6. Jean-Luc Godard
“The cinema is not an art which films life: the cinema is something between art and life.” To many film lovers, Godard represents the cinema itself; its contradictions, excitement and possibilities. Godard is one of the only filmmakers whose work can clearly be defined by periods. Like Picasso had his Blue Period, Rose Period and so on, so did Godard: New Wave Period, Dziga Vertov Period, SonImage Period, Second Wave Period and Late Period.
When Godard’s debut film Breathless was released, it made a crater in the filmmaking zeitgeist and announced to the world, “The French New Wave is here, and it’s for real.” Throughout the 60s he had the single most impressive line of films of any decade for any director in the world. These films openly played with genre and film form, mixing high and low art. They are also time capsules, documenting the thoughts and behaviour of French youth. Vivre sa vie, Band of Outsiders, Contempt, Alphaville, Masculine Feminine, La Chinoise…
In May 1968, everything changed. The student protests in France drove Godard to a new place. Armed with his new-found, passionate interest in Maoist thought, he denounced his former films and formed the Dziga Vertov group (named after the Soviet documentarian and film theorist). The best political film Godard made in this time was Tout va bien from 1972, co-directed by Jean-Pierre Gorin and starring Jane Fonda. He then founded the company SonImage with partner Anne-Marie Mieville, and experimented with video in films like Here and Elsewhere, Numero deux and Comment ça va?.
His triumphant return to ‘real’ cinema was in 1980 with a criminally underrated modern masterpiece: Every Man For Himself. The films from this period- Passion, First Name Carmen, Hail Mary, Detective- play with sound as much as his 60s films played with image.
Godard’s late work became more and more opaque, and by the late 90s even arthouse viewers lost interest in his work, even when they starred people like Alain Delon (Nouvelle vague, 1990) and Gerard Depardieu (Hélas pour moi, 1993). His most talked about film in over twenty years was the 3D experimental film Goodbye to Language, which won the Jury Prize at Cannes and the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Film.
7. Robert Altman
“Filmmaking is a chance to live many different lifetimes.” Robert Altman is a maverick director, the maestro of satirical dramas. He was known for being anti-Hollywood establishment and went against the conventional in all his efforts. His work has been praised by the likes of Paul Thomas Anderson and Stanley Kubrick.
Altman is an icon of independent American cinema; he is a five-time nominee of the Best Director Oscar, winner of the FIPRESCI Prize and Golden Bear at Berlin, the Palm d’Or and Prix de la mise en scene at Cannes, a DGA Lifetime Achievement Award and the Independent Spirit Award for Directing and Writing. Amongst Robert Altman’s greatest films are MASH, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The Long Goodbye, Nashville, 3 Women, The Player, Short Cuts & Gosford Park.
8. Luis Bunuel
“Cinema is an instrument of poetry, with all that that word can imply of the sense of liberation, of subversion of reality, of the threshold of the marvellous world of the subconscious, of nonconformity with the limited society that surrounds us.” Bunuel was one fo the first famous surrealists. His short film Un Chien Andalou put him and Salvador Dali on the map, and the shocking avant-garde surrealism continued through to his feature film career.
Famous for his singular, naturalistic yet otherworldly mise en scene, he worked in multiple countries and different languages. His most praised works are achievements that still belong in the high echelon of cinematic art: L’Age d’Or, The Exterminating Angel, The Diary of a Chambermaid, Simon of the Desert, Belle de jour, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, That Obscure Object of Desire… the list goes on.
A disparate group of filmmakers such as Woody Allen, Gaspar Noe, David O. Russell, Ruben Ostlund and Aki Kaurismaki have been influenced by the work of Luis Bunuel. He was celebrated for his body of work at Venice and Berlin, and won the Palme d’Or at Cannes for Viridiana.
9. Howard Hawks
“They’re moving pictures, let’s make ‘em move!” Howard Hawks is the embodiment of Old Hollywood. He is a one man powerhouse of a director. He pioneered filmic techniques in the 30s and 40s and his filmography encompasses all the classic genres: romance, screwball comedy, noir, western, war, adventure, and the musical. Hawks worked with famous producers like David O. Selznick and Howard Hughes, and helped elevate the careers of old super-stars like Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, James Cagney, John Wayne, Kirk Douglas and Marilyn Monroe.
Anyone with an interest in the history of Hollywood should seek out the films of Howard Hawks. Some essential viewing are: Scarface, Only Angels Have Wings, His Girl Friday, The Big Sleep, Red River, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Rio Bravo. At a time when women were marginalised in film, his female characters were strong-willed, tough-talking and held there own against the men, thus the archetype is now known as the “Hawksian woman”. Howard Hawks has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was awarded an Honorary Academy Award in 1975.
10. Steven Soderbergh
“I make every movie like it’s the last one… that’s how I make my decisions.” Steven Soderbergh emerged amidst the 80s and 90s Sundance Generation; independent cinephile-filmmakers who found fame with their innovative, low-budget style, sort of like a new New Wave for American film. His contemporaries include Quentin Tarantino, Todd Haynes and Richard Linklater. Soderbergh’s oeuvre includes Hollywood blockbusters (Ocean’s 11) and pure experimental films (Bubble), from historical epics (Che) to science-fiction (Solaris).
In 1989 Soderbergh won the Palme d’Or for his debut Sex, Lies and Videotape, becoming the youngest director to win the award at age 26. After a string of underrated niche films (King of the Hill, Schizopolis, Out of Sight, The Limey), he earned universal recognition for Erin Brockovich and Traffic, both of which he was nominated for the Best Director Oscar, ultimately winning for Traffic.
He is the only director to be nominated for two different films in the same year by the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes and the DGA. He then broke box office records with Ocean’s 11. Soderbergh continues to direct films full of vigour and experimental innovation- The Girlfriend Experience, Side Effects and Logan Lucky are all underrated gems.