The 5 Directors Who Used to be Interesting
Some petty bitchiness from G-FUNK
Over the past two and half months I’ve been running a series about the Top 10 Most Interesting Directors of the Now – the directors who are defining the current generation of film making. These were the directors whose next film is something to look forward to and their filmography are worth multiple viewings. Some of them were emerging talents and others were established icons of pop culture.
On the flip side of the coin are the directors who had marked themselves as the best new directors entering the field before either failing to deliver on the potential or haven’t done anything of note in a long time. Here’s five directors who we had high hopes for and now…we just don’t care.
5. Tim Burton
Out of everyone on the list this is the director who has had the longest run of decent films before losing his creative spark. When he was starting out with an ingenious animated short about a young child named Vincent who thinks he’s Vincent Price (narrated in prose by Vincent Price) he was a original if somewhat musty and twisted new voice in the business. Giving a new look to Batman and creating such iconic characters as Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice. He was often willing to step out his established comfort zone to make the B-Movie tribute Mars Attacks! and biopic Ed Wood.
But recently he seems to have gotten stuck in a rut, or completely run out of ideas. For the past decade he’s done nothing outside of adapting existing material, some of it already adapted to cinema (dozens of times in one case) and given it the same set design as the previous film. There hasn’t even been any originality in the casting – every movie he’s made since 2003 star Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter with a cameo from Christopher Lee (plus a soundtrack by Danny Elfman). Where Burton was once a source of original, unique characters he’s become a tired cliche. Take a beloved story, slap some white make-up on Depp and recycle everything from the last film.
Next on the slate in Dark Shadows, a gothic (surprise) vampire story (the most over-used gimmick today) starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, followed up by a remake of one of his old short films. What happened to the Jack Skellingtons?
4. Michael Bay
This may seem like a cop-out choice, but credit where credit it due. Michael Bay – ahem – exploded onto the action in a way that hadn’t been seen since Die Hard. Everything in his movies were bigger, better and explodier than they ever had been before. He delivered leave-your-brain-at-home action movies the likes of which hadn’t been seen almost ever. Bad Boys wasn’t just carried by the charisma of the lead stars (because Martin Lawrence doesn’t have any) but the fast-paced, almost electric charged energy, wit and INSANE action. If that wasn’t your bag, then The Rock may have been more your steed having swapped out the wisecracking cops for Nicholas Cage and Sean Connery. When Michael Bay’s name was attached to a project then fun was sure to be had.
I guess it went to his head, or he decided to focus purely on what the critics were praising in his work. His commonly used elements – excessive explosions, helicopters, quips and car chases. Which he does well, granted, but the more we see of something the less interesting it becomes, and the greater proportion of the movie that is dominated by these simple elements the it will become less interesting all the more quicker. Bay’s more recent efforts have become comical, plot only serving to link action set pieces without any investment from the viewer. Unless they’re playing a ‘Spot the Product Placement’ drinking game.
3. M. Night Shyamalan
This is pretty self-explanatory. The Sixth Sense introduced Shyamalan to mainstream audiences with it’s tight story and clever plot twist. Although some would argue that it was good cinematography used to frame a dull story that hinged on a twist (me) it turned the director into a megastar. He followed this up with the more divisive (and better) Unbreakable and the equally divisive Signs. As time went on the number of supporters versus the number of haters eventually swung the other way. Around the time of Lady in the Water and The Happening very few people were left defending the film-maker as the need to feed his ego outweighed the need to entertain.
Shyamalan’s career has sunk to such a low point that it’s been reported that audiences has laughed when his name has appeared on a trailer. Few directors have gone from being among the elite to shorthand for awful is the space of so few films. Even when some commented that it was refreshing to see him have a sense of humour about himself during his Entourage cameo he burst the bubble by saying that he just acted like he normally would under the circumstances – a bit of a worry considering he was portrayed as a fringe paranoid lunatic. As to his next projects: not interested.
2. Kevin Smith
As I’ve said before, Kevin Smith was an idol to me and my peers during our film school years. He’d sold his comic collection, worked a minimal wage job and filmed on weekends to put together his own indie film. He went into the business the same way Peter Jackson did – earning his keep and proving his worth. What he turned out wasn’t going to win any awards for cinematography, but it was sharp, witty, quotable and spoke directly to its audience of like-minded slackers. The next few films were rocky. Mallrats seemed like every indie-to-studio-picture cliche rolled into one: the same humour but with more stunts, celebrity cameos and PG catchphrases than before. No matter the film, or how it was received, the heart and the humour shone through and everyone was happy to see it.
Eventually Smith announced the end of his ‘View Askew’ series and decided that he was going to stretch himself as a film-maker. His effort, Jersey Girl, was a poorly received mess but having learned from his mistake he went on to bigger and better things. Kidding, he made a sequel to his break out indie cult favorite. Since then he’s been careful not to stray far from his comfort zone, with Zach and Miri Make a Porno being a potential Clerks III with an actor switch. Recently he’s put out a horror film, something on a different tack to his usual, but the interest has waned.
On the personal side, criticism from Bruce Willis doesn’t help out his reputation. The megastar claims that Smith spend the whole production of Cop Out sitting behind the monitor getting stoned and rarely interacting with the cast. Publishing his journal didn’t do his public image any favours – for some reason Smith felt that the rip he got in his rectum as the result of sitting on the can for hours at a time (seriously) was something worth sharing with the world. More than these major, and disgusting, details, the day-to-day of his household paint an unfriendly image with Smith regularly heading out to pick up take-out for his family at practically every meal. Whilst this doesn’t impact his films, it’s hard not to automatically associate these negatives with a film whenever his name pops up on the screen.
The narcissism behind publishing his revolting dairy (I don’t care about the woe-is-me I’m so self conscious about being fat that I leave my shirt on during sex – lose weight if it bothers you) seems to reveal itself around the internet. Any criticisms directed at his flops are met with flippant ‘they didn’t get what I was going for’ or ‘I made the film I wanted to make’ responses that indicate someone unwilling to learn from his mistakes, or someone unable to accept having done wrong. Unlike many directors who accept criticism or flat out ignore it, Smith has been known to respond directly to fans criticisms online, often in a harsh manner.
Needless to say the next film he releases will not pique our interest.
1. Richard Kelly
Kelly was the next big thing. In fact, he was the next BIGGEST thing. Donnie Darko was more than a great film – it was a phenomenon. Few films are able to generate the level of discussion that surrounded this coming-of-age/time travel smash. Every film fan on the planet was talking about Richard Kelly, Jake Gyllenhaal and Frank the Rabbit. When the Director’s Edition came out it only fueled the conversation, even if some of those discussions involved whether or not it was the better version.
When Southland Tales was announced, the buzz started to built. An epic apocalyptic musical starring Buffy, Stifler and The Rock. It sucked. It was immensely difficult to link the vague, amateurish, mish-mash of bad decisions and shonky camera work to the slick production of Donnie Darko. After heavy edits, a VO narrator played by Justin Timberlake and a re-release failed to spark interest, it was quickly swept aside. Next came The Box, which was a better effort which ultimately fell flat on its face.
Richard Kelly went from Golden Boy to nothing in the space of a movie running time.
Check back in tomorrow when we recap the Top 10 Most Interesting Directors of the Now by picking out the best movie by each director!