Sofia Coppola - young, talented, and will be on a future version of the list

Sofia Coppola - young, talented, and will be on a future version of the list

Writing a list of the 100 greatest of anything is bound to start people complaining about what was left out, and of course, what actually made the list. Of course, I’m a firm believer that the best way to criticize a list is to make your own list. That was why I read every book on the Modern Library’s list and then wrote my own lists of the 100 Greatest Novels.

This list is actually considerably harder to do than a list of the 100 Greatest Films. Yes, I have seen well over 5,000 films and have to trim that down, but with directors, I have to determine how they get ranked. Purely on how well they direct a film? On how good their films are? How do I account for their best films? Should I include other people’s opinions? To that end, I made a 1000 point scale, with 10 100 point categories.

The problem many people might have with this is that it reduces everything to a number, and how do you reduce art to a number? Well, I did and without I would not have been able to come up with this list.

The 10 categories roughly break down like this:

  1. Average film
  2. Average of 5 best films
  3. Average of 10 best films
  4. % of films which are 4 star + 5 points for every 4 star film
  5. Director points (hard to explain)
  6. Director points per film
  7. Awards points (from Oscars, Golden Globes, critics, BAFTA, DGA)
  8. Top 1000 (external from here)
  9. Top 1000 (my list)
  10. Subjective number on how good a director I think they are

The only ones I’ll really go into detail on are 8 and 9. For that, I gave 10 points for every film in the top 100, 9 for 101-200, 8 for 201-300, and so forth. I used that external list because it is a great site which has culled together things from sources all over the place and gives a true feel for what other people think of a film other than me.

One bizarre note: Until people started talking up Andrew Stanton this year for Best Director for Wall-E, no one had really thought about directors of animated films for awards. So, because that eliminates an entire category, and because I’ve never been able to figure out how to judge the direction of an animated film, any directors of animated films is thrown out of whack on the list. So, a couple of times, I’m going to throw in another director in between numbers, directors who only specialize in animated films.

The last thing I’ll do here is a give a brief overview of three types of directors, none of which will appear on the list for the next year (I’ll be counting down the list for the next year, with a new one every few days — I won’t include a total list until the end). The first is directors that may someday appear on this list, but so far haven’t directed enough films to include. I cut the list off at 4 films for two reasons – the first is that four films seems to be where it gives a normalizing number on the list and the second is that some directors who are now dead (Laurence Olivier) or pretty much retired from directing (Warren Beatty) who have definitely earned a place on the list only directed four films.

The second group of directors is those who right now make the list, but I have only seen a small number of their films (less than four). When I first made this list back in the fall, this number was larger, but included directors like Curtis Hanson, William Friedkin and Claude Berri, because I had seen their best films, but not many others. I have watched numerous films over the last few months, and those three have now been knocked off the list (both of this group and the list of top 100 altogether).

The third group of directors here are going to be directors who didn’t make the list but who many people would have expected to see (and whom I expect people to complain about). There are 253 names on the list that I ranked, so I considered all these directors, but they didn’t make it.

The number to make the list is 475.90. Many of the future directors are higher than that but I simply excluded them because they haven’t made 4 films yet.

Future Directors (possibly):

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (487.00): The talented young Mexican director of Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel has shown amazing talent, although I have felt each film was a little weaker than the one before. If his fourth film (Biutiful, due in December) is as good as any of those four, he’ll have no trouble making a future version of the list.

Kevin Costner (502.35): Many rail against Costner because The Postman is a silly film. But it’s a fairly well-directed film and it’s not a bad film, just one with a ridiculous story. And his other two films are of course Dances with Wolves and Open Range, one of the more under-rated films this decade. I’ll admit to a soft spot for him because he and I went to the same high school and when I was when in high school, he was one of my favorite actors (Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, Dances with Wolves, Robin Hood, JFK).

Rob Marshall (512.15): Both Marshall and Costner had impressive debuts (with many awards and nominations, which helped their point totals) and both had big letdowns for their second film (Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha for Marshall). Marshall has 9 coming out this fall, which could sink under the weight of expected Oscars like Geisha did, or could soar, like Chicago did.

George Clooney (524.40): Clooney allowed himself some leeway after Good Night and Good Luck by directing a throwback screwball comedy (Leatherheads). He had a fantastic debut with Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. So, let’s wait and see what he does with a fourth film.

Spike Jonze (532.00): Jonze made two great films with Charlie Kaufman scripts, but let’s see what he does more on his own, when Where the Wild Things Are comes out this fall.

Joe Wright (583.65): Wright has made two films (with a third due out next month: The Soloist). Those two films were both spectacular (and both starred Kiera Knightley): Pride and Prejudice and Atonement.

Fernando Meirelles (586.50): I haven’t had a chance to see Blindness yet. I also haven’t seen his early film, Domesticas. It’s possible those might knock him off the list.

Sofia Coppola (599.30): Made a great debut film (Virgin Suicides), upped the ante with Lost in Translation, but slipped a bit with Marie Antoinette. Unless her fourth film (still unannounced) is a flop, she will likely be on a future version of this list.

Stephen Daldry (606.50): He’s finally doing pre-production on Kavalier and Clay. Given that it was my number 2 novel of the 21st Century and that Daldry has been nominated for Best Director at the Oscars for each of his first three films, that bodes well.

Haven’t Seen Enough of Their Oeuvre:

Grigori Kozintsev (500.90): Kozintsev directed 18 feature films but I’ve managed to see his last two: Hamlet and Kirol Lir (King Lear). Hamlet is pretty good and Lir is excellent. I hope to see more and see if he belongs.

Marcel Carne (531.60): Carne directed one of the greatest films ever made (Children of Paradise), but I’ve only managed to see two of his other films (Therese Raquin and Port of Shadows) to determine whether or not he really belongs on the list.

Charles Crichton (566.85): Crichton directed a bunch of films in Britain in the 40’s and 50’s, but after 1965 went to television, being brought back to film for one more (A Fish Called Wanda). Wanda and Lavender Hill Mob are both brilliant, but they’re the only two I’ve managed to see so far.

You Might Put Them On Your List But They Didn’t Make Mine:

I’m gonna go ahead and dispense with five directors at once, directors who many people like, who many people even worship, but all of whom I can’t bring myself to like. For one, I rarely like any of their films. Also, I’m not much impressed with any of them as directors. I know there are people who will scream and howl. So write your own list. So you will not be seeing:

  • Richard Linklater (268.00)
  • Jim Jarmusch (274.20)
  • John Cassavetes (323.10)
  • Robert Bresson (340.80)
  • Wim Wenders (342.30)

Mira Nair (328.50): I like Nair and I like her films and I think she’ll someday move up the list when she makes a few great films. I think all of her films are good, but none of them are great.

Christopher Guest (342.80): I love some of Guest’s films, but he’s hurt by a couple of things. First, he made one terrible film (Almost Heroes), and second, he’s not a great director. His strength is more in the writing.

Jean-Luc Godard (351.60): I’ll tell that people have read this far when they comment on this one. I’ve seen over a dozen Godard films and I am not a fan. I think he is incredibly overrated. I am not a believer that just because it’s new and different that it’s good.

Samuel Fuller (357.20): Made many good films, one great film (Pickup on South Street). He also didn’t have the external numbers he needed.

Yasujiro Ozu (360.30): Because I am watching all the Criterion films, I have seen most of Ozu’s work. Quite frankly, I can’t tell them apart. Apart from his few gems (Tokyo Story, Floating Weeds), they all seem the same to me.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder (362.60): Some good films, some boring films, one very good film (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul).

Kar-Wei Wong (365.80): Talented, but something seems missing in his films. Please don’t bug me about which order his name goes.

Brian De Palma (380.80): A very up and down career. He can soar (The Untouchables, Carrie), or he can badly crash (Snake Eyes).

Francois Ozon (384.90): He is maybe one great film away. Being a recent foreign director, he is hurt by the two external categories.

Atom Egoyan (395.40): Similar to Ozon. Not American or British, so few nominations or awards. Recent, so not much on the top 1000. Many good films, only one great film (The Sweet Hereafter).

Sean Penn (398.80): Now that he has two acting Oscars, maybe he’ll direct some more films. I gave all four of his films ***.5.

Michelangelo Antonioni (402.20): Made some very good films, but some of his films are just a mess and they bring the total down.

Ernst Lubitsch (409.60): Wilder revered him, while Stroheim considered him a lesser version of himself. I agree more with Stroheim.

Spike Lee (422.45): Spike has never been nominated for a directing Oscar and doesn’t score well on the all-time lists (external or mine) because he’s really only done a few great films.

Luchino Visconti (426.00): Visconti scored a whooping 67 points on the external top 1000 list, which was good for 13th place (the only person to score higher than him on that list who didn’t make the top 60 of my list is Godard). But I’m not a big fan of his outside of The Leopard and White Nights.

Sydney Pollack (427.10): The opposite of Visconti, in that he got almost no points on the external top 1000, but a lot on the awards. Made several very good films, but several weak films as well.

Jacques Tati (436.00): Only made 5 films. It’s hard with that few to make the list, especially if you have no nominations.

David Fincher (436.50): The nominations for Button helped, but the film didn’t sit well with me. Interesting, I suppose, that I think that his best film doesn’t star Pitt (Zodiac).

Todd Haynes (439.70): Like Aronofsky, made a film that I hated (Far From Heaven), but could recognize that it was well directed. If his next film is as good as I’m Not There, he’ll make the list.

Nicholas Ray (443.90): Made some great films, but most of them were just good, and he never got nominated for an Oscar.

Carl Theodor Dreyer (449.80): While I admire his skill, the only film I truly think is great is Vampyr.

David O. Russell (450.75): Russell is very good, although his films are very odd. If Nailed is on the level with his last two, he’ll make the list. If it’s a step back, he’ll still have to wait.

Guillermo Del Toro (455.90): The Hobbit could well put him on the list. Especially if the awards groups like it.

Alexander Payne (458.60) and Hal Ashby (458.30): I put them together because they both make very good films, but aren’t as great of directors as many on this list.

Max Ophuls (459.60): I keep finding Ophuls films to be very good, but not great (except La Ronde, which is great).

Lawrence Kasdan (464.50): If Kasdan had stopped making films in 2002, he would still be on the top 100 list. Dreamcatcher cost him 18 points and he slipped from what would have been 95th to off the list. And he hasn’t made a film since.

Buster Keaton (471.50): There are those who think Buster Keaton was more talented than Chaplin. I am not one of those people. Keaton was a very good director, but not in the top 100. Chaplin is. And high up.

Darren Aronofsky (472.50): I am not a huge fan of Pi, but I hated Requiem for a Dream. I could see his talent shining through, though, and it burst forth in The Fountain. If his next couple of films are more on a par with The Fountain and The Wrestler, he’ll soon be on the list.

That’s it. If there’s someone you’re hoping to see and they weren’t on this list, there’s a good chance he made the top 100. I must say he, because as I wrote that, I realized that no female director made the list. Many were on the preliminary list, including Coppola, Nair, Caroline Link, Jane Campion, Gillian Armstrong, Niki Caro and Julie Taymor (and if The Tempest is anywhere near as good as Across the Universe, she’ll be on the list before the end of the year).