This is our case for the Top 5 directors of all time. We took a lot of elements into consideration, skill with the camera, knowledge of narrative, respect for the actors, and a strong body of work. Francis Ford Coppola is a great director, but since “The Godfather” trilogy, he’s fallen off the map (although his wine is excellent). Sergio Leone, of the spaghetti western fame, made some spectacular films, as has Clint Eastwood, John Ford, Orson Welles, Quentin Tarantino, Billy Wilder, Frederico Fellini and Woody Allen. But this isn’t a top 20, it’s a top 5. So, here they are.
5. Steven Spielberg: We’re fully aware that Spielberg is blacklisted as a popcorn-movie making golden boy who sold out his contemporaries by being a studio bitch. We just don’t see it that way.
There is no other director that has done the wealth, variety and quality of films that Spielberg has. Granted, he’s had some misses, like “1941” and his decision to produce “Transfomers” and its sequel. But Spielberg understands narrative storytelling and delivers uniquely told stories that capture our imagination and stand the test of time. There are few directors who would make “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” and “The Color Purple.” Or how about “Jurassic Park” against “Schindler’s List.” “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and the emotion of his Kubrick lover letter “Artificial Intelligence: AI.” In time, he will be respected by the movie snobs. The rest of us — the audience — will keep loving his movies.
4. Alfred Hitchcock:Is a master storyteller who churned out movies like it was his job… which it was. Over a 50 year career, he cranked out nearly 70 films as a director, plus he wrote and produced his own television series and other films. But he will be remembered most as a director for his uncanny ability to capture suspense, play with our minds with stunning visuals, and create iconic images in films like “Psycho” “The Birds” “North by Northwest” “Vertigo” and the list goes on. He set the stage for other directors in a genre he brought respect to.
3. Akira Kirosawa: Ironically, Kirosawa was panned in Japan in his early days for being too influenced by western directors, like John Ford, and for bringing too much emotion to his pictures. But that was his strength. He captured both the action of war and its drama. He paid exquisite detail even to the most mundane characters, and brought humanity to war and famine. “The Seven Samurai” “Yojimbo” “Rashômon” and “The Hidden Fortress” continue to influence directors to this day.
2. Martin Scorsese: He came out of the NYU film school, and lead a generation of directors that bucked the Hollywood system and its traditional film-making techniques and story lines. He made movies, like “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull,” that challenged the viewer and put them in an uneasy chair. His mafia movies, like “Good Fellas” and “The Departed,” are unmatched in the genre. He approaches film humbly, and understands stories and imagery like no other (except our number one choice). We love Scorsese, and we hope he never retires.
1. Stanley Kurbick:Kirk Douglas, after the making of Spartacus, said, “Stanley Kurbick is a talented shit.”
He only made 15 films in his career, which was one of his regrets as a director, but he was a perfectionist and his pictures were a reflection of that. His last film, “Eyes Wide Shut,” took five years to make. No other director has been given that freedom, and for good reason. Every Kubrick film is a masterpiece.
There has never been a director who understood a camera better. He was a still photographer before he became a motion picture director and his use of light and how it impacts stories and characters as a storytelling vehicle is extremely thoughtful. His story telling skills are superb, but he never used narrative stories, or rarely did. His movies made you feel the story. They never handed it to you on a silver plate. He challenged viewers with his stories and portrayed them with stunning beauty. There has never been a better director. He was the Mozart of film making.