The Untouchables: Fifth Ballot
We’re back with the fifth installment of our monthly feature The Untounchables, the FilmNerds staff’s attempt at creating a Hall of Fame for filmmakers. Each month, a panel of contributors here at Filmnerds including Ben Flanagan, Corey Craft, Graham Flanagan, Benjamin Stark, Craig Hamilton and myself, Matt Scalici, will cast our ballots for who we believe to be the greatest filmmakers to ever live. The top three vote receivers each month will be inducted into our list of Untouchables and enshrined here on this site. You can find a link below to the first three groups of directors admitted to our virtual Hall of Fame but today we present to you the winners of our fourth ballot, the next three members of The Untouchables.
Many of the Cahiers du Cinéma writers of the French New Wave held Howard Hawks up as a shining example of the Classical Hollywood auteur. His repeated returns to an archetypal story – a group of strong men in a confined space being infiltrated by an equally strong and singular woman – is exactly the kind of thematic authorship that Truffaut, Godard, and company would point to as the sign of an iconic cinematic voice. However, today’s supposed auteurs could learn a lot from Hawks’ workman-like visual approach. He might be the greatest of Hollywood’s Golden Age directors because of his determination to allow performance and story to reign supreme. The man never cut unless his actor needed to move. He never moved in for a close-up unless something was of the utmost importance and held a consistent significance. The argument against this type of directing in modern cinema is that audiences might get bored of a visually inert camera; this argument is a dead chauffeur, I’m afraid. The real reason we don’t see Hawks’ style of filmmaking anymore is that few performances are compelling enough to hold on, few stories are involving enough to depend on, and few directors are humble enough to stand back. Put on any Hawks movie and feel yourself taken away by its pace and performance. The man knew what was essential for a cinematic narrative to move, and lost everything else. My favorites include Only Angels Have Wings, Rio Bravo, and of course, His Girl Friday.
– Benjamin Stark
When listing the filmmakers that left an indelible mark on the world of cinema, one should immediately think of the great Billy Wilder. Over the course of his nearly 50-year career, the German-born auteur won an astounding six Academy Awards for his respective efforts as a writer, director and producer; he also received the prestigious Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1987. Although he’s most widely known as a director, Wilder toiled for years as a screenwriter. He started out working in the German film industry, but transferred to the Hollywood system in the early 1930s, and eventually made his biggest mark as a screenwriter with the Howard Hawks-classic Ball of Fire. He finally got his shot at the helm on the Hollywood stage with the well-received 1942 comedy The Major and the Minor, starring Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland. His first breakout hit would emerge two years later with the pitch-black crime thriller Double Indemnity. That 1944 film, which many cite as one of the greatest films ever made, drew Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Director, but eventually lost both statues to Leo McCarey’s Going My Way. However, Wilder didn’t wait long for his first trip to the podium, as his next film — a groundbreaking examination of the effects of alcoholism called The Lost Weekend — brought him the two Oscars that escaped him the previous year. Subsequently, Wilder entered what many might call his “Golden Age,” during which he created a laundry list of classics such as Sunset Boulevard, Ace in the Hole, The Seven Year Itch, Some Like it Hot and The Apartment. That 1960 film starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine scored Wilder an Oscar-trifecta for his work as writer, producer and director. Although Wilder worked steadily in the years that came after The Apartment, he never managed to recreate the success that dominated his “Golden Age;” but this never impacted his already-stellar reputation as one of the greatest figures the medium has ever known.
– Graham Flanagan
For some reason, I was dreading the inevitable appearance of Quentin Tarantino on this list. The man who was once revered as the savior of modern cinema, the standard-bearer for a new generation of post-modern, pop culture embracing filmmakers has nonetheless been a polarizing figure over the last decade. I don’t think it’s unfair to point out that Tarantino’s filmography is shorter than any other director we’ve featured thus far in The Untouchables, and sometimes it’s easy to forget the energy and optimism his early work inspired. While the freshness is gone from Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction (easily too of the most oft-referenced and copied films of the 1990s), both movies have not only held up over time but in many ways improved with age. His late ’90s flight of fancy Jackie Brown was less revolutionary but certainly not any less stylish, smart or dripping with cool than its older siblings. Tarantino’s work in the 2000’s has been far more daring and bombastic, making the excesses of Pulp Fiction seem quaint. His blood-splattered two part experiment known as Kill Bill saw him reach both his highest heights as a filmmaker as well as his lowest lows but he has rebounded to show remarkable maturity with his recent World War II epic Inglorious Basterds. Love him or hate him, it’s hard to find a filmmaker from his generation that has had a greater influence on his peers or one that has made a stronger cultural impact than Quentin Tarantino.
– Matt Scalici