Let’s make something painfully clear: I’ve never made a movie in my life. I have no idea how hard it is to make a movie but I suspect that if I ever find out, it will probably destroy me. A director has immense pressure upon him, especially when he’s in charge of an expensive production involving numerous talented people. It’s easy to dismiss a film and not think about all the hard work that came with it. Therefore my opinion should be taken with a grain of salt.
I’ll try to be as fair as possible, but since I admire these filmmakers so much, it’s hard not to get frustrated when they start to disappoint you. Remember this list is filled with people I admire and respect. I might say some harsh words about them but I know I will never even come close to their artistic achievements. These are great men who have made some classic films that will be watched and revisited until the end of mankind’s time.
But it’s hard to deny that their greatest work seems behind them. Even though I will most likely watch whatever these guys have their names on- well except for the two individuals making those live-action Disney remakes but more on that later-, it will certainly pale in comparison to their earlier accomplishments.
So in this list I have chosen ten film directors who seem to have lost their touch. Admittedly, one of them I have added in this list because the backlash he’s been receiving- as I openly admire two of his most recently reviled movies.
Most of these choices won’t be surprising, as their continuous drop in quality has been well noted by any decent cinema-goer. I’m sure many of them will still defend them no matter what, unsurprisingly given their powerful achievements in the realm of cinema.
Whether you still love them or hate them, I’m sure most of you will at least agree that their recent work hasn’t been particularly flawless. So let’s start with…
10. Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith’s beginning career represents the dream of every wannabe indie-filmmaker out there: putting himself in great financial peril to accumulate the measly $27, 575 needed to produce his first movie Clerks, which would eventually gross over $ 3,000,000. Whether or not you like Clerks, it does represent earnest filmmaking at its finest. Deprived of any corporate thinking that infects most mainstream cinema, Clerks is pure heart and soul.
Clerks, despite its extremely cheap-looking grainy black/white and occasional amateur flourishes, also managed to warm the hearts of both critic and audience member. Clerks was followed up with Mallrats, which was a theatrical flop but did find success in the home video market.
His third film, Chasing Amy, is filled with the nineties/generation X zeitgeist. Though often stated as Smith’s best film, its sexual politics, which was what made it quite edgy at the time, seems now quite dated. Smith continued to expand on his ”View-Askew” universe with hilarious religious satire Dogma. He continued to exploit his cinematic universe in hilarious low-brow fashion in Jay and Silent Bob Strikes Back- two recurring characters of his View Askew films.
But over time, his cinematic work has become increasingly mixed. From sugar-coated fluff like Jersey Girl, to sure-misfires like Cop Out and his latest film, Yoga Hosers (which probably received the worst critical reception of his career). Between them his most notable movie was Red State, a dark and brutal meditation on religious fundamentalism and government buffoonery.
Meanwhile he’s made the quite career with his public-speaking and comic book writing. There’s no denying his talent in both of these fields. Recently, he has also suffered a near fatal heart-attack and he seems to be focusing more on his health- quite rightly.
Like most of his fans, I prefer Smith to focus on his health first which is far more important than any film. But I’m still hoping he will return to the big screen one day, with something that will make us completely forget about Cop Out and Yoga Hosers.
9. Ridley Scott
This is a tricky one for me since I’m one of the few Alien fans who quite liked Alien: Covenant. Sure it was a retread of familiar grounds -and still had supposedly smart scientists doing incredibly dumb things because they seem to realize they were in a horror movie- but even so, it had beautiful visuals, more likable characters, some interesting science-fiction ideas, not just one but TWO Michael Fassbenders and some great gore. I can’t say I wasn’t thoroughly entertained.
Since I’m a huge fan of Cormac McCarthy, I have no qualms in expressing my love for The Counselor. I consider it one of his greatest works.
Even though The Martian was a significant commercial success, it left me cold. It was filled with Scott’s usual splendid visual aesthetics but it was an otherwise mundane affair, lacking in any heart or suspense. It seemed like a studio film Ridley made just so he could do something more interesting.
His Moses retelling in Exodus: Gods and Kings, was a noble attempt in trying to ground the original biblical story. It gives possible explanations to Moses’ visions and the supposed miracles that occurred in his attempt to free the slaves. But overall, the melodrama failed to ignite the heart strings and even with its revisions, it still offered little new for the viewer.
His Robin Hood origin story has the same problem: visual splendid but lacking in any emotional thrills. His return to the Alien universe with Prometheus was also a frustrating one, filled with interesting ideas that weren’t explored enough and unappealing characters- and only had one Michael Fassbender!
His latest film, All the Money in the World had similar problems. Ridley Scott is a brilliant filmmaker with a history of frustratingly bad ideas- case in point casting Orlando Bloom in Kingdom in Heaven or making 1492: Conquest of Paradise. Now he’s apparently making a Gladiator sequel and this seems like a very silly idea to me.
Who knows, maybe his next movie could be another masterpiece. I would love one more movie of his in the Alien universe, just to tie up loose ends but we’ll see if that ever comes to pass. Here’s hoping that his next film however, will not just be visually pleasing but also emotionally fulfilling.
8. Michael Mann
In my earlier Michael Mann article, I’ve already went to depth with Mann’s recent filmography. Mann, similar to Ridley, seems less interested in the emotional core of the story and more into the visual aesthetics. Mann’s movies are always stylish, filled with fantastic action-packed set-pieces. But apart from the excellent Collateral, all of these movies seem to try to recreate the magic of Heat.
It seems that Mann usually uses the basis of a love-story to tell a story set in some criminal environment. We see this in both Public Enemies and Blackhat. The problem is, for all the visual and bullet-riddling splendor, you don’t feel much, if anything for the main characters. It all seems superficial. It seems that Mann is just not interested in the characters and just wants to create this world. James Cameron’s latest work has a similar problem.
Currently he’s working on an Enzo Ferrari biopic. An interesting detour from his usual work. Let’s hope it’s more character based than style-based.
7. Francis Ford Coppola
Yeah this is an easy one. This is the man who made The conversation, The Godfather 1 and 2, Apocalypse Now and the underrated Cotton Club. Some other notable works are Peggy Sue Got married, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. But he’s also made a series of painful misfires, such as Jack (which is redeemed somewhat by Robin Williams fantastic performance though unfortunately his co-star is Bill Cosby) and Godfather 3- which is also redeemed somewhat by All Pacino’s fantastic performance though unfortunately his co-star is Sofia Coppola.
Lately he’s been more experimental with filmmaking and though this something to commend, it’s hard to watch Twixt and think that this is the brilliant filmmaker who gave us The Godfather. Coppola naturally doesn’t owe any of us anything but I’m still hoping that he has one more masterpiece in him.
6. Robert Rodriguez
Robert Rodriguez is another symbol for indie-filmmakers. A man who scraped by all the money he could get, just so he could produce his first movie. His experiences making El-Mariachi, learned him the importance of economic filmmaking. Therefore most of his movies are surprisingly cheap, even though they are filled with wild special-effects.
Rodriguez however was never a classy filmmaker. He was more interested in creating well-made grindhouse flicks- and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately, most of his focus lately seems to be on his cable channel El Rey. The channel which gave us severely neutered TV-show version of one of his seminal films, From Dusk Till Dawn.
Meanwhile he has been lazily rehashing his other work, having made a fourth sequel to his middling Spy Kids franchise, a forgettable sequel to Sin City- though it does have a great final performance by Powers Booth- and an entertaining but less effective sequel to Machete. His upcoming film will be his most expensive film to date: a live-action version of the anime Battle Angel Alita. The reception to the trailers have been mixed to say the least, with the effect, most notable the big eyes of the titular character, been referred to as creepy.
Naturally I’m hoping that this film will be good but I also afraid that this might turn out to be a giant flop since there seems to be little excitement for its release. If that’s the case, it will be a continuous downward spiral for Robert Rodriguez.