TOP 10 Directors of All Time
One of the hardest lists for an eclectic film fanatic to assemble is a list of cinema’s greatest Directors, and to create a TOP 10 List is almost impossible.
As poet Arthur O'Shaughnessy writes in Ode (later quoted by Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory), “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” The Director is the switch that turns on the light in the darkest room. They are the ones who hold the controls and steer the film toward greatness.
The writing of a script cannot be visually expressed without the Director’s guidance. The performance of a great actor cannot be effectively crafted without the Director’s enlightenment. The movie sets cannot be believable without the Director’s extreme attention to detail.
In this article, I will be ranking my TOP 10 Directors of all time. These are visionaries whose illustrious work is a representation of their talent and dedication to quite possibly the most difficult yet heavy-weighted position in show business. These Directors all represent different facets of the motion picture industry and have established themselves as some of cinema’s most innovative and creative artists.
A Couple Honorable Mentions:
Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot, The Apartment
The Terminator, Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Titanic
Francis Ford Coppola
The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Apocalypse Now, Peggy Sue Got Married
Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan
Seven, Fight Club, Panic Room, Gone Girl
When you go to the theatre to watch a David Fincher film, you know you are entering a world that will test your psychological boundaries and whether you leave the film feeling like you’ve understood the underlying storyline or are a bit perplexed at the conclusion, David Fincher’s unusually calculated direction of camera angles and imagery make you feel like you are on a bumpy ride that leaves you at the edge of your seat but you enjoy it the entire time.
Wild Strawberries, Persona, Cries and Whispers
Quite possibly the most influential person for aspiring directors of the 20th century, Swedish director Ingmar Bergman was the master at the close up. Capturing the pale emotion of his characters. There is often an undisclosed tone of sexuality in his films. Most of Bergman's films revolve around a bleakness, a question of morality that surrounds the central characters through inventive camera angles and distinguished close ups. Bergman’s films are not the easiest films to watch. Much of the time you are questioning the central plot of the film, but this confusion is derived from Bergman’s critical technique as a writer. Ingmar Bergman wrote almost all of the films he directed and because he was not a Director based in the United States, the influence of sexuality, art, and religion is freely evident and are the general ideals Bergman was brilliant at conveying throughout his film career.
The Coen Brothers
Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big Lebowski
What is there to say that hasn’t already been said? He is the most well known and most referenced Director of all time. He is an innovator for an entire generation of filmmakers and has directed some of the most referenced films in pop culture. When I go to see a Steven Spielberg film, I honestly don’t expect to see much depth in his characters (with the exception of a few) but that’s okay because what Spielberg does in his films, rather than focusing on a central character is turn the movie into an event. He is a pioneer filmmaker when it comes to the use of visual effects. He manages to throw in themes that push the envelope of imagination and fantasy. He often makes films that depict the complicated and misunderstood relationships between children and their parents. Even if he isn’t directing a film, whether he is producing or writing, there is a level of sentimental imagination that he brings that is unparalleled to any other director.
Romancing the Stone, Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Death Becomes Her, Forrest Gump
Looking at his filmography, I’ve come to realize that Robert Zemeckis is responsible for my initial interest in films. I grew up watching Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Death Becomes Her, Romancing the Stone. Now that I am older, I can appreciate the imaginative and visionary concepts of Zemeckis who really set the standard in the 1980s and 1990s for what it means to be a conceptual and effective director. He is someone who is able to take themes and stories that may not jump off the page but brings them to the screen with a clear and inspired vision. Robert Zemeckis has done a brilliant job at bringing versatility to his directing style, throwing himself into comedies, dramas, and horror films.
Jaws, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, The Color Purple, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List
What is there to say that hasn’t already been said? He is the most well known and most referenced Director of all time. He is an innovator for an entire generation of filmmakers and has directed some of the most referenced films in pop culture. When I go to see a Steven Spielberg film, I honestly don’t expect to see much depth in his characters (with the exception of a few) but that’s okay because what Spielberg does in his films, rather than focusing on a central character is turn the movie into an event. He is a pioneer filmmaker when it comes to the use of visual effects. He manages to throw in themes that push the envelope of imagination and fantasy. He often makes films that depict the complicated and misunderstood relationships between children and their parents. Even if he isn’t directing a film, whether he is producing or writing, there is a level of sentimental imagination that he brings that is unparallel to any other director.
Annie Hall, Interiors, Manhattan, Stardust Memories, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Hannah and Her Sisters, Another Woman, Bullets over Broadway, Blue Jasmine
All controversies aside, despite what he has done in his personal life, Woody Allen is one of the most prolific directors of all time. Simplicity, that is the basis of his films. There are no elaborate special effects, most of his films use New York City as the setting. His earlier films are influenced by the style of Swedish Director Ingmar Bergman. Often starring in his own films, Woody Allen has a distinct way of writing his characters. This dialogue is very conversational, like you’ve just entered a room and are watching a couple of New Yorkers who talk really fast, but you catch every word they say because there is such a sense of realism there. His films teeter on so many different levels of style. There is a mixture of comedy, drama, and satire in all of his films and Woody Allen seems to be the master at getting his leading and supporting actresses to really connect with the character they are playing.
Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill Vol. 1, Kill Bill Vol. 2, Django Unchained
It’s been over twenty years, but I think that people forget just how big Pulp Fiction was when it was released in 1994. It was only Quentin Tarantino’s second major motion picture film as a director after 1992’s Reservoir Dogs which shocked audiences by it’s epic levels of blood and violence. With its compelling dialogue and unique structure, Pulp Fiction became the ultimate stepping stone for Quentin Tarantino and instantly made him one of cinema’s most accomplished Directors. Tarantino does not believe that violence in film creates violence in real life and that is evident in his style of filmmaking. His movies always display a high level of blood and gore, strong language, and gun violence. A style in filmmaking such as this can easily go camp, but Tarantino writes his movies with such a level of honesty and humor. There is always something nostalgic thrown in to his films and each movie he directs or writes, there is always a new element of creativity that he brings to the film.
2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket
No one can shoot a film set like Stanley Kubrick. He is the master at creating a setting that creates the mood of the film. His unusual styles of music are both haunting yet masterful. The images Kubrick puts on to the screen throughout all his films leave imprints of subtle hostility, sexual frustration, and unnerving tension. Each film Kubrick made displayed a new level of artistic expression. His use of set design combined with intricate cinematography created some of the most iconic images of the 20th century. Often criticized for being too demanding of his actors, Kubrick would often make his leading men and women reshoot their scenes over fifty times, not necessarily because they weren’t doing a good job, but because that frustration of having to continue to evolve their character would add to the emotional complexity of the scene. Watching a Stanley Kubrick film is like looking at a painting, it’s complicated, it may make you emotional, and there is always something new you notice that you did not see before.
Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Cape Fear, Casino, The Departed, The Wolf of Wall Street
Martin Scorsese has some of the most unique and definitive styles of filmmaking. His protagonists are complicated souls who while often not good guys, are viewed by us with a level of understanding as Scorsese often shoots from the protagonist’s perspective, putting the audience in their mind. While his films are often 2 ½ to 3 hours long, they never drag on because Scorsese not only utilizes some of the greatest acting talents repeatedly in his films, but his gritty knack for combining satire with drama and masterful choice of music throughout his films culminate to an innovate and entertaining story translated on to the screen. Scorsese’s characters’ have storylines that are films within themselves and I admire the fact that he has cast his longtime friend Robert De Niro as the leading man in a majority of his films as well as Leonardo DiCaprio. Martin Scorsese is really great at delivering the goods in a film and he seems to know exactly what his audiences want to see while still staying true to his artistic integrity.
Rebecca, Shadow of a Doubt, Notorious, Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, The Birds, Marnie
He has been called “The Master of Suspense,” but for me, Alfred Hitchcock is the Master of Filmmaking. He defines every complicated characteristic a director needs to have in order to bring artistic expression to the big screen. In a career that spans over six decades, Alfred Hitchcock completely revolutionized filmmaking. Every single shot of a Hitchcock film is detailed. His subjects are often untrusting and villainous, and the viewer gets this implication from the character’s eyes, their expressions. Hitchcock was a master at getting an actor to emote without speaking. He took actors and with his direction, they gave some of the greatest performances of their careers. The fear that came from his films wasn’t necessarily because of the story being told, it was the way the story was told through camera angles, through movement, and extreme attention to detail on Hitchcock’s part. Alfred Hitchcock took suspense to a whole new level with each film he made and in doing so, he honed a craft that made him the greatest Director of all time.