10 directors who have shaped my movie viewing tastes


Inspired by a recent post over at abbiobiston.com, I thought I’d sit down and list ten movie directors I either seek out without hesitation, or have made some of the most affecting and inspiring movies I’ve ever seen, shaping what kind of movie viewer I am today and creating experiences that have transcended basic entertainment to actually mean something to me as a person.

Quentin Tarantino

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As a reviewer, occasional-writer and movie fan, Quentin Tarantino ignited a spark inside me that has yet to go out.  When first seeing Pulp Fiction, I knew this was the sort of material I wanted to write about, and this continued with his script for Natural Born Killers and also his debut, Reservoir Dogs.  He was a rebel, he challenged people’s ideas of what violence was all about on screen, not there for just shock value but to make you feel something.  He managed to back this up with amazing dialogue writing skills and a keen eye for pop-culture and cinema history that has continued to this day.

David Cronenberg

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Horror for me was never just about hiding behind my cushion and trembling – horror for me was about the strange and surreal, the gruesome but in a way that made you ponder what it meant.  Croneberg has always been a master of this, of using body-horror to make you feel something you’ve never felt before, backed up by intelligent direction that more often than not has a lot of social commentary of the times we live in i.e. sexually transmitted infections with Shivers.  He has continued to shape his often controversial style into the modem gangster and crime genres to brilliant effect in movies like Eastern Promises.

Stephen Spielberg

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Probably the most famous director of all time who seems to barely put a foot wrong and can turn his hand to a wealth of different genres and subjects, from the industry defining Jaws and Jurassic Park to powerful masterpieces like Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List.  Assured, confident and always entertaining and thought-provoking, this maverick director continues to be a name to bet on even after almost 40 years in the business.  As long as we don’t mention the most recent Indiana Jones movie, Spielberg remains one of those names every movie fan will know and surely appreciate to some degree.

John Carpenter

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Fallen from grace he may be, but during the seventies and eighties, this guy made some of the coolest and most sort after movies I’d ever seen.  Who can argue the merits of Halloween, The Thing and Big Trouble In Little China?  Although I can’t say I totally appreciate Escape From New York as much as others, I have a soft spot for lesser known efforts like Prince Of Darkness and In The Mouth Of Madness.  This guy knew how to create perfectly entertaining genre movies and although he hasn’t made much of note for years, that’s a hell of a back catalogue of classics.

David Fincher

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Although I think he’s become a bit relaxed in recent years, churning out fairly ‘safe’ movies, for the most part Fincher has still created some of the most stylish and intricately directed movies I’ve seen, namely the multi layered classics Fight Club, Seven and even Zodiac.  His directing style is crisp and beautiful even when it’s dealing with very dark subject matter, and his camera work and imagery have stayed with me long after the credits have rolled.  He’s a technical directing fan’s dream director, as for me I can appreciate every aspect of the setting, the camera work to the music and lighting.  Helps he can also pull out great performances from the likes of Brad Pitt and Jake Gyllenhaal to name but a few.

Stanley Kubrick

stanley kubrick

With a fairly small catalogue of movies, this director like no other has made some of the masterpieces of my lifetime.  The Shining is still the best horror movie I’ve ever seen and probably the most perfectly directed, on a technical level movie I’ve seen also.  His strong visual skill at making every shot and every camera movement look so well executed has made movies even of lesser impact like Eyes Wide Shut a work of art.  He proved again and again that careful eye for detail, iconic performances can turn even a well worn subject like the Vietnam war into amazing cinema.  I haven’t seen everything he’s done, but of the movies I have, he keeps on amazing me, and is possibly the best director on this list.

Dario Argento

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Perhaps at his best during the seventies and eighties, but this often controversial director has gained a strong cult following over the years and remains one of the most stylish and genre-defining film-makers around.  At his best he can make gruesome murder look beautiful, and his frequent collaborations with the band Goblin and musician Claudio Simonetti has helped create a brand of effective Italian cinema that still stands the test of time.  Try watching Suspiria or Tenebrae without marvelling at the camera work, atmosphere or use of lighting and music.  Argento will always be the maestro when it comes to horror, even if his light has considerably faded over the years.

Martin Scorsese

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The Don.  How does this guy keep doing it?  To this day Scorsese still manages to amaze and impress.  He has crafted true classics such as Taxi Driver and Goodfellas and still manages to churn out quality movies like Shutter Island and The Wolf Of Wall Street.  It’s always exciting when I hear he’s making another movie and even diversions like Hugo retain that Scorsese eye for style and cinematic creativity I’ve grown to love about him.  He has a tendency to work with the same actors but also manages to bring out wildly different performances from them, that give each movie their own voice.  One of the best film makers of all time in my opinion.

Joel & Ethan Coen

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In recent years their brand of southern comedy and thrillers has felt a tad hit and miss, but when these sibling directors are on form, they can make some of the best movies you’ll ever see.  Comedies like The Big Lebowski and Raising Arizona offer up laughs as well as style and assured direction along with iconic performances, and thrillers like Fargo and No Country For Old Men prove they can deliver tight, well executed stories that pack a punch.  They continue to be favourites at Oscar season and amongst a huge cult audience, and with a strong visual style and often award winning performances, their movies are hard to dismiss.

Park chan-Wook

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Another director who can explore very dark themes but make them beautiful with imaginative camera work, scene setting and particularly artistic shots.  His American debut Stoker is a perfect example of strong story, strong performances and beautiful, almost poetic direction.  His vengeance trilogy that incudes the cult classic Old Boy is powerful, gut-wrenching but extremely moving and artistic, blending classical music with striking story-telling and stunning cinematography.  Park chan-Wook’s the real deal if you can appreciate quality direction with a signature touch.

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Goodfellas


Viewed – 30 May 2015  Blu-ray

25th Anniversary Edition

I remember when I first saw this widely acclaimed mob drama, that somehow despite my love of the genre, I had taken several years to get around to watching it (I did a similar thing with The Shining…).  Suffice to say I was blown away.  Director Martin Scorsese who I best knew from Taxi Driver and After Hours (remember that?) had delivered his masterpiece in a genre he seemed to know like the back of his hand.  Yes before this hit we had movies like The Godfather and Scarface to name but two, but something about this small-time mob enforcers tale, especially the rags-to-riches-journey Henry Hill goes on from a wet-behind-his-ears kid to a connected wise guy, was a revelation.  In may ways the movie has similarities to John Singleton’s Boyz N The Hood which borrows a similar structure, but told on a more epic scale, ‘Fellas delivers the ultimate gangster drama that also happens to be based on a true story.

Goodfellas

Ray Liotta play’s Henry, a street kid from a Jewish background who winds up working for the local mobsters at the cab stand, and gradually learns all the underworld dealings of being a gangster.  Before long he’s rubbing shoulders with Joe Pesci’s volatile Tommy and Robert DeNiro’s charismatic Jimmy.  Aided by Liotta’s excellent narration (the deep tone of his voice adding to much of the movie’s iconic status) along with Scorsese pulling out every directing trick in the book – a stellar soundtrack, superlative editing, slow motion, zooms, speed ups and clever-ass tracking shots – this had it all.  Each performance electrifies and compliments one another; Lorraine (The Sopranos) Bracco’s Karen is the perfect female morality figure, Pesci brings humour and crazy psychosis to a character that earned him an Oscar …. and DeNiro’s class makes Jimmy likeable but also complex and scary.  Add to this great turns from Paul Sorvino (“now I gotta turn my back on you”) and especially Roy Liotta who brings a nervous out-of-his-depth quality to a character who throughout knows exactly what he’s a part of, but still looks and acts uncomfortable when things get nasty.  Oh and do things get nasty … from the beating and murder of Billy Batts to the various stabbings, skewers in the back of the head, a gun being repeatedly bashed against someone’s face etc. etc.  But for some reason it all just fits and never feels quite as gratuitous as Casino.  This is why compared to that other Scorsese mob drama, this zips along, has a more gripping ‘journey’ and just has stand out scene after stand out scene (“funny how, how am I funny, like I’m a clown?”).

One of the best movies ever made, and certainly the finest gangster movie ever made.

goodfellas 25This re-release for the movie’s 25th anniversary comes with a glossy and detailed full colour booklet as well as a letter from the director himself.  Add to this a whole extra disk of special features that houses a brand new documentary featuring cast and crew (sadly no Pesci!) and several archive docs covering the production and the movie’s legacy.  On the movie itself, we get a cast & crew commentary and a second crook and cop commentary (featuring Henry Hill and the FBI agent that caught him!) which were found on the 20th anniversary edition.  What’s most important though is the picture and sound.  Presented in 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio the music, dialogue and everything else is crisp even if the surrounds aren’t especially showcased.  The image-quality (from a 4k master apparently) whilst a little grainy and rather soft in places (especially street scenes) retains good detail, especially in close-ups and faces.  Overall not too bad a job for a genuine classic.

Verdict:

(the movie)  5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5

Casino


Viewed – 08 May 2015  Blu-ray

20th Anniversary Special Edition

I first saw this acclaimed mob drama a number of year’s ago, and even though I knew it was based on a true story, only recently have I learned about the real-life events the story follows.  Robert DeNiro plays professional gambler Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein who gets the opportunity to run the Tangier’s Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in the late seventies.  He makes a big pil o’ cash for the mob ‘back home’ and attracts former childhood friend Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) who also has ideas of making a killing on the strip…literally and figuratively.  Meanwhile Ace falls for glamorous hustler Ginger (Sharon Stone) who soon complicates everyone’s lives.

casino

A spiritual successor to director Martin Scorsese’s other famed mob classic Goodfellas, reuniting DeNiro with Pesci … who pretty much plays the same type of unhinged psycho that nabbed him an Oscar in ‘Fellas.    DeNiro however, despite his character’s connections to the mob, is more the straight guy trying to avoid any sort of ‘heat’ – and his presence here commands the movie from beginning to end.  Stone is a welcome inclusion to the Scorsese mob-movie fold and adds her usual sexy sass and grit in a role that pretty much enables this movie to have it’s own voice.  At a butt-numbing three hours it can sometimes drag, yet the situations, strong performances and the whole glitz of the setting (not to mention a stellar soundtrack) make for great entertainment.  It’s incredibly violent at times, to the point of being gratuitous (especially towards the end) and the story isn’t as engrossing as it thinks it is.  Also some of the ‘artistic licence’ with the facts remain puzzling (Tangiers is fictional, based on the famed Stardust hotel) and DeNiro and Pesci’s character names are made up, but based on Frank Rosenthal and Anthony Spilotro respectively.  Yet to quibble at this is to do the movie a disservice, as it remains another decent, if familiar mob drama from the true master of the subject.

The Blu-ray, re-issued for the movie’s 20th anniversary has a very nice image quality, retaining grain and detail even if some shots (especially in door and night time scenes) get a little fuzzy.  The sound in DTS HD Master Audio, which is very dialogue-driven is mostly excellent and the fantastic soundtrack really brings this one to life.  Vegas looks incredible also.  The extras consist of a ‘moments with the cast & crew’ option which has pop up interviews as the movie plays.  We also get a couple of detailed documentaries, as well as a few deleted scenes.  However, there doesn’t seem anything here that wasn’t on previous releases … making for a bit of a cash-in.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5

Scenes that make the movie


I’ve been thinking about this idea for a post.  Ten memorable scenes from some of my favourite movies of all time, or simply great moments that make a particular movie going experience stick in my head.  This may become a continuing series as I recall other great moments…but for now, here are ten stand out moments from great movies:  Minor spoilers.

Akira

Teddy bears & hallucinations.

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As a telepathic Kaneda post-brush with an infected child of the Akira experiment, recovers in hospital, he begins to experience terrifying hallucinations where teddy bears and toys comes to life as his powers start to manifest in horrifying ways.  One of the defining moments of this complex and ground-breaking Anime.

An America Werewolf In London

Stick to the road

AAWIL Moores

Two back packers after stumbling into local watering hole The Slaughtered Lamb are ushered back out into the night, with simply the warning of ‘stay on the road, keep clear of the moores’ – which they subsequently ignore and are soon stalked by a blood thirsty werewolf in John Landis’ still superb 1984 horror classic.

Blue Velvet

In Dreams

Blue Dean

Amateur detective Kyle MacLachlan gets a little too close to nut-job mobster Dennis Hopper who takes him for a visit to his cross-dressing neighbourhood friend Dean Stockwell, who lip-syncs to Roy Orbinson’s timeless classic in possibly one of David Lynch’s most freaky and brilliant scenes.

Boogie Nights

Disco montage

Boogie Nights

As former nobody Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) rises to infamy in the seventies porn movie industry, we are treated to this fabulous disco montage, cut seamlessly with various shots of Dirk ‘in action’ or receiving awards and culminating in a wonderfully choreographed dance number with fellow stars Reed Rothchild (John C Reilly) and Roller-girl (Heather Graham).

Eyes Wide Shut

The secret sex party

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Only in a Stanley Kubrick movie can a high society sex orgy come across as creepy and surreal.  The master film maker in probably his most misunderstood work, presents the viewer with a secret society that Tom Cruise manages to sneak inside of and witness the debauchery of most-likely high profile dignitaries with various high class call girls.  All to a haunting, incredibly eerie score.

Goodfellas

Paranoia, drugs and guns

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In the final act of the movie an increasingly paranoid Ray Liotta, struggles to juggle family responsibilities with fencing guns for Robert DeNiro and avoiding what he thinks is an FBI helicopter during the day from hell.  Expertly edited for maximum tension and intensity by the grand master Martin Scorsese.

Monsters Inc.

A chase through the doors

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After discovering the main villain’s evil scheme, Billy Crystal’s motor-mouthed Mike and John Goodman’s lovable Sully are chased by Steve Buscemi’s dastardly Randall into the inner workings of the Monsters Inc. facility and through a plethora of doors into the human world.  Exciting, inventive and visually stunning.

Pulp Fiction

Jack Rabbit Slims

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In a mob movie with pop-culture quoting wise guys and a soundtrack to die for, who’d have thought one of the best scenes would be a night out between John Travolta’s mob hitman and gangsters-mol Uma Thurman?  Culminating in the world famous Twist Contest.  Sharp dialogue, a highly memorable setting, and an after-math that segway’s into probably the other best scene in this movie.

Saving Private Ryan

Omaha Beach Landing

After visiting the final resting place of hundreds of soldiers, an elderly veteran recalls his experience with tears in his eyes – switch to the shocking beach onslaught in Omaha in 1944 as thousands of troops fight against impossible odds.  A stunning opening to one of the greatest WWII movies ever made, with star (Tom Hanks) and director (Steven Spielberg) on blistering form.

Trainspotting

Clubbing to Blondie.

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Taking a break from ripping people off and doing drugs, Ewan McGregor’s Renton finds himself on a night out with friends, hitting the clubs and listening to Heaven 17 and Blondie (or Sleeper doing a marvellous version of Atomic), where he meets Diane (Kelly MacDonald) and leads to a montage of sex, alcohol and pulse-pounding music in Danny Boyle’s break-out gem.

Do you agree with my list?  Have favourite scenes of your own?  Leave your comments below or link to your own lists…

86th Academy Awards


So the Academy Awards has been and gone and did I take much interest?  Not really.  Awards ceremonies over the years have returned increasingly diminishing results,oscar I mean isn’t it all just about what movie has the best PR??  Many movies, many very good movies have often not even got a nomination, let alone had a chance at winning – and the ones that do?  Not always very deserving.  Looking at the results below, I would say it’s been a fairly predictable year.  12 Years A Slave getting best picture?  Considering the subject matter it was a simple choice, probably hitting home more than Captain Phillips.  Cate Blanchet was very good in Blue Jasmine, even if it seemed a very academy-friendly performance.  Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese and The Wolf Of Wall Street never stood a chance – too much tits & coke.  Oh and who didn’t see the technical and directing nods going to Gravity?  That movie’s marketing campaign was all about the experience, the visuals etc.

Yet I mainly haven’t taken an interest in this year’s awards (or awards season) as simply put, I haven’t seen a great majority of the movies nominated, so difficult to really give an opinion.  I hope to see Dallas Buyers Club at some stage, because of being a growing fan of Matthew McConaughey and Gravity is on my list for the near future (look out for a review sometime this weekend).  So I will leave you with this year’s main winners, a few of the smaller categories omitted, because really, who concerns themselves with those?

Best Picture

12 Years a Slave

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)

Best Animated Feature

Frozen (Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, Peter Del Vecho)

Best Cinematography

Gravity (Emmanuel Lubezki)

Best Directing

Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón)

Best Foreign Language Film

The Great Beauty (Italy)