5. Charlie Chaplin
If one came across a director who wrote, produced, directed, edited, acted in and even scored their own movie, one might safely assume it was a vanity film. In the case of Charlie Chaplin, nothing could be farther from the truth.
A brilliant master both in front of and behind the camera, Chaplin wore multiple hats to create his masterpieces of framing, timing and performance yet these great works of early cinema captivated the masses of his time. His films, particularly those such as MODERN TIMES (1936) and THE GOLD RUSH (1925) featuring his character, the Tramp, continue to entertain and garner devotion even a century after they were conceived.
4. Hayao Miyazaki
The magic of Miyazaki’s films transport viewers to incredibly fascinating worlds and yet remain authentic to the drama of the human spirit and nature itself. With an exacting and tireless devotion to his craft and often by his own brush, Miyazaki has advanced the art of narrative animation to degree arguably greater than Walt Disney did over his lifetime.
Films such as NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND (1984) and SPIRITED AWAY (2001) evoke the innocence and nobility latent in humankind as well as the awe-inspiring beauty of nature, without pandering to younger viewers by resorting to harmful stereotypes or facile clichés.
3. Akira Kurosawa
In the firmament of the golden age of Japanese cinema, there are two suns: Yasujiro Ozu and Akira Kurosawa. Ozu’s refined and artistic films are adored by many and continue to influence art-house cinema directors, particularly in Japan.
Kurosawa’s films have a much broader international appeal and continue to influence most of the major Hollywood directors and cinematographers in contemporary films. Contemporary cinematographers still pay tribute to and draw inspiration from films, such as SEVEN SAMURAI (1954) and RASHOMON (1950), made over half a century past.
2. Fritz Lang
Just about anything you can say about the artistry and appeal of the directors on this list, you can also say about the intrepid and immensely talented Fritz Lang. The changes and chances of a tumultuous time, as well as his temperamental nature, carried him from Germany to Hollywood and back to Europe again. All along this turbulent path are strewn the masterful seeds of his films that have germinated and continue to bear fruit in the present.
His earlier films produced in Germany have had the greatest impact on imagery and style of the entertainment cinema we enjoy today. No one can remain unaffected by the stark and suspenseful compositions of M (1931), a serial killer thriller starring Peter Lorre. Witnessing the glorious yet claustrophobic imagery conjured up in METROPOLIS (1927) one can only marvel at the pervasive influence it has had on all subsequent epic science fiction films ever made.
1. Louis Malle
The French New Wave brought us the idiosyncratic works of Jean-Luc Goddard and the highly personal films of Francois Truffaut. Prior rules of narrative cinema were questioned then broken or refined to suit a greater freedom in narrative film creation. It is Louis Malle who both developed and applied the techniques of the New Wave to achieve a broader international appeal than his colleagues.
Upon viewing such films as ZAZIE IN THE METRO (1960), BLACK MOON (1975), or MY DINNER WITH ANDRE (1981), one could be forgiven for thinking they were made by entirely different, master directors. Never one to fall into a rut, Malle continued to approach each new project differently than ever before, resulting in a body of surprisingly diverse yet entertaining work.
Author Bio: Based in Tokyo, John Cairns is a film director and writer who otherwise divides his time between managing his company, Lantis KK (www.lantismedia.com), and chasing his ever-curious baby daughter around the house.