Still young, still talented, and now Sofia Coppola is the first female director to make the list

Before I get to any explaining, any trivia, any details about who will be left out, I feel the need to deliver a quote:

“I’ve never gotten anything out of his movies. They have felt constructed, faux intellectual and completely dead. Cinematographically uninteresting and infinitely boring. Godard is a fucking bore.”

Those are not my words.  They are the words of one of the greatest directors of all-time, Ingmar Bergman.  I could also add quotes from Top 100 Directors Werner Herzog and Orson Welles, but I went with the Bergman quote.  If that doesn’t express it well enough, well, I am sure I will get many, many complaints.  I certainly did on the first list.  But I wanted up-front, so there would be no questions.  You want to complain, then complain.  But don’t ask where Godard is.

Now, down to business.

As I said in my original introduction to the first version of this list, this is a difficult task.  First of all, it invites everyone to complain.  I love the comments I got on the first list (though, again, no Godard, get over it).  But some people leave complaints that are nasty enough that I don’t ever approve them.  Disagreeing with me?  No problem.  Calling me really nasty names because I don’t like what you like?  Juvenile.  But anyone who wants to post a link to their own list, is free to do so.  I’d love to see them.

Second, because of the inherent difficulties of how to come up with the list, of my whole point system, it assumes that you can rate art, and even aspects of art, which sounds a lot like that pathetic Pritchard Scale in Dead Poets Society.  But I couldn’t come with any other way to do this.

Here is how my points system is derived:

There are 10 categories.  There are a maximum of 100 points in any one category.  In some categories, it is not possible to earn all 100 points.  In others, you can earn much more, but I cut you off at 100.  Below, I list all 10 categories, with a brief description of how I derive the points (by the way, this whole list of explanations will appear again verbatim in my Intro for the rankings of the Academy Award nominated directors, with Top 10 and Bottom 10 lists).  A brief note: I have mathematical value I apply to all films, and to the quality of various aspects of the film (direction being one).  Without it, there is no good way to do this list, other than the last category.  So, if you don’t like that, abandon all hope ye who enter here.

The 10 Categories:

  1. Average Film
  2. Top 5 Films
  3. Top 10 Films
  4. Four Star Films / Great Directing Proportions
  5. Top 1000 Films (external)
  6. Top 1000 Films (mine)
  7. Director Points
  8. Director Points Average
  9. Weighted Total
  10. Subjective Score

Average Film

What That Means:  Simple.  I apply a number from 0 to 99 to every film I watch (no film gets 100, because I don’t believe in the idea of a completely perfect film).  That works out really well for a **** system.  Each 1/2 covers 12 points and each full star covers 13.  So 0 is 0, 1-12 (.5), 13-25 (*), 26-37 (*.5), 38-50 (**), 51-62 (**.5), 63-75 (***), 76-87 (***.5), 88-99 (****).  When I use the term “very good” I am talking about a ***.5 film.  A “great” film is a **** film.  Those are my cut-off’s for full picture categories (Best Picture, Animated Film, Foreign Film) – anything lower doesn’t make the discussion.  So, to get an average, I take all the films I have seen by the director, add up the total number and divide by the number of films.  The #1 person in this category is Christopher Nolan with a score of 92.4.  The lowest Top 100 Director here is David Cronenberg with a 63.1.  The highest score by a non-Top 100 director was Alexander Payne at 85.0 (and he is likely to be on the next version of the list).

Top 5 Films

What This Means:  Again, simple.  I take their 5 best films and average them.  If you have less than 5, of course, this is the same as your average.  The #1 spot is a three-way tie between Bergman, Kurosawa and Scorsese at 97.6.  The lowest on the list is Darren Aronofsky at 77.8.  The highest not to make the list is Barry Levinson at 88.4.

Top 10 Films

What It Means:  The average of their Top 10 films.  If you’ve made 10 films or less it’s the same as your average.  Ingmar Bergman is the top here with a 96.0.  Alexander Payne again tops the non-list members with an 85.0.  Gus Van Sant has the lowest score of anyone on the list – 72.5.

Four Stars Films / Great Directing Jobs Proportions

What It Means:  Like with films, I give a point for Oscar categories on a 9 points scale.  To give an idea of how I break this down, this is how those 9 points work with the film numbers.  76-79 (1), 80-83 (2), 84-87 (3), 88-89 (4), 90-91 (5), 92-93 (6), 94-95 (7), 96-97 (8), 98-99 (9).  So, a 1-3 is very good, worth mentioning.  A 4-6 is great.  But 7-9 is the truly best.  When I talk about my nominations in the Nighthawk Awards, you have to get points to be mentioned in my discussion.  So, this is a measure of how many great films you made and how many truly great directing jobs you did, divided by the number of films.  But, that’s only half of it.  I also add 5 points for every **** film you make.  So, here’s an example:

I have seen 10 Hal Ashby films.  Two of them earn **** (Being There, Harold and Maude).  One of them gets a 7, 8 or 9 for directing (Being There).  I double the number of his films (because we’re measuring films and directing jobs).  So, three (two films, one job), divided by 20 is 15%.  But he gets 5 points each for the two films, so he gets 25 points in this category.

You can actually max out on this category – either by having a lot of great directing jobs and four star films in a short career (Tarantino, Nolan), or having so many four star films.  I added the five points for each four star film because even great directors like Bergman and Kurosawa were brought down by the sheer number of their films.  This allows for a measure of their greatness.  It also really hurts certain directors – directors that don’t have any **** films from me – like Antonioni.  So, the top directors, the ones who top out with 100 points are Bergman, Kurosawa, Spielberg, Kubrick, Tarantino and Nolan.  Every director on the list gets at least some points in this category, because every director on the list has made at least one **** film.  The lowest member of the list in this category is Werner Herzog with 12.1.  The highest person in this category not on the list is James L. Brooks with a 43.3.  Antonioni has the highest overall score for someone with no points in this category.  This also means he has the highest score of anyone without a **** film, the opposite of Bergman and Hitchcock who tie for the most **** films: 15.

The Top 1000 (external)

What It Means:  This is a list that doesn’t involve my subjective points, except in how I decided to score it.  I used the list from TSPDT of the Top 1000 films of all-time (actually, I used the last four lists and used the highest score a film achieved on those lists).  I then gave a point for each 100.  So if you made the bottom 100 (901-1000), you got one point.  If you made the Top 100, you got 10 points.  Then I totaled up the points.  But then I gave out some extra points.  First, I gave out extra points for how many films you got on the list (5-7 films got you 2 extra, 8-9 got 3, 10-15 got 5, 15-19 got 10, 20+ got 15 extra points, but only Godard got that).  But then I also gave out extra points based on percentages of your films.  So, if you’ve made 4 films like Terrence Malick, and all 4 made the list, you got an extra 5 points.  But if you made 8 films like Sergei Eisenstein and they all made the list, you got an extra 10 points.  To be fair to current film-makers, I included their Top 250 Films of the 2000’s list, with the points scaled out the same way.  Then I made a giant spreadsheet and totaled up the points.  First was Godard and next up was John Ford.  Five directors scored more than 100 points and had their points scaled down to 100: Godard (130), Ford (127), Luis Buñuel (122), Hitchcock (113) and Kubrick (103).  Obviously, Godard has the highest point total of any director not on the list.  Four directors on the list don’t receive any points here – Kenneth Branagh, Alan Parker, Anthony Minghella and Tom Tykwer.  There are, by the way, only a handful of films (6) on the list I haven’t seen.

The Top 1000 (mine)

What It Means:  The same as the previous list in terms of points, but it’s my list of the Top 1000 films I use.  Again, five directors scored more than 100, but not the same five.  Mine are Bergman (132), Kurosawa (116), Spielberg (113), Hitchcock (107) and Woody Allen (104 – who also has the most films on the list with 18).  Because everyone on the list has made at least one **** and I have seen less than 1000 **** films, everyone automatically gets at least some points.  The lowest is Aronofsky again with 9.  The highest directors in this category who don’t make the list are Lawrence Kasdan and Mel Brooks, with 24 points each.  King Vidor has the highest overall score for any director who didn’t get any points from this category.

Director Points

What It Means:  That 0-9 scale I explained above.  This totals them up for all their films.  This is another category I capped at 100.  This is also a category limited by the number of films.  You can’t have more points than 9 x number of films.  So even Kubrick doesn’t reach 100 points.  But the next category uses an average for this, so it is a bit counter-balanced.  A familiar five directors have more than 100 points here: Hitchcock (133), Kurosawa (128), Spielberg (113), Bergman (112) and Scorsese (108).  Warren Beatty is the lowest director on the list here with only 14 points (mainly because he only made 4 films).  Richard Brooks has the highest total for someone not on the list with 28 points.

Director Points Average

What It Means:  This takes the number of points from the previous category, divides it by the number of films, then multiplies it by 20.  Why by 20?  Partially because it’s such a good round number, partially because to get 100 points in this category means you average a 5, which means your average directing job is a four star film.  That’s pretty damn amazing.  Yet, somehow, 11 different directors have capped out this category at 100: Kubrick, Scorsese, the Coen Brothers, Lean, Welles, Tarantino, Nolan, Eisenstein, Peter Jackson, P.T. Anderson and Sam Mendes.  Most of those later directors are helped by some amazing jobs in a small body of work and that might eventually flatten out.  But the top 4 have significantly large bodies of work and that is just incredible.  The highest total for someone not on the list is Alejandro Amenabar with a 68.  Michael Curtiz has the lowest total for anyone on the list with 11.52 points.

Weighted Total

What It Means:  This is also an external category, except in how I weight the points.  This is the category that changed the most since the initial list.  The first time, I came up with a point system for all the Best Director Awards (the ones I use are Academy Awards, DGA, BAFTA, Golden Globes, Broadcast Film Critics, NY Film Critics, LA Film Critics, National Society of Film Critics, National Board of Review, Boston Society of Film Critics and Chicago Film Critics with very marginal points thrown in for the Independent Spirits and Satellite Awards).  I took all their points and divided them by 10.  That left some 25 directors all-time with a total of 100 (capped at 100 – otherwise Spielberg would have had over 300).  But there were two problems with this.  The first was that it marginalized the older directors who didn’t have that many groups to potentially win from (prior to the late 60’s, it was just the Oscars, DGA, Globes, NBR and NYFC).  The second problem was that sweeping the awards meant you could cap out for one film – I realized that when Kathryn Bigelow, who did a phenomenal job with The Hurt Locker but is hardly ready to be proclaimed a Top 100 Director ended up with 89.6 points just for that film, or 11.3 more points than Frank Capra had in his whole distinguished career that included three Oscars.  So, instead of just totaling everything up, I looked at each year and scaled it.  I would look at all the awards and scale from 20-1 the amount of points you could get.  That way it would take at least five years of being the top director to cap out your points.  Or, if you really far and away had the highest point total for a year (like Bigelow in 09), you could get 25 points.  Now, because there are so many fewer films in the older years and most awards groups outside the NSFC ignore foreign films, I did include my own Nighthawk Awards as a category.

So, now, instead of Kathryn Bigelow earning 89.6 points, all of them for The Hurt Locker, she earns 25 points, all of them for The Hurt Locker.  But Frank Capra, instead of earning 40.5 points for his three Oscars and six nominations, 7.2 points for his Globe and 27 points for his six Nighthawk nominations, he gets 18 points for 1933 (Lady for a Day), 19 for 1934 (It Happened One Night), 20 for 1936 (Mr. Deeds Goes to Town), 19 for 1938 (You Can’t Take It With You), 17 for 1939 (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), 14 for 1944 (Arsenic and Old Lace), and 19 for 1946 (It’s a Wonderful Life) and his total of 126 gets capped at 100.

31 directors top out at 100 points in this category but only one of them – Robert Wise – fails to make the Top 100.  Tom Tykwer is the lowest person on the list, earning only 13 points, all from the Nighthawk Awards (it is directors like Tykwer, Amenabar and Jean-Pierre Jeunet that caused me to put in my own list).


What It Means:  What it says.  I gave everyone a score from 0-100.  Actually 35-100, because the lowest is Frank Perry who got a 35.  In theory, I could have done the whole list like this, but I wanted to break it down into categories to have a better basis for my decisions.  Nobody on the list is lower than a 75.  There are several 75s on the list: George Cukor, Michael Curtiz, Rob Reiner, Robert Redford, George Stevens and John Schlesinger.  There are several 85’s who don’t make the list, but only one 90: Amenabar.  There are 15 directors who get a 100 here, though not the Top 15.  The Top 8 are all here (Kubrick, Kurosawa, Spielberg, Scorsese, Bergman, Hitchcock, the Coens and Lean), but then the list is a little different.  The other 7 who earn a 100 from me here are Polanski, Welles, Tarantino, Nolan, Ang Lee, Eisenstein and P.T. Anderson.

Not on the List:

There are five types of directors that I will go through quickly here.

1 – Directors Who Used to Be on the List.  There are six of them.  For a variety of reasons, they didn’t quite make the new list and I will list them and explain why.

2 – Future Directors (possibly).  As before, there is a 4 film cut-off.  Three people from the first version of this list are on the new list.  Three more have a fourth film either out or coming out and that could easily put them on the list, but this list is already a year overdue and they will have to wait for 3.0.

3 – Haven’t Seen Enough of Their Oeuvre.  I actually adjusted one director off the list for this reason.  Only three directors make the list for whom I have seen less than 2/3 of their body of work: Michael Powell (hard to find early films), James Whale (hard to find later films) and F.W. Murnau (lost films).  There are a few directors, who if I saw more of their films, might make the list.  They also might not.  The fact is, given the films I watch, I have probably seen their best films, so all remaining films would only bring down their total (and they already have all the points they would get from the external lists, because it doesn’t matter if I have seen those films, though I have seen all of them).  This list got smaller as I watched as many films as possibly from every Oscar-nominated director, knocking many of them down the list.

4 – Directors Who Are Close.  These are directors who are close enough and good enough that one more film might get them in.  Hell, if Mildred Pierce had been a feature film rather than a mini-series, Todd Haynes might now be on the list.

5 – Notable Directors You’re Going to Gripe About Because They’re Not On the List.  This seems self-explanatory.  Last time, when I finished and put up the full list, I put a link in the full list back to the introduction and said to look there first before griping about me missing anybody.  And sure enough, no one looked.  Because every single director that has been griped about being excluded (usually Godard, but also Ozu and others) was on that list.  So, please, read that list.  I will discuss them.  Then I won’t have to keep re-writing my same opinion over and over in the comments field of the full list (well, yes I will, for the same reason that people knock on my office door even thought the big sign tells them to go downstairs and check with the front desk).

Oh, and the cut-off went up.  It is now 505.31.  There were 417 directors on my consideration list.  I considered every director who got points in any of the following categories and had directed at least four films:  Top 1000 (external), Top 1000 (mine), Director Points or Weighted Total.  So, any director who had made a film on the TSPDT list or who had ever been nominated for an Oscar, DGA, Globe or BAFTA was considered.  There were 388 directors that I eliminated for either not directing enough films (95), or I hadn’t seen enough of their films (293).

Directors Who Used to Be on the List:

Richard Brooks  (494.55):  Brooks’ number has hardly changed at all – just a drop of a few points, up in some categories, down in others.  But the rise to other people meant that Brooks went from being #88 to being #104.

Michael Mann  (490.60):  Mann actually benefited from the new weighted total and went up 13 points.  But, that wasn’t enough to keep him on the list, as he dropped from #98 to #105.

James L. Brooks  (490.13):  Brooks was the highest to get eliminated – he was #72 on the old list.  He dropped 43 points.  How?  Well, his dreadful sixth film, How Do You Know, lost him most of those – 6.6 points off his average and Top 10 films each, 6.7 from his **** proportion and 5.33 from his director points average.  But, he also lost 19 points from the new way I did the weighted total, because he had so many points for Terms of Endearment and that topped off at 20 this time around.

Alejandro Amenabar  (489.20):  Amenabar only dropped 11 points but went down 20 spots (he was #87).  It was a combination of Agora, which lowered his averages just a little (the drop), and that the bar raised considerably.  Even his old score wouldn’t have gotten him on the list – he’d be sitting at #103.

Satyajit Ray  (487.70):  Ray dropped 37 points.  He had been #80 on the original list.  What happened here is that I hadn’t seen very many of his films last time (less than 25%) and I had seen all his best films.  So all of his averages plummeted, and so even though he benefited from the new weighted total, he couldn’t make up for the overall drop.

Wes Anderson  (456.60):  Anderson is the classic example of having too small a body of work.  I dropped his film Rushmore just slightly, but from a **** to a high ***.5.  That combined with making a sixth film (The Fantastic Mr. Fox), which I didn’t consider a **** film made his proportion number plummet.  That cost him the full 40 points that he dropped from the last list.

Future Directors (Possibly):

Three of the directors on the previous version of this list are on the full list now, so that’s good news for those still on the list.  I’ve eliminated Costner because it doesn’t look like he’ll ever make that fourth film and Marshall because he did and he plummeted down the list.  Of directors with only two films, Affleck is the highest.  Of a director with only one film, Neill Blomkamp with 546.00, closely followed by Sarah Polley with 542.00 are the highest.

Julie Taymor  (434.33):  I still haven’t seen The Tempest.  It could move her up or she could have to wait for a fifth film to make the list.

Tom Hooper  (461.67):  The King’s Speech really moved him up.  Les Miserables could put him on the list.

George Clooney  (505.33):  Clooney might very well be on the list by next month.  But with the chances I get to see movies now, it’ll probably be a lot longer before I actually get to see Ides of March.  So he waits for the next list.

Spike Jonze  (516.67):  Jonze dropped quite a bit with Where the Wild Things Are.  We’ll see what happens when he makes a fourth film, but he seems to move pretty slowly.

Jason Reitman  (529.67):  Young Adult comes out this Christmas, so he works a lot faster than others on this list.  And he’s been Oscar-nominated twice already.  We’ll see if he can keep this up, or if he starts to flame out like Rob Reiner.

Brad Bird  (552.00):  He made Iron Giant and two of the best Pixar films.  Now he’s making his live-action debut with the new Mission: Impossible.  Interesting to see where this will lead.

Ben Affleck  (554.50):  His first two films were great and both had a deep understanding of the violent under-current that runs through Boston.  It’s a good sign for his future as a director.

Andrew Stanton  (555.00):  He’s following up three Pixar films with John Carter.  This will also be interesting.

David Yates  (574.00):  I’ve actually seen four of his films, but I want to see at least one non-Harry Potter film before deciding what I really think.

Joe Wright  (583.67):  If I had seen Hanna before starting 2.0, he would likely be on the list.  I hope Anna Karenina comes out before 3.0 so I can really justify him making the list.

Stephen Daldry  (610.00):  Three films, three Oscar nominations.  Next up is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – which is not the big book from last decade he was supposedly making (it was supposed to be either Kavalier and Clay or The Corrections).  My guess is, he’s on 3.0.

Haven’t Seen Enough of Their Ouevre:

Marcel Carne  (497.40):  Carne actually was on the list and I artificially moved the number so I could keep him off because I’ve seen only a quarter of his films.  But he did make Children of Paradise, one of the handful of contenders for greatest film ever made.

Max Ophuls  (477.53):  I suspect that I have seen the best of Ophuls already, but I am going to get beyond the 24% of his films I have seen.

Carl Theodore Dreyer  (458.74):  I’ve seen a third of Dreyer’s films, but most of those were Criterion, so I suspect he’s only going to go down.

Directors Who Are Close:

Sean Penn  (404.00):  Penn needs to make a great film.  That would really move him up, especially since he’s only directed four films so far.  His four films all rank as ***.5 to me.  Just one great film would really help.

Guillermo Del Toro  (439.89):  Del Toro is hurt by a lack of respect from critics – he got very few points from the External Top 1000 or Weighted Total.  But if he can make another film with acclaim like Pan’s Labyrinth, he will move up.

Alexander Payne  (447.50):  Because he’s only made four films so far, The Descendants, if it’s good as it’s supposed to be, could put him on the list.

Todd Haynes  (453.00):  If Mildred Pierce had been a film, he might already be on the list.

Marc Forster  (453.40):  Machine Gun Preacher will probably just move him backwards.  But we’ll see what World War Z could do.

David O. Russell  (503.20):  So close he can taste it.  Likely on the next version, but he still has to move up slightly, so we’ll see.

Notable Directors You’re Going to Grip About Because They’re Not on the List:

a brief note here – any director ever nominated for an Oscar will get a longer discussion in that upcoming ranked detailed list, so I might be brief here

The Wachowski Brothers  (189.80):  No one objects to their omission.  But they finish dead last of the 417 on the list, so I thought I would mention them.

Joel Schumacher  (227.80):  Just a barometer.  Here’s where a crappy director like him ends up.

Lars von Trier  (268.07):  I have his average film as a 49.3.  That he gets this high is thanks to the external Top 1000 list (26 points).

Richard Linklater  (289.31):  Last time, I linked Linklater, Jim Jarmusch (298.40), John Cassevetes (345.40), Robert Bresson (373.60), and Wim Wenders (352.63) together as directors who get critical acclaim (though, for the most part, no awards attention), but that I think are over-rated and whose films are fairly boring.  Not much has changed, though you can also add Eric Rohmer (320.80) to that list.

Douglas Sirk  (303.20):  This high because of his Top 1000 (ex) score of 39.  I don’t go in for his melodrama.

Pier Paolo Pasolini  (307.20):  Many directors on this little list scored high external scores.  Pasolini is no exception (47).  I think he was talented but lacked focus.

Kar-Wei Wong  (337.80):  He actually dropped 30 points in spite of 35 points from the Top 1000 (ex) list.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder  (360.20):  42 points from the Top 1000 (ex) list.  See a theme developing?

Jane Campion  (361.91):  Hurt by not ever directing a **** film.  The Piano doesn’t quite make it.

Kenji Mizoguchi  (370.40):  He gets 70 points from the Top 1000 (ex) list.  Good films, not quite great.

Jean-Pierre Melville (375.57):  I’ve seen half his films, but only Army of Shadows really stands out to me.

Samuel Fuller  (380.90):  Often good, but not great.  That hurts on my list.

Jean-Luc Godard  (384.03):  Full 100 points from the Top 1000 (ex) list and still can’t break 400 points.

Alain Resnais  (390.71):  His films average a solid 72, but none of them quite make my **** list.  56 points from the Top 1000 (ex) list.

Yasujiro Ozu  (391.18):  His 49 points from the Top 1000 (ex) list weren’t as high as I would have thought.  His films feel too much of the same to me every time I see one.

Atom Egoyan  (393.73):  Not many points from the Top 1000 (ex) or Weighted Total and only one truly great film (The Sweet Hereafter).

Anthony Mann  (398.57):  Like Fuller, but better.

King Vidor  (410.66):  Almost no one does better from external lists – 42 points from the Top 1000 and 76 from Weighted Total.  But his average film is a 61 and he has no films in my Top 1000.

Michael Winterbottom  (414.12):  Like Egoyan, he’s hurt in the external categories.  But he has three **** films (24 Hour Party People, Tristram Shandy, A Mighty Heart), which is why he is higher.

Michelangelo Antonioni  (416.63):  He has 57 points from the Top 1000 (ex) list, but he has no **** films.  At #151, the highest person on the list without one.

Spike Lee  (427.81):  Good in all categories, great in none.

Vittorio de Sica  (431.29):  Just like Spike Lee, he does solidly everywhere, great nowhere.  The Bicycle Thief is not enough to move him up.

Nicholas Ray  (437.20):  His oeuvre is just not quite as good as the auteur theorists would have you believe.

Roberto Rossellini  (455.49):  His 63 points from the Top 1000 (ex) gets him here, but no higher.

Jacques Tati  (461.50):  Just not quite enough to his body of work to get him over the hump.  But so fun to watch.

Luchino Visconti  (466.80):  86 points from the Top 1000.  The highest point total from that list except for Godard not to make the Top 40.  But outside White Nights and The Leopard, I think he is over-rated.

Ernst Lubitsch  (504.43):  His 52 points from the Top 1000 and 93 from Weighted Total even beat Vidor.  But he falls just short, and I’m okay with that, because I’m not a huge fan.  Wilder worshiped him, but I agree with von Stroheim who thought Lubitsch was a lesser version of himself.

So that’s it.  That’s the into and those are prominent directors who didn’t make the list.  Anyone ever nominated for an Oscar, as I said, will be dealt with in some depth in my ranked series of Best Director.

Didn’t see someone?  Odds are they made the list.  Over the next couple of weeks, there will be seven more posts.  The first six are the profiles for the six new directors.  Six directors were bounced, so six are up in their place.  They will each get their own post, just like the original 100 did.  Then I will do the final 2.0 post which has the full list.

Your complaining starts now.