Favorite Directors

Most years, my film group conducts a poll amongst its members. In the past, we’ve determined our all-time favorite films of a particular genre (horror, documentary, animation) or other categorical distinction (remakes and sequels, foreign language, black-and-white.) For the first time, this year’s list is centered on people rather than films. One would think it a breeze to curate a list of just 25 or 50 directors; my original long list ended up past the 150-mark. We were allowed to include up to 100, which is what my ballot below has. The first 30 or so are the most important; the placement of almost anyone beneath is a little more arbitrary.

In curating my list, I thought about whom I’d most like to see on the group’s list which is chiefly why Agnes Varda ended up at #3 – French, female, equally adept at documentary and fiction, she’s the sort of revered talent (that might not necessarily be a household name) that the group was created to promote and highlight. I also wanted to talk up my favorite LGBT directors which accounts for half of my top ten. My first draft placed the ever-dependable, ever-unique Tsai Ming-liang at top but in the end, I couldn’t deny giving it to the artist I wrote my Master’s thesis in Film Studies on.

The thing with all-time-best-of lists is that they could credibly go on for days. What favorite filmmakers of yours missing from the 100 below would you have included?

  1. Derek Jarman
  2. Tsai Ming-liang
  3. Agnes Varda
  4. Paul Thomas Anderson
  5. Wes Anderson
  6. Robert Altman
  7. Apichatpong Weerasethakul
  8. David Lynch
  9. Todd Haynes
  10. Pedro Almodovar
  11. Michael Powell
  12. Guy Maddin
  13. Mike Leigh
  14. Atom Egoyan
  15. Claire Denis
  16. Hirokazu Kore-eda
  17. Sarah Polley
  18. Yasujiro Ozu
  19. Terence Davies
  20. Celine Sciamma
  21. Wong Kar-wai
  22. Rainer Werner Fassbinder
  23. Alfonso Cuaron
  24. Richard Linklater
  25. John Cassavetes
  26. Jane Campion
  27. Martin Scorsese
  28. Chris Marker
  29. Kelly Reichardt
  30. Zhang Yimou
  31. Joanna Hogg
  32. Andrey Zvyagintsev
  33. Jonathan Demme
  34. Werner Herzog
  35. Bob Fosse
  36. Abbas Kiarostami
  37. Andrea Arnold
  38. Spike Lee
  39. Jacques Tati
  40. Bong Joon-ho
  41. Edward Yang
  42. Joel Coen
  43. Andrei Tarkovsky
  44. Douglas Sirk
  45. Jean-Pierre Melville
  46. Hou Hsaio-hsien
  47. Michael Haneke
  48. Maya Deren
  49. Hayao Miyazaki
  50. Orson Welles
  51. Albert Maysles
  52. Jean-Luc Godard
  53. Michelangelo Antonioni
  54. Jim Jarmusch
  55. Kogonada
  56. Andrew Haigh
  57. Lee Chang-dong
  58. John Waters
  59. Jafar Panahi
  60. Buster Keaton
  61. Frederick Wiseman
  62. F.W. Murnau
  63. Nicholas Ray
  64. Sofia Coppola
  65. Joachim Trier
  66. Alfred Hitchcock
  67. Jean Renoir
  68. Ingmar Bergman
  69. Yorgos Lanthimos
  70. Krzysztof Kieslowski
  71. Whit Stillman
  72. Wiebke von Carolsfeld
  73. Xavier Dolan
  74. Fernando Eimbcke
  75. Marielle Heller
  76. Olivier Assayas
  77. Jia Zhangke
  78. Andrew Bujalski
  79. Josh and Benny Safdie
  80. Peter Strickland
  81. Lynne Ramsay
  82. Miranda July
  83. Roy Andersson
  84. Woody Allen
  85. Francis Ford Coppola
  86. Alexander Payne
  87. Leos Carax
  88. Robert Bresson
  89. Francois Truffaut
  90. Debra Granik
  91. Satoshi Kon
  92. Greta Gerwig
  93. Billy Wilder
  94. Preston Sturges
  95. David Cronenberg
  96. Ernst Lubitsch
  97. Stanley Kubrick
  98. Nicole Holofcener
  99. Howard Hawks
  100. Nuri Bilge Ceylan

DAYS

Tsai Ming-liang’s a filmmaker who tends to make the same kind of picture over and over, like Yasujiro Ozu (to name one of his precursors) or Hong Sang-Soo (a contemporary.) This isn’t a deterrent, for nearly three decades after his feature debut (1992’s Rebels of the Neon God), he’s still unearthing inspiration in such long standing obsessions as loneliness, urban life, food, sex and, more so than perhaps any other auteur, water in all of its forms.

Since the anomalous erotic (!) musical The Wayward Cloud (2005), his work has seemingly turned more minimalist with each effort. His latest sports the disclaimer, “This film is intentionally un-subtitled”, which led me to expect even less action than his last narrative feature, Stray Dogs (2013), which had its share of endless long takes of people staring at a wall or eating a rotisserie chicken. Not that Days does a 180 on its predecessor, for it opens with another lengthy, static shot of Tsai’s long-running, now middle-aged protagonist Kang (Lee Kang-sheng) sitting and blankly staring into space over a steady rain.

Actually, quite a lot happens in the film; it just does so at a snail’s pace, occasionally approaching the repetitious style of classic structuralist cinema. When the film’s other character, the younger Non (Anong Houngheuangsy) spends ample time preparing his dinner, meticulously washing his lettuce and fish multiple times, it feels like a direct homage to the rituals incessantly enacted in real time throughout Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman… (1975).

Individual scenes with Kang or Non make up the film’s first half; a little more than midway through, the two men come together in a long sequence that most viewers will decidedly not find boring. Afterwards, we see them apart again until the final shot fades to white. Again, a deliberate structure, even if Tsai claims he pretty much made the film up as he went along, working without a screenplay (there’s so little dialogue that the subtitles aren’t missed.)

Viewers unfamiliar with or unreceptive to Tsai’s work may think, “Huh?” at all this; his devotees might also initially arrive at that conclusion, at least initially. While not as masterful as, say, What Time Is It There? (2001), given time to absorb and ponder Days, I grew to appreciate it far more. It’s a quiet and often gentle film, running through those same, ongoing obsessions I mentioned above; fortunately, they don’t yet feel stale or superfluous. Like any master of minimalism, Tsai’s still adept at taking the same puzzle pieces and rearranging them into (if ever so slightly) distinct configurations that at best inspire one to look at the familiar with fresh eyes.