Sunday, June 12, 2011


Disclaimer 1: This is not a list of the greatest ever directors – as you can tell from the absence of Welles, Bergman, Kurosawa, Truffaut, Hawks, Wilder, Eisenstein, Dreyer, Hitchcock etc etc.

Disclaimer 2: This is not a list of the greatest living directors – as you can tell from the absence of Allen, Godard, Resnais, Polanski, Coppola (Sr.) and Scorsese. This list is a direct reflection of how uncontrollably, sweatily excited I get at the news of a particular director bringing out a new title. So, it’s mostly based on the kind of work these people have been doing since roughly – let’s say, 1996. Hence, I am only discussing titles released since 1996. (Coincidentally – the year of Kieslowski’s passing – so it does kind of feel like the end of one era and beginning of the next.)

Along these lines, while I remain loyal to Woody Allen (who still ranks among my Top 5 all time directors) and buy a ticket to his annual offering with great joy and optimism, I couldn’t honestly argue that, sight unseen, I get as excited about the likes of You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger as I do about something like Tree of Life. (That said, I am uncontrollably excited about Midnight in Paris – but this film feels like the exception rather than the rule for the past 15 years.)

Disclaimer 3: It is humanity’s fault that there are no women on this list, not mine.

Disclaimer 4: Sincere apologies and honourable mentions are in order. All of the following are geniuses who have made vibrant, indelible and mind-expanding contributions to cinema over the past couple of decades. I will forever be impatient to see what they do next:

Mike Leigh, Jafar Panahi, Jim Jarmusch, Hal Hartley, Ang Lee, David O. Russell, Todd Haynes, André Téchiné, Alexander Sokurov, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Claire Denis, Paul Thomas Anderson, Spike Jonze, Quentin Tarantino, David Cronenberg, The Dardenne Brothers, Darren Aronofsky and Bong Joon-ho.

Disclaimer 5: A super-honourable mention to Charlie Kaufman. It feels like cheating to take into consideration scriptwriting achievements on top of directing ones. But if I were to do that, Kaufman would rank among the Top 5.

So, on to business. Starting from 10.

“He’s just so amazing, and I can’t really explain why but his stuff is like so mindblowing and I don’t really get what the story’s about but it doesn’t really matter cause like it’s so surreal”... After years of getting trapped into conversation with arts grad stoners, whose favourite filmmaker Lynch inevitably is, I was starting to bear an irrational grudge against the man. But then I revisited Mulholland Drive and re-evaluated my notion of what cinema is and could be. Unquestionably one of the highpoints of this past movie decade, it won Lynch so much goodwill that a lot of people went so far as to swallow Inland Empire – ugly DV, existentially trapped bunnies, Locomotion and all. Of late, Lost Highway seems to have become a rite of passage for emerging cineastes, and fair enough (though in retrospect it feels a bit like a dry run for Mulholland Dr). Not many people however, bring up The Straight Story anymore, which is a shame. I’ve promised myself to look it up again one of these days.
Even when I aggressively react against a film of his (The Piano Teacher), I can’t bring myself to turn away. Not even the second time around. (Though this is equal parts thanks to Haneke as it is to Isabelle Huppert.) Otherwise, much as I enjoy his barbed, grizzly provocations (Funny Games, Caché), it’s his sprawling, tangential crystallisations of a particular moment in time that I cherish foremost. Engrossing and irresistibly sharp in its own right, Code Unknown is also a time-capsule-worthy snapshot of a certain very prominent stratum of Western European society at the turn of the millennium. (By the way, remember how much of an event and then very quickly non-event that particular turn was? Heh.) It also feels to me like the first time Haneke sincerely tried to push himself and the form. As such, it stands as a direct pointer towards the self-conscious sublimeness of The White Ribbon (which, incidentally, was the third in a continuing string of uncommonly fabulous Palme d’or winners).

8 to 1 will follow.



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