5. David Lynch
“It makes me uncomfortable to talk about meanings and things. It’s better not to know so much about what things mean. Because the meaning, it’s a very personal thing, and the meaning for me is different than the meaning for somebody else.”
So, David Lynch. King of the weird and eerie, Lynch is not only a great filmmaker but also a talented painter, writer and musician. Both visually and narratively innovative, “the first popular Surrealist” started his filmmaking career making animated short films based on his paintings that already featured some of the themes dear to the future film director, which will expand in “Eraserhead” (1977), his first feature film. Shot over several years, this bizarre horror film proved to be a successful “midnight movie” and was followed in 1980 by “The Elephant Man”, a film that gained Lynch a wider mainstream success. Ten years later, “Twin Peaks” will change the history of television series forever, spawning a prequel film and an acclaimed revival for a total of 18 episodes (all written and directed by Lynch himself) in 2017.
Known for his both visually and narratively surrealist style, David Lynch’s works are easily recognizable from their nightmarish, oneiric tones and violent, creepy, sometimes plain scary imagery. Describing different, contrasting faces of both American life and the human mind, Lynch’s many masterpieces reflect the state of our reality in its dark and twisted aspects (be it Hollywood’s contemporary film industry from “Mulholland Drive” or the dangerous sexual deviances from “Blue Velvet”), materialising our innermost fears and desires in the most unnerving possible way.
All of this is done without ever rejecting the sweet-and-sour taste of life, explaining the occasion lightness and humour of the scenes and the positive, emotional nature of the director’s most unconventional entry in his filmography, the beautiful and moving “A Straight Story”.
4. Dario Argento
“Films are dreams. Many, many critics say to me that my films are not good because they are too unbelievable, but this is my style. I tell stories like they are dreams. This is my imagination. For me, it would be impossible to do a film that is so precise, that resembles real life.”
Italy has had its fair share of Masters of Horror. Dario Argento became one of them in 1970, after more than a decade of successful film criticism and screenwriting, when he directed “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage”, which helped to develop Italian Giallo movies into a new shape.
In fact, this film (and the two following installments in his “Animals Trilogy”) all refused a logical, classic resolution of the plot in favor of a more visual and innovative approach which was completely new to the genre, while the set-up for the murder scenes became longer and stylistically more relevant. This became even more apparent in “Deep Red”, one of the scariest thrillers of the Italian Seventies, where Mario Bava’s influences on Argento’s style and gory, creepy imagery reached whole new heights.
Further improvements on the formula came in 1977 with the release of “Suspiria”, which spawned a trilogy of successful horror films and still remains Dario Argento’s most beautifully shot film, combining his love for grisly murder scenes with unexpected supernatural elements. that will be present in many of his films to come, included his recent 3D take on Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”.
Still constantly referenced by many different filmmakers in the genre, Argento did also manage to write and produce some other Italian horror cults of the ‘80s like Lamberto Bava’s “Demons” franchise and Michele Soavi’s “The Church”, originally intended as the third chapter of the saga.
Even if his latest films turned out to be way less than perfect, Dario Argento’s name still continues to be acclaimed by many Giallo and horror aficionados, while many rumours continue to surround the troubled production of his next film (an adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffman’s “The Sandman”, which should star rock legend Iggy Pop in the titular role and have an original score composed by Goblin’s Claudio Simonetti and “Silent Hill” composer Akira Yamaoka).
3. Martin Scorsese
“I think all of us, under certain circumstances, could be capable of some very despicable acts. And that’s why, over the years, in my movies I’ve had characters who didn’t care what people thought about them. We try to be as true to them as possible and maybe see part of ourselves in there that we may not like.”
The man behind “Taxi Driver”, “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas” began his cinematic career in 1969, after a decade of film studies and short movies (the most important of these being “The Big Shave”, a metaphor for the American self-inflicted pain in the Vietnam war). As his directorial debut, “Who’s that knocking at my door” introduced to the world Harvey Keitel, the first of three actors to establish a lasting actor/director relationship with Martin Scorsese (Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio will follow) and already contained some of the director’s most personal themes.
From the distinctive use of rock music, a passion that will emerge in many of his documentary films, to the legendary use of freeze frame, from the frequent use of voice-over narration to the brilliant slow-motion and long tracking shots, Scorsese’s visual style is always capable to add layers to the stories told without ever feeling intrusive.
Corruption and the lack of morality are among the main themes explored in his movies, often accompanied by a deep sense of guilt related to his complex view of Catholic moral and faith; often appearing throughout his own filmography in cameo roles, Scorsese definitely is one of the most respected and recognizable filmmakers in the history of American cinema, and of course one of the most talented, too.
2. Quentin Tarantino
“I just grew up watching a lot of movies. I’m attracted to this genre and that genre, this type of story, and that type of story. As I watch movies I make some version of it in my head that isn’t quite what I’m seeing – taking the things I like and mixing them with stuff I’ve never seen before.”
Brutal violence and ironic wit. Sadistic gangsters and fearless heroes. Menacing shotguns and shiny katanas. Quentin Tarantino really is one of those filmmakers that do not need any introduction.
Starting as a cinephile video store clerk in Los Angeles, Tarantino began to write and sell his screenplays while studying to be an actor, finally making it to the director’s chair for his innovative and independent debut film “Reservoir Dogs” in 1992. His second film, “Pulp Fiction”, was an absolute blast, leading the director to win the Palme d’or at Cannes and guaranteeing him and co-writer Roger Avary an Academy Award for best screenplay, and remains to this day one of the most popular films ever made.
Of course, violence and wit are not everything Tarantino’s movies have to offer. With a range of returning actors and shots (have you ever heard of a “trunk shot”?), Quentin Tarantino was able to change the history of film forever with his visual genius, his out-of-this-world ear for dialogue and a great musical taste.
Every entry in his filmography has different sources of inspiration (from Italian horror and Giallo films of the ‘60s to worldwide film noir tradition, from American western epics to Italian spaghetti-westerns and so on), and establishes itself as a part of a larger cinematic universe full of internal references and quotations; a world of exhilarating fun and heart-stopping adrenaline that most of us will continue to enjoy in any possible way, whatever Mr. Tarantino’s next project might be.
1. Wes Anderson
“I have a way of filming things and staging them and designing sets. There were times when I thought I should change my approach, but in fact, this is what I like to do. It’s sort of like my handwriting as a movie director. And somewhere along the way, I think I’ve made the decision: I’m going to write in my own handwriting.”
Predictably enough, Texan filmmaker Wes Anderson takes first place of this list. A true creator of worlds, Anderson definitely is among the most appreciated and talented movie directors working today. Highly recognizable from his use of color palettes and his fixation with perfectly symmetrical shots, this incredible artist’s films feature incredible ensemble casts of recurring actors (the most noticeable examples would be Owen Wilson and Bill Murray) and ironic, bizarre dialogues that somehow always manage to make sense and develop characters that may look too artificial on the surface.
With a surprisingly dark and at times nightmarish humour, Wes Anderson’s stories come to life as if they were written and reimagined by some kind of insane comic book reader, reflecting our scary, real world in a heartwarming, soothing aura of picturesque and tasteful vintage. A master of visual storytelling and style, Anderson has managed to keep his unique touch and emotional feel alive not only in his cult live action comedies but also in his stop-motion animated entry “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009), a peculiar form that the director chose to reprise in his upcoming project “Isle of Dogs”, which will release in early 2018.
Honorable Mentions: Nicolas Winding Refn, Lars Von Trier, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Pedro Almodóvar, John Woo, Paolo Sorrentino.
Author Bio: Fabio Mauro Angeli is an Italian communication student with a deep love for the Seventh Art. He continues in his film studies while working on his first screenplays and short movies, hoping to one day make it to the director’s chair. He enjoys pretty much every kind of movie, with “Once upon a time in America” being his absolute favourite (for now!).