Film Directors: A sort-of A-Z: Z

The final entry in this latest A-Z. Thanks to everyone who stuck with it, and added their own choices along the way. I have enjoyed reading all the comments, as well as discovering films and film makers that were new to me.

‘Z’ is much better than you might expect. However, I will leave it open for your choices, by only adding one today, a foreign film maker. That leaves many well-known directors for you to consider.

Zhang Yimou (surname first, in Chinese) has made some truly magnificent films, many of which I own on DVD, as well as having seen them at the cinema. Winner of numerous awards, and the recipient of much critical acclaim too, his epics are well known, but his smaller films are equally outstanding. Many of you will know of ‘Hero’ (2002), or ‘House Of Flying Daggers’ (2004). But for me, his best work was the claustrophobic and visually stunning ‘Raise The Red Lantern’ (1991), and the historical romantic drama that preceded it, ‘Ju Dou’ (1990). Then there is the fascinating story of a simple woman taking on bureaucracy, in ‘The Story Of Qui Ju’ (1992). Zhang is one of the finest modern film-makers, in my opinion, and I am pleased to add that he is still working today.

Here’s a taste of his style.

Film Directors: A sort-of A-Z: Y

(There is no entry for ‘X’, but if you know someone, feel free to add it here)

‘Y’ has a few choices, but I will add just one selection today, to leave room for you to play along.

Peter Yates was an English film director who started out working on television shows. In 1963, he made ‘Summer Holiday’, a successful pop-music promotional musical starring Cliff Richard and the Shadows. Such films were all the rage then, with later ones featuring The Beatles, and The Monkees.

Four years later, and he showed a different side with the cracking British crime thriller ‘Robbery’. This starred Stanley Baker and Joanna Pettet, and was considered to be realistic and hard-hitting back then. That must have attracted attention across the Atlantic, as Yates went to America to direct the exciting cop drama ‘Bullitt’ the following year. This featured a now-legendary car chase sequence, as well as Steve McQueen as one of the coolest cops to ever grace the screen. ‘Murphy’s War’ (1971) saw Yates directing Peter O’Toole in a big-budget WW2 film, followed a year later by the comedy crime caper, ‘The Hot Rock’, with Robert Redford, and George Segal.

In 1973, Yates made what is undoubtedly one of my favourite films, and perhaps the most realistic modern crime drama, ‘The Friends Of Eddie Coyle’. Starring a weary Robert Mitchum giving one his finest performances, this look at the criminal underworld of Boston feels incredibly authentic, and the supporting actors, including Richard Jordan and Peter Boyle, deliver outstanding performances too. This film is sadly overlooked now, and I really urge everyone to try to see it. It got the highest rating from respected critic Roger Ebert, and Mitchum’s performance is truly unforgettable.

Other titles directed by Yates might be familiar. ‘The Deep’ (1977) with Robert Shaw, ‘Breaking Away’ (1979) starring Dennis Quaid, and ‘Suspect’ (1987) with Quaid again, alongside Cher.

Here’s a trailer for ‘Eddie Coyle’.

Film Directors: A sort-of A-Z: W

Close to the finish line now, with ‘W’. Before we get to the last tricky few, please continue to play along, adding your own choices in the comments. ‘W’ has lots to offer, and I will try to feature the less obvious choices, (with one exception) leaving many for you to select from.

German film-maker Wim Wenders is a man of many talents. As well as directing films, he also makes documentaries, and is an accomplished photographer too. He has made films in both German and English, and in Europe and America. I first noticed his name when watching the film ‘The Goalkeeper’s Fear Of The Penalty’ (1972), a downbeat crime thriller that showed obvious talent. I later saw the experimental ‘Alice In The Cities’ (1973), a black and white film with limited dialogue, that became famous as the first of Wenders’ ‘Road Trilogy’. That theme continued in 1984, with the outstanding ‘Paris, Texas’, starring Harry Dean Stanton in a haunting film about a man’s search for his missing wife. Wenders managed to make the bleak regions of Texas take on a European feel, and the soundtrack by Ry Cooder is unforgettable. He later made other award-winning films, including ‘Wings Of Desire’ (1987), and continues to work to this day.

Australian Peter Weir has been directing films since 1969, and has made some of my personal favourites during that time. ‘Picnic At Hanging Rock’ (1975) took a small story idea, and developed it into a mystical film experience, with tremendous performances from a mainly female cast. His political thriller ‘The Year Of Living Dangerously’ (1982) looked at the turbulent events in Indonesia, through the experiences of journalists based in that country. It starred Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver, and also featured an amazing performance from Linda Hunt, playing a male role. The year before, he had brought the epic war film ‘Gallipoli’ to the screen, with the impressive tale of Australian troops fighting in Turkey, in WW1. His list of credits continues, with ‘Witness’ (1985), and ‘The Mosquito Coast’ (1986), both starring Harrison Ford. ‘Dead Poets Society’ (1989), ‘Green Card’ (1990), and ‘The Truman Show’ (1998).

From Poland, I am featuring Andrzej Wajda. He made films from 1951 until his death in 2016, aged 90. He was the recipient of numerous awards and honours, as well as being acclaimed by critics and audiences all over the world. Perhaps his best known work internationally is the startling War Trilogy, which began with ‘A Generation’ (1954). This was followed by the riveting ‘Kanal’ in 1956, telling the story of resistance fighters during the Warsaw Uprising, fighting the Germans in and around the sewers of Warsaw. The trilogy was completed with ‘Ashes And Diamonds’ (1958), dealing with events immediately after the end of the war in Europe, with the upheaval and retribution that followed victory. It is generally thought to be one of the best 100 films films ever made.

No surprises with my top choice for ‘W’. A writer, actor, producer, director, theatrical wizard. He acted on stage, on the radio, and in many films too. During my lifetime, I can think of few people who have been as talented as Orson Welles. As a director, he made two of my all time favourites, and as an actor, he starred in many more. His 1941 film ‘Citizen Kane’ is hailed by many as the best film ever made, though I prefer some of his others myself. Like ‘Touch Of Evil’ (1958), with its legendary opening tracking crane shot, and Welles magnificent in the role of the bloated has-been detective, Quinlan. Or the wonderful ‘Chimes At Midnight’, something of a flawed masterpiece, with Welles never better as the tragi-comic Shakespearean character, Falstaff. So although I may prefer him for his acting, his directing is at the top of my list too.
Here’s that opening tracking crane shot I mentioned. This is film-making.

Film Directors: A sort-of A-Z: U and V

As you might expect, the letter ‘U’ throws up very few directors with that surname, so I am using two letters in one post again today.

I have seen some of the films of one man with a ‘U’ surname though. American director Ron Underwood, who made the amusing monster horror, ‘Tremors’ in 1990, starring Kevin Bacon. He followed that with another comedy, ‘City Slickers’ (1991), then the ‘giant ape’ remake ‘Mighty Joe Young’ (1998), with Charlize Theron and Bill Paxton in the leads. He made other films which I have not seen, and still works extensively, mainly for television.

‘V’ offers more fertile ground, with almost fifty to choose from, including American Indie film-maker Gus Van Sant. His powerful drama about the life of drug-addicted young people, ‘Drugstore Cowboy’ (1989), delivered a believable lead role from Matt Dillon that remains my favourite from that actor. This was followed in 1991 by ‘My Own Private Idaho’, a film about two young male prostitutes living a bleak and pointless life. I was very impressed by that film, especially with the completely convincing performances of River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves in the leads. In 1995, he directed the genre-busting crime comedy, ‘To Die For’, with a standout performance from Nicole Kidman. He is also known for three films lumped together as ‘The Death Trilogy’, including the immensely powerful ‘Elephant’ (2003), a film about a real high-school shooting that rightly won the ‘Palme D’Or at Cannes. (He also made the highly-acclaimed ‘Good Will Hunting (1997) but I never liked that film.)

I have to mention French director Roger Vadim, and not primarily for his films. Vadim was a man who was indeed lucky in love. Not only did he have an affair (and a child) with the gorgeous Catherine Deneuve, he also married not only Brigette Bardot, but Jane Fonda too. As a teenager, I envied that man a great deal, I can tell you. In between, he made a lot of films, most notably the steamy drama ‘And God Created Woman’ (1956), which introduced the sexy Brigitte Bardot to a worldwide audience. As well as numerous films in his own language, he later directed the amusing (and very sexy) science-fiction romp, ‘Barbarella’ (1968). Fonda was the eponymous heroine, and she never looked better than in this role as the glamorous space adventurer. It also gave us Duran Duran, and his ‘Orgasmatron’. Priceless camp.

My final choice still leaves you with more ‘V’ film makers than you can shake a stick at, believe me.
It is popular to talk down Dutch director Paul Verhoeven. He makes exciting films, sexy films, and films that are very often an in-joke. He has no defined directorial style, and in many cases, settled for sensationalism, and style over substance. Yet there are times in life when even a self-styled film bore like me just needs to be entertained. To sit back and enjoy a story, soak up the visuals, and (yes, I confess) admire a pretty and usually half-naked woman. Verhoeven will not leave behind a legacy of classics, hailed in the cinematic halls of fame. But he undoubtedly knows how to entertain an audience at many levels, in various genres. Never heard of him? I think you will know at least some of the films. Exploitation? At times perhaps, but very well done indeed.
‘Soldier of Orange’ (1977) is a little-known Dutch war film that needs to get a wider audience. This story of resistance fighters, and Dutch volunteers in The German Waffen SS during WW2 is a fine drama, and stars the reliable Rutger Hauer too.
‘Flesh and Blood’ (1985) is a rip-roaring English-language swashbuckler, set in the 16th century. Hauer stars again, as the leader of a band of mercenaries who happily rape and pillage their way around Italy during the confusing wars and politics of that time.
‘Robocop’ (1987) was the original outing for this franchise. A futuristic action thriller that gave a whole new meaning to the warning, “Halt. Police!”
The list goes on. ‘Total Recall’ (1990), the sexy Sharon Stone in ‘Basic Instinct’ (1992), and the pleasingly voyeuristic (at least for me) ‘Showgirls’ (1995). Monsters in space got a wonderfully inventive ironic treatment in the fun and exciting ‘Starship Troopers’ (1997), and Verhoeven returned to WW2 in 2006, with the satisfyingly sentimental ‘Black Book’, about the resistance in Holland. Something for everyone, in a career that continues in controversy with ‘Elle’ (2016), and more to come.

He might be my directorial ‘guilty pleasure’ indeed. Here’s a trailer.

Film Directors: A sort-of A-Z: T

After a break of a couple of days, I am finally up to ‘T’. Quite a few famous ones of course, including one American who shot to fame in 1992. I am only featuring foreign-language directors today, so there will be plenty left for you to add your own selections.

I have used the English language titles for all the foreign films mentioned.

I have to start with the world-famous French film-maker and actor, Francois Truffaut. Before his early death at the age of 52, Truffaut helped found the French New Wave, and left behind a legacy of important and critically-acclaimed films. His awards and nominations are too numerous to mention, but he won both Oscars and Baftas for his work, as well as many domestic plaudits too. From ‘The 400 Blows’ in 1959, to ‘Confidentially Yours’ in 1983, his career never flagged, and he retained his influence and the admiration of critics throughout. Other famous titles include the ‘film within a film’ ‘Day For Night’ (1973), ‘Fahrenheit 451’ (made in English, in 1966), and ‘The Last Metro’ (1980), a wartime drama starring Catherine Deneuve.

Another French director, Bertrand Tavernier may not be as well known as Truffaut, but in a long career, he has also made some outstanding films. These include ‘A Sunday In The Country’ (1984), the English-language Jazz drama ‘Round Midnight’ (1985) with music by Herbie Hancock, and the adaptation of ‘In The Electric Mist’ (2009), starring Tommy Lee Jones. But Tavernier is mainly included here for one of my personal favourite films, the almost unknown ‘Life And Nothing But’ (1989). Despite winning numerous awards, this subtle work has all but disappeared off of the radar of film fans. The touching story of widows searching for their husbands shortly after WW1 stars the wonderful Phillipe Noiret, as the officer in charge of trying to identify the bodies.

Swedish director Jan Troell may not be someone you have ever heard of. But he made a film that features on my personal list of the best films of all time, and one I have never forgotten. I have written about ‘Everlasting Moments’ (2008) many times on my blog, and even reviewed it on other sites. My love for this gentle and affecting film knows no bounds, I assure you. But he has made many other films, including the wonderful ‘The Emigrants’ (1971), starring Max von Sydow, and the sequel ‘The New land’ (1972). He still continues to work today, in his native Sweden.

My top choice today is the Russian auteur, Andrei Tarkovsky. Up to his death in 1986, he made some of the most remarkable films in the history of cinema. Beloved of film buffs and critics alike, his long and often complex films rarely make for light or easy viewing. But they can be incredibly rewarding, if you give them the attention they deserve. ‘Ivan’s Childhood’ (1962) is a haunting war drama, the story of a young boy acting as an army scout, in the mysterious swamp-lands of Russia during the German invasion. In 1966, Tarkovsky made ‘Andrei Rublev’, the true story of the life of the famous icon painter, set in the 15th century. This was followed in 1972 by the eerie science fiction epic, ‘Solaris’, which was later remade in America (in 2002) by Stephen Soderbergh, starring George Clooney. Other notable works include ‘Mirror’ (1975), and ‘Stalker’ (1979), rated by The British Film Institute as one of the fifty greatest films of all time. There has never really been anyone like Tarkovsky, I assure you.

Here’s a trailer for ‘Solaris’. It may look dated now, but don’t let that fool you.

Film Directors: A sort-of A-Z: S

‘S’ is obviously going to be a cornucopia of famous names, and on this occasion, I will be featuring some very well-known directors indeed. There will still be lots to choose from though.

English director John Schlesinger was an Oscar-winning film maker involved in some of the most ground-breaking films of his era. His first, ‘A Kind Of Loving’ (1962) saw Barstow’s novel adapted for the screen, starring Alan Bates. This was part of the British New Wave at the time, bringing films about the hardships of everyday life to an audience who could identify with the characters as never before. Two films starring Julie Christie came later. ‘Darling’ (1965) gained Christie a Best Actress Oscar for her lead in this film about infidelity, set in the ‘Swinging Sixties’. The historical romantic drama ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’ (1967) set a trend in such adaptations that continues to this day, usig impressive location filming, and an all-star cast. Schlesinger went on to even greater acclaim for ‘Midnight Cowboy’ (1969), which won three Oscars including Best Director, and ‘Marathon Man’ (1976), starring Dustin Hoffman and Lawrence Olivier. He continued to make many solid films, until his death in 2003.

I have to mention German New Wave director, Volker Schlondorff, even though many will never have heard of him. He has made twenty-one feature films, as well as working on documentaries and for television. Two of his films rank among my favourites in modern cinema. ‘The Lost Honour Of Katharina Blum'(1975) is a marvellous film about the invasion of an innocent woman’s life by the media. It has an memorable performance from Angela Winkler in the lead role, and has never been more relevant, given the intrusion of the press in today’s society. His other notable film is one of the most impressive I have ever seen, and one I have never forgotten. The Oscar-winning adaptation of Gunter Grass’s novel ‘The Tin Drum’ (1979) is just amazing, and the lead performance by David Bennent as Oskar simply riveting, a sight to behold indeed.

Martin Scorsese is a world-famous American director, almost a household name. I first noticed that name when watching the gritty crime thriller ‘Mean Streets’ in 1973, guessing he would be one to watch in the future. Since then, his list of credits and awards have been too numerous to mention here. His influence on later film-makers is undeniable, as in many cases, he rewrote the rules on how films in certain genres are made. I will mention some of my favourite examples of his work though, as I genuinely believe they are some of the best films made in modern times. ‘Taxi Driver'(1976) gave Robert De Niro one of his greatest roles, and also included child actress Jodie Foster, in a very different incarnation. Scorsese continued his collaboration with De Niro in ‘Raging Bull’ (1980), ‘The King of Comedy’ (1982), and the landmark gangster films ‘Goodfellas’ (1990), and ‘Casino’ (1995). Up until the year 2000, Scorsese was fast becoming one of my all-time favouite film-makers. Then for some reason, he switched to working with Leonardo DiCaprio, and lost me as a fan overnight. Despite the popularity of subsequent films like ‘The Aviator’ (2004), ‘The Departed’ (2006), and ‘Shutter Island’ (2010), I no longer ‘got it’, so Martin is not my top pick today. But then he was never going to be, for reasons that will become obvious.

English director Ridley Scott has the distinction (even though he is unaware of it) of directing my current number one favourite film. I have already explained in a different post just why I love ‘Blade Runner’ (1982) so much, and won’t go into that again here. But long before that, Ridley had got my attention for the superb historical drama, ‘The Duellists’ (1977); with every scene like a painting, and Harvey Keitel on top form in what for him was a very unusual role. Those two films would be enough to make Scott my choice for ‘S’, but we all know there is more. ‘Alien’ (1979) started a whole new trend in science fiction films, combining landmark special effects with great performances from the excellent cast. It seemed to me that Scott could turn his hand to almost any genre, and he did. The dark fantasy ‘Legend’ (1985) was followed by the excellent crime thriller ‘Someone To Watch Over Me’ in 1987. Then he gave us the marvellous pairing of Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, in ‘Thelma and Louise’ (1991). ‘Blackhawk Down’ (2001) is one of the most exciting and exhausting war films ever made, and ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ was epic film-making, harping back to the great historical dramas of the 1960s.
And I even like ‘Prometheus’ (2012), though most don’t agree with me.
Here’s a trailer for ‘The Duellists’.

Film Directors: A sort-of A-Z: Q and R

I have only seen the films of one director in ‘Q’, and only a couple of those. If you can think of any more, please add them in the comments. So for today, I am using two letters in this one post.

Richard Quine was an American actor, producer, and film director who came to an untimely end when he shot himself, in 1989. I knew his name from just some of the films he directed, and you may well have heard of the famous titles too. The enjoyable romantic comedy ‘Bell, Book, And Candle’ (1958), starring James Stewart, and Kim Novak, and ‘The World of Suzie Wong’ (1960), an interracial romance, with William Holden. He also worked with Jack Lemmon, in the 1965 comedy ‘How To Murder Your Wife’.

By contrast, there are many to choose from in ‘R’, but I will limit my selection to three, leaving everyone a lot of scope to add their own favourites.

American director Nicholas Ray began his career in 1949, with the classic film noir, ‘They Live By Night’, one of the first films to feature the ‘young couple on the run’ theme that has been copied so many times since. The following year, he continued in the noir genre, directing Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame in ‘In A Lonely Place’. In 1954, he made the western ‘Johnny Guitar’, with a powerful lead role for Joan Crawford in a film that is now regarded to be one of the ‘Great American Films’. Later on, Ray turned his hand to epics, with ‘King of Kings’ in 1961, followed by ’55 Days At Peking’ (1963). Still think you don’t know him, or his work? His most famous film has to be the teen drama, ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ (1955), with James Dean starring in one of his few yet memorable roles.

Danish film-maker Nicolas Winding Refn has a name that might well be unfamiliar to all but dedicated film fans. The young director came to the attention of the cinema world with his three films known as ‘The Pusher Trilogy’; ‘Pusher’ (1996), ‘Pusher 2’ (2004), and ‘Pusher 3’ (2005). These dark dramas looked at the lives of characters in the seedy criminal underworld of Copenhagen. Not only did they make Refn stand out from the crowd, they also launched the career of international star Mads Mikkelsen, and were later remade in English. Despite the low budget, the trilogy was highly acclaimed, and the Danish setting helped to cement interest in has come to be known as ‘Scandi-Noir’. Refn went on to direct Tom Hardy in the brutal true-life prison drama ‘Bronson’ (2008), before making the visually-arresting historical film ‘Valhalla Rising’ (2009), again starring Mads Mikkelsen. His most popular film to date is the well-received American crime thriller ‘Drive’ (2011), with Ryan Gosling in the lead role. Refn is only 47, so we can expect a lot more to come.

My top choice for ‘R’ is the British director, Sir Carol Reed. Despite the name, he was a man, and was knighted for his outstanding career as a film-maker, as well as winning many awards, including an Oscar for the musical ‘Oliver’ (1968). But that is far from being his best known film, and not his usual style at all. In 1947, he directed James Mason in the stunning drama ‘Odd Man Out’, set in the troubled times in Northern Ireland, after WW2. Before that, he had made some of the most famous and enduring British films, including ‘The Stars Look Down’ (1940), ‘Night Train To Munich’ (1940), and the stirring war film ‘The Way Ahead’ (1944), starring David Niven. In the touching drama, ‘The Fallen Idol’, he directed Ralph Richardson, in one of that actor’s finest performances.
The list goes on, with the warm-hearted London working class fable ‘A Kid For Two Farthings’ (1955), ‘Our Man In Havana’ (1959), starring Alec Guinness, and ‘The Agony And The Ecstasy’ (1965), which saw Charlton Heston cast as the artist Michelangelo.
But none of those are his most famous film, oh no. For anyone of a certain age, you will already undoubtedly have seen that, even if you are unaware who directed it. Voted The Greatest British Film Of All Time by The British Film Institute, winner of the Oscar for best cinematography, the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, and the BAFTA for Best British Film, the wonderful ‘The Third Man’ (1949) was Reed’s finest hour. Starring Joseph Cotten and Trevor Howard, with a small but unforgettable role for Orson Welles, and a memorable musical score by Anton Karas, this dark drama is rightly considered to be one of the best films ever made.