There’s no doubt about it, all of the directors I’m highlighting today have at one point been the standard bearers of filmmaking. Each director spoken of today are among the greats of their eras, and arguably of all time. So why am I going to criticize them? Well, like the law of gravity, what goes up must inevitably come down. And in the world of art that’s certainly the case, where what was once great isn’t as great as it used to be. I’m not saying that these directors never made anything good again, but these are 10 Films that Mark the Decline of their Greatness.
10. Woody Allen – Celebrity (1998)
There was a time where I would’ve made the argument that Woody Allen was the most consistently great director with a prolific filmography. I’ve always been amazed at how dedicated this man is to filmmaking to the point where not only did he make great classics, but made them as often as he did.
It seemed like every year there was a Woody Allen classic to behold; “Love and Death”, “Annie Hall”, “Manhattan”, “Stardust Memories”, “The Purple Rose of Cairo”, “Hannah and her Sisters”, and “Crimes and Misdemeanors” just to name some of his greats. But with a plethora of movies year after year, eventually you start to lose your magic. And when combined with an embarrassing personal life like what Allen was going through for a long time, it makes for a bad mix.
“Celebrity” is a film that feels more like a wannabe Woody Allen film, a film that has so many loose ends and never amounts to much of anything. The actors just perform whatever skit Allen has for them, and then it ends. Allen’s trademarks were still watchable enough but were getting old. It took a while for him to reinvent himself but thankfully he did with works like “Midnight in Paris”.
9. Steven Spielberg – A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Well this should come as no surprise. Steven Spielberg is of course a legend in the movie industry. No matter how old we get it’s impossible to deny the wonder and imagination he brought to the silver screen for all of us. But I think even the biggest Spielberg fans will admit that in recent years he hasn’t been the same director he was in his prime.
At the turn of the 21st century it seemed as though a new breed of directors emerged to take the ball and run with it, but Spielberg hasn’t been able to keep up. His first work of the modern era was a love letter to his dear friend Stanley Kubrick, “A.I. Artificial Intelligence”. In all fairness, this is a film that bypasses traditional standards of criticism because it was made for the sake of keeping his friends vision from dying with him.
A lot of what doesn’t work and equals out to a mixed bag of a movie is largely due to Spielberg doing the best with what Kubrick had initially envisioned, and the two are such stylistic opposites that it was sure to backfire in some way. But after this he never really got back on track.
Spielberg has directed what many consider some of his worst work ever since; ranging from “The Terminal”, “War of the Worlds”, “The BFG”, “Ready Player One”, and the infamous “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”; to decent-at-best movies like “War Horse”, “Lincoln”, and “Bridge of Spies”. Spielberg remains one of the great directors of all time, and no one will be credited as much for creating the cinematic spectacle as much as he has. But the magic is just gone.
8. Clint Eastwood – Invictus (2009)
Clint Eastwood is perhaps the single greatest example of an actor-turned-director. He started his directional career with “Play Misty for Me” in 1971 and had some misfires here and there but still had some good work through the 70’s and 80’s like “High Plains Drifter”, “The Outlaw Josey Wales”, and “Pale Rider”.
But Eastwood’s real landmark of a directional effort came with his Best Picture winning “Unforgiven” in 1992. He made some stuff for the next decade that weren’t quite as remarkable, but in 2003 he would find his stride once again with “Mystic River”.
The following year he would follow it up with another Best Picture winner “Million Dollar Baby”, in 2006 he gave us two very good films with “Flags of our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima”, and then in 2008 he would hit us with two more very good films with “Changeling” and “Gran Torino”. With each film Eastwood was showing the wisdom of an old master combined with the emotional resonance of deeply human characters, however flawed they may be.
Then in 2009 he directed “Invictus”, a semi-decent film but one that felt ordinary compared to his previous works. It never quite got out of second gear and was just cruising along on autopilot, never reaching its potential. Soon afterward it seemed like Eastwood was losing his touch pretty quickly.
From the schlocky romance of “Hereafter”, to the flat out boring bio-dramas of “J. Edgar”, “Jersey Boys”, “Sully”, “The 15:17 to Paris”, and “The Mule” (although that one was romanticized). Not to mention the highly overrated “American Sniper”. When Eastwood played the 90 year old, Earl Stone, in “The Mule” he wasn’t that far off. Eastwood, at the moment I’m writing this, is 89 years old. To be fair, it’s cool that he still wants to do this at his age, but it seems like it’s time to ride off into the sunset.
7. Federico Fellini – Fellini Satyricon (1969)
I mentioned on another article I wrote called “The 10 Greatest Film Auteurs of All Time” that one of the great ironies behind Fellini’s work is that what many people would regard as his greatest achievements Fellini himself called his worst.
Fellini said his best work was in his early career, during the height of Italian Neorealism, and later on his films delved more into his own insecurities to the point where he called himself self-indulgent. But I still maintain Fellini had it all wrong, his semi-autobiographical works like “La Dolce Vita”, “8½”, and “Amarcord” remain his greatest works because they’re the most personal reflections of his life.
But by the same token, Fellini delved more into his Christianity and sexual tendencies with his later works, and nowhere was that more spotlighted than with “Fellini Satyricon”. A hellish, sometimes disgusting series of mythical tales. With this film Fellini delved into more gratuitous nature than ever before, really pushing the boundaries of what he could do. But ambition can be just as much of a disaster as it can be a success. And to hear Fellini tell it he just fell off the rails, just going more and more into his own childhood with his filmography until it ended in 1987.
6. John Carpenter – Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992)
John Carpenter is a horror icon, commonly regarded as one of the great horror directors of all time. He started out with some underrated gems like “Dark Star” and “Assault on Precinct 13” but his massive breakthrough came with one of the most influential horror films and a landmark in independent cinema, “Halloween”.
With this Carpenter firmly set in motion the slasher genre and made the go to Halloween movie of all time, after this it was a special release almost every year. From 1980 to 1984 he made “The Fog”, “Escape from L.A.”, “The Thing”, “Christine”, and “Starman” back-to-back-to-back. Two years later he would make the action comedy “Big Trouble in Little China”, then two years after that he made the cult classic “They Live”. It seemed like Carpenter was on a roll and was making a hit year after year.
A few years alter he would return with “Memoirs of an Invisible Man” and it was never the same. This was Carpenter’s first delve into something massively different from his previous works, a noble effort to change things up, but one that flopped since Carpenter just doesn’t have a knack for fantasy-romance.
He attempted to go back to the horror genre in the years that followed but it was severely less than what he once offered; “Village of the Damned”, “Vampires”, and “Ghosts of Mars” aren’t exactly films we hold in the same regard as “Halloween” or “The Thing”. Carpenter has more or less retired from feature filmmaking ever since, with some exceptions here and there. These days he seems to just live off of his past successes, and I think that’s best.