With Oscar season coming up, when we’ll all be talking about great films and great filmmakers, I thought I’d stir the pot a little and throw this out there:
Who is the greatest American director working today?
We’ll certainly be talking this awards season about David Fincher (The Social Network), Clint Eastwood (Hereafter), Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), Julie Taymor (The Tempest), and Joel and Ethan Coen (True Grit). Who else might be on a list of greats? And who’s the greatest?
This question was partly inspired by an article in the Independent this summer that suggested that there are no great American filmmakers working today… or that if some directors are great, mainstream audiences simply don’t know who they are, not in the sense that they once knew these names:
This summer, among all the anonymous blockbusters, remakes and sequels filling the multiplexes, only one American movie will open on the strength of its director – Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Yet even as Tarantino continues to be feted – first at Cannes and soon in cinemas across the world – there’s a creeping, worrisome sense that a dearth of young American directors have the necessary clout to open a movie. At this year’s Tribeca film festival in New York, it was the endlessly prolific Woody Allen, Steven Soderbergh and Spike Lee who made the headlines as they each unveiled yet another film. Not one director was being pushed as their natural successor.
It’s now been well over a decade since Tarantino became the last American director to be celebrated as an auteur, a director whose films had to be watched no matter what they were about or who was in them. Since the release of Pulp Fiction in 1994, several American directors have threatened to become box-office stars after the manner of Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen or Steven Spielberg, but while Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will be Blood), Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation) and Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums) have received plaudits (and occasional brickbats), none are household names, and none command guaranteed box-office.
At a time when talking robots and student wizards dominate the screens, it’s apparent that directors, or more specifically auteurs, are becoming increasingly irrelevant when choices are made about which film audiences want to see. Studios have become more adept at marketing franchises (think of all the endless superheroes and High School Musicals), or rebooting old television shows and movies in a way that has ensured that the director of the films goes pretty much unnoticed.
Is the day of the auteur over? If it isn’t, who is our greatest auteur? Does it matter if Hollywood doesn’t care about directors anymore? Is that something that can be left to serious film fans?
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