In many ways, those who make and watch film are living in a post movie-star era. For most of the history of Hollywood, banking a large star was the way to ensure the success of a film. John Wayne, Clark Gable, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, more recently Tom Hanks and Cruise – these names meant box office bucks. More and more, however, outside of large franchises such as Marvel and DC, one of the surest ways in Hollywood to ensure a film’s success is to get a top rate director.
A different breed of director is the one who writes his or her own films, and its these people who I tend to take the largest interest in, considering that’s a career path I’m trying to follow in my own way. Here’s five of my favorites, and a few more who could crack that list in the next few years.
WRITERS ADDING DIRECTOR CREDITS
Taylor Sheridan has made a name for himself very quickly. Just a few years ago, he played a recurring, mid-level character on Sons of Anarchy and had trouble making ends meet. Then he started to write, and his first three films have all garnered high critical praise. Sicario and Hell and High Water were nominated for multiple Oscars, and his new film and directorial debut, Wind River is sure to follow. I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Sorkin is just about to release his directorial debut, Molly’s Game. Despite being one of my favorite writers (of any medium) with credits such as The West Wing, The Social Network, A Few Good Men and many more, it will be some time before we see how good Sorkin can be on the directing side.
Like Sorkin, Garland is a fantastic writer. He started in novels with the amazingly under-appreciated The Beach, moved into features with 28 Days Later and ultimately stunned with his directorial debut last year, Ex Machina. Like Sorkin, we’ll need to see more film him in the future.
Whedon’s a little further down the road as a director. Like the others, he’s a damn fine writer, and he’s directed four features thus far in Serenity (the conclusion of the Firefly TV series), Much Ado About Nothing and the first two Avengers films. The Avengers is one of the most successful films of all-time, but the follow-up was a dud. Whedon voiced his significant issues with working with the studio, and the two disparate visions for the film are highly apparent in the final cut – large portions of it have scenes that make little sense with each other. Whedon has since defected to DC and is finishing up the Justice League film after Zack Snyder had to step down due to a family tragedy. The reality is, how good Whedon can be will be largely determined by how well he recovers – he has yet to take a non-franchise project since The Avengers.
Cuarón just needs to direct more films, period. I’ve made it no secret that I’m a big fan of the Harry Potter books, and I’ll tell you: Cuarón instinctively understood that world much more than any of the other filmmakers who came through. Prisoner of Azkaban, along with Children of Men and Gravity after them, are incredible visual stories, and seldom do I say that visuals actually enhance writing, but his do, both in what he puts into the frame and how he moves the camera.
The Coen Brothers
Ethan and Joel Cohen are completely nuts – in all the best ways. Their films always tell compelling, coherent stories, with some level of absurdist humor that always comes across, even in the most serious of scenes. Their filmography is one of the most varied with a literal who’s who of Hollywood.
Speaking of nuts, there are few voices in Hollywood as distinct and as fully focused as Tarantino’s. The Hateful Eight, a bit of a down film in his career, is his eighth, and he claims he will only do two more before retiring. He’s currently developing a project about the Manson family for release in 2019. What will be his last?
If you’ve never heard of Linklater, you’re not alone, but you’re completely missing out. He briefly reached the mainstream with a Best Picture nomination for Boyhood, a film which took him 12 years to shoot. While Boyhood is amazing in its way, it’s hardly Linklater’s best. Dazed and Confused is a film many have seen (or claim to have seen) and is considered a cult classic. Its spiritual sequel, Everybody Wants Some, needs to be seen by the same people who loved the former. But it’s the Before trilogy (Before Sunrise, Sunset and Midnight) is where Linklater’s best work lies. 3 films, 2 people, just talking. They’re amazing works, really.
The Dark Knight. Memento. Interstellar. Inception. Dunkirk. The Prestige. All films written and directed by Christopher Nolan. His films often portray society on the brink, and play with time in a way few storytellers of any genre can. I’ve seen just about everything of his (one short he made in 1989 isn’t available), and there’s not a single dud in the collection. Nolan should go down as one of the greatest storytellers of any genre by the time it’s all said and done.