10 directors in need of a hit

Odd List Luke Holland 26 Apr 2011 - 15:25

They’ve had their successes, and they clearly have talent. Yet all hasn't been going to plan. Luke looks at 10 directors in need of a critical and financial hit…

You know how it is. You’re latest feature goes down well with critics and audiences alike, and before you know it, the scripts are flying through your door.

Your last film went down well, too, and thanks to this momentum, men in suits are asking you to make films now, whereas previously all your work had been attained via a complex and degrading system of begging, selling your principles and lying in the foetal position outside film studios, weeping and yammering in desperate gibberish, until a passing producer took pity and on you and gave you a lowly job as second assistant director on a small film of questionable promise or merit.

So, you’ve finally made it, eh? Fantastic. All you have to do now is maintain the standards you set for yourself in your early work. Do a ‘Nolan’, as it were. It seems so obvious. To be a great director, all you have to do is consistently make good films, and if you promise yourself you will never let yourself become complacent, what could possibly go wrong?

Wes Craven, a man who has been a little low on critical praise for some time, could probably answer that question in some detail. Thankfully, the Master of Horror has redeemed his honour somewhat with the surprisingly enjoyable Scream 4, but to put this into context, the last good film he made was Scream 2, in 1997. That’s, like, 50 years ago or something.

Wes blasted out of the blocks with The Last House On The Left and peaked with the lovely A Nightmare On Elm Street in 1984, and then (The People Under The Stairs aside) was relentlessly mediocre until Scream post-postmodernised the genre Craven himself had a hand in forging.

Scream 4 proves the man’s still got great films left in him, though, and this is cause for celebration. In Wes’ honour, here is a rundown of ten directors who could really do with a Scream sequel of their own, so to speak. They either started out well, or are capable of greatness, but their careers have more recently taken turns for the worse.

And please, as always, leave your own suggestions in the comments below!

M Night Shyamalan

Criticising Shymalan is a bit too easy, really. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel, if the barrel was empty, the fish were already dead, and you were using a nuclear device to make sure you got them all real good.

Yet, there is a lot going for the man’s three early films. Unbreakable will forever be overshadowed by The Sixth Sense, despite a genuinely great premise and Shyamalan’s second and last great ‘twist’ ending, and there is a lot to like in Signs’ ‘invasion from a home perspective’ premise, despite an ending so stupid it makes you want to go outside and assault strangers.

The Village was,okay(ish), but then The Last Airbender, Lady In The Water and the seismically inept The Happening served only in making a Razzie judge’s job approximately 98.4% easier.

It’s hard to pinpoint a single reason why Shyamalan’s films became rubbish. One problem was that his trademark twist in the tale became an expectation, and therefore ceased to be unforeseen. The ideas behind his more recent films aren’t particularly inspired, you might argue, while his dialogue is often so wooden you could fit two of every animal into it in the event of a severe flood.

Yet his three early hits prove there is certainly a talent at work here, and Shyamalan is able, on a good day, to coax suspense, intrigue and decent performances from his actors. Shyamalan’s reputation – nay, his career - is in no way beyond saving. And in case you’re the only person who doesn’t know how The Sixth Sense ends, allow us to ruin it for you: Bruce Willis says, “Yippee Kai Yay–”, and then swears.

John Landis

You think werewolves are cool, don’t you? Of course you do, because you, too, are cool. A large reason for a werewolf’s blatant coolness is Mr John Landis, who used to be cool, and now he isn’t so much.

But you still are, and despite Twilight, so are werewolves. Phew! The man’s hit rate in the late seventies and eighties was pretty damn good: Animal House, The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf In London, Trading Places and Coming To America.

That’s one mighty fine resume right there, and even 1994’s Beverly Hills Cop 3 wasn’t atrocious, in the same way a second helping of dessert that causes you to be sick isn’t atrocious. It’s just a bit too much and you kind of wish you hadn’t bothered. 

Despite an alarming affinity for Eddie Murphy and Michael Jackson, Landis was on fine form. So, what happened? Well, in a nutshell, his films ceased to be at all funny. Stallone ‘comedy’, Oscar, horror-com misfire, Innocent Blood, and 1996’s abysmal The Stupids were poorly received, largely on account of their actual poorness. 

It was with Blues Brothers 2000 that Landis committed his most unforgivable sin, however. The original is a nigh-on perfect film, a wonderful moment frozen in time, totally without need of any form of follow-up, let alone the utter turkey sandwich that was Blues Brothers 2000.

Still, Burke And Hare was a lot of fun, and hopes remain high that Landis will once again tap into whatever inspiration led him to producing, arguably, some of the finest comedy films of all time.

John Carpenter

Following on from the enjoyable yet flawed Dark Star, Carpenter embarked on a remarkable run of form, turning out Assault On Precinct 13, Halloween, The Fog, Escape From New York, The Thing, Christine, Starman, The Prince Of Darkness, They Live and the truly sublime Big Trouble In Little China, all within an unbelievably prolific 12 year span.

Due to this formidable body of work, it can never be suggested that Carpenter is anything less than a genius. However, geniuses, too, have the odd whoopsie daisy every now and then, and Carpenter has left the odd doosie on the carpet in recent years. Take 1998’s Vampires, a film that is both genuinely entertaining (due to the general awesomeness of James Woods) and really rather bad.

Ghosts Of Mars was just plain bad, on the other hand, succeeding only in giving us another much-needed helping of The Mighty Stath and the always marvellous Pam Grier.

Carpenter’s most recent offering, The Ward, did receive lukewarm reviews, but it smacked of a once great helmer going through the motions, whilst paradoxically being influenced by filmmakers who once took all their inspiration from him. Wibbly wobbly, timey wimey, indeed. His good films outweigh his bad ones, undoubtedly, but the man is long overdue a good one.

Joel Schumacher

The Lost Boys is one of those films that almost defines the generation from whence it came. 

It must be a mystery to many a youngster why people of a certain age prattle on ceaselessly about it. Through their more rational eyes, it may be naught more than an unremarkable dollop of cheesy music, terrible hair, some silly vampires and a large dog, probably in that order.

And they may be right. But whether through accident of design, it is (rightly, by the way) recognised as a classic. The film is just one of a handful of Schumacher greats, but a perfect filmmaker Schumacher most certainly is not.

Even the best of his work has its flaws, but with St Elmo’s Fire, Flatliners, Falling Down and even the Harper Lee-plagiarising A Time To Kill, Schumacher is sometimes, somehow, capable of serendipitous brilliance.

Yet, if someone asked you whether you’d like to go and see his latest film, you’d probably react in much the same way as you’d react if someone stopped you in the street and asked if you’d like to smell his finger. You would decline, politely, and tell them to go away.

First things first, his Batman films were (lets be kind here) somewhat ‘unsuccessful’ takes on the battiest of men, while The Number 23 was pretty awful for a myriad reasons too numerous and far-reaching to go into here, few of which were actually Jim Carrey. Yet, Phone Booth had a lot of plusses, and Veronica Guerin was wholesome fare.

But Schumacher remains in dire need of a story that will allow his unreliable abilities to focus and shine. That’s the thing with Schumacher. He’s rarely awful. Batman, of course, aside, he’s just meh. And the worst thing you can be as any kind of artist is ‘meh’.

George Lucas

Since three quarters of Internet is already groaning under the weight of odious diatribes aimed towards that most hirsute of Moomins (the other quarter of the Internet being taken up with pornography, obviously), let’s not add to the dearth of abuse Mr Lucas has already received, and approach his place on this list from a position of reason.

As a director, Lucas’ early work stands up against anyone’s. THX 1138 was a bold, stark and striking debut, American Graffiti a perfectly charming love letter to the past, and some B-movie called The Star Wars (or something) an extremely brave choice for a director with only two small films under his belt.

Then Lucas did the most magnanimous thing of all. Recognising that his ideas were bigger than him, he gave the director’s chair to some of his talented friends. Thanks to this, we got Empire (Jedi’s directorship is under constant debate), Indy, Willow and, er, Howard The Duck.

So, what happened to this talented director between A New Hope and The Phantom Menace? It’s difficult to say for sure, but one of many intriguing insights in the excellent Red Letter review of The Phantom Menace is the number of clips of the making of the film in which the entire crew seem to exist in a state of perpetual fear of upsetting Lucas.

Clearly not one of them, with their doe-eyed kowtowing, ever mentioned that his idea, his script, and therefore his film, were possibly a little bit rubbish. But you can see it on their faces. They knew, and they nodded, and they smiled joylessly, whilst inside their souls wept.

Surrounded by yes men, Lucas overindulges his whims, and in the case of the prequels, he produced three scripts in dire need of rewrites. But if Spielberg couldn’t convince him that aliens and Dr Jones were a terrible combo, who could?

The Farrelly Brothers

Comedy is arguably the most subjective of all the genres. One person’s Marmite might be another person’s, er, Marmite, and as such, there may be many folk who don’t think too much of even the Farrelly’s supposedly more celebrated works.

However, with positive reviews for Hall Pass more difficult to track down than one of Wally’s contact lenses (that’s Waldo’s British moniker), the Farrelly’s descent from comedy eminence has been something of a continual trend since There’s Something About Mary, back in 1998.

Me, Myself And Irene, Shallow Hal and Dumb And Dumber are held (to varying degrees) in generally high regard, but the more contentious Stuck On You and The Ringer lacked the charm or wit to carry their wilfully risqué premises, despite both ostensibly having their hearts in the right places.

Judd Apatow and Todd Phillips have since fought for the R-rated crown of comedy in Hollywood, and most successful examples of the genre seem to emanate from within a tightly knit group of individuals, who all seem to enjoy working together.  The Farrellys are out on their own, and to stay relevant, they need something special. Yet, their next picture will be an adaptation of The Three Stooges. Oh dear.

Brian De Palma

The original Mission Impossible film sits so far apart from its sequels in terms of tone and intent that the only common elements to trace along the franchise are the MI name and the involvement of Tom Cruise.

De Palma’s paranoid original was a further extension of his penchant for betrayal, violence and Machiavellian design that his best works, Scarface, The Untouchables, and Carlito’s Way, exuded with aplomb.  De Palma’s unflinching characterisation and ultimately grim depictions of the criminal underworld could have led him to being a very real rival to Scorsese, in a genre deservedly dominated by him.

Yet, both to his credit and eventual undoing, De Palma refused to be hemmed in by pressure to retrace his successes. Brave he may have been, but many of De Palma’s other films simply didn’t work. Ill-advised ventures into comedy like Wise Guys and Bonfire Of The Vanities were openly derided (Bonfire won five Razzies), and more serious post-MI projects like Mission To Mars and Snake Eyes didn’t fare much better in terms of reception or financial success.

De Palma’s next film, Passion, will be a remake of Crime d’Amour, a thriller starring Kristin Scott Thomas about a couple of corporate execs having a bit of a falling out. One should never judge a book by its cover, especially if that cover isn’t even released until 2012, but Passion sounds like it has the distinct potential to be as boring as watching paint dry in a quiet corner of Milton Keynes.

Rob Reiner

As feature debuts go, the seminal Spinal Tap is difficult to beat, and in following this up with films as diverse as Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally and the foot and mallet combining Misery, Rob Reiner displayed a knack for producing brilliance in whichever genre he chose to explore.

Yet, since A Few Good Men, Reiner has never managed to recapture any of the success or critical praise he seemed to garner so easily in his earlier work. Middling-to-poor romantic output like Alex And Emma, Rumor Has It... and The Story Of Us were almost as dull as their titles suggest, and the highly publicised The Bucket List also left whatever part of the brain that is responsible for that warm, fuzzy feeling in your belly unsated, despite the idea upon which it’s based being ripe for those ’I’ve just got something in my eye, babes. Honest’ moments.

He is capable of magic, Mr Reiner, but we haven’t seen it from him in a very long time. His next film, The Third Act, is released next year. We shall have to wait and see which Reiner, the brilliant or the dull as dishwater, ends up sitting in the director’s chair.

Paul Verhoeven

On a website like this, as you can imagine, Paul Verhoeven is held in fairly high regard. Were it not for him, we may never know what a lady with three breasts would look like, save in our mind’s eye. Nor, had Verhoeven not selflessly constructed the searing, heart-rending documentary Showgirls, would we have had any idea of the pathos and spiritual ennui endured by striptease dancers.

We’d also certainly not have enjoyed nearly as much Michael Ironside, and for all these reasons in equal measure, Verhoeven deserves plaudits and possibly presents.

Still, with upcoming remakes of two of his finest films, RoboCop and Total Recall on the horizon, the time has come for Verhoeven to get back on the horse. Starship Troopers was his last foray into the satirical and spectacularly violent strand of sci-fi in which he seems to excel so emphatically, while the 2000’s limp Hollow Man was his last attempt at sci-fi.

2006’s Black Book’s tale of the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands was Verhoeven’s most personal work and was critically, if not financially, favoured. However, in this saccharine world of semi-skimmed, PG-13 fluff, we need Verhoeven to get back to what he does best: satire, and nudity, and violence. Oh my.

Oliver Stone

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps proved a few things. Shia LaBeouf is about as interesting as rolling ball of wool, an old Michael Douglas does, in fact, resemble an actual gecko, and Oliver Stone has lost whatever fire it was that once made him such a driving and polemic force in film.

Here we had the bloke who brought us Born On The Fourth Of July, JFK, Platoon and Natural Born Killers, to name but a few (this is someone not exactly adverse to making a salient point or two) completely failing to say anything at all about the multi-piss explosion that was the global financial crisis. Opportunity missed doesn’t quite cover it.

Recently, his works have included Alexander, the most bloated and expensive advertisement for peroxide in history, the oddly-pitched idiot biopic W. and the well intentioned, yet poorly realised World Trade Center.

1999’s Any Given Sunday is considered the most recent film he’s done that can be considered great, although if you find American football about as interesting as Shia LaBeouf holding a ball of wool, then Natural Born Killers is his last classic, and Woody Harrelson still had some of his own hair when that came out.

Nevertheless, even on his off days, Stone is never anything less than competent, and upcoming film Savages’ tale of Mexican drug cartels is potentially ripe for an examination on the US’ dichotomous antidrug campaign.

Here’s hoping Stone has got something of note to say on the subject.

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