Top 10 films that only THESE directors could have gotten made
|LISTS - MOVIE LISTS|
No blank checks, no comforting franchises...just ten directors who wouldn't take 'no' for an answer.
If you should ever find yourself in film school, you'll find yourself awash with tall tales of directors who bucked the system, yelled "screw the man!" and made a film THEIR way, man. And now, aren't those studio executives embarrassed that they weren't more understanding during the production? Because, oh look, now the film is a bona fide classic.
The truth is that this background produces bad movies as often as good ones, but there's no denying that they tend to be very, very interesting regardless. In advance anticipation of Christopher Nolan’s Inception, a film that will hopefully be quite comfortable amongst this crowd, here are ten films where only the director in question could have gotten them onscreen.
My qualifications were fairly simple - the more audacious the accomplishment, the better. Also, I threw out well-documented and widely known cases (I think even people who haven’t seen Apocalypse Now and Fitzcarraldo know the stories behind them). These aren't the BEST – a few of these I dislike quite a bit - but they are, to my eyes, the most definitive of the victory of the artist.
10. Southland Tales (dir. Richard Kelly, 2007)
Yes, for those of you playing along at home, this is the film on this list I do not like. And not because it’s not my cup of tea; it’s simply not a very good film. I doubt Kelly was questioned once during the making of Southland Tales; nobody understood Donnie Darko, his feature film debut, so who cares if Southland Tales makes any sense? The problem is, Kelly seems to have believed this, too, indulging in his every whim regardless of the cohesive whole he was creating. Even going back and reading what he had to say during the development, what seemed to be pure inspiration now reads as the flailing inability to define the film in any way. Southland Tales is a staggering accomplishment of the sort of purity of vision that disregards the possibility of failure, a motivation that can as easily produce greatness as it can, well…failure.
9. Star Wars (dir. George Lucas, 1977)
We all know the story about the movie that somehow sneaks its way through studio development based on one executive’s faith in its filmmaker and the success of American Graffiti. We know this film is the product of the director’s personal vision, a vision quickly outpacing the resources the studio had allotted him, and though at each turn the financiers seem ready to shut the project down completely, the film was eventually completed and released, and either immediately or subsequently became one of the most important films of all time. The thing is, this story usually refers to something like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Not, you know, the film that kick-started what is almost certainly the biggest film franchise of all time.
8. 8½ (dir. Frederico Fellini, 1963)
Although the phrase “overindulgent” has taken hold of Internet film criticism like a wildfire, that word has rarely fit better than with Fellini’s, yes…eighth-and-one-half picture (if you count the way he does, which is to say, if you count like a madman). Coming off the just success of La Dolce Vita (which I actually prefer), the story goes that Fellini had no idea what to do next even though he was actively developing a film that he had no passion for an no clear concept of, built mostly on whims and lies. So he then made a movie about that. Only someone who had just made an international sensation could have gotten away with making a film on a notion. Only Fellini could have gotten away with it twice.
7. Eraserhead (dir. David Lynch, 1976)
Okay, I don’t particularly like this film either. That makes me whatever it makes me. But it took five years for Lynch to make the damn thing, as he worked through the pains of financing something this absurd, and it’s undoubtedly the film he wanted to make, so you’ve got to give it up for the effort involved.
6. 3 Women (dir. Robert Altman, 1977)
The 1970s was never as kind to a director as it was to Robert Altman. Time after time, he made distinctive, frequently silly, often difficult, and completely shoot-from-the-hip films, and time after time, he was critically and financially rewarded. The legend behind the inception of 3 Women is among my favorite pitches – Robert Altman was on his way to the airport, when he mentioned to his companion that he had a dream the previous evening and wanted to sell the idea to 20th Century Fox. They pulled over, Altman hopped out, made the deal, and was back in time to make his flight. This is all the more insane because the film more closely resembles Ingmar Bergman’s Persona or a David Lynch film than the films Altman had been making, which were driven by a certain undercurrent of showbiz glamour. That said, it’s an absolute masterpiece, a perfect 'personal' vision of a film.
5. One From the Heart (dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1982)
Coppola’s grand vision for this film is pretty staggering, challenged only by how close he came to achieving it. Following Apocalypse Now, Coppola intended to do a low-budget, self-financed musical for a few million dollars. His imagination, encouraged by the success of Apocalypse Now, quickly took hold over him, and the budget ballooned to $27 million, a relatively huge figure at the time (Apocalypse Now was made for $30 million), and one Coppola would spend nearly twenty years paying off after the film failed at the box office. The original idea was to shoot on video, decades before it would become common practice, and do the whole thing in one shot with sets moving in and out of frame, and characters moving across sets, similar to how one views a play. Coppola ended up shooting on film (which naturally would not allow for a single-shot film), but the result feels thrillingly close to that vision. His characters are lightweights, unfortunately, nearly sinking the film, but the images you’re graced with in this picture remain unmatched, even in the digital age.
4. L’Avventura (dir. Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960)
Most films get credit for being the landmark that they are, but not L’Avventura. To put it simply, there was absolutely nothing else like it when it came out, and its effect on film language is nearly total (although its reception at Cannes was decidedly polarized, it was given a Special Jury Prize “for a new movie language and the beauty of its images”). The experience of making it – which included his production company going bankrupt, leaving the cast and crew stranded on an island with no food – only substantiates that this was a film Antonioni absolutely had to make, and the quiet passion behind it still shows to this day.
3. Aguirre, the Wrath of God (dir. Werner Herzog, 1972)
Because no one else would have ever dared, and few since have come close to trying. Working with a tiny budget – only $370,000, a small figure even at the time – and a very brave cast and crew, Herzog took his vision to the Peruvian rainforest for a five-week journey down the Amazon River, capturing images that could only be captured once and unleashing as close an approximation of obsessed madness as has ever been seen.
2. Barry Lyndon (dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1975)
Here’s why this movie was a bigger risk than 2001 – it’s just as slow and repetitive as Kubrick’s 1968 science fiction film, but without the added benefit of being in space or about aliens. But it’s better. It packs an emotional payoff you’re completely unprepared for, it’s laugh-out-loud funny in expected spots in unexpected ways, but it is a slow build, and you have to be willing to hang with it in some spots. But coming off the three-fer of Dr. Strangelove, 2001, and A Clockwork Orange, only someone with Kubrick’s cachet could have ever made it.
1. Citizen Kane (dir. Orson Welles, 1941)
Citizen Kane is the sort of a achievement so far beyond anything that’s ever been done in the film industry that it becomes sort of difficult to wrap your mind around; the more you know, the less sense it seems to make. In 1939, Welles was at the peak of his popularity on the radio, and following his broadcast version of War of the Worlds (still well worth a listen, if you haven’t had the pleasure), RKO signed him to a two-picture deal, which would allow him to develop his own story, and write, produce, direct, and star in the final product, over which he would have final cut. Most tellings of this story note that it was unusual for the time, but truth be told, it’s not like it really happens now either. Welles, it should be noted, was twenty-four at the time.
That the result of this astounding level of creative freedom was a film that lives up, in every conceivable manner, to its promise, is not only unprecedented, but to this day is also unmatched. It’s not just that Citizen Kane is the greatest film ever made – it is – it’s also that in spite of being a relatively easy watch, its layers are endless. I’m almost twenty-four now, and relatively learned, but the idea of trying to explain Citizen Kane in any complete way is beyond my grasp. Maybe Welles couldn’t either, maybe it simply sprang from him. It only matters that it did at all.
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