a film like Mission Impossible (1996), which was an action film that revolved around Tom Cruise, De Palma’s directorial command is evident in the way that the action is manipulated.
However, since Mission Impossible, De Palma’s career has been marked by a noticeable decline. Femme Fatale (2002) has perhaps represented this; as it is a failed attempt made by De Palma to harken back to his more prosperous days as a filmmaker.