It is no mean feat to make a movie from start to finish. We’ve all heard stories of Terry Gilliam’s “Don Quixote” or even Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon project, proving that you can be one of the most admired directors in history and still fall short of putting your vision in front of the cameras. And that’s not to mention the creative difficulties that have sidelined most great artists for at least a while to reinvent themselves.
Thus, in some cases, be it starting out directors or all-around loved masters of the trade, the gap between the last project and upcoming project just grows and grows, until one day even the fans aren’t sure if the director is ever coming back. And then one day the news of the comeback finally arrives, making everyone reading it go “he/she isn’t dead?!”
Today we are looking at 10 directors who took extremely long breaks between movies and somehow managed to not only came back without rusting, but actually overshadowed or at the very least equaled their earlier project.
For this list, we are focusing on modern directors, who have made their comeback film in the last 20 years, thus excluding artists like David Lean (14 years between “Ryan’s Daughter” in 1970 and “A Passage to India” in 1984) or Víctor Erice (who took 10 and 9 years in between the three features he’s made).
The length of the gap required is at least nine years and while it may seem like an excruciatingly long period of time to spend waiting for a new movie, there are many, many famous directors with six or seven year gaps, proving that it’s all relative. The 10 directors listed here are ranked by the strength of their returning feature.
10. Lucile Hadžihalilović
The French director took 11 years to come back with her second feature, “Evolution”, in 2015. The response was in a similar vein to what one might have expected, seeing her previous work (including a short movie called “Good Boys Use Condoms”); there were many who loved it and many who disliked it thoroughly. Much like in her debut film, “Innocence”, it focuses on the experiences of children, losing a clear structure in favor of an eerie atmosphere.
“It’s a film about sensations, emotions – not storytelling – so people had to bring their imagination to the table,” Hadžihalilović explained. While perhaps not as praised and not as popular as “Innocence” was at the time of release, “Evolution” contains some of the most beautiful images you’ll ever see in film, and it might leave you in a state of mild confusion, but that is kind of the point.
9. Alejandro Jodorowsky
One of the most lauded and talked about returns to filmmaking in the last few years was that of Alejandro Jodorowsky. A cult favorite, whose “The Holy Mountain” and “El Topo” are must-sees for anyone interested in cinema, came back in 2013 after spending 24 years away from the camera (the second longest gap on this list). Surprisingly, the sequel to his returning “The Dance of Reality” came out in 2016, just three years after its predecessor.
“The Dance of Reality” is not Jodorowsky’s best feature, this is a fact. But it’s a return to form one wouldn’t expect from a director who shook audiences more than 40 years ago, as it is all too common for someone edgy come back to the stage only to now seem conventional and boring.
In an autobiographical tale of his childhood in Chile, he uses many of the same techniques for which he became known, even referring to his earlier work. It’s an inventive, genre bending, not entirely coherent film, but an endlessly entertaining project that might just be his most emotional picture.
8. Lynne Ramsay
Seeing as both “Ratcatcher” and “We Need to Talk About Kevin” are now considered some of the finest movies of the last few decades, it’s a huge shame Lynne Ramsay is such a slow worker. In the nine years we had to wait after “Morvern Callar”, she could have established herself as one of the filmmakers of this century so far, but as it stands, Ramsay has not cemented her status just yet.
After her disturbing return with “We Need to Talk About Kevin”, the next project was set to be, of all things, the western “Jane Got a Gun”. However, in one of the most controversial clashes between the director and the producers in recent years, Ramsay left the project just days before shooting, for which the producers sued her.
She denied allegations of being under the influence of alcohol and abusive towards members of the crew, but knowing that clashes with the director was Michael Fassbender’s reason for quitting the film, one can’t help but feel that part of the blame must rest with Ramsay. Nevertheless, her “You Were Never Really Here” should arrive next year, and we couldn’t be more excited to see her working with Joaquin Phoenix.
7. Kelly Reichardt
Right now you might be thinking, how in the world is Kelly Reichardt on this list? She has made five movies in the last 11 years, all of them critically acclaimed – a mixture of pace and quality that not too many can boast of having. But before this run of form was a tiny little gap of 12 years. Debuting in 1994 with “River of Glass”, Reichardt only came back in 2006 with “Old Joy”.
The 76-minute drama was a perfect comeback, launching the career we’re following now. It follows two old friends, Kurt and Mark, who reunite for a camping trip – and really, that’s about it. “Old Joy” is almost a meditative piece with very little dialogue.
It was cost effective, it was emotionally engrossing, and most importantly, it was as gorgeous as any movie you’ll ever see. You could make the case for almost any of Reichardt’s films being her best, but this one is certainly a great place to start for a fresh viewer, and proof that a gap in practice does not necessarily reduce the level of ideas.
6. Stanley Kubrick
Yes, Stanley Kubrick ends up on the lower half of this top 10. His “Eyes Wide Shut”, coming 12 years after “Full Metal Jacket”, is undoubtedly a great film, and has lost none of its quality over time. But it’s not his best, nor is it the best movie on this list, thus leaving him the sixth spot.
The 1999 dramatic thriller tells the story of a man’s journey into his sexual fantasies, eventually leading him into the dark world of prostitution and orgies. It feels dangerous, at times discouraging, and even amusing on a few occasions. Tom Cruise and his then wife Nicole Kidman are fantastic, both later claiming this was one of their favorite movies they’ve ever done, while still noting that it was extremely difficult to work with Kubrick.