Monday, 25 March 2013

Directing Your Attention - The Ten Best Filmmakers Working Today Pt. 2

6. PT Anderson

I'm really not sure how he manages it in the stiflingly corporate world of Hollywood, but the breathtakingly talented writer-director Anderson seems to occupy the same enviable position as Kubrick once did: he can wield relatively large budgets and high-scale production values to paint intensely individual, impressionistic visions.

He's an actors' director, but never in any predictable sense of the term: Magnolia is a three-hour epic of intertwined lives in downtown Los Angeles, supplying its cast of consummate character actors (Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H Macy, Julianne Moore, and a little known bit-parter called Tom Cruise) with more grandstanding dramatic moments than most performers are lucky to receive in their entire careers. There Will Be Blood takes the opposite tack, paring away extraneous detail from its rigorous, invigorating study of ruthless oil prospector Daniel Plainview. Both films are studies in different types of excess; both are high-wire feats of filmmaking brio, Anderson demonstrating for his audience his seemingly boundless control over even the most intimidating of subject matter.

Tarantino might get the lion's share of the press, but Anderson is clearly less concerned with celebrity than with cementing his reputation as the most accomplished and fearless director of his generation. 

Must Watch: There Will Be Blood (and everything else)

7. Bong Joon-ho

There has to be one luminary from the recent explosion of South Korean cinema, and since Chan-wook Park's (Oldboy, Thirst) latest, Stoker, turned out to be somewhat underwhelming, I've plumped for the equally virtuoso Joon-ho instead.

The deranged brilliance of South Korean cinema, particularly that of Joon-ho, lies in its gleeful, devil-may-care ramping up of genre tropes, whilst at the same time imbuing well-worn story ideas with uncommon emotional and psychological weight.

The Host takes the B-movie premise of a mutant creature, created by man's pollution of his environment, wreaking havoc and death on a city, but uses it to foreground a very modern family dynamic: a single parent, multi-generational household fronted by a hopeless man-child forced to grow up under the pressure of extraordinary circumstances.

Memories of Murder is even better: a police procedural detailing a homicide department's seemingly impossible quest to uncover a serial killer terrorising a rural community. One can see the ever-present threat of North Korea's military hostility in these pictures: the characters' are made aware of their own vulnerability, and their own political and moral weaknesses, when suddenly threatened by outside forces beyond their control.

This year Joon-ho will deliver his first international production, Snowpiercer: a post-apocalyptic tale of survivors travelling across an icy wasteland in a train powered by a sacred perpetual-motion machine. With stars like Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton, it appears Joon-ho has harnessed the might of Hollywood, but hopefully he won't lose his quintessentially Korean identity.

Must Watch: Memories of Murder

8. Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Short on story, big on mood, Turkish former photographer Ceylan makes movies in the bloody-minded mould of Bresson and Antonioni. Men are at the centre of his cinematic universe, albeit men whose own centres appear to be missing.

Uzak (Distant) coolly observes the burgeoning dislike between a young factory worker and his older, affluent relative, when the former moves into the latter's apartment in Istanbul whilst looking for a job. Both men are lost: the younger cannot secure employment and spends his time following women; the older seems directionless and dissatisfied with his own successful career in photography. In one beautifully observed scene, the photographer stubbornly watches Tarkovsky whilst his uneducated relative is around in order to alienate him, only to switch over to the porno channels the second he goes to bed.

Iklimler (Climates) is again about a photographer, this time played by Ceylan himself, opposite his real-life partner. The fictional husband and wife drift apart, and the husband wanders aimlessly away to other women, seemingly unsure of what he wants. His latest, Once Upon A Time in Anatolia, features an all-male ensemble in its engrossing study of 24 hours in the life of a murder investigation, and unearths the seeds of despair that they nurse inside themselves.

His characters are psychologically opaque, and yet Ceylan's rigorously dispassionate camera yields terrible insights about the male psyche: Its conceits, its wounds, and its blindness to its own faults and unnameable longings.

Must Watch: Once Upon A Time In Anatolia

9. Christopher Nolan

Aside from Spielberg and Tarantino, Christopher Nolan is the only director whose own name carries sufficient pulling power to attract mainstream audiences. It's easy to see why: just like The Beard in the 70s and The Chin in the early 90s, Nolan (should we christen him The Quiff, perhaps?) has exerted a profound influence on the direction of popular culture.

His re-envisioning of the Batman franchise as a narrative with the potential for pop-Shakespearian interrogations of public morality has informed the mode of the superhero genre ever since. And his forays into psychological and science-fiction terrain with Memento and Inception have given birth to a new era of event movies driven by plot and concept. Just look at the roster of big-budget, hard sci-fi films lined up for this summer - Oblivion, Elysium, last year's Looper - and try to deny his once-in-a-generation impact.

Next up he's due to replace Spielberg on the mysterious, intergalactic space odyssey project, Interstellar. The news couldn't really be any more symbolic, could it?

Must Watch: The Dark Knight

10. Lars Von Trier

He has been labelled a genius and a charlatan. The uniqueness of Von Trier is that he seems to have found a way to be both! From murky beginnings making experimental features across Europe, the Danish iconoclast achieved fame and notoriety by spearheading the Dogme 95 manifesto, wherein a collective of bright young filmmakers laid down the ground-rules for a new way of making movies emphasising raw naturalism and pioneering the use of digital cameras.

Although Von Trier has conformed to the aesthetic in works like Breaking The Waves and Dancer in the Dark, he's more notable for wildly deviating from it, and indeed the movement has been derided as merely a means of self-publicity - something at which Von Trier excels! But you can't argue with the consistently provocative subject matter he has seized with both grubby, impish hands: impersonation of the mentally disabled; racism; misogyny; genital mutilation; and, in the upcoming Nymphomaniac, we're promised hardcore celebrity sex scenes.

The aforementioned audience-dividing tale of disability impersonators, The Idiots, is perhaps the definitive Von Trier movie. The perpetrators defend their behaviour as a means of challenging the prejudiced, borderline-Fascist mentality of some of their countrymen, and despite their obvious narcissism, the film never lets us condemn them outright. On the contrary, the film asks whether the collective are ostracised for their insensitivity, or because they have exposed a latent intolerance in Denmark, and perhaps all modern, middle-class European societies.

Beneath its seemingly exploitative surface, the film reveals Von Trier's deeply moral and serious engagement with troubling, taboo issues most filmmakers aren't brave enough to go anywhere near.

Must Watch: The Idiots, Dogville

Others who deserved to be on this almost entirely arbitrary list:

Michael Haneke, Quentin Tarantino, Terrence Malick, the Coen brothers, Carlos Reygadas, Cristian Mungiu, Guillermo Del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron, Ben Wheatley, Danny Boyle, the Dardenne brothers, Werner Herzog, Tomas Alfredson, Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, Andrew Dominik, Cate Shortland, Abbas Kiarostami and many, many more...