5. Wes Anderson
Of course Wes Anderson couldn’t be absent from this kind of list. After all, he is the epitome of detail obsession. It doesn’t matter which movies in his catalogue were chosen as examples here: every single one of his movies have the same characteristics. His obsession with detail expands to different aspects of filmmaking, like settings and costumes, characters and dialogue, camera work and framing, music scores, and more.
Perhaps what Anderson is most well known for is his mind-blowing symmetrical frames. Every take feels like it was measured by a ruler or a protractor. Different shapes, patterns and colors make his movies immensely visually stimulating, to say the least.
Another example of his obsession with detail is his filming technique. Every single one of his movies contain at least one slow-motion sequence, depth of field tricks, and panoramic tracking shots, among others. Even if he chooses to direct an animated film, he makes sure it doesn’t lack his uniqueness.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014) is the a great start for someone has never seen one of his works. It is colorful, quirky, outrageous to some extent and most of all great fun. His attention to his palette has gone through the roof in this movie, with every shade of red, yellow and grey making an appearance. The scenario is absolutely crazy and the characters involved even more so. The symmetry of his frames are the best he has achieved yet.
However, the pinnacle of his career until now is undoubtedly “Moonrise Kingdom” (2010).
The palette swifts to paler colors, sepia and yellow shades, the music is nostalgic and the filming is grainy in order to immerse the viewer to a past era. And it is a triumphant success. Everything screams nostalgia and lost innocence. The heartwarming scenario is quirky, funny and weird as always, the characters are endearing, and the environment absolutely mesmerizing.
Of course, he achieved so much emotion through his obsession with detail and constant shifting of his style, depending on the scenario. The era probably was not as charming as it looked, yet even to someone who never experienced it, it evokes a strange familiarity. Nostalgia is a very strong feeling, and he uses it perfectly.
Recommended films where one can admire his virtuosity: “Moonrise Kingdom” (2010), “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2000), “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014), “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009)
4. Andrei Tarkovsky
One of the greatest and most influential directors of all time, Andrei Tarkovsky was not simply a movie director. He was a poet of image and words, and a philosopher contemplating on existence, society, family bonds and identity. His movies are not an easy, light watch, but if someone invests time and thought in them, it is guaranteed his films will change their life.
The emotions are raw, the images surreal and unbelievably beautiful, and promoted ideas and thoughts groundbreaking, to say the least. His attention to detail originated from his personal experiences, as many of his movies are self-referential. He tried to preserve some of his fading thoughts and memories through detailed depictions of places and characters, which make his movies all the more brilliant.
This is one of the reasons he was considered a pioneer of idea-reminisce based narration. His attention to detail needs no introduction to someone who has seen even one of his movies, yet if someone has to choose a movie from his entire catalogue as a starting point, it has to be “Stalker” (1979).
“Stalker” is one of his ‘easier,’ if one could even say that, films and one of his best as well. The blending of sci-fi along with existential drama is superb. The imagery is out of this world and the pace slightly quicker (yet still very slow). The long uninterrupted shots are omnipresent, the alternation between color and sepia are phenomenal, and the use of the so-called Room as an allegory timeless.
Tarkovsky invested in a book called “Roadside Picnic” by the Strugatsky brothers, expanded it and eventually created “Stalker.” The self-references are kept to the minimum (although his father’s poetry is used) and the biblical references are aplenty.
The director’s attention to detail is evident, though in a different way. He chose sci-fi and this scenario to talk about nuclear contamination, humanity’s vanity, and the pain we inflict on each other. Such themes to be explored only through carefully structured images is what makes this movie so important.
The other obvious movie choice would be the master-crafted, semi-autobiographical “The Mirror” (1975).
Recommended films where one can admire his virtuosity: “Stalker” (1979), “The Mirror” (1975), “The Sacrifice” (1986), “Nostalgia” (1983)
3. Federico Fellini
One of the main representatives of the Italian neorealism movement in his early years of filmmaking, along with Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica, he was one of the most important, if not the most important, filmmakers of Italian cinema in general.
Federico Fellini’s extensive filmography spans for more than 40 years, influencing every genre in which he expanded, from drama, comedy, theatrical play and historical drama, to politically and socially centered movies. He was influenced, and influenced himself, by a lot of different and diverse movements like realism, cementing himself as one the key figures of italian neorealism with “Nights of Cabiria” (1957), surrealism with “8 ½” (1963) and more.
He was a true visionary director, but being able to penetrate the thick barriers of different movements in art requires a lot more than vision. He was infatuated with the different aspects of every movement, understood their differences and similarities, and tried to incorporate them in his movies no matter what genre or demographic he was aiming for. He achieved it through an immersive attention to detail.
“8½” (1963) is the pinnacle of his directorial and writing abilities. An autobiographical movie about the trials and hindrances of being a film director. An extremely groundbreaking movie for its time as the term ‘meta narrative’ was something new to cinema. He mingled surrealism with realism, dreams and reality perfectly, creating in the process some of the most recognizable images in the history of cinema.
One can admire his soulful depiction of art as a means of finding (or losing oneself) and what it really means to be a director. The camera work, lighting and cinematography in general are top notch, and the distinct style of Italian postwar cinema ever present. A must see.
Another film where his directorial prowess shines is the underrated masterpiece “Juliet of the Spirits” (1965). A strange concoction of comedy, domestic drama and fantastical elements, this movie is what makes Fellini so great. He has an ability to jump through different genres with ease, using details and minor plot points as a transition.
Once again, he blends reality with visions and dreams to explore the characters’ psyche, the rotten core of family and marital status as a social demand, and immorality. The dreams are so detailed and intense that they almost feel like the viewer is experiencing them themselves. It is truly a shame that this movie never got the recognition it deserved.
Recommended films where one can admire his directorial virtuosity: “La Strada” (1954), “Nights of Cabiria” (1957), 8½ (1963), “Juliet of the Spirits” (1965), “Satyricon” (1969)
2. Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick needs no introduction. He is one of the most essential and influential directors of all time, and a list such as this couldn’t even exist without him.
His work and technique is dissected (and continuous to be) like no others in Western cinema.
Every film school, every cinephile and every critic who respect themselves have invented theories and approaches about his movies. But what actually make his films so engrossing? Is it the stories and adaptations? Is it his camera work? Is it his vitriolic socio-political criticism? Or is it his insane obsession with detail?
After much debate, one could argue it is the latter. His attitude toward his crew and actors during filming is notorious, causing nervous breakdowns, resignations and outrage, and have become the stuff of cinematic legend.
No one can pick a favorite among Kubrick films with ease, that’s for sure. Yet for the purpose of this list, two of his masterpieces are given as an example to comprehend how much attention he pays to details.
The first movie is, surprise surprise, “The Shining” (1980). From the very first aerial shot, the movie holds the viewer captured. He could have easily chosen a more convenient shot following the car from behind, or even more commonly placing a camera inside the vehicle as it moves up the mountains. But he chose a helicopter to do a panoramic view of the surroundings, thus predisposing the audience to the terror that is to come. The ominous film score set side by side with the helicopter scene underlines a subconscious fear. A fear for isolation and deteriorating sanity. All of these take place in the first few minutes of the film.
As it progresses, we start to notice even more details. Numbers start appearing as patterns, background movie sets hide cryptic messages (like the can in the freezer), appearing and disappearing chairs in the background, a rug with shape-shifting patterns and strange windows that shouldn’t be there are prime examples of his detail obsession.
One could easily miss all of these tiny details, yet they are there. And as soon as you notice them, you slowly start to realize that fear and paranoia lurks in every corner. Of course, Kubrick’s lighting and color palette (check out the bathroom scene with Charles Grady) induce the same amount of fear.
And of course there is the steadicam tracking shot of Danny and his bicycle, which is absolutely phenomenal.
There is nothing that hasn’t already been stated about this masterpiece of cinema. One must experience it once in their lifetime, even if they are not a fan of horror cinema.
The second movie mentioned is his most underrated and misjudged work: his swan song, “Eyes Wide Shut” (1999). Fortunately, the constant bashing of this movie has waned recently, and its true value is appreciated. One could not have mixed eroticism, mystery and occult in such a way that Kubrick did.
What starts out as a problematic relationship movie evolves into a mystery, finally becoming a conspiracy paranoia film as it reaches its climax. The atmosphere of the movie is arguably the best in all of Kubrick’s filmography. It is erotic, dangerous and rapturous all at the same time. Of course, all of these couldn’t be achieved without Kubrick’s artistic touch concerning detail reaching perfectionism.
Everything from the lighting (check out the ball dance in the beginning), the costumes and masks (Venetian masks have been synonymous with “Eyes Wide Shut” since its release, cranking the creepy factor up to eleven), the buildings and outdoor shots are pure cinematic bliss.
The famous orgy scene with the tracking shot, as well as the mystical ritual scene are seminal for aspiring directors and for good reason. He managed to balance everything in them. The light and darkness levels, the fluid steadicam movements, the eroticism and fear induced in equal measure, the danger and the curiosity and the aesthetics that stand out because of the contradiction between naked flesh and fancy costumes.
It is a truly difficult task to analyze one of cinema’s greatest in a few paragraphs. His work is so diverse and timeless that any other movie could have been chosen. Apologies for not choosing “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) once more.
Recommended films where one can admire his virtuosity: Honestly, who needs a recommendation about Kubrick?
1. Akira Kurosawa
Choosing among the pantheon of Japanese directors is no easy task. Yasuhiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi and Masaki Kobayashi are obvious alternatives, but Kurosawa was picked not because he is the most influential and well known among them, but the most lyrical, diverse and poetic of them all.
True, he is not the director who captured the Japanese spirit and the Meiji-Showa era society most accurately: that would be Ozu, because he never wanted to confine himself. Kurosawa is mostly known for his samurai movies like “Ran” (1985), “Seven Samurai” (1957) and “Rashomon” (1950), which is truly a shame because he is so much more than this genre.
He directed comedies, mystery films, realistic and even naturalistic films about life and death, historical dramas, and abstract, surreal, philosophical films as well. His reputation for attention to detail precedes him. Overly complex narratives, epic storylines, Shakespeare adaptations, depictions of his own paintings as images, insane amount of filming hours spent just to get the perfect shot, awe-inspiring costumes and sets are just the tip of the iceberg.
Take, for example, a lesser-known movie of his catalogue called “Dodesukaden” (1970). The way he depicts slums and poverty has the same lyrical and emotional impact as if he depicted a samurai-era town and society. The camera work is simply unreal with long tracking shots, steadicam and fast editing at times, and the characters, who could have been totally alien to Western audiences but are very interesting. No other director could have depicted poverty in such a lyrical way.
Finally, by seeing another greatly underrated gem, “High and Low” (1963), one could easily acknowledge Kurosawa’s ability to create detailed and complex narration. He always insisted that the scenario was the most essential part of a movie, so naturally, he put great emphasis and attention to detail in his scenarios. This movie, among others in his filmography, is a great example of his approach. He invested so much time in the adaptation of Evan Hunter’s novel that eventually his name was associated with the work, despite not being the actual creator.
Truly he was, is and always will be one of the greatest directors that cinephiles were blessed with. His movies never missed the point, were all incredibly beautiful and poetic, and the diversity of the themes he tackled in his scenarios is simply unparalleled.
Recommended films where one can admire his directorial virtuosity: Choosing two or three movies among so many masterpieces would be blasphemous. Every single one is a work of art and food for thought.
Author Bio: Diamantakos Yannis’ main studies consist of economics and law. Although he didn’t have the opportunity to study filmmaking like he always wanted, his passion for cinema, developed in a young age, never waned. On the contrary, it never stopped growing. He has been making lists and reviewing movies for years in his own website and is more than eager to disseminate his unceasing infatuation with cinema and its unparalleled magic.