Directors 2008: The Great Leap Forwards

If you believe the Best Director race is down to: Danny Boyle, David Fincher, Ron Howard, Gus Van Sant, Christopher Nolan, Andrew Stanton, Jonathan Demme, give or take, it seemed like a good time to reflect back on the varied careers of the major players.

The most fun director to gaze backwards at via YouTube has to be Danny Boyle.


His style is immediately recognizable, even though he drifts between genres like a freeform world traveler. Boyle has been embraced by Big Hollywood, and now almost by Big Bollywood (though purists reject Slumdog as an actual Bollywood movie). 28 Days Later, Millions, Shallow Grave, Trainspotting are my own personal favorite Boyle films. Slumdog Millionaire very nearly tops them all. Like Fincher, Boyle’s fans may be slightly disappointed if he wins for something as mainstream and likable as Slumdog but hey, you can’t please all of the people all of time.

David Fincher is not known for touchy feely films, in fact, most of his work is distant and cold, icy in fact. This has served him well over the years and put him in good stead with a legion of fans. To me, Fincher has just gotten better with time and though last year’s Zodiac will probably be seen as his great forgotten masterpiece, I feel that he has reached not only a career high with Benjamin Button, but a breakthrough as an artist, as perhaps as a man. Nonetheless, Fincher’s brilliance is always worth a moment or two — here is one of the best sequences in Zodiac:


Christopher Nolan has really made two great films, Memento and The Dark Knight. The others in between have been good enough but somehow pale in comparison to these two films. He is just getting started, however, and his future looks bright. Still, The Dark Knight also seems like a great leap forward in many respects but specifically with Nolan’s ability to handle a large and unwieldy beast.


Gus Van Sant has been making films off the beaten path for decades now but every once in a while his movie steps outside his zone and hits a broader audience. Does that make them better? Who are we to say. To Die For is probably my favorite but Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Privare Idaho are also pretty great. Milk, though, is one of Van Sant’s more mainstream films and like most of his movies, it bears his mark. It is also his most “important” film, one that gets political in a way that will make broad audiences listen. So, though he hasn’t shown with Milk that he’s grown by leaps and bounds as a director, he certainly has broadened his reach and thus, his power.


Andrew Stanton’s best work to date was Finding Nemo. And then there was Wall-E. No one is going to argue that Stanton has grown as an artist. Wall-E is sublime. Nemo is a good second:


Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon no doubt takes certain liberties, as dramas are wont to do. As such, many had complaints with A Beautiful Mind, his best film prior to Frost/Nixon. I wasn’t one of those who took issue with the differences between the real Nash and Russell Crowe’s character. I never really thought, where reality was concerned, that it mattered that much.

A Beautiful Mind, like most of Howard’s work, is heavyhanded. With Frost/Nixon, though, he steps back and lets the actors do most of the work. Sure, there are many readers here and Ryan who feel it isn’t up to snuff, but to me it is an example of a director doing his best work to date. He won his Oscar for A Beautiful Mind.


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