5 Directors

To give you an idea of what to expect from my blog when I actually post serious content, here are my five favorite film directors, in order.

1. Ingmar Bergman
He was Doctor Doom- expounding heavily on weighty philosophical and theological matters that hadn’t been discussed too often in cinema prior to Bergman- but he was also an absolute master at his craft. He took the close-up and made it his own weapon, sapping every ounce of humanity possible out of his actors’ faces. His attention to detail was phenomenal. He and his long-time cinematographer, Sven Nykvist, were phenomenal with their use of shadow, light, and contrast in a grayscale medium. By just about any measure that you’d like to use to gauge a director, Ingmar Bergman was phenomenal. And the ruthless honesty with which he approached serious questions that plague mankind launch him into a different stratosphere.
See: The Seventh Seal; Winter Light; The Magician; Persona; Wild Strawberries

2. Luis Buñuel
Buñuel was the king of absurdity, the Sultan of the Surreal. He grew up, intellectually, with Salvador Dali; the two met and befriended each other in Madrid when Buñuel was 17. The two launched a film career together with the iconic Un Chien Andalou and ultimately changed film forever. Buñuel was counter-culture to his very core, a rebel who greatly enjoyed whimsically poking fun at religion, sexuality, class structure, and just about every other social institution you can imagine. And for this, he is my #2.
See: The Phantom of Liberty; The Exterminating Angel; Los Olvidados; Un Chien Andalou; The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

3. Louis Malle
Time and time again, when you see lists of great directors, Louis Malle is either buried towards the bottom or excluded altogether. The only real reason I can come up with for this egregious mistake is that Malle had no specific genre. Most auteurs have a template that they employ while executing their craft. Louis Malle did not. He made film noir; French language drama; English language drama; gangster films; French and American documentaries; short films; etc… And each time he tackled a new genre, he was very successful at it. The one thing that he shares with Bergman is that he’s so deeply personal in his films. Many of his films are some shade of biographical. And his early film, The Fire Within, is quite frankly my favorite film of all-time.
See: The Fire Within; Elevator to the Gallows; Murmur of the Heart; God’s Country; Au Revoir les Enfants

4. Akira Kurosawa
Read all about it here in my very first blog entry.
See: Rashomon; Ikiru; Seven Samurai; Sanjuro; High and Low

5. Alfred Hitchcock
I’m relatively limited, as I’ve seen about 1/3 of the full Hitchcock catalogue. But the insane quality of what I’ve already seen demands to be included on this brief list. No director was better at toeing the line between art and entertainment. Sure, you might think of Vertigo as a crazy little flick about Jimmy Stewart’s obsession with Kim Novak. But peel back a layer or two and there’s a really hilarious, and dirty, subtext about necrophilia (and to a lesser degree, celebrity worship). Psycho is tense and full of suspenseful goodness, but a thin layer below that, it may as well have been made by Sigmund Freud. In Rope, you the viewer find yourself sucked into a morbid fascination with the murder plot hatched by the protagonists. But there in the middle of it all is one of the protagonists re-telling a tale of how shaken he’d gotten by a farm episode in which he had to “choke chickens”. A MASTURBATION REFERENCE, very much on purpose! And on and on. Like Bergman, Hitchcock was obsessed with details and it paid off in buckets when it came to overall quality.
See: Vertigo; Rear Window; North by Northwest; Psycho; Strangers on a Train

51 responses to “5 Directors

  1. Hey, just found this website and clicked on the 5 DIRECTORS header at the top. Then I saw your favorite filmmaker was Ingmar Bergman… and, well, you clearly have excellent taste. What a genius.
    Although you didn’t mention some of his best films like “Cries and Whispers,” “Shame,” or “The Silence.”

    • Thanks! I have a hard time choosing just a few from Bergman. I’ve seen something like 30 Bergman films and they’ve all been, at a bare minimum, very good. And a lot were great, including the three that you mention.

  2. rtm

    You’re clearly in a different league man, I only know two of these directors and I haven’t even seen any of their films 😦

    Btw, thanks for adding me to your blogroll… I’m so honored. You’re in mine now!

    • That’s the beauty of movies- there’s lots of room for everyone’s interests. It’s not a matter of leagues and whatnot.

      And adding you to the blogroll was long overdue! Glad I could do it.

  3. Nate

    Nice selection of directors there. I would’ve added Robert Altman over Louis Malle if it were me, as you need an American director in there –and what Altman did was unprecedented in American cinema.

    • I’m definitely an Altman fan. When it comes to American directors, he’s right there in the mix for me along with Scorsese, John Huston, the Coens, Billy Wilder, George Roy Hill…

  4. gab

    what about:
    – francois truffaut
    – roman polanski
    – stanley kubrik
    – woody allen
    – blake edwards

    • HUGE fan of Truffaut, and if I did ten instead of five, he’d be in there, no doubt. I like Polanski a ton but really haven’t dived into his movies as much as I should have. Kubrick and Woody Allen… two guys I respect a lot, but not necessarily my favorites. Edwards is also one I’m lean on.

    • As talented as Polanski may be, his and his work should be boycotted for being a pedophile-rapist. Sometimes it can’t just be “all about the art”. Trade him for one of my favourite directors: Paul Thomas Anderson!

  5. magnoliaforever

    I’ve only recently become a Bergman fan (Through A Glass Darkly pulled me in, Persona got me hooked) and he may or may not creep up onto my favourite directors list. As for Bunuel, I’ve only seen Un Chien Andalou and L’Age D’Or but I love them both. Malle, I’m not very experienced with, same goes for Kurosawa, but I’m willing to try anything. Hitchcock… I pretty much agree with what you wrote there. A great list. My list is all modern directors, I really need to update it with some of the greater ones from a long time ago (old movies are not my specialty, but I still love them.)

    • Bunuel is a bit challenging, I suppose, but I find him infinitely rewarding. Diary of a Chambermaid might be a good launching point (beyond the two silents you mentioned); it’s more conventional than some of his later work. The same goes for his Mexican-era films- they’re much more conventional than, say, The Milky Way or The Phantom of Liberty or The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. Absolutely nothing is sacred with Bunuel- not religion, not sexuality, not authority.

      The great part about Malle is that whatever genre you prefer, odds are good that he’s made something in that genre. Kurosawa, like Hitchcock, is just so stupendously technically sound. There’s an amazing choreography to his films and his cinematography.

      My top 5 has a periphery that includes a lot more great directors and I may expand this at some point. The short list would include Scorsese (obviously), John Huston, Truffaut, and Billy Wilder.

  6. Tim

    Love 4 of those directors, and I hate to say I’m one of the people who is fairly unfamiliar with Louis Malle’s work. I have several of his films in my Netflix queue, but have yet to watch any. Now I think I have to start with “The Fire Within”.

    I have to say Kurosawa is my favorite of those you listed. And my favorite overall. Also a big fan of Masaki Kobayashi and Howard Hawks.

  7. Love your list, love the blog. How do you feel about Godard?

    • Thank you! I have a very odd love/hate relationship with Godard. If I only judged him on the movies that I liked, he’d be on this list. If I only judged him on the movies I disliked, I’d scoff at putting him on the list. As it is, he’s undeniably influential, and there are a LOT more that I’ve liked than I’ve disliked. Honestly, I find his use of New Wave and post-modernism to be a bit too much sometimes. This is why I’ve become a huge fan of Truffaut (and am a huge fan of Malle). They were always understated. Long story short, Godard is somewhere in my top 20, probably just outside the top 10.

  8. That’s a totally fair assessment. I have been both mesmerized and bored by Godard. But even when he bores me, I’m fascinated at his decision to bore me. He still does make a good picture these days; I thought his film, “Notre Musique” from 7-9 years ago was very good.

    • The one that really jumps out at me is “Hail Mary” (as one that drove me nuts). I need to check out Notre Musique. I think Hail Mary was the most “recent” one I’ve seen (and that was made in 1985).

      Stuff like Weekend; Breathless; Contempt; A Woman is a Woman; Les Caribiniers; Masculin, Feminin… I LOVED those movies to varying degrees.

  9. I didn’t like “Hail Mary” at all, and to think that it was condemned by religious weasels.

    • It’s almost like he channeled Luis Bunuel, and that’s a bad mix. I love ice cream and I love hamburgers but I’m not going to put ice cream (Bunuel) on my hamburgers (Godard).

  10. Two things from a just-learning-about-serious-film person (that’s meant as a disclaimer!): I don’t know if you’re a reader, but I recently finished Zeroville by Steve Erickson which is an odd but intriguing fictional book all about film from the 30s to the 1970s. I’d recommend it to film lovers.

    And I also recently watched The Beaches of Agnes about director Agnes Varda and found it fascinating to learn about that period of time and film creativity. I’d be curious as to your thoughts on her or that film based on your Godard tastes.

    • I’m a bad reader, but that book sounds fantastic.

      I’ve got some Varda on my radar, probably getting my intro to her later this month with Pointe Courte.

  11. Awesome list! I’ve just started watching Ingmar Bergman’s films after being amazed by The Seventh Seal, so far I’ve seen The Magician and The Silence. However, I do think Kubrick should of got like an honourable mention or maybe in 5th instead of Hitchcock but nonetheless great list and great blog 🙂

    • I’m still very much warming up to Kubrick, with some big holes still out there. Though I really should add a second 5- #’s 6 through 10, as it were. It’d include Truffaut, Scorsese, Billy Wilder, maybe Godard… I’d have to think about this.

  12. I have seen “My Dinner with Andre” over a dozen times. Love that film and love the directors on your list.
    “Persona” is one of my faves.
    I’ve seen every film you mentioned.
    You’ve got a subscriber 🙂

  13. I’ve been meaning to ask you for quite a while now… what’s your stance on Fellini? He seems to be one of the only real classic directors who hasn’t been mentioned at TDYLF (as far as I can remember). I, personally, have only seen one film (8 1/2) but I really enjoyed it and I’m gonna try and check out more.

    • He gets an occasional mention on the 100 Things list(s), but it’s definitely rare. I’ve seen 8 1/2, La Dolce Vita, and Amarcord, and honestly wasn’t motivated to watch any more. I admire the hell out of what he does. He was definitely a filmmaker’s filmmaker. But it doesn’t really click for me. I guess I’d say I admire his films a lot more than I actually enjoy them. Having said that, the “Guido’s Harem” scene from 8 1/2 is what I consider the best scene in any movie, ever.

  14. Victor De Leon

    Love Hitch and Kurosawa. I did a paper on Hitch back in film school. Got a B+ Great post.

  15. I’ve only just discovered Bergman recently, but after watching ‘The Passion of Anna’ and ‘Hour of the Wolf’, I have to say I’m very impressed (and pleased he’s got a large catalogue of films for me to plough through). What are your favourite Bergman films/ones you would recommend?

    Also, what are your thoughts on the ‘slow cinema’ directors? I’ve recently discovered Andrei Tarkovsky and Bela Tarr, both of whom look pretty intriguing. I have to say I’m a bit of a sucker for the occasional bizzare dream-sequence/montage of surreal images. Incidentally, what are your thoughts on David Lynch?

    • I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a “bad” Bergman movie. I’ve loved all of them. But I tend to think that The Seventh Seal and his Trilogy of Faith are the best starting places. Fanny and Alexander is also a great one to go with. Persona is also amazing, and works sort of in the same vein as Hour of the Wolf in that it’s got a surreal quality to it. You’ve got great times coming if you liked those two that you mentioned.

      I’ve had slightly limited exposure to Tarkovsky and Tarr. I wish I could give a better answer, but I really can’t. I’ve seen Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev, which is just out-of-this-world in quality. It’s amazing. But I also felt like my brain needed to rest for a day or two after watching it because it’s so beautifully dense. The two Tarr films I’ve seen are Damnation and The Outsider. The one thing that leaps out at me about Tarr is his cinematography. His shots feature tremendous contrast, some of the best I’ve seen.

      If you like surrealism, Buñuel is a bit of a must. He’s the king of the surreal. Guy Maddin is another one, and there are some early Alain Resnais films that fit the bill (Last Year at Marienbad, and Hiroshima Mon Amour, both surrealist treatises on memory). A newer director who goes surreal is Roy Andersson. I’ve only seen a few of his films but I’ve loved both. Terry Gilliam and David Cronenberg teeter on the surreal as well, but in much more mainstream ways (not a knock on them; I dig both).

      I’ve got an odd relationship with Lynch. Like you, I love surreal films. Lynch is seemingly a match made in heaven. But for whatever reason, he’s never “clicked” with me. I certainly don’t dislike his movies by any stretch. They just don’t resonate with me for some reason, and I really wish they did.

      Thanks for coming by! Great questions!

      • Yeah I’ve only just started with Tarkovsky and Tarr too; when I saw Andrei Rublev I thought it was a very impressive film, but for some reason I struggled with it. Maybe it’s my lack of knowledge relating to that particular time period and the subject matter portrayed, but I found it hard to connect with the characters and the story. I was given the complete Tarkovsky collection for christmas though, so I’ve still got plenty to go! I’ve heard good things about ‘Stalker’ and ‘Nostalgia’, so am looking forward to them.

        Thanks for the other recommendations! I’ve been meaning to check out Buñuel and Guy Maddin for awhile, and have never heard of Resnais or Andersson before, so will definitely take a look!

  16. Chitij Karki

    Your banner is a homage to Un Chien Andalou….except that’s how Bunuel would have envisioned the eyeball slicing scene if he was working with Metropolis era Fritz Lang instead LOL…

    • You know… I’ve got a few banners that are homages to various films. Adding one that tips the cap to Lang is a hell of an idea. And you’re dead-on about Metropolis. I wish I’d thought of that when I created the banner.

  17. Nice list! Ingmar Bergman and Akira Kurosawa would be in my top 5…I’ve never even heard of Malle and Buñuel, shame on me! The others in my list would be Fellini, Kieslowski, Mike Leigh and ..oh that’s five. Plus Haneke = 6 🙂

    • If you’re a Bergman and Kurosawa fan, we’re going to get along juuuuust fine.

      Buñuel is all about the surreal, either visual or conceptual. He loved taking social institutions and laying their logic to waste. And it wasn’t petulant or angry. It was humorous. Malle was the ultimate chameleon, capable of taking on several filmmaking styles and mastering them, all while keeping them very personal to him.

      I’m a little limited with my Fellini but 8 1/2 and La Dolce Vita are undeniably some of the best movies ever made. The same goes for Kieslowski. I haven’t tackled all that he’s done but what I’ve seen has been masterful. From Haneke, Caché and The Piano Teacher are tremendous, and that’s all I’ve seen. I’ve actually never seen a Mike Leigh film, but given your other tastes and that you regard him so highly, I feel like I have to check him out now.

      Thanks for commenting on this page! I love talking about directors.

  18. Me too, I love being introduced to new directors that i’ve not heard of – Buñuel and Malle certainly sound like directors i’d be interested in, can you recommend a film by each as a starting point? With Haneke, see if you can catch Amour before it stops playing in cinemas, it’s his best so far! Mike Leigh is certainly one of the greats too, and he’s still alive and still directing! He’s very British in so much as all of his films are set in London, around Londoners. He has a huge range though, and Roger Ebert has given almost all of his films 4/4 i think! Secrets and Lies by him is probably a good starting film, it won a Palm D’Or.

    • The easiest starting place for Buñuel is Un Chien Andalou. It’s only 15 minutes and I believe it’s in the public domain. After that, my favorites would be The Phantom of Liberty or The Exterminating Angel- both Criterion selections.

      Malle is probably best known for Au Revoir, Les Enfants, and I think that’s as good a starting place as any.

      I’m really anxious to see Amour. It’s one of the few Best Pic. nominees that I haven’t seen, but still want to see.

  19. Your list resembles mine. I have a fun blog going: I’ve decided to go through the Criterion Collection in roughly numerical order, and am just making random comments along the way. Feel free to give your input; it sounds / looks like you would appreciate the exercise. The woody allen covers? brilliant. Make sure criterion doesn’t steal them….

  20. Seriously impressed that you know who these directors are. Not in my top 5 but beyond that I’d suggest Powell and Pressburger

  21. Great list and awesome site, I am definitely following. If you or anyone get a chance please check out my film blog. Just started and could use all the support I can get.

  22. Just discovered your page and I really love it. I’d like to make a brief pitch about Kubrick. To me, he’s the master. The technique in his films is usually so flawless it overrides his content for many people. This gets his movies labels like “cold”, “unemotional”, etc. And I completely disagree. The thing about Kubrick, I think, is that he presents emotional content in a non-critical manner. He does not like to tell you how to feel about it. But if you fully engage yourself in his movies, you get a profound experience out of them. You can’t just passively watch a Kubrick film, though. You have to really put a lot into it. Thematically, I think most of his movies could be classified as black comedies. Even 2001. Watch them from that angle and they become more human and “warm”. Anyway, didn’t mean to go so long. I should blog about Kubrick someday. Thanks!

  23. By the way, I could blog about Bergman, too. My second favorite director. In case anyone cares my top five would probably be
    1) Kubrick
    2) Bergman
    3) Kurosawa
    4) Hitchcock
    5) Truffaut

    • All five are awesome. Actually, I wrote that “5 Directors” thing quite a while ago. You may have inspired me to update it… or at least write a whole huge article ranking a crapload of directors.

      Thanks for the kind words. Re: Kubrick, I’ve done a 180 on him since I started this blog. I kind of hated him 3.5 years ago but now I’m a huge fan. But he’s kind of a filmmaker’s filmmaker- a total technician in a massively impressive way. I think it took a lot of knowledge about film in general before his work clicked with me. But now? I’m blown away by his work. I think there’s an accessibility issue, still, where the average moviegoer is probably going to shrug their shoulders and say “HUH?!?” But that’s perfectly ok.

      Long story short- I used to hate Kubrick, now I love Kubrick, but I still feel like the average schmoe can’t dig Kubrick.

  24. Love Bergman. He is what really launched me into foreign film and avant-garde cinema. Have you seen Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice? It was his last movie and it was filmed by Sven Nykvist; very Bergman-esque. There is a great making-of documentary packaged with the DVD.

  25. John,

    came to your site via brainpickings and your breaking bad poster. well done!

    if you like French films, I suggest that you check out Jean-Pierre Melville, specifically, army of shadows, le samourai and le cercle rouge.

    thanks for your work.


  26. A few years back, I was lucky enough to see, ‘Army of Shadows’ on the big screen. It was a thrill.

  27. “The Fire Within” recently became my favorite film, as well. Two directors I’d have to include are Kubrick and Lynch.

  28. Pingback: Enjoying the Popcorn: Movie Blogging | The Gist

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