There are a great many things to take away if you were to sign up for a course in film school. The experience is most definitely going to enrich you with the fundamentals of film form, enabling you to create works of cinema alongside like-minded individuals. With that being said, regardless of the many benefits to come with a formal film education, some individuals would rather opt out of the whole structured learning experience. Because who’s to say you can’t be a film student if you don’t go to film school?
Beyond sitting in a lecture theatre for hours on end or going on film sets and “learning on the job”, a film education can come from something as simple as watching films. The directors on this list are certainly no stranger to many budding filmmakers. Almost every film in their diverse filmography reinvented cinema and film form in one way or another, the way these poets interpret the art form is so incredibly unique and innovative, giving rise to countless hours of analysis by theorists and scholars.
Without further ado, these are the 10 directors whose films should be mandatory for any kind of film student.
10. Wes Anderson
A master of colour and composition, Wes Anderson truly earned the right to be deemed a paramount influence to the future generation of indie filmmakers. There is no answer to the question “Which is the best Wes Anderson Film”.
There is something relatable to all his films, because beyond Anderson’s strong command for visuals, his sense of crafting character and narrative is equally as jaw-dropping. He embraces flaws and quirks, bringing to life uncanny personifications of these shortcomings that we oftentimes overlook. These characters in turn, serve as compelling driving forces to unique narratives that blend drama and comedy effortlessly, exuding a sense of nostalgia that’s just magic. Plain and simple.
In the contemporary age of cinema, very few filmmakers have this voice in film form that is so uniquely theirs. A voice that’s not only unique, but succeeds regardless of the content. Even Anderson’s more self-indulgent works are perfection. To replicate a Wes Anderson film is impossible. But is that really a bad thing? Let’s all take a step back and view his films less as direct influences but more as a spiritual inspiration. An inspiration that in this day and age, it is still possible to be an auteur.
9. The Coen Brothers
It is often said that comedy in cinema is one of the hardest genres to tackle, especially when art is the desired outcome as opposed to entertainment. Though the works of the Coen Brothers are not comedies in the traditional sense, the way the two filmmakers amalgamate humor and poetic art is just bloody brilliant.
Their films examine life. Life in all its imperfections, all its quirks. Like Anderson, the Coens bring to life and dramatize these quirks on screen. Their approach however, is one more grounded in reality. Their work is as subversive as any New Wave filmmaker, but still exhibiting a strong sense of discipline when it comes to the conventions of film grammar, making films that both entertain and provoke thought.
The only filmmakers on this list to win the Best Picture Oscar, on top of Oscars for Directing and Screenwriting, the Coens certainly garnered the reputation they deserve from the international community. With that being said, if one was to go deeper and truly analyze their extremely accessible body of work, we can truly appreciate the genius of their filmmaking. The idea of a genre is a fluid notion to the Coens, free for them to bend and manipulate to their whims. They challenge what we know about film and structure by presenting us extremely structured works of filmmaking that does not outwardly seem all that innovative.
A great starting point to understanding the Coens would be unarguably their most famous work – “No Country for Old Men”. When viewing it, try to be critical of what the Coens do with the narrative. Analyse how they interpret the traditional formula of a “cat-and-mouse” type film. Once you do so, the full extent of their creativity and innovation can truly be understood.
8. Michael Haneke
With a body that work that mainly concerns itself with the examination of modern media and the philosophies that arise from it, you would expect a filmmaker like Haneke to be a young tech-savvy individual, and not a man over 70 years of age.
With that being said, his age certainly isn’t a flaw in any way. Haneke is able to bring his hauntingly profound look on life and gear it towards a very meaningful commentary on a huge element on modern society. Beyond his understanding of media, Haneke’s study on character is bold and singular. He dares to challenge the mettle of his characters and that of his audiences, thrusting creative and grueling scenarios for them to grow from throughout the course of his brilliant and philosophical narratives.
He is a filmmaker who understands, to say the least. He understands not only character and theme and how to best personify these elements out on screen, but he understands the audience. He knows how we feel at any given time and how to best manipulate us, creating delightfully suspenseful films that span of myriad of different genres.
7. John Cassavetes
Perhaps the most underrated filmmaker on this list, John Cassavetes of New Hollywood fame did wonders in reinventing what we know to be an actor’s performance in film.
Hailing from in front of the screen himself, Cassavetes brought what he learnt as an actor to craft brutally honest depictions of society once he moved to step behind the camera as a director. His films feel so real, so visceral and full of energy that it seems so incredible hard to believe that everything we see is scripted and not the work of improv.
His films play out like a stageplay, but certainly do not look like one. Beyond his ability to evoke powerful performances from his actors, Cassavetes’s visual style, considerably subtler that other auteurs, certainly doesn’t fall short in comparison. Filmmaker Barry Jenkins once cited Cassavetes’ Five Films collection to be a film school on its own and he definitely isn’t exaggerating. Cassavetes is a filmmaker that captures snapshots of our society. Snapshots that seem to border on melodrama at moments, but snapshots that quite frankly expose the darkest elements of humanity. Of our humanity.
Cassavetes is perhaps the most important filmmaker to emerge from the counterculture era solely due to the sheer amount of things you can learn as a filmmaker from perusing with his work.
6. Yasujiro Ozu
The Golden Age of Japanese Cinema is dominated solely by the films of three insanely gifted filmmakers. Kurosawa, Mizoguchi and Ozu, all combined, gave to the world of cinema a hundred lifetimes of inspiration and innovation.
Among these three, Yasujiro Ozu holds the honour of having directed what is considered by millions to be the single greatest work of cinema of all time. A film so incredibly simple, exploring even simpler notions of life, Tokyo Story stands tall over half a century later, and for good reason. That is the beauty of Ozu’s filmmaking in a nutshell, beauty in simplicity.
He honours life and the replication of it on screen. His techniques are so straightforward and with great respect for the conventions of cinema while still being unique in their own right. From the way he frames and stages his subjects to where he positions his camera, his filmmaking is so incredibly simple to the point where it almost seems unbelievable how highly Ozu is regarded even up until today.
Nevertheless, there is complexity in Ozu’s simplicity. A prodigy behind the camera. If filmmakers like Cassavetes and Haneke dares to scream in a world where everyone stays silent, Yasujiro Ozu dares to stay silent in a world perpetuated by an endless cacophony of screams.