5. James Cameron
Okay many people might frown at this choice, especially since all of his recent directed movies made a ludicrous amount of money. But this means little to me personally. If we take financial profitability as a sign of quality then The Transformers are cinematic masterpieces- and no they are not.
The James Cameron I grew up with was the man who made Terminator, Aliens, Terminator: Judgment Day, The Abyss and True Lies. Each of these films proofed Cameron to be a blockbuster magician. They were exciting action films with fantastic, sometimes groundbreaking special-effects.
But they also had characters you cared for. They had genuine moving moments. The things you remember about these movies aren’t just the action setpieces, it’s the little character moments: Hudson’s heroic last stand in Aliens; Hicks telling Ripley his real-name; John Conner begging The Terminator not to sacrifice himself; Bud reviving Lindsey in The Abyss. These movies will be remembered because of their humanity, not just because of their technical finesse.
In comparison to his latest film, Avatar, we already see a cynical backlash. And it’s understandable. The film is sloppily written with a plot thats been recycled from numerous other films. Not only that, the central love-story fails to be engaging. Compare this to the tragic love-story between Kyle Reese and Sarah Conner or the chemistry between Ed Harris and Mario Elizabeth Mastrantonio in The Abyss and Avatar just feels hollow.
Similar things could be said about Titanic, all though there’s plenty of great character moments, especially from the supporting characters that redeem the rather juvenile central love-story. And it’s hard to deny the exciting impact of the inevitable crash. Titanic for all its cheesy flaws, is still a good to great film.
But Cameron seems more interested in revolutionizing special-effects than the human element that made his movies so memorable to begin with. Unfortunately for me, he doesn’t seem to have deterred from his current path. He’s currently working on numerous sequels to Avatar.
But I’m sure they will make a ton of money…
4. William Friedkin
Friedkin is a filmmaker with several diverse masterpieces under his directorial belt. He’s the man that gave us the lovable obsessive-compulsive racist cop, Popeye Doyle from The French Connection. As well inducing a huge amount of catholic guilt across the globe with his head-twisting horror masterpiece The Exorcist. Then there’s the hugely underrated existential-thriller, Sorcerer- My personal favorite of all his work.
Admittedly his work after that has been more or less mixed. He’s made some gems, such as the (extremely) eighties crime-thriller To Live and Die in LA, a fantastic TV remake of 12 Angry Men, the enjoyable Rambo-inspired thriller The Hunted as well as the off-beat Bug and Killer Joe.
But he’s also made quite a few head-scratchers, such as the one with the killer tree- The Guardian (though it’s such an insane ride, that it’s quite enjoyable). There’s also the wacky attempt at an erotic thriller with Jade. There’s also the hugely controversial Cruising, which is both admirable for depicting homosexuality in a mainstream film while also being rather offensive in its portrayal- and the ending makes no goddamn sense.
His latest film, a ‘documentary’ called: The Devil and Father Amorth might be his worst film yet, mostly because it’s quite accurately been hailed as a charade. It’s apparently showing us a ”real exorcism” but none of it comes over convincing. Even though it’s not without its merits, it has none of the supposed flourishes you’d expect from a master filmmaker.
3. Guy Ritchie
The first time I saw Snatch, I was on the floor laughing- I remember my father being horribly embarrassed. I quickly watched Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels after that, and though it doesn’t have any of the comic brilliance of Snatch, it certainly continued my excitement for Ritchie’s continuing work.
Unfortunately, Snatch seems to be his highlight since everything that came after it failed to be as memorable. In my opinion, his best film after that was Revolver, which was reviled by most but I enjoyed its intellectual ambition and it contained many darkly comedic moments which seems to be missed by many people who’ve watched it. Rock N’ Rolla is entertaining, mostly because of Tom Wilkinson deliciously villainous role but it doesn’t have nearly the same charm as Snatch.
Then there’s Swept Away, which is without a doubt his most embarrassing work. It’s a nearly unwatchable film due to Madonna’s demonstrable ego continuously hovering over the screen. It’s a film that could have ruined his career but Ritchie has continued making forgettable action fluffs such as The Man from UNCLE, the decent Sherlock Holmes Duology and the giant flop that is King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.
Most of these films aren’t necessarily terrible, they just are rather forgettable and seem to be epitome of ‘style-over-content.’ The stylistic choices seem to take precedence over an engaging narrative and character development. His overbearing style might have been there in Snatch but the characters were so incredibly memorable that it didn’t really matter.
And though most of his work, apart from King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, seem to be doing well financially, there seems to be little chance that they will be remembered for long. His upcoming film will likely make a lot of money too: a live-action (though mostly CGI) rendered version of Disney’s Aladdin. Like most of these remakes, it will be just another soulless but profitable product cashing in on a nostalgia hungry audience.
But yeah, it will make a gazillion dollars.
2. Tim Burton
I’ve never exactly been a Tim Burton fanatic but I’ve never denied he was an incredible filmmaker. In truth, his Batman films were an important part of my youth. I’ve watched these films so many times that Danny Elfman’s atmospheric score is permanently lodged into my subconscious. Even with Burton’s disregard for the source material, his vision for Batman and Gotham have been essential to the eventual Batman we now know and love.
We also mustn’t forget that he’s the man who introduced us to the greatest bio-exorcist ever to walk the purgatorial plain: Beetlejuice. He’s also created one of most endearing biopics about a lousy filmmaker: Ed Wood- which is probably his greatest film alongside Pee Wee Big Adventure.
Even though not all of his films have been masterpieces, they have quite entertaining. Mars Attacks is a hilarious and lovable tribute to fifties B-movie cinema. Sleepy Hollow is a deliciously gory tribute to Hammer horror films- and it involves Christopher Walken (well his headless stunt-double played by Ray Park) beheading people, which is awesome. He’s one of the finest exploiters of Johnny Depp’s idiosyncratic weirdness.
But over time, his signature style seemed to be the most noteworthy aspects of his films. But no matter how beautiful a film can look, it cannot fix a lackluster script. Many of these films seem to have great promise, such as Big Eyes, Dark Shadows Miss Peregrine Home for Peculiar Children but all are let down by a weak script.
He also has a penchant of adapting famous source material and putting his own spin to them. Sadly none of these adaptations (or remakes depending on your view of things), have been particularly noteworthy- in the case of Planet of the Apes, they can also be godawful. The best one is probably his adaptation of Tony-award winning musical Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (even if it involves Johnny Depp singing).
Overall his continues mixed quality has soured much of the excitement we used to had when we heard that a film was directed by Tim Burton. It’s certainly no guarantee of immense quality anymore.
His upcoming film will be a CGI-infested remake of Disney’s Dumbo. Since you know my feelings about Live-action Disney remakes in general, it seems very unlikely that to me that this will be the critical hit that will lift him up from artistic slumb.
1. Oliver Stone
Well if you’ve read my list of Worst to Best Oliver Stone movies, you know how I feel about Stone’s latest films: they’ve gone from being ‘okay’ (World Trade Center, Alexander and W.) to extremely weak (Snowden, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) to unbearable (Savages- god I hate that film).
Even though I’m quite aware of how he likes to twist the truth in order to spun some narrative, most of the times his films have been so engaging that I could easily forgive him. We all know that JFK and Nixon are historically full of shit, but there’s no denying the impressive filmmaking- probably the finest propaganda you can find.
But nowadays, his personal politics have gone to admiring or respecting dictators. This is a man who made a loving tribute to Hugo Chavez while also spreading Vladimir Putin’s propaganda with the embarrassing four-part series The Putin Interviews. The supposed left-wing filmmaker has lost itself the fake-truth void and if it resulted in better films, I might be more forgiving. Unfortunately it hasn’t.
The last really good film he made was Any Given Sunday- that was in 2001- and everything that followed has either been underwhelming, disappointing or downright awful. Out of all the directors on this list,this is the one that frustrates me the most- mostly because I really don’t like murderous dictators. Even though the directors on this list have some made bummers, none have sunk so low as Oliver Stone.