Film Directors: A sort-of A-Z: N

Some more of my favourites, but ‘N’ is not the easiest letter. Good luck with finding some choices! (Except Chandler, who will have no problem of course…) I am only featuring three today, to leave you some options.

Philip Noyce is an Australian director who has made films in a variety of genres. He has no distinct style as such, and seems happy to make any kind of film; from an action blockbuster like ‘Patriot Games’ (1992), to the best-forgotten vehicle for Angelina Jolie, ‘Salt’ (2010). However, he has also made some very interesting and compelling films in between his mainstream Hollywood outings, so I consider him worthy of my praise. ‘Dead Calm'(1988) is a claustrophobic and exciting thriller, set on a small boat sailing around the Great Barrier Reef. It stars Nicole Kidman and Sam Neil as a couple whose idyllic holiday is invaded by an apparently marooned stranger. (A manic Billy Zane) Despite the small cast, this is edge of the seat stuff, and beautifully filmed on location too. In 2002, he made the startling and heartbreaking drama, ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’, the story of aboriginal children trying to make their way home, followed by the authorities who are intent on trying to take them back to the settlement they have been forced to live on. That same year, Noyce filmed an adaptation of Greene’s novel, ‘The Quiet American’ An authentic location feel (It was shot in Vietnam), and solid performances from Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser, add up to an interesting and convincing drama.

British film-maker Mike Newell is best known for the middle-class comedy ‘Four Weddings And A Funeral’ (1994). Other successes include ‘Mona Lisa Smile’ (2003), and ‘Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire’ (2005). I haven’t seen those two, but I have seen some outstanding films he also made, including two of my favourite modern films. ‘Donnie Brasco’ (1997) is one of the best modern gangster films ever made, with Johnny Depp convincing in the lead role of the undercover agent infiltrating the Mafia in New York. But more notably, it produced what I still believe is Al Pacino’s finest performance, as the small-time gang member, Lefty Ruggiero. Much earlier, Newell made a wonderful British thriller, based round the life of the last woman to be executed in the UK, Ruth Ellis. ‘Dance With A Stranger’ (1985) is pretty much flawless. The period (1950s) feel, the sets, costumes, script, and direction are all a sight to see. Topped off with an outstanding performance from Miranda Richardson as Ellis, and Ian Holm and Rupert Everett as the two men in her life, this is British film-making at its very best.

My top choice today is (unusually) a director best known for horror films. Japanese director Hideo Nakata set the standard for modern horror with the terrifying ‘Ringu’ (1998), and made the sequel the following year. In 2002, we got the amazing ‘Dark Water’ too. He did go on to remake some of his classics in America, but I urge you to watch the originals. Please.

62 thoughts on “Film Directors: A sort-of A-Z: N

  1. When I think about N letter, definitely Mike Newell as I love Four weddings and a funeral, Mona Lisa smile and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (BTW, my favourite Harry Potter part). But I would also add Christopher Nolan for his The Dark Night trilogy, Inception, Interstellar, Insomnia or The Prestige. However, I haven’t seen his new Dunkirk yet.

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  2. Nice line-up of directors. I absolutely loved Noyce’s The Quiet American. I know Mira Nair was mentioned above, but she would also be my choice. I wasn’ t too crazy about The Reluctant Fundamentalist (why overly politicise such a romantic and almost poetic book?), but I thought her recent film Queen of Katwe was very good. Gaspar Noé will be my other choice. Pretty controversial, but I cannot think of others beside him and Nolan.

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    1. I was able to approach ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ from a different direction. I had not only not read the book, but wasn’t even aware it was an adaptation of one. Maybe I would have thought differently had I read it first.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  3. I don’t think I can add anything new although great suggestions (and must check more of Nakata’s films. (I loved the original Ben-Hur, talking about Fred Niblo. I had it taped on VHS…)

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  4. Ah.. the letter “N”! Now my movie rant. You mentioned Dmytryk and his war films which I grew up watching more than once. I missed seeing the recent “Dunkirk” at the theater. Watching the trailers it was apparent that this film was one of those “epics”.. similar to the great movie spectacles as “The Longest Day”, “Ben-Hur”, (the Heston version), “Finding Private Ryan”, etc. These movies are what the big screen was intended to be used for.

    I have watched war films with an insatiable appetite ever since I was a little kid and played great battles with my small plastic soldiers on the floor. When a war film is released I gauge it by two basic criteria, historical accuracy of the event (unless it’s presented as a fiction, ala “Kelly’s Heroes”) depiction of the action, believability of the special effects, and I am one of those people-with-no-life who find something wrong with Wehrmacht soldiers carrying M1 Garands… or 1950’s American tanks dressed up as Panzers (Ugh… “The Bridge At Remagen”). Inaccuracies like “Where Eagles Dare” when veteran “nazi” actor, Anton Diffring (playing Col. Kramer) makes his point with actor Derren Nesbitt, (playing Von Hapen in the pretty SS uniform) that demands respect in “being a colonel in the SS”. Um.. wait a sec… Kramer is dressed in a Wehrmacht uniform. Von Hapen is a uniformed SS officer but is mentioned as being Gestapo?. Yeah.. I pick up on that stuff… but not as bad as some. I don’t get down to the level of spotting improper Wehrmacht battle ribbons not being valid prior to certain years… or that the model Tiger Tank depicted wasn’t introduced until year after the surrender at Stalingrad. Although it did tend to disturb me when the Germans were being so effective pinning down the Americans (or Brits).. and then they stand up to get shot.

    Anyway.. this is about director Christophor Nolan.. and his “Dunkirk”, version 2017.

    Netflix sends me the DVD for “Dunkirk” and I have to tell you I was sorely disappointed. It ranks up there with one of the few worst WW2 war movies I have seen (like Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds”)… and I am SO glad I never paid to see it. I generally have no use for artsy movies in general. Okay.. the most glaring problems with this film as being a bona fide war movie…. Where are the thousands of men clustered up on the beach? Also, this had to have been one of the “quietist” battles in history. Where’s the battle noise? Let’s add… where were the thousands of watercraft coming and going?
    Alright, I understand that this was a cluster of story-telling real life events from the people actually there, “plot-fully” chained together. What was a rather interesting concept was an air story ending, and being witnessed on the ground as another event unfolded; a ship sinking event introducing another watercraft event by characters observing it. Then you have Branaugh’s character walking back and forth along that makeshift landing dock through the movie. They have been showing every ship leaving that dock being sunk by torpedo or bombs; gives the impression all the rescue ships were sunk. I did read that his story was that he stayed on the beach to organize the evacuation… but there were not many to organize there (again, where’s the troops?). This evac was to take a number of days and his dialogue early on says they might get 30,000 away.. then all of a sudden he acknowledges they got 300,000 evacuated. Huh? Where were they all hunkered down on the beach? Where were all the watercraft rescuing them. If “The Longest Day” can do a workable job depicting those lavish wide shots of troops on the landing beaches scattering about in a straffing run (in 1960’s FX) you’d think CGI could have created a crowded evacuation beach.

    You know.. I have never experienced combat but I am aware that veterans of combat always point to the idea that Hollywood can never truly present the personal horrors of battle with any amount of special effects. It seems to me war movies like this don’t not even attempt to recognize the most important elements of real combat to even try to honor those who fought and those who fell. I’m not a Brit so I really might be missing some “Brit thing” in all this.. but this movie truly sucked big time as a war picture.. much less documenting actual events with any sort of realism in respect for those who served.

    Rant over. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks for your enjoyable and accurate rant, Doug. I feel your pain.

      Like you, I am a big fan of war films, and I also pick holes in them for inaccuracies. (Like the scenes in the epic ‘Battle of The Bulge’, showing tanks operating in ‘desert’ conditions, (filmed in Spain) during a campaign famously affected by winter weather and heavy snow.)
      But I am surprised that you even bothered with the recent film ‘Dunkirk’, which like ‘Darkest Hour’ (2017), the recent Churchill love-fest, I won’t be watching. Stuffing a film with ‘flavour of the month’ stars, and trading on your reputation for making films about Batman (though I did like Nolan’s ‘Memento’) is no guarantee of delivering a convincing historical epic. Far better to watch this more accurate (and excellent) smaller film about those events in 1940. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0051565/

      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh yes.. Pete. The 1958 version still remains the best depiction on this event In fact, I rather liked the musical score on that as well. I recently heard it somewhere one day..dunno where or why though sadly. Speaking of the Churchill love fest going on……. why? Is there some anniversary?

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        1. No real anniversary I am aware of, Doug. People here love to sanctify Churchill. They conveniently forget his record during WW1, and the fact that the nation threw him out as soon as they could, in the 1945 election. 🙂
          Best wishes, Pete.

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          1. Maybe you know the answer to this one… was Churchill complicit in tipping to the Germans that the Lusitania was carry war contraband which made them torpedo it.. to bring the U.S. into the war? I believe Churchill was chief of the Admiralty at the time?
            Story goes that as late as the 70’s or 80’s the Brit government was tinkering around the wreck site. Divers have since supposed that a gaping hole in the side of the wreck was not a torpedo strike.. speculating the Brit government removed said war contraband.
            Or is this just some conspiracy theory?

            Liked by 1 person

            1. It is a well-liked conspiracy theory for all that, Doug. By letting the Germans know, through double agents, he hoped to get the US to enter the war much earlier that they did. Of course, it is impossible to prove, after a century of ‘misplaced’ documents.

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  5. I liked Salt, Dead Calm and Rabbit Proof Fence. Good director, Phillip Noyce; but I am not one who remembers names. . .
    I liked Mike Newell and must admit the different variety of his from Donnie Brasco to Four Weddings and a Funeral makes him interesting to me. I may eventually see the final director’s works. Japanese films are not as much my taste.

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        1. I was lucky to live close enough to the National Film Theatre in London, which served as an introduction to World Cinema in my early teens. It is part of The British Film Institute, and still going strong, with an online presence added. http://www.bfi.org.uk/
          Sadly, I have moved too far away to ever go there now.
          Best wishes, Pete.

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      1. Angelina Jolie was amazing in “Gia,” and she and future partner Brad Pitt are fun to watch in “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” I’ve seen other films of hers, including “Changeling.” I probably would not like her on a personal level, but I think she’s a fine actress.

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  6. I am so distressed by how shallow the pool is, Pete. Now you have me wracking my brain to come up with not only directors, but composers, painters, or playwrights. It simply seems to be a strangely under-served letter. Alas, poor N. I think Naruse would be my top choice, but I didn’t see my first of his many, many films until about 7/8 years ago and still have only seen a small sampling. He is very much like Ozu twenty years ago, more myth than reality in most of the west. But from what I have seen, he is excellent.

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  7. Nothing like a little pressure. Ah well, I have vast admiration for Fred Niblo, who is among the most unsung figures in silent cinema, directing two defining swashbucklers with Douglas Fairbanks, “The Mark of Zorro” and “The Three Musketeers” (the former being the first ever release of a tiny enterprise known as United Artists), the Garbo melodrama “The Temptress”, Valentino’s “Blood and Sand” and the spectacularly influential (and superior)1925 version of “Ben-Hur”. These are movies for people who claim they hate silent cinema.
    Also of interest is Gaspar Noe, that controversial figure of the cinema du corps movement for his “I Stand Alone” (and expansion and redressing of an earlier short entitled “Carne”), Enter the Void”, a sort of psychogenic hallucination by way of “Odd Man Out”, and the divisive “Irreversible”. Tough stuff.
    I also admire Mira Nair’s (though little lately, I’m afraid) “Mississippi Masala”, one of the most entertaining films on the subject of racial tensions.

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    1. You rose to the challenge like a champion, Chandler, and delivered the goods in spades.
      I have yet to see ‘Irreversible’, so currently remain undivided on that one.
      I do recall seeing the silent version of Ben Hur ( I was very young at the time) at the National Film Theatre, and being very impressed indeed. Plus Fred Niblo is a funny name (at least in the UK) and I tend to remember funny names.
      I note you featured Mira Nair’s ‘Amelia’ in your ‘Airborne’ film quiz, and I have seen ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’, just last month in fact. I caught it randomly on TV, and thought it was very good.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  8. Drat. I’ve gotten here too late and all my favs have been taken.😒 The only one I can think of who hasn’t been mentioned is Elliott Nugent. He directed the film version of the broadway play “The Male Animal” which he wrote with James Thurber. The movie starred Olivia de Havilland and Henry Fonda. He also directed several Bob Hope films including “My Favorite Brunette “ and “The Cat and the Canary”.

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  9. Great list, and agree with all who loved “Dead Calm” – terrific film. Also want to second the inclusion of Mike Nichols – burst out of the gate with brilliant films like “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Wolff?”, “The Graduate” and then the fiasco of “Catch-22”, which is now considered a classic as well…and since it broke up Simon & Garfunkel, another reason to savor – here is that story: https://johnrieber.com/2017/08/10/the-only-living-boy-in-new-york-paul-simon-skewers-art-garfunkel-over-catch-22/

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  10. This ones easy for me, Mike Nichols, what a set of great movies, ‘Who’s afraid of Virginia Wolf with Taylor & Burton, then The Graduate with Hoffman & Bancroft, Catch 22, Arkin, Silkwood, Streep, Working Girl – Sigourney, Harrison and Melanie Griffiths, and Charlie Wilsons War with your faves Hanks & Roberts 😂 an eclectic and amazing career!

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  11. Very nice recommendations, Pete. New names for me! 🙂 My obvious N-choice would be Christopher Nolan.
    Have a lovely Sunday, all three of you. It’s freezing cold in Cley this morning, with odd showers. We are hoping for snow in a few days, that would be a nice change. 😉 xx

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I’m not going to lie here, the original Ringu contains the scariest scene I have ever seen in any film that I have ever seen in my life. I’m not going to reveal it here out of fear for spoilers, but you probably know which scene I’m talking about Pete. It’s a true classic, and absolutely brilliant film. Could not agree with you more about urging everyone to see the originals instead of the remakes.
    And wow, the mere mention of Dead Calm for Philip Noyce is enough to put a smile on my face. That was such a terrific and amazingly tense thriller. I’ve seen it many times now, and it’s still awesome! Nothing to add this time: this list is pretty much perfect 😊

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    1. Thanks, Michel. I rarely post about horror films, as they almost never scare me. ‘Ringu’ is one of the exceptions, and it genuinely unsettled me too, which I why I chose Nakata today.
      ‘Dead Calm’ is worth watching again, even when you know the ending, I agree.
      I would suggest you explore ‘Dance With A Stranger’. Miranda Richardson’s finest hour, and one of the best modern British dramas.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. These days, there are very few horrormovies that scare me. I did see one about two years ago that is worth watching and that one is called the Babadook. It’s an Australian film, and well worth checking out. It scared the living daylights out of me 😊
        Thanks for the recommendation by the way. I haven’t heard of that one, but I’m putting on my to watch list for sure. 😀

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