A Bit More Direction


Some time back, I wrote a list of my favourite directors and why they were such. It's been almost four years, so I figured it's time to update it, see how my tastes have changed.


10. John Woo
(Hard Boiled, A Better Tomorrow, Red Cliff)

I'm not gonna lie. John Woo pretty much only just made the list, sailing, perhaps unjustifiably so, past much better directors (I'm so sorry Kubrick, Welles and Wilder), but I just straight up love watching John Woo films. At best, he delivers gut-wrenching, often quite moving festivals of action and epic visuals - seriously, how good was Red Cliff? - and at worst ... Face/Off. His style has been parodied and even made into a video game (Stranglehold, where you get loads of points for being overly stylish)  But we're here to celebrate his panache for extravagance, his farewells to subtlety and, best of all, his trademark slow motion dual-pistol dove-filled shootouts. Woo.

9. David Fincher
(Se7en, Fight Club, The Social Network)

What's my favourite David Fincher production? The music video for Straight Up, of course. But what's my favourite Fincher film? And then we hit a brick wall because pretty much all of his films are my favourite Fincher film. Fincher is, by and large, an instantly recognisable director. There’s a skill in the way Fincher shoots. It’s high quality, fine filmmaking in disguise. Anyone could make The Game, or Fight Club into the usual run-of-the-mill gritty movie, but Fincher turns it into cinema.

8. Chris Nolan
(The Dark Knight, Inception, The Prestige)

Whenever I think back to Nolan movies, I tend to remember slow-moving, hours-long melodramas about something needlessly complicated. And then I watch a Nolan film and remember how insanely wrong I am. You may not agree with his greyscale, drab approach to cinematography but he's here on this list because he never tries to talk down to his audience. It's a practice he's had since he started, way back when when he filmed Following. On top of that and his all-inclusive approach to filmmaking, he's a fantastic action director - which is a massive bonus, when you have films about people dreaming about dreams about ideas, it's good to have a few explosions here and there.

7. Hayao Miyazaki
(The Wind Rises, Princess Mononoke, Porco Rosso)

I wanted Miyazaki to share this spot with Walt Disney, and in fact let's make him an honorary winner here too, because let's face it, both of them are (were? Let's just use the present tense and pretend Walt is alive) true masters of their art, bringing animation, and the brilliant visuals, and engaging stories and characters to the mainstream. Miyazaki's trademark whimsy and ability to find beauty in all situations, and Walt's timeless fairy tales will forever remain staples of family entertainment and the standard of what animated films should aspire to be.

6. Takashi Miike
(Thirteen Assassins, Audition, Ichi the Killer)

In terms of variety, Miike ranks number one on the list. Never have I seen someone transcend genre so effortlessly as he has. With Miike, you rarely get what you expect, and it keeps you on your toes. One day he'll be directing child-friendly family adventure Ninja Kids!!! and the next he's making child-slaughter-fest Lesson of the Evil. His output has dropped somewhat in the last few years (he only made three films in 2012!) but it's given him a chance to be more focused. Long gone are the days of hit-and-miss randomness. Now the results, while not always great, are perfectly calculated and so very satisfying.

5. Edgar Wright
(Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World's End)

A director should know his influences, who it was that helped shape their visual style. Here is a director who not only knows this, but really, really wants you to know it too.  Edgar Wright is a man who does not like wasting a single frame of film. In his quest to blend comedy, pastiche and straight-up excellent filmmaking into his movies, he finds ways to make even the most mundane scenes interesting, funny and insightful. He's a man who's completely fluent in the language of film and I've never seen someone else use it so creatively or with as much love.

4. Woody Allen
(Annie Hall, Midnight in Paris, Manhattan)

I ... uh, um, well, see, Woody Allen is the kind of director who does his best work selfishly. A bit like Takeshi Kitano (except, like, not at all), his films benefit greatly when he's front and centre, when he lets the Woody Allen-ness take over. There's something altogether approachable about his characters and that bohemian charm he gives his stories. Even in his higher concept pieces, he always manages to insert some truths about the sheer awkwardness of being and I think that's something we can all relate to. And, you know, um, his stuff? It's just really funny.

3. Guillermo Del Toro
(Pacific Rim, Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth)

One of the most important things for a director to have - on top of about a thousand different things -  is a keen eye for dramatically striking visuals. A lot of the directors on this list have this, but one of the most unique comes from Mr Del Toro. His characters and designs are so interesting a lot of the time you're too fascinated you forget you're supposed to be afraid. When he's been given creative freedom - especially when working outside of Hollywood - you know immediately when you're watching a Del Toro. There's atmosphere in abundance, beautiful designs and a nagging sense that his dark fairy tales could, just could, come true.

2. Alfred Hitchcock
(Dial M For Murder, North by Northwest, Strangers on a Train)

Is there anything I could say about the Master of Suspense that hasn't been said before? Probably not. Moving on!

1. Kim Ji Woon
(A Tale of Two Sisters, The Last Stand, The Good the Bad and the Weird)

He's still my number one director and I don't see this changing any time soon. What particularly draws me to Kim is his ability to tell us any kind of story, while doing it with the skill and mastery of someone who's been in the genre for decades. He puts his own spin on established styles, making every film unique while also being very much one of his films. Without sounding like too much of a fan boy, I've not seen a film of his I've not liked (even the Schwarzenegger train wreck The Last Stand), and I look at his flexible style and artful direction as inspiration in my own work. Often the good, never the bad, but always the weird.


Honourable mentions

The legends that are Billy Wilder, Stanley Kubrick, Orson Welles should really have been on this list, but I couldn't write anything about them that wasn't like Hitchcock's entry (and would have made for a very dull list).

Also Matthew Vaughn, who is one of the best at adapting comic book source material, and Frank Darabont, who is one the rare people on the planet to make truly excellent films out of Stephen King novels.

Well, I'm sure there are directors you all love who didn't make the list, and to be honest there are just so many out there that I like that if I went and wrote about all of them I'd be here forever