5. William Friedkin
Friedkin is a director that was very much a part of the New Hollywood (late ‘60s to early ‘80s) film period, characterised by unprecedented creative control for directors. Due to this, Friedkin thrived as a director in Hollywood, asserting his aptitude in every film he made.
The French Connection (1971) is one of the most definitive crime films ever made. Its gritty aesthetic- enabled through Friedkin’s direction of the cinematography, and his hand in choosing to film in NYC. The film is great at building up to the hairier parts, as Friedkin modulates the levels of tension at will. Similarly, the Exorcist (1973), for many, is also a hallmark of the horror genre. Friedkin’s forays across genre shows to us his unlimited ability as a director.
Unfortunately, Friedkin has not been as prosperous in the 21st century. Arguably, his directorial skills have not waned. Rather, his decline has occurred because of studios reclaiming control over films. This has stifled Friedkin’s career, and indeed the career of many other great directors. Additionally, Friedkin has been unable to capture funding for his films, which really is an indictment on the way that Hollywood conducts itself more as a business than as a site of artistic merit.
4. Jonathan Demme
Jonathan Demme’s most popular film, Silence of the Lambs (1989) was the director’s first dalliance in the thriller genre. Demme very much made his name with entertaining, witty comedy films in the ‘80s.
This speaks to his understanding of how to construct meaning in film, as he was able to create a psychologically taxing, memorable thriller with such an ease that one would think he was doing it all his life. Since Philadelphia (1994)- an engaging film that highlights the injustice of homophobia in dominant society- Demme has not made a film that aligns with his ability.
He remade The Manchurian Candidate (2004) with moderate success. Nonetheless, the original (1962) remains the definitive version. Ricki and the Flash (2015), headed by Meryl Streep, failed to gain critical success, and Rachel Getting Married (2008) is probably his greatest work of substance in recent times.
3. John Carpenter
John Carpenter is a very capable artistically. He is a director, writer and composer, whose ability in all those areas is top class. Carpenter has made films in various genres, though he has been most prominent in the horror genre. Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) is an inspired piece of filmmaking. Importantly, it shows us how a good horror film should be made; with the use of cinematic techniques such as music, restrained staging and mandated camerawork.
His score for Halloween is one of the best instances of film music, absolutely enhancing our experience by adding suspense and paranoia. Ultimately, Carpenter’s success in the 20th century was unbridled, apparent with respect to his success with The Thing (1982) and Escape to New York (1981).
More recently, Carpenter’s rate of output has decreased enormously. He has scarcely added to his filmography in the 21st century, which has been of immense disappointment for many fans of cinema- as we know the heights of Carpenter’s career. Hopefully he can experience a resurgence.
2. Roman Polanski
Aside from his egregious acts in his private life, it is undoubtable that Polanski is a skilled director. Primarily using formalism as a way to convey meaning, Polanski is skilled in his understanding of the power of the cinematic medium. His films are often defined by slow-burning intensity, permitting through tight narratives, humanly flawed characters, and resonant themes- particularly with respect to the inherent problems of masculinity.
Polanski’s neo noir Chinatown (1974) is his magnum opus. Chinatown is a film that takes us on a journey; we are only made aware of events as they occur to PI Jake Gittis (Jack Nicholson’s defining performance). As Polanski meticulously peels back the layers of the onion, we are left with an image of widespread corruption in the city of L.A. It is difficult to select standout Polanski films from the ‘60s and ‘70s, as they are all equally meritorious (Knife in the Water (1962), Cul de sac (1966), Rosemary’s Baby (1968)).
Perhaps since the ‘80s, Polanski’s films have lacked the consistency of his purple patch. Although he has of course directed some great films in that time- Frantic (1988), The Pianist (2002)- the majority of them have not possessed the energy and expert formalism that has defined his career.
1. Francis Ford Coppola
Coppola, as we all know, sprung onto the scene as an unknown director with The Godfather (1972). He could not have made his name with a more successful film, as The Godfather is often considered the best film of the second half of the 20th century. Coppola capitalised on this success with The Godfather Part II (1974), making a sequel that is on a par, if not better than, the original. This is something very few directors have done.
The ‘70s was Coppola’s decade, rounding it off with The Conversation (1975) and arguably the best war film ever, Apocalypse Now (1979). It was always going to be hard to top his output after such a sustained period of unprecedented success.
However, Coppola’s fall was greater than most of us expected. Prior to the 21st century, many of his films were merely mediocre (at least in comparison with his best). His 21st century films, though, have been nothing short of disasters- Tetro (2009), Twixt (2011). His daughter, Sofia, has certainly had a much more success comparatively in the 21st century.
Though, one thing that acts to partially absolve Coppola for his poor showing in the 21st century is his inability to access funding for his films.
Author Bio: Nick is a uni student with more interest in film than the subjects he is studying. He is waiting for a reunion between De Niro and Scorsese.