Last summer, Taste of Cinema published a list titled 10 Directors Who Should Stop Making Movies. It featured such offenders as Tyler Perry, Dennis Dugan, Paul W. S. Anderson and, of course, Michael Bay – the cinephile’s bête noir.
In the past 20 years, these filmmakers have inflicted dozens of films on us and have made heaps of filthy lucre in doing so. Meanwhile, there are hosts of talented filmmakers and budding auteurs of varying fame, age and background whose work, for whatever reason, has been terribly irregular since the turn of the century. Please note, only feature films are considered in this list.
1. Andrew Dominik
New Zealand-born Australian director Andrew Dominik was the impetus for this list. After directing rock music videos in the early 1990s, Dominik has made just 3 films since the year 2000 – Chopper, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Killing Them Softly.
All three of them are striking, visceral pieces of work led by strong performances and dialogue. Indeed, Dominik remarked that ‘plot is not really interesting to me other than that it gives you a reason to sit down and watch the people’.
This emphasis on character is perhaps most pronounced in his debut feature Chopper, a biopic of the notorious Australian criminal Mark ‘Chopper’ Read. Read styled himself as a sort of Robin Hood of the Melbourne underworld, shaking down drug dealers and allegedly killing 19 people he considered ‘filth’.
‘Allegedly’ is the key word there, for Read was a self-confessed exaggerator and outright fabricator who ‘wouldn’t let the truth get in the way of a good yarn!’ After all, it would earn him a small fortune through a long series of semi-fictionalized books, the first of which – Chopper From the Inside – was turned into a screenplay by Dominik.
Because of the source’s unreliability, Dominik’s adaptation does not provide the clearest narrative, but it does give a decent measure of the character’s violently idiosyncratic bravado.
However, perhaps most of the credit is due to Eric Bana, who perfectly imitates Chopper’s wicked sense of humour as well as his flair for mischief and skullduggery. It is a truly transformative performance in which you see only the character, not the actor.
It would take Dominik twelve years to again display his particular talent for rancid, scuzzy realism with Killing Them Softly, a starkly violent crime drama that allegorizes the financial crisis.
Since then there has been nothing but One More Time with Feeling, a documentary about Nick Cave that isn’t being counted here. So please, Megan Ellison, if Netflix hasn’t beaten you to it, you must spend some of your father’s many billions on Andrew Dominik’s next project, which could be Blonde, a Marilyn Monroe biopic.
2. Mel Gibson
Gibson’s boozy, racist rant in 2006 struck his career a seemingly fatal blow. This was a pity, for he had recently finished directing Apocalypto – one of the best action films of the past 17 years. It is a veritable white-knuckle ride brimming with brutal kinetic energy; an old school chase movie with squibs, corn syrup and animatronics with little reliance on computer animation.
Of course, Gibson played fast and loose with the facts much like he did with Braveheart, especially with regard to the violence of the Mayan civilization, which is grossly exaggerated. For example, there is no evidence that innocent villagers were kidnapped and mercilessly exploited, which debunks the film’s simple premise.
Furthermore, the film takes place in the 16th century despite the Mayan civilization having collapsed some 600 years earlier. Most viewers, however, are skeptical enough to realise that Apocalypto is merely a vivid gateway to history and absolutely not an authority on the subject.
Since then, Gibson starred in largely small budget films like Get the Gringo, Blood Father and The Beaver while struggling with the fallout of the 2006 rant and then the vitriolic tapes released by his ex-partner in 2010. It was not until 2016 that Gibson finally returned to directing with Hacksaw Ridge.
Based on the true story of Desmond Doss, a religious conscientious objector who won the Medal of Honor during WWII, Ridge spins a simple, reverential yarn that’s told with Gibson’s trademark vigour, especially the bloodily protracted depiction of the Battle of Okinawa. Indeed, the battle scenes are within the realm of Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, save for a few brief moments where the combat seems a little too gung-ho.
Some may criticise his lack of subtlety, but Gibson has a taut, punchy style that could be applied to all manner of subjects. Let’s hope that his Best Director nomination at the Oscars is the beginning of a renaissance in the troubled director’s career.
3. Paddy Considine
An established actor in films like Dead Man’s Shoes, Cinderella Man, Hot Fuzz and the Bourne Ultimatum, Paddy Considine wrote and directed Tyrannosaur in 2011, which is simply one of the best kitchen sink dramas ever made.
It concerns the unlikely relationship between Hannah (Olivia Colman), a benevolent Christian charity shop worker, and Joseph (Peter Mullan), a coarse, violent widower.
To begin with, a self-loathing, self-pitying Joseph labels her a ‘goody goody’ and ‘out of touch’, but what neither he nor the audience realises is that Hannah’s world is a horrific, terrifying place. Considine skillfully unravels her miserable existence with an unnerving suspense as Colman delivers her character with gut-wrenching pathos. One can quickly run out of superlatives when praising the acting, writing and jarring realism.
After six long years, Considine will be back in 2017 as director, writer and lead actor in Journeyman, a tough looking boxing film about a middleweight champion who suffers a life-threatening head injury. The grime, grit and misery is just palpable, isn’t it?
4. Gary Oldman
As an actor, Gary Oldman needs no introduction. A comparative few, however, will be aware of his 1998 directorial debut Nil by Mouth. Much like Tyrannosaur, it is a grim British realist drama with powerhouse performances, although the cyclical nature of its narrative means it’s even more depressing.
Nil by Mouth was a very personal project for Oldman. He said he had ‘no great desire to direct a movie for the sake of it’, adding that it was a ‘story that I needed to get out’. It was also an antidote to what he called the ‘trendy, wisecracking’ violence and postmodernism of Quentin Tarantino and his imitators, which he felt had ‘absolutely sod all to do with life… it’s just movies imitating movies imitating movies.’
Oldman wanted a filmmaker to ‘take off the gloves and get honest’, and that is exactly what he did with Nil by Mouth, and then some. Alas, it has been almost 19 years since he brought that stark vision to the screen.
However, Oldman is scheduled to write, direct and appear in Flying Horse, a biopic of Eadweard Muybridge, the pioneering English photographer who shot and killed his wife’s lover in 1874. At a glance, it may appear a stuffy departure from Nil by Mouth, but Oldman’s raw, realist style is likely to make this a tense, emotionally charged piece.
5. William Friedkin
With classics like The Exorcist and The French Connection to his name, the charismatic William Friedkin is the most esteemed director on this list. However, he has made just two films in the past 10 years: Bug and Killer Joe. Both are adaptations of edgy, tightly wound scripts by playwright Tracy Letts, and neither of them feel remotely like they were directed by a man in his seventies.
Friedkin is said to be an ease inducing presence on set, and this is certainly apparent in these two features, whose characters unleash a maelstrom of chaos within cramped, dank settings.
Killer Joe was especially excellent, one of the finest films of the year. And what was particularly refreshing about it was that Friedkin did not surrender his creativity when the MPAA gave it the dreaded NC-17. This is because he’s an old school director of New Hollywood who makes films for adults, not teenagers. Get back to work, Billy!