To cinephiles, the director is often the central figure in filmmaking, so we tend to watch and discover films on that basis. So, the usual way of understanding film history is by selecting some names as cornerstones.
As expected, the reasons why some names are most famous and respected than others are controversial; those reasons tend to be regarding the home country of the directors and the money they made. In the end, we find a whole mythology of figures whose names are much bigger than their actual work. Let’s find out what are those names.
10. Federico Fellini
Fellini needs no introduction, as he is considered among the most important directors in the history of cinema. Certainly we can’t deny his virtues; the camera movements and the cinematography in most of his films are sublime, but that’s basically all.
For almost 40 years, Fellini talked almost exclusively about himself in his movies, repeating his style over and over. This is made with a constant sense of humor that most of the time doesn’t work, and sometimes he just tells boring stories. The interesting elements of Fellini’s movies are the weird stuff that appears in them, not the story, the message, or the emotion.
Because of this, probably his best film is “I Vitelloni”; it is the most coherent and truly emotional one of his entire filmography. Certainly Fellini deserves some respect, but he’s far from being one of the most prominent figures in film history with people like Chaplin or Kurosawa. Even in Italy we can find other directors much more interesting than him, like the famous Visconti, De Sica or Rossellini.
9. Lars von Trier
Lars von Trier has focused his career on creating a character of himself, a reflexive, a cold, dark, and even a misanthrope character. He tries to make his films with those same characteristics: his characters are usually disturbed people living in very hard conditions and on the border of collapse, all with a quite pretentious “art house” style. The classical music, polemic themes, and intellectual quotes help to create his image of a deep artistic work (Even “Antichrist” is dedicated to Andrei Tarkovsky!).
But when we see his films, we notice how surprisingly trivial they are; it is appearance over depth in its highest expression. “Nymphomaniac,” for example, after five hours of moans, lashes, pederasty, and polemic dialogues, what’s left? A perfectly trivial and superficial conclusion highlighted with a completely incoherent final scene; this example is usual in the whole of von Trier’s filmography.
His only movie where there is a coherent story and where the ending doesn’t look like the whim of the director is “Dogville”; as opposed to all the rest of the movies, from the idiotic stories like “Breaking the Waves” to total borefests like “The Element of Crime.”
8. Christopher Nolan
First things first, we must respect Nolan for being one of the few directors of big budget movies who dares to make films that are more complex and audacious than normal, without the assumption that the audience is stupid or that they prefer the “normal” stuff, the exact opposite of what Michael Bay does.
Surely because of this, he is considered as one of the biggest names in the U.S. film industry and a huge promise in contemporary cinema, especially action cinema. This would make sense if we compare him to Michael Bay, or if we compare “The Dark Knight” to “Suicide Squad,” but as we compare his current films with the great action movies in history, they are notoriously inferior, especially because what fails in his movies is precisely the action scenes.
The way that Nolan has of showing the action is always confusing, without internal coherence. The viewer can’t understand the movement of the characters in the space. It is all chaotic, reducing the level of tension that it pretends to reach.
Nolan shows us only hits and fast movements passing through the screen, generally edited in a very fast way and with close angles, turning the action scenes into a mishmash of kicks and punches. By doing that, it transforms the action scenes without much internal meaning; the characters lose their personality at the moment of the fight and the action does not build tension or tell anything by itself, thus the story and the action seems to be two completely different things.
This is very different from what we can find in the work of the great masters of action films like John Frankenheimer or Sam Peckinpah, where the action not only shows violence, but the scene of action itself create suspense or say something about the story.
7. Quentin Tarantino
Today, Tarantino is one of the most popular and recognizable filmmakers of the last few decades. The explosions of violence and humor that characterize his movies have made him famous and respected by the general public and the critics.
Tarantino clearly has a great ability in writing dialogues and particular scenes, all of which have really good internal tensions and structures. The problems come when we see the complete movies and, all because of Tarantino’s infinite arrogance, his films seems to be made by a nerdy teenager.
The characters of his movies are all similar: it doesn’t matter who they are – men, women, black, Chinese, etc – they all look like representations of Tarantino himself. This arrogance is evident in the fact that after “Jackie Brown,” his films are at least 30 minutes longer than necessary; the Mike Myers scene in “Inglourious Basterds” is a perfect example of this.
Of course, his movies are not bad at all, but we must expect much more from one of the most prominent figures of modern cinema. Let’s take “Jackie Brown,” which is probably his best film, because it has proper characters and a narrative structure. This is also a much more mature film in comparison to “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction.” For some reason, maybe because the film wasn’t a success, Tarantino didn’t continue with this more mature style and made stuff like “Death Proof.”
6. Tim Burton
Burton has made only two really good movies: “Big Fish” and “Ed Wood.” All the rest seem like parodies of himself, repeating his formula again and again. All of this has gotten worse as years go by. He has worked quite good ideas like the remakes of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Alice in Wonderland,” but somehow he manages to spoil them with ridiculous and self-indulgent characters and scenes.
In a way, during the last 15 years, Burton’s films feel the same: they are all built from a few interesting ideas, but in the end there has been failure after failure, mainly because his creativity stays only in the special effects.