“I’d imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured, if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason.” — Hugo

This year saw films by arguably the greatest directors America has ever produced — Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, and Steven Spielberg. Those guys are the reasons many people have become filmmakers at all. Whole schools of filmmakers, generations flooding film schools everywhere, cut their teeth on their films. And they happen to be my own personal favorites. You might say my whole life has been shaped and decided by what I saw in films by these men over the past three decades. It is a strange turn of events that they will be in the race the same year. Though all three of their films are so good — even with their weaknesses they are still better than almost everything else we’ve seen this year. But of the three, only one has directed a masterpiece. And this because he’s telling the story from his heart, telling the story for his daughter, and at the same time, delving into the evolving technology of 3-D. In other words, Martin Scorsese is still growing, not resting on his laurels.

These three directors, though, have led three different schools of thought where filmmaking and storytelling are concerned. They all three started in the 1970s — was there ever a better decade for filmmaking? The 1970s was a time for open minds, when Fellini and Bergman were the flavors that changed how people thought about movies. The 1960s loosened the knot but the future of American film had its biggest quake in the ’70s because it signaled the beginning of Allen, Scorsese and Spielberg.

My choices for film school were NYU, because of Scorsese, and Columbia University because of Kathryn Bigelow, actually. I didn’t survive at either place and as you can see, I never became a filmmaker. But we all knew how these three guys got their start making movies. We knew their childhoods that produced them — Spielberg, a product of a painful divorce, Scorsese imprisoned at home with asthma, hyper and strange; Woody Allen, a self-hating Jew who longed to be part of the better world over on Manhattan — parents who fought constantly. Spielberg=California, Scorsese and Allen=New York. Scorsese=the Mean Streets of NY. Woody Allen=Brooklyn. Woody Allen=Comedy, Scorsese=the mob, Spielberg=childhood.

As a kid growing up in Topanga, we’d get out to the movies every so often – to the multiplex in the valley. Somehow we’d always end up there – in the choking 100 degree heat of summer, we’d drive with no air-conditioning over the winding hill to where the suburban houses were. We leave the baking heat for the cool, dark movie theater. Everyone surely has their own story of how they became attached to movie theaters but for us it was an escape from all things — the heat being the most obvious one. When Jaws first came out, the dawn of the blockbuster upon us, my sister and I stood in line for two hours to get into that movie. We loved it so much, even if we had to cover our eyes during one scary part (Ben Gardener). But back out we’d go to wait in line again to see it. We saw it 14 times as paying customers that summer. Waiting in line was not just standing there staring at our iPhones — we were a community of movie fans and though I was only around 10 years old or so, I still pretended to talk tough, like I knew anything about anything.

I didn’t identify Jaws as the work of a cinematic genius until I grew up and knew a bit more about what that meant. All I knew was that I loved that movie. When Close Encounters came out, it didn’t create quite the mob scene that Jaws did but we were still there, opening day. Back then, opening day was a big deal. I guess it still is. I stopped counting the number of times I’ve seen it but let’s just say I watch it at least once a year now. When I was 17 years old my sister and I were again at the multiplex — of course, movies then usually meant flirting with boys. We were there to see a movie whose name I can’t even remember now. But when the movie was about to start they told us we would be seeing something else. A movie by Steven Spielberg. It was E.T. Imagine watching E.T. and not knowing a single thing about it in advance? It was shrouded in secrecy — many didn’t even know what “E.T.” meant. When the film ended the audience burst into applause and stood up. I’ve never witnessed a standing ovation at a regular movie screening since.

You can’t really grow up as a woman interested in filmmaking, or film, without eventually tripping over Woody Allen. “You remind me of Annie Hall,” was the thing that got me into my close relationship with the writer/director. As a kid we saw Sleeper, Take the Money and Run — you know, his early, funnier films. But Annie Hall was different. It’s about the girl. It’s a nervous romance. It’s also about life, love and relationships.

If Spielberg taught us how to escape into world that took us away from our own, Woody Allen opened up the discussion about the meaning of life, death, love, sex — with jokes and insight. Like Annie herself, getting his references packed into his films is like going to college — when I look at my bookshelf and I think about what I’ve learned over the years so much of that came from a line in a Woody Allen movie. Nobody can write like he can. Nobody can think like he can. His wisdom came from years of suffering. Listening to him now, I know that the conclusions he’s come to about life, death, aging, celebrity, come from wrestling with them for decades. When he says in interviews that his work is nothing special and that he was far more interested in sports than anything else — I recognize that resignation. When you get to the end of the questioning, life snaps back to its natural state: simplicity. Woody Allen was my philosophy teacher (“Socrates, what did he know, he used to knock off little Greek boys”). He was my sex ed teacher (“As Balzac said, there goes another novel.”), my religion (“How should I know why there were Nazis. I don’t even know how the can opener works.”) and he wrote female characters who were my role models. I was Annie Hall. I was Holly in Hannah and Her Sisters.

I don’t think a day goes by without a Woody Allen line popping into my head. And so when I watched Midnight in Paris this year yes, I recognized the old Woody – the book writer he was before. But I noticed something new there too. He makes a profound statement, “Nostalgia is denial of a painful present.” Though he’s been trying so many different things as a writer and director over the past ten years, he’s really hit something exceptional with Midnight in Paris, both in terms of addressing who he used to be, and illuminating our own thinking about our own lives, which he’s always done so well.

Like Jaws, it’s about filmmaking too. Great storytelling can sometimes pull you in where you don’t really see the strings. Both Jaws and Annie Hall are films I know so well I could probably sit here and write them out very nearly line by line. It took me a little longer to find my way to Scorsese. Spielberg and Allen were filmmakers I came to as an audience member, an escape artist, a fantasy junkie. But when I found Scorsese he made me want to pick up a camera. Why, because no one working in film can do what he does with the camera. His style is as recognizable and unique as Hitchcock’s. Directors like that? You can count them on two hands: David Lynch, David Fincher, Clint Eastwood, Peter Jackson, Quentin Tarantino, Kathryn Bigelow…

In Scorsese I found a director who was not only like no one else, but someone whose pictures did what Woody Allen’s words did; it didn’t matter how many times you dug back into them, in and out and through the layers, you unearthed something new. He played with speed of film, with closeups and random snapshots of feeling, he never told me what to feel and never particularly wanted me to react a certain way. This was truth in cinema unlike anything I’d ever seen because he hadn’t yet gotten to answers; he was still asking questions. He knew about isolation, loneliness, rejection, the agonizing paralyzing effects of beauty — he knows the power of a violent image, and the absurdity of it. His twisted sense of humor threads indirectly through even the most brutal of his films. How absurd, then, to have Jake LaMotta, the poor sap, pounding out his champion’s belt to cash in on the stones — when the belt was worth much more. And to have a swollen Robert De Niro reciting a monologue from On the Waterfront. There’s the professor Scorsese, referencing a film that had been such a major force on his life — his own film in black and white, his own hero flawed and all. It’s so brilliant it brings tears for that alone.

And in Taxi Driver, there’s poor Travis trying to take Betsy on a date but he takes her to a porn flick and when he tries to foist a Kris Kristopherson album at her as she’s giving him the brush-off, “I’ve already got it,” she says. There’s Travis, cast aside. It’s so awful and yet someone funny too. Even Harvey Keitel as “Sport” is horrible/funny.

The intensity of passion, the intensity of life lived as an outsider, no one can touch Scorsese here. He isn’t Spielberg, surrounded by a million kids, the King of Hollywood, with his longtime beautiful wife — he is a golden god, living that life. And he isn’t Woody Allen, the absurdist for all time, living in a still scandalous relationship with Soon-Yi. But Scorsese is married. And now he’s the kind of father who at long last can stop and pay attention to that funny little thing called love. Real love, not outsider love. Not pedestal love. Anyone who has raised a curious child, knows that when the questions start coming you have to have answers. More than that, Hugo represents Scorsese’s schooling to his daughter on what it means to love movies. He’s done what I’ve tried to do here — exposed the roots of something affecting and permanent.

Hugo has within it everything that made Scorsese one of the greatest living artists in film. It isn’t just visually brilliant — but it is that. The movie succeeds on its shot set-ups and editing alone. But its theme is maybe the best message you can give to a young person who is artistically inclined. Lonely, desperate Hugo spends his life wanting to be a machine because machines have a purpose. You build them, wind them up, and they do what they’re supposed to do. If they break, you can fix them. But if people break, you can’t always fix them. They disappear, they die.

Hugo lives among things he can fix. Like Scorsese with making movies, it’s the one thing he can do and do very well. The brilliant Asa Butterfield nails the vulnerability, smarts and ambition of young Hugo — how the actors have ignored him is beyond me. All I know about that — time fixes the mistakes of our inability to recognize the vibrancy of that which sits right in front of us during Oscar season.

I’d seen Hugo twice before I played it for my family at Christmas. We’d been watching movies all weekend. But when Hugo came on, it was immediately compelling to everyone in the room. My own daughter was seeing it for the second time. She didn’t have her glasses so she had to sit about ten inches away from the screen, no kidding. Even my mother who has the shortest attention span of all of us was pulled in to Hugo’s world. Why, because like Josh Brolin in No Country for Old Men, what Hugo is doing on screen is interesting. How Scorsese shows Hugo’s world from the varying perspectives from life lived behind the pipes and wires is breathtaking. You feel Hugo’s isolation and longing for what is over there, on the other side.

The first part of Hugo got the standard fanboy treatment – one statement gets said and then spreads like a skin infection: “Hugo is great for the last 45 minutes.” But those are people who really are waiting for Hugo to morph suddenly into the flavor of films today — quicker, easier, familiar. But Scorsese and his brilliant screenwriter John Logan are eschewing modern dumbed-down convention and slowing things way way down. Once you realize that, you can’t stop watching what Scorsese is doing with that 3-D and that camera. It’s mesmerizing.

But yes, once the story starts to unfold about the early days of Méliès — realized brilliantly by Ben Kinglsey — Scorsese takes Hugo to such an unbelievably magical level one can hardly believe it’s a Scorsese film. The first time we see Méliès set, the entire room full of viewers collectively swooned. Once these scenes take place it becomes clear that Hugo is in a class by itself. No other film can touch it this year. But that doesn’t mean it wins. We all come to the movies for different things. The Artist, The Descendants, and of course, War Horse all have things they’re giving audiences this year. When that thing clicks within them, it’s like that crazy, haunting automaton in Hugo — they know for a certainty what movie is getting their vote. Since they’re not critics they don’t really consider things like level of difficulty or whether the film will last: it’s all about right now.

Having seen the film three times now I can say without reservation that Hugo is a masterpiece. How do you define a masterpiece? My dictionary defines it as “an artist’s or craftsman’s best piece of work.” You will never get anyone to agree that Hugo is as good as Goodfellas, Raging Bull or Taxi Driver — those films are, quite simply, some of the best films ever made. You’d say Frances Ford Coppola’s masterpiece was The Godfather I and II, but I’d also say Apocalypse Now is a masterpiece. Therefore, to my mind, you don’t necessarily have to pick one. After all, Jaws and E.T. are both masterpieces by Spielberg, as is Schindler’s List. I suppose you could say that Schindler’s List WAS his masterpiece.

What I do know is this. Just when you thought Scorsese’s best films were behind him he delivers his most personal, heartfelt love letter to what he does when he makes movies.

I don’t know what the Oscars are here for. I don’t know what the industry is thinking when they vote for some movies and not others. We all have our own ideas of what is best. I know that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo isn’t winning the season but it will have lasting impact for reasons that have nothing to do with golden statues. And I know that if you’re talking BEST, you have to choose BETTER than all of the others.

And so even now, there are film students that divide themselves by the film school of Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese and Steve Spielberg. You can see it in their work.  They themselves went to school on John Ford and Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Billy Wilder.  They influenced the Coen brothers, Quentin Tarantino, PT Anderson, Spike Lee, Michel Hazanavicius, Kathryn Bigelow, Jim Cameron and countless others.   I am beholden to them.  I am most beholden.

Best Director this year will likely feature these three, and Hazanavicius.  It’s possible Woody Allen might not make the list.  Alexander Payne is the next strongest, and Bennett Miller for Moneyball, David Fincher for Dragon Tattoo — and of course, Terrence Malick for Tree of Life.

It’s looking like a long season ahead of us. This year, for me, it’s just a year to appreciate greatness all around. There are moments in War Horse that achieve the level of greatness Spielberg is capable of. And Midnight in Paris illuminates the complex problems of our inability to embrace the time we live in, not to mention why we love great artists the way we do. But it is Hugo that most surprised me most. Once the dust clears from this year and we revisit all of the great films that have come our way, “If you ever wonder where your dreams come from, look around: this is where they’re made.”

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  • julian the emperor

    This is another (timely) reminder about just how subjective the approach to movies is. What I see in Scorsese’s latest is nothing like what you see, Sasha, but it’s great that you get so much out of it. Don’t misunderstand me, the most important thing about trying to evaluate movies is the love for sharing, and the ability to communicate your views. You do that, and I respect you for that.

    To me, personally, Hugo is not even close to my all time top 10 Scorsese movies, but, ultimately, it is a film where I am still able to sense what Scorsese is trying to tell me and that to him it feels like an important project, something he needed to share. That is recommendation enough when we talk Scorsese.

    War Horse also is a far cry from my personal top 10 of Spielberg’s movies as well, as is Midnight In Paris on my all time Woody favorites.

    I guess that we react different for many reasons, a lot of them having to do with who we are (rather than what the film has to offer in any objective sense). I am skeptic about Allen’s softer output the last 15 years (the missteps have always been there when it comes to him, but these days he is merely playing it safe and therefore not producing truly compelling work), Spielberg’s effort is erratic, at best, Scorsese? Well, safe to say that I agree with
    Matt Zoller Seitz who evaluated the best of Scorsese a month ago. Nowhere in sight? His production from the last ten years or so…I feel the same way, there is something missing with Scorsese these days. The skill is obvious, his trademarks are obvious, bit his films lack that something extra, a sense of urgency. That’s the best way I can describe it.

    You are not afraid to come on as a fan girl, Sasha, sometimes it is infuriating (as in the case of TGWTDT), this time it is endearing. Keep up the good work. Oh: and have a happy new year…!

  • Roger Durling

    An incredibly – beautifully written essay, Sasha. I was very moved reading this piece. Kudos.

  • Sasha Stone

    An incredibly – beautifully written essay, Sasha. I was very moved reading this piece. Kudos.

    Roger! Thank you so so much! High praise coming from you. 🙂

  • unlikelyhood

    Great piece. I would have added Clint Eastwood, but hey, looks like he’s not really in the race. Still, he speaks to a whole other demographic from the 1970s that Woody, Marty, and SS don’t customarily even try to talk to.

  • red_wine

    Woody Allen is god. That is all.

  • Sasha Stone

    Unlikely, I started this with Clint Eastwood but then I realized I wanted to write only about these three because of the impact they’ve had on my life. They really did imprint what the human experience is for me growing up….

  • Sasha Stone

    Thanks Julian. I know that people like Matt Zoller Zeitz (who loved War Horse btw) don’t really give Scorsese a shot. But The Departed is one of his best, so is Hugo. So is The Age of Innocence. Many people, I gather, don’t want to watch an artist evolve when they liked what they did when they were young (and in Scorsese’s case, amped up on coke and speed). But to me, people like Fincher and Scorsese have evolved past what they’re known and loved for – that takes courage. Then again, I’m someone who adores a lot of Bob Dylan’s later albums – and most people say he stopped making great records after Blood on the Tracks. For me, *I’m* changing. And the artists who change along with me will always hold my interest. Scorsese far exceeding my expectations. But I watched Gangs of New York the other day and was taken aback by how good it was. It blows away almost every movie up for the Oscars this year. But because in the context of HIS career, and how that year played out, it will always be known as one of his lesser works. I was astounded by it. And rewatching that movie opened up the door in my mind to just who Scorsese is as a filmmaker. I can’t help how people shape and form their opinions of art. I don’t like “inside the box” thinking, and I find too much of it in film writing on the web. It’s like five guys under or around 30 say stuff and others start repeating it and pretty soon people are afraid to go against what everyone says is truth. But when you’re 46, as I am, barreling towards 50, you care less about looking stupid. And I look stupid every day. I’m criticized by someone ever day. I’m unfollowed on Twitter every day. I know that I am not like everyone else in what I say — in good and bad ways. But hell if I’m going to stop saying and thinking things just because they’re unpopular lines of thinking. 🙂

  • Woody Allen is god.

    Oh, he’ll love that. XD

    I think that HUGO is the best movie that Scorsese has ever made. I say that as someone who is not really a Scorsese fan. My favorite film of his is still THE DEPARTED, which I think everyone admits is the least like his other movies. So my own personal movie taste goes in the opposite direction of the films he makes.

    Spielberg seems to be paying some kind of personal greatness tax. He can’t catch a break because of the work he’s done before. I forgot who said it but there was a complaint about WAR HORSE that it was too perfect. I don’t know what he’s supposed to do about that. Suck more so that critics will like him better? lol I haven’t seen WAR HORSE yet so I can’t really speak to it.

    I love Woody Allen I really do. I love who he seems to be as a person and I love most of his films. But I didn’t really like MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. It was really the acting I think. The leads were the weakest thing about the film. I don’t mind if people want to reward him again. I don’t think he cares either way but it would be nice.

    This one masterpiece concept is weird to me though. So if you make your masterpiece at 20, what are you supposed to do? Jump?

  • Ricky Schweitzer

    Another excellent reminder of why I have been following this site for so many years. Aside from being beautifully written, I mostly agree with you on all of your points. The more I think about this film season, the more that Hugo stands out from the pack. I think I might still prefer Drive overall, I believe that it would be a real shame if Hugo lost Best Picture. Midnight In Paris has no shot and Hugo is a MUCH better film than War Horse. If you compare The Descendants to Hugo, I find that whereas Hugo is easily Scorcese’s best film in quite some time, The Descendants is arguably the weakest film of Alexander Payne’s career. It certainly is no Sideways. So this in my mind means that it should be Hugo vs. The Artist. Amazing consider the overlap in subject area for the film. Both films are better than The King’s Speech so I wouldn’t be devastated to see either win, but Hugo has that wow factor that The Artist is missing. The impact of Hugo lasts much longer.

  • Jerry Grant

    A grand trio, you’re right, Sasha. Though I would phrase it as the year of Spielberg, Scorsese, and Malick, because they are essentially my favorite directors and my top 4 movies of the year are split between those three. Woody Allen is of course on the same caliber as the others, but “Midnight in Paris” is a lesser work for him, and is not a grand accomplishment along the level of “Tree of Life,” “Hugo,” or “War Horse”.

  • James

    Best filmmakers working now

    1. Nolan
    2. P.T. Anderson
    3. Coens
    4. Fincher

    the rest

  • John Oliver

    Out of that 3 i would rank them 1. Spielberg, 2. Scorcese, and 3. Allen.
    However, the directors that made me run to the movies are: Robert Wise, Richard Brooks, Billy Wilder, David Lean, Alfred Hitchcock, William Wyler, Mel Brooks, and Mike Nichols.

  • John Oliver

    Oh, I forgot, Roman Polanski.

  • Other mike

    lmao at this article. Talk about over the top. These men are not gods, just good directors who have been canonised and hence their recent work given a pass. Especially Hugo. I have a feeling Armond White may have been right about this movie. Scorsese has not been brilliant and soulful in years. Casino was his last great movie.

  • rufussondheim

    I don’t think Refn should be overlooked. Winning the Best Director at Cannes is not a springboard to Oscar success, but in this case, it might be. I haven’t seen Drive, but from what I understand it comes from a unique vision and it’s stylized. It’s the kind of film that would appeal to a director and since the nominating group consists of nothing but directors, well, you know where I am going.

    As people know, I am extremely skeptical of Spielberg and War Horse making the cut. He’s been properly lauded and this, by nearly unanimous agreement, is not amongst his best. I think people will go with a newcomer who shows great promise.

    Back when there were five pictures nominated for Best Pic, the movies usually didn’t line up with the five Best Director nominees. The one film that managed to get the Director nod without the picture nod was almost invariably an artier type of movie.

    2007 – Julian Schnabel – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
    2006 – Paul Greengrass – United 93
    2004 – Mike Leigh – Vera Drake
    2003 – Fernando Mereilles – City of God
    2002 – Pedro Almodovar – Talk to Her
    2001 – Ridley Scott – Black Hawk Down, David Lynch – Mulholland Drive
    2000 – Stephen Daldry – Billy Elliot (notice this beat out Lasse Hallstrom for Chocolat)

    I only bring up these because unlike many around here I think only the last ten years or so are instructive on what will happen this year.

    Notice that most of these films are smaller indie or foreign films, all of them (with the exception of Billy Elliot) are definitely Director’s Films rather than from films designed for a broad audience (You might quibble with Black Hawk Down, but even with this film it deals with such a harrowing incident that I don’t think it was made with the idea of mass consumption)

    Looking at the Tally of Top 10 Lists, there’s really no rhyme or reason why these directors were picked, most years there were better films overlooked. But it is the case that most of these fared better than the film that was left off.

    Also looking at the last two years’ slates of nominees, you notice that all five were in the Top 11 for most Top 10 Lists of the year. Yes, even Avatar. I think that’s a trend that will continue this year.

    Since 2000, here are the lowest ranked Best director nominees

    2000 – #15 Billy Elliot
    2001 – #20 Black Hawk Down
    2002 – #13 The Hours
    2003 – #12 City of God
    2004 – #19 Ray
    2005 – #9 Munich
    2006 – #11 Babel
    2007 – #11 Michael Clayton
    2008 – #38 The Reader – Next Lowest #9 – Frost/Nixon
    2009 – #9 Precious
    2010 – #11 The Fighter

    Using all of this info, here are my predictions for Best Director.

    1) Michel Hazavinicius – the Artist (#3)
    2) Martic Scorcese – Hugo (#4)
    3) Alexander Payne – the Descendants (#6)
    4) Woody Allen – Midnight in Paris (#8)
    5) Terrance Malick – The Tree of Life (#1)
    6) Bennet Miller – Moneyball (#9)
    7) Nicholas Windig Refn – Drive (#2)

    I think anything outside of these seven would be a big surprise to me. At least if you are looking at it objectively.

    Current tally –

  • Minas

    These are indeed great directors. However there is a difference: Spielberg is among the greatest AND the most popular of them all! There are many who would consider Scorsese or Allen better -in Europe there are more popular from Spielberg (among the critics, NOT the audience). Their films have respectable box office results , but to combine respect from the critics and love from the audience while being prolific (for instance Cameron is as popular but not at all prolific) is extremely rare. Only Spielberg has managed this.

  • lazarus

    Sasha, in addition to your great words about Hugo, I’m glad you enjoyed a other look at Gangs of New York .

    I often wonder where Scorsese would be right now if that backlash-inducing, ghost-written Robert Wise editorial hadn’t come out, or if rumors of Harvey Weinstein’s editorial demands hadn’t been so loudly trumpeted. Would Gangs have won Best Picture? Probably not. But I doubt it would have been shutout on Oscar night, with clear-best-in-shows like Ferretti, Day-Lewis, Ballhaus, Powell, and Scorsese himself passed over in favor of admirable but not nearly as accomplished efforts by others.

    The funny thing is that Apocalypse Now, another epic ambitious effort from an American auteur, was regarded as a mess by many when it came out, win a final act that many found anticlimactic. If the screenplay is Gangs’ biggest weaknes, it should be noted that Coppola was rewriting his on location far into production, with the film’s final movement undecided until late in the game. Unlike Gangs, Apocalypse Now had a more straightforward narrative and an episodic format that made thisess of a hindrance. Gangs is trying to pack a lot into one film: history, romance, Shakespearean revenge, commentary on race/class issues, the power of the press, election fraud and special interests, the list goes on. So it’s not a surprise this was a difficult thing to pull off perfectly.

    But on a scene-by-scene basis, when Gangs is on, it roars with a passion and creativity we don’t see enough of these days. The visuals are out of this world, and without the benefit of much CGI, 3D, etc. and taking place on a living, breathing Cinecitta set.

    It’s sad that a film’s reception and reputation is now the result of Diaz and DiCaprio haters (and Leo’s perf looks a lot better in retrospect considering his brilliant work for Scorsese after this film), Weinstein haters, and a letter Robert Wise never wrote, instead of the masterful filmmaking writ large Leone-style, however much of a mess it may be at times.

    A.O. Scott said in his original review that it might be quite some time before Gangs is fully appreciated and I long for that day when it gets the respect it deserves.

  • julian the emperor

    Sasha: It’s strange though, when I look at all recent Scorsese films I’m more struck by what I don’t like than what I do like about them. I don’t know what that is all about, maybe the coke and speed did wonders for him that I just intuitively gravitate towards…?;)

    Btw, I love The Age Of Innocence, but that is 1993, after all…(didn’t Seitz make a place for it on his list?). It might be a tad antiseptic in its whole design, that movie, but I guess that’s ok, it is a literary adaptation, after all (and the acting is anything but; Pheiffer, for one, is astounding).

  • Sasha Stone

    Only Spielberg has managed this.

    Very true: there is only one crowdpleaser. But I’d argue that in his day Woody Allen was too – only audiences were smarter then, mostly. The studios have been dumbing down audiences for a while now – so much so that really terrible films are considered passable these days. Back in the 1980s and 1970s standards were higher, I think.

  • Sasha Stone

    I have a feeling Armond White may have been right about this movie.

    Yeah, no. You are only disrespectful to me, Other Mike, because I’m a chick. Admit it, if one of the fanboy idols wrote it you’d never say “lol at this article” would you. I love men, I really do, but ugh, you guys have no idea what it feels like for a girl homies. No clue.

  • Sasha Stone

    Sasha, in addition to your great words about Hugo, I’m glad you enjoyed a other look at Gangs of New York .

    Thanks Laz. I didn’t remember AO Scott writing that but I think he’s really right. As are you, from where I sit. The movie was written off and probably won’t be seen again because of that. When you say it “it roars with a passion and creativity we don’t see enough of these days” it really just couldn’t be more true. When you consider how safe directors play it now and to see some of those shots – the workers walking through the streets of New York with their black hats…that battle through the fog — incredible stuff….

  • julian the emperor

    Rufus: I think you are right, when it comes to the bd line up, there is usually a spot for an “outsider” (from outside the presumed bp top 5). Meirelles and Greengrass are perfect cases in point. Problem with Refn this year; I think the “outsider” spot this year is reserved for a legend like either Malick or Allen. The four secure spots go to Hazanavicius, Payne, Spielberg and Scorsese (the top four players in bp). I think you seriously underestimate WH, but who knows (Sasha, on the other hand, overestimates it). But Refn? I would LOVE to see him in (I’m Danish, after all…), but ahead of Spielberg, Malick or Allen? I just don’t see that happen.

  • This piece was great. Thanks, Sasha.

    I think one aspect that every great movie contains is a richly defined setting. That setting can be geographical, like Travis Bickle’s Manhattan, spacial, like the boat in Jaws, familial, like the Corleone’s in The Godfather films, or personal, like Alvy and Annie’s relationship. Great directors inject people and sights and smells and words and hopes and failures into these settings and they get the conflicts and visions that produce masterpieces for the viewer. Hugo to me wasn’t quite a great movie, but it was a very good one, largely due to Scorsese’s incredible talent for producing an involved setting that contained elements of the wondrous and horrible. His Paris train station held all types of people and colors swirling across the screen. My favorite moments in Hugo were the smaller touches of life, like the fat man trying to woo the women with the mean little Dachshund, or Sasha Baron Cohen’s tragicomic courtship of Emily Mortimer’s flower girl. Like in Gangs of New York, another flawed but worthwhile Scorsese flick, I could smell the film, the French coffee and rolls, the fumes, the dust that settles on the clocks… My feelings toward Hugo have warmed in recent weeks because when a film’s setting defines itself so beautifully, it holds in my memory. When a setting envelops the screen, it takes the viewer inside and we never quite leave.

  • Other mike

    Sorry Sasha. I still feel critics carry Scorsese though.

  • Craig Z

    Other Mike….. Ever think their is a reason for that? Critics jobs are to evaluate quality of film. He makes great films. Funny you mention Armond White, another person who thinks his minority opinion is fact and mocks people who think otherwise.

    BTW, On a related note, Austin Film Critics choose Hugo for best picture.

  • Sasha Stone

    Sorry Sasha. I still feel critics carry Scorsese though.

    And what would have happened if they hadn’t carried Orson Welles for Citizen Kane? We need critics because they’re, on the whole, smarter about movies than the public. Oh unless you want to see crap movies completely take over. Me, I hope critics stick around to keep the standard high. The public can’t be trusted – they are far too easily brainwashed.

  • @Other Mike You’re absolutely correct. Critics carried Shutter Island all the way to…oh. Nevermind, you’re dead wrong. Besides, Hugo deserves to be carried. It’s, you know, good.

  • Bob Burns

    Asa Butterfield for Best Actor.

    Hugo is the favorite in our household – and we tell everyone.

    We took our 13 year old neighbor and his mom. “Magical” was his word for it.

    I’m also good with War Horse and Tree of Life winning any praise. War Horse was a deeply satisfying movie for me. Even with its flaws, it’s what you hope for when you go to the movies.

    Jeremy Irvine deserves more praise. I was with him every scene – much moreso than than last year’s prize ham.

  • Beautifully written, Sasha. Your passion for these auteurs is made contagious by your eloquence.

  • Great article, Sasha…and Scorsese and Allen were the filmmakers who spoke to me most growing up…along with Oliver Stone! Spielberg, not so much. I actually appreciate his later work (MUNICH in particular). And I am so tired of people trashing Woody and MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. While I agree that HUGO is a Scorsese masterpiece, I think MIDNIGHT is an absolute triumph for Allen. Yes, our favorite films are those we grew up with but those of us who TRULY love the medium know great films are made every year and these three filmmakers seem to be getting better with age.

  • rufussondheim

    I think, when our present times are decidedly historical, film experts will decry Spielberg more than any other director as being vastly overrated. He will also be blamed for The Blockbuster Age we are currently in. I’m sure most will disagree with me. But…

    The numbers just aren’t there to support anyone’s theory that Speilberg is going to get a Best Director nomination.

    This year, I’m really approaching the Best Pic (and, by extension) the Best Director from an analytical, even quantitative, perspective. My analysis clearly shows that War Horse, if given a Best Director nod would be a severe anomaly only seen once in since 2000. Of course, I’m referring to Daldry’s The Reader (which breaks so many rules no matter how much you try to predict the awards)

    War Horse currently ranks #34, not as low as The Reader at #38, but not remotely close to Black Hawk Down at #20. From 2005 until now, only one film outside of the top 11 got the Best Director Nod (The Reader.)

    I realize that this isn’t a huge sample to do a truly statistical study, but I think the numbers overwhelmingly favor my thesis rather than those who consider Spielberg a lock.

    To continue my thesis let’s look at how Spielberg’s films have fared since 2000.

    2001) AI – #13 – lost nomination to Howard (#18) and Scott (#20)
    2002) Minority Report – #15
    2002) Catch Me If You Can – #18
    2005) War of the Worlds – #39
    2005) Munich – #9

    The only film here where he did get nominated was Munich at #9. He’s had three other films that fared better than War Horse (#34) that did not get a nomination. So if the Academy isn’t rewarding films that were better received than War Horse, then why would they suddenly reward War Horse?

    Now, the easy response here is that War Horse is Oscar Bait, epic, war, blah, blah, blah. I know all of those responses. But none of those can even remotely be considered “quantitative” explanations. My analyses are not based on those subjective approaches. There are plenty of others willing to do those subjective analyses. I am not.

  • Erik

    Sasha, this a brilliant, infectious piece of writing and again a reminder of why this site is so essential to my life…..much like the movies are. Through your words you continually inspire me to revisit the images, stories and characters from movies of my childhood and want to see the new visions of those of the present and all of those still to come. Please know, all the way from Australia, you are my silent friend every time I walk into the darkened theatre ready to be mesmerized again.

  • Rashad

    When people start using numbers to analyze a director and movies, you know this shit has jumped the shark.

    I’m gonna call Aaron Sorkin to come write the screenplay for this.

  • Mattoc

    Nice piece. I still feel the same way going to the movies as I did as a child, then teenager. It’s an Event.
    I never take it for granted. I would rather wait in a long line than walk straight in to tell the truth – and I don’t own a mobile phone.

    It is my church and they are my gods, even though I have committed blasphemy on occasions.

    I love those renegade images from the 70s from Spielberg, Scorsese and Coppola. I just cannot and will not put images of Woody with a beard, tight t-shirt and short shorts in my head.

  • Mattoc

    …and Sasha. You are about the ripe age to become a young director. Just make something, anything…
    You still have 40 years ahead of you if you’re Mr Eastwood.

  • So beautifully written, Sasha. You have such great insights not just into what’s happening in today’s cinematic landscape, but how it fits into the larger history. I love that you say we need not pick one masterpiece per filmmaker. Some filmmakers churn out masterpiece after masterpiece, and there’s no reason not to recognize each as such. Thanks for the great read

  • Meredith

    Loved this article, however…David Fincher is nowhere close to the level of Spielberg and Scorsese. Period. He has created mediocre films but certainly not produced a masterpiece as of yet, not one that the average person will remember 10 years from now. I hate that he was even grouped in the same category of great directors such as Scorsese in the essay. It’s just not the case. He has zero name recognition for the average person, minus us film geeks!

    E.T. >>>>>>the facebook movie!!

  • Keifer

    My favorite Spielberg film?

    “Jaws” – when the director was still young and hungry and willing to take risks.

    Favorite Allen film?

    “The Purple Rose of Cairo” – a beautiful valentine of a movie about our love for movies and how they can make us forget about ourselves.

    Favorite Scorcese film?

    “The Age of Innocence” – a really staggering effort from Marty – different in that it is a more “quiet” film for him, but intensity comes through in even the most minute details in this film. I can’t believe the film didn’t get rewarded with Best Picture, Best Actress (Pfeiffer), Best Actor (Day Lewis) and Best Director nominations. It also contains an eloquent, beautiful music score by the late Elmer Bernstein, exquisite cinematography by Michael Ballhaus and wonderful narration by Joanne Woodward. Great script. Great acting. I just love this film.

  • Sasha Stone

    Ah, Mattoc, thanks. 🙂

  • Mattoc

    I don’t know about that Meredith. I think Fincher and Nolan will leave a legacy of new filmmakers influenced by their styles and films.
    Fight Club was made over 10 years ago and IMO is a masterpiece. Se7en a near masterpiece. His films, due to the subjec matter of the times, style, and innovations in technical areas will ensure he will be studied in 100 years time.

  • Fincher has zero name recognition for the average person

    In other news, Donald Trump is the 6th Most Admired Man in America.

    I’m gonna assume (and pray to god) that’s the opinion of average persons.

  • julian the emperor

    Well, yes, rufus: but I think the BO numbers on WH will vastly outnumber any of said efforts. That means a great deal. This race more than anything is about perception and sometimes the perception of the moment is in favor of breaking the rules, making stats obsolete etc. If the perception up until nomination day becomes about the phenomenon of WH and the comeback of Spielberg etc etc, then the obstacles for a nomination will soon evaporate.

    Numerically, you have a point. Besides: WH does actually have a weaker metacritic score than both Munich (74), Catch Me If You Can (76), Minority Report (80) and War of the Worlds (73). So you can add that to your case:)

  • …and Sasha. You are about the ripe age to become a young director. Just make something, anything…

  • I’m going to be blasfemous and name my 3 fave films from this 3 masters…

    Take the Money and Run, The Color Purple and The Aviator (which I think is absolutely deserving of a way bigger praise it achieved).

    For my film education, my 3 “angels” have been Wilder, Hitchcock and Carpenter.

  • JP

    Sasha got it exactly right! This is THE trio of american filmakers. And in my dreams I see them 3 getting nominated for Best Directing on the Nominations Morning.

  • Bec

    Wow Sasha – fantastic article. Your passion for film is inspiring. Having read ‘Easy Riders, Raging Bulls’ I think it’s amazing that Scorsese in particular survived the 70s/early 80s. How blessed we are that these filmmakers are still working today when so many of their contemporaries fell by the wayside.

  • rufussondheim

    julian, the box office for war horse does not look good as of today. If you look at Tuesday’s numbers you will see that War Horse dropped off a lot since the Monday numbers. Now all the films did, but none of the top ones did as badly as War Horse.

    At this rate War Horse might break 100 Million, but I bet that will be seen as a disappointment.

    Here are the results from Tuesday –

    I realize this might be folly, my attempts to quantify this using only the top ten tallies. But I think it’s as good a method as any I’ve seen thus far, at least at this point in the season. The Guilds are obviously where it’s at.

    With that said, I don’t entirely trust The SAG nominees. I think they come too soon and they appear to be easily influence by good and bad campaigns, especially this year.

  • The public can’t be trusted – they are far too easily brainwashed.

    see, I’d say the public are far too often braindead.

    (How come I don’t have a worse reputation for cattiness? It’s not for lack of trying.)

  • Rashad

    when the director was still young and hungry and willing to take risks.

    Because nothing is safer than making a spy thriller that criticizes Israel’s terrorism practices.

  • Mattoc

    Maybe it’s because you have cats. Which means you are a slave to cats.

  • Jerry Grant

    Surprised to hear myself say this about my beloved Woody Allen, but he does not deserve a director’s nomination this year. His film does not compare to Spielberg’s, Scorsese’s, Malick’s, or Payne’s.

  • Mattoc

    @Jerry – each to their own tastes I say. For my eyes and ears he certainly does.

  • TonyBiigood

    David Fincher is in the same category of Scorsese and Spielberg. Definitly. He has masterpieces like Seven, Fight Club, Zodiac…for me, Button also but not Social network.

  • Tomris Laffly

    Sasha, you are one sophisticated writer. This is a beautiful piece…moving, wise, entertaining, insightful… Reading you reminds me (and all of us here, I’d think) why we love film… 🙂
    On HUGO, I completely hear your points… I loved it, however I wouldn’t say I left the theater feeling that my breath was taken away. My minor issue with the film (that stopped me from calling it this year’s best or one of Scorsese’s best) was the slow build up. And don’t misunderstand, I do completely appreciate the crafting of a story brick by brick; and in no way I am a part of a lazy or traditional audience that needs a convenient dive into a story. However in HUGO the first 30 minutes felt a little disjointed from the rest of the film. I thought it needed to be trimmed. Having said that, I also need to add that the screening I attended was the suprise first showing in NYFF where the film was still in-progress (color correction was incomplete, some 3D effects were also incomplete and I am not even sure if Scorsese unlocked the picture once more after that). He was there to present it himself, which was very special, and I said to myself I HAD to go back to see the finished piece once more once in theaters. That, I haven’t done yet but I will. And I will keep all your points in mind. And every great film deserves repeat visits anyway (like you often remind us here). 🙂

  • steve50

    Good article, Sasha.

    I was in my 20s when these guys appeared and it’s a miracle that they not only lasted, but flourished. Your article brought back great memories of stoned-out friends rolling in the aisles watching Sleeper and the repetition of the word “wheat” in Love and Death. We knew when we saw DeNiro doing his “Back to Bataan” bit in Mean Streets that this could be the next generation of uberactors. Sugarland Express, Boxcar Bertha – who would have expected these three to explode with Jaws, Taxi Driver and Annie Hall within 18 months of each other, and then continue – at the top, for the most part – for over 30 years.

    It’s one thing to appreciate their films individually and another, entirely, to put them in context to each other in a time and place. It was a great period for going to the movies, so thanks, Sasha, for bringing back that memory.

  • Tero Heikkinen

    I liked this article a lot. I share many of these opinions, and I have similar love affairs with different titles. Mine are late 80’s stuff (although Allen didn’t come to me until in early 90’s, really). I had to catch up quite a bit.

  • Meredith

    Whatever. Donald Trump is a joke and I’m almost positive that the average American could at least acknowledge he’s an arrogant S.O.B. I don’t really think what I said has any relation to the TRUMPS name recognition. A masterpiece is a strong word…..I just said Fincher hasn’t made one yet that a WIDE RANGE of people will remember as a masterpiece 10 yrs. from now. That’s not to say that a film has to reach a super wide audience to be called a masterpiece. If we are going to go out on a limb and put Fincher in the same category with Scorsese than we better go ahead and add Nolan’s name to the bunch. He is just as deserving as Fincher if not more b/c of his screen writing abilities. On a positive note, loved Benjamin Button but a shorter version would have been better!

  • Meredith, I think name recognition is the only reason Trump made the list at all.

    That’s my way of saying name recognition among typical ill-informed people isn’t something I care about.

    I’d be horrified at the results of a nationwide poll asking “regular people” to name a single film by Bergman or Truffaut.

    I don’t know those people. I don’t hang out with them. I don’t care whose name they recognize.

  • steve50

    I agree wholeheartedly that Fincher, Nolan and PT Anderson are worthy successors and expect that they will have similar career arcs.

  • Aubrey

    Rufus Sondheim,

    Very objective analysis. Cool headed reasoning like yours is what’s best in predicting Oscars.

    There’s always an outside chance of a fluke, if you can find some quantifiable way to factor that in, like a small percentage to the score. To account for the unexpected, such is life sometimes.

  • If we are going to go out on a limb and put Fincher in the same category with Scorsese than we better go ahead and add Nolan’s name to the bunch.

    I’m already out on that limb. So are literally hundreds of thousands people who vote on IMDb.

    IMDb’s chart of Top 100 films.
    Nolan has 3 films
    Copolla has 3
    Fincher has 2
    Scorsese has 3
    Hitchcock has 4
    Kurosawa has 4
    Kubrick has 3

    Ask your “average American” to name 4 Kurosawa films. Ask them to name one.

  • julian the emperor

    IMDB Top 100: where is Fellini, Antonioni, Tarkovskij or Bergman??
    In other words: I don’t much care for imdb…(just look at its number 1…a mediocre film at best)

  • I wouldn’t use IMDb as my wish list for Desert Island movies, no.

    I’m using it as evidence that Fincher is a familiar household name in any house I’d want to visit.

  • Mattoc

    I don’t use the term masterpiece loosely, I do think Fight Club is. Nolan IMO hasn’t made one yet – Memento was close. tDK I felt giddy in a good way and Inception was interesting and enjoyable.

    Also, the average American may not be able to name one of Kurosawa’s films, but they will be able to name plenty of films inspired by Kurosawa.

  • rufussondheim

    Yeah, IMDB is weak. I like Shawshank Redemption quite a bit (I actually saw it in the theater!) but it’s nowhere near one of the top films of all time. I haven’t looked at IMDB results for a long time. They are a popularity contest, no more, no less.

  • Meredith

    I get what you are saying Ryan. I guess we should just agree to disagree. Fincher has yet to make a film that could captivate me or leave me wanting to watch it all over again. Not to say it won’t happen one day, and if it does I will eat my words.

    Also, the only person who admires Trump is himself. He probably paid someone to be on that list.

  • rufussondheim

    Meredith, I feel the same way about Christopher Nolan. Except for Memento, I see little merit in his films (outide of Heath Ledger, that is) except for a few scenes here and there. I don’t think he’s capable of creating a character that is more than one dimensional.

    I don’t chalk him up as being untalented, though. I just accept that he’s not for me.

  • Meredith, I get what you’re saying too.
    We’re not really even disagreeing. Just opening two different cans of worms!

    (that poll I cited is too screwed up to be taken seriously)

  • lazarus

    I love Fincher and am one of the biggest defenders of Benjamin Button and The Game, and think Fight Club was one of the 90’s high points. But he’s only been active for like 15 years, whereas Scorsese, Spielberg, and Allen have been directing since the late 60’s/early 70’s. It’s an insult to add Fincher’s name to their list this early in the game, and I’m not even a big Spielberg fan but it’s hard to argue against his body of work in total. Again, I think Fincher is one of the best around right now but he simply doesn’t have the filmography to compare yet.

    I’d say more intelligent additions to the canon would be directors who come directly after Scorsese/Spielberg/Allen from the late 70’s/early 80’s: David Lynch, David Cronenberg (Canadian but still “North” American), even Terry Gilliam.

  • I just realized how much work Herbert Ross got in the 70’s. Easily one of the most influential if not the one with the most clout from the studios back then, able to direct Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning perfs from actors.

  • Mattoc

    Sure, some haven’t had the longevity of others. But I don’t see them out of place, and when all is said and done – it’s inevitable names such as Fincher, Coen, Hanecke, Nolan, Tarantino, Scott, Cameron, Anderson will be mentioned in the same sentences and breathes as those three.

  • @Mattoc I had no idea who Hanecke was and just looked him up. I now feel like a dipshit…What I love about this site is that with every post and discussion, I hear people rave about new filmmakers and films that I’m unfamiliar with. Even when we argue about whether Fincher is great or not, I think we can still come away with some new perspectives.

  • Scott

    RyanAdams December 28, 2011 – 4:13 pm | Permalink

    If we are going to go out on a limb and put Fincher in the same category with Scorsese than we better go ahead and add Nolan’s name to the bunch.

    I’m already out on that limb. So are literally hundreds of thousands people who vote on IMDb.

    IMDb’s chart of Top 100 films. Nolan has 3 films Copolla has 3 Fincher has 2 Scorsese has 3 Hitchcock has 4 Kurosawa has 4 Kubrick has 3

    Ask your “average American” to name 4 Kurosawa films. Ask them to name one.

    Wow, what happened? I recall not too long ago Hitch had about 10 films in the Top 250 and Kubrick had I think 6 or 7.

  • Scott

    Nvm, just noticed you were only referencing the Top 100

  • ^
    I just did a quick and sloppy scan, Scott.
    Don’t use my rough estimate as your answer on Jeopardy.

  • Mattoc

    Jesse – I’m surprised you were able to find him with my spelling ( i borrowed OCCOs keyboard)
    Glad you did. Hidden or Cache is one of my favorites of recent times. White Ribbon would have done well in this years race.

  • Scott

    Personally my 3 directors are Hitchcock, Wilder, and Capra (Hawks could be a substitute and Nolan is on the horizon) but I’m aware they aren’t all “American”.

  • Mattoc

    I just couldn’t name them. Too many self betrayals. It needs to be genre, period, country or even alphabetical to attempt it.
    The post makes it easier for today – Spielberg, Scorsese and Allen.

  • Meredith

    Off topic, just saw The Tree of Life last night, and it kept me up all night. I don’t know whether to be stunned by it’s beauty or bewildered by the story and esp. Sean Penn. I felt so unresolved with the ending and kept wondering what Sean Penn even contributed to the damn movie. I have been thinking about it all day, and I wish someone would just explain to me the whole significance of the beach scene at the end. My jaw was dropped through the entire movie but now I am just feeling odd about it. Anyone care to explain?

  • Sasha Stone

    Sorry to do this but to the commenter angeredstudent who left a nasty note about my daughter, which Ryan kindly deleted – your fake IP has been put on our ban list, though we know it won’t matter since all scared little men hide behind fake IPs. Do something with your life that doesn’t involve tormenting others — maybe you won’t grow up to be a serial killer. And believe me, you wouldn’t want to meet me in person so it’s best you hide away, little man. Hide away.

  • Mattoc

    @Meredith. Your interpretation is fine. It is what it is. I don’t want to ruin what you’ve got in your head right now, so I won’t kill the buzz with my second rate observations.

    @angeredstudent – go fuck yourself with a concrete dildo.

  • Meredith

    Nevermind, I think I should just re-watch it a couple more times and then my whole idea of this film will come full circle.

  • Scott

    As for Sasha’s picks…can’t really argue with Scorsese or Spielberg (though I do disagree with some of their films she considers to be “masterpieces”) and I haven’t seen enough Woody Allen to form an opinion there. Not really sure how I have skipped over Allen but I’ve only managed to see Vicky Christina and Midnight in Paris…both fine films but nothing special. You know speaking the nostalgia thing in the latter I really wish I was living in the 50’s. I honestly don’t think it is a fallacy that my life would be better. Sure I wouldn’t have some of the luxuries I do now (such as the smartphone I am typing this on) but you know technology has also been detrimental…particularly when it comes to personal relationships.

  • FilmFatale

    Come on guys — no way is Fincher is the same league as the aforementioned trinity. In not one film — not one — has Fincher demonstrated a firm grasp of character, human interaction or satisfying drama. His films are well-oiled technical exercises that *may* catch fire with the right screenwriter (The Social Network) or themes (Fight Club) or technical invention (Seven), but he has no idea how to direct actors (like Blanchett is the hospital bed in the curiously detached Benjamin Button). But nothing he has done (or Nolan for that matter) qualifies him as a member
    of this elite triumvirate. He isn’t there yet and though he is crafty, he hasn’t made a movie with a single meaningful character or universality of theme. At all.

  • unlikelyhood

    Oh come on, Ryan. You have an outstanding reputation for cattiness.

  • Scott

    Um, I might agree that Fincher’s films are emotionally detached…but he has no idea how to direct actors?! You gotta be kidding me. How ’bout the cast of Social Network and Mara in Dragon Tattoo? Mediocre or virtually unknown until Fincher directed them to stunning performances. Eisenberg, Garfield, Timberland, etc are probably the strongest arguments for why Fincher should have won best director last year. Hooper’s actors already were stars that knew how to act.

  • R

    Agree filmfatale. There is just not much to finchers work, it is all surface level… his mastery of the craft is laughable. fast forward through his films and you will see him using the same shots over and over again, with every scene approached in the same way. they can be picturesque..but nowhere near real visionaries of film. Fincher is a gen x music video director, at best he is above average.

    Nolan is a little better, he writes his films and has a world view that goes beyond finchers “nihilism rocks, people are evil, listen to this techno music”. Nolan doesnt have the mise en scene of true masters though, doesnt really use the frame, more of a point and shoot guy. The other names of the rising stars are also highly flawed.

  • R

    Spielberg himself agrees with me, he said there isnt much in the last 30 years he rewatches, it is as if the new crop of directors know less and less about filmmaking. spielberg also said if you turn the sound off a film should have the same power as with the sound on. You cant say this about nolan, fincher, aronofsky the fanboy hero trifecta

  • steve50

    Yeah, that’s exactly what the old guard said about Scorsese/Spielberg/Allen – How dare we mention them in the same breath as Hawks/Ford/Capra, respectively. Wasn’t true then and it ain’t true now.

  • Mattoc

    We don’t always need to judge greatness in retrospect. There is nothing wrong with recognizing it here and now.

  • Craig Z

    R, fanboy is the most overused term in the world. Every over opinionised loser thinks it applies to everybody BUT them.

    Also. Am I the only one who thinks Goodfellas is Scorcese’s best film?

  • @Craig Z: I think GoodFellas is the greatest film EVER!! outside the first 2 Godfathers and it’s my personal favorite. The energy, performances, ability to transport us into a near-foregn universe…Spectacular. I saw it on a double bill with Mean Streets at The New Beverly last year and both films knocked me on my ass even though I’d seen them a dozen times.

    But you can’t go wrong with Taxi Driver, either. Or Raging Bull. Or Casino. Or…

  • Scott

    OK, I got a question…what is with our fascination with crime or more specifically gangsters?

  • Mattoc

    I doubt you’re the only one. I think if it was polled it would probably come in around 3 or 4. Personally I like Casino, Raging Bull, Cape Fear and Life Lessons from New York Stories better. Goodfellas is my favourite ending with music montage and credits. I think it stood out like dogs balls in the oscars that year, like Tree of Life does this year.

  • Mattoc


    Men wanna be like them and women wanna be with them…

  • He isn’t there yet and though he is crafty, he hasn’t made a movie with a single meaningful character or universality of theme. At all.

    Says you. I’m not a Fincher fan but I think that Fight Club pretty much represents Gen X. I don’t know how those “characters” aren’t meaningful. If anyone is a fan of his style, which is unique, I don’t see why they shouldn’t include him in their upper pantheon of directors. He’s got the body of work now. My favorite film of his is The Game.

    My big three directors have been Coppola, Lynch and Allen for a long time now. But I’ve been watching the younger guys to see who might join them on my list. For a while I thought it was going to be Shyamalan or Tarantino. But as the years have sped by I think Nolan’s pretty much there. TDKR could be the clincher.

  • Dan

    As in all things, finding great films from other places or times gets harder the further you go. I wish there was a short cut, but all these lists – Cannes, Berlin, Oscar, Golden Globes and so forth, and IMDB and flixster and others, are just conveniences, the don’t even begin to cover the field. By the IMDB top 250, half the greatest movies of all time were made in the last decade or two, which is bullshit.

  • rufussondheim

    When I list all of the top directors out there, I can find 2 or 3 great films, but, too often, that’s all I can find.

    My favorite director, if I had to pick, would probably be Robert Altman. I’m not sure any top director out there has made a film as good as McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Throw in Short Cuts and Nashville and four or five more and, well, it’s hard to match him in my opinion.

    My favorite working director is Michael Winterbottem. I’ve fallen behind on his latest movies but there was a streak there that was pretty good not to long ago. In This World is utterly captivating. He’s a lot of work, but when he gets it going the ability to put politics in his films are unparalled. He can make you see issues from a perspective you’ve never considered.

    Throw in the fact that he just films the action, it’s not too stylized or anything (although he definitely has his own style) it’s just low-key documentary style shooting.

    My favorite future director is probably Kelly Reichardt, all three films are top notch. Old Joy, which I had the pleasure of seeing a year ago for the first time, is easily the best portrayal of a friendship falling apart I’ve encounterd. Granted, this isn’t a subject often broached (which makes it even more interesting to me) but watching Will Oldham feebly making all sorts of attempts to interest his friend is touching to the extreme. Windy and Lucy and Meek’s Cutoff are amongst my favorites of the years they were released.

    Other than that, I’m kind of hit and miss. I think too many directors are too intrusive in what they are filming, they don’t trust their scripts and their actors. The thing these three directors have in common is that all three prefer to distance themselves from the action rather than put themselves in the middle of it.

  • Fielding

    Woody Allen is in a league of his own. Not just a great filmmaker, he’s one of the all time artistic greats. I unabashedly put him up there with Shakespeare.

  • rufussondheim

    I am exhausted, so many typos in the previous post.

    Most of my favorite films are one-hit wonders. These are all films that I love but the directors have mediocre careers at best (except for PT Anderson). I can’t really defend any of these films from a cinematic standpoint, they just touch me deeply every time I watch them. Longtime Companion, Field of Dreams, Chariots of Fire, The Joy Luck Club, Once, Magnolia and Half Nelson are probably the top 7 on any given day. I have a deep emotional connection to all of them.

  • @Scott Well, from a script level, you need conflict, right? And gangsters produce endless opportunities for conflicts and tension while also throwing in that voyeuristic quality critics like to yammer on about. GoodFellas takes us to a place we’ll never really witness and shows the vicarious glamour along with the grim possibilities that death/betrayal/infidelity/arrest lurks around every corner.

  • rufussondheim

    OK, now I am in the mood to discuss these films and why they affect me so. Plus I have insomnia and ain’t getting to sleep any time soon.

    Longtime Companion – It showed me that you can create your own family no matter what your situation is. It also gave me a model on how to grieve, not necessarily death, but to grieve for something you can’t have back.

    Field of Dreams – Yes, I have father issues, I love baseball and all that, but what I really like about this movie is the unyielding faith Costner has. He doesn’t question it. I wish I could believe in something that strongly.

    Chariots of Fire – Two athletes striving to be their best for different reasons. The passion is their purpose and I find it utterly inspiring.

    The Joy Luck Club. Showed me the importance of finding one’s voice and how to use it.

    Once – Passion for what you love can sustain you, even if love cannot. You can’t conquer unhappiness if you don’t fight it every step of the way.

    Magnolia – This marvelous mess of a movie taps into my spiritual hopes that their is a God, even though I strongly believe there is not. How I wish I could see a sign like the people in this movie get to see (but sadly, most have no idea what they are seeing)

    Half Nelson – The best movie about addiction out there. It’s a struggle, each and every day, no movie, no actor has ever captured all of the forces that tug at an addict like this one.

  • Nikhil Arora

    This is why I keep coming back to Oscarwatch (I mean AwardsDaily). What a brilliant read!

    I’m so sad to see Coppola sit out on THE year Scorsese, Spielberg and Woody Allen made their best film in years. He’s been sitting it out for a while now, but how awesome it would have been had Coppola made a grand comeback? A Movie Brat domination.

  • @rufussondheim Yeah, if you’re a baseball fan with father issues I think Field of Dreams is required viewing. Gosling’s work in Half Nelson was great, too.

  • mdb

    I’ve been reading the site for four seasons now. This article moved me more than all your others, Sasha.

    Also, I’m not perfect, but it really upsets me when some people write comments such as “so over the top” or otherwise negative comments. I know no one would say such blunt things in public. I wish we could afford Sasha the same respect in an online setting. She and Ryan work really hard at this site and have made it successful in the face of long odds. I sometimes disagree with one or both of them, but I try to point out my problems respectfully. Admittedly, I don’t post on here as much as some others, but still. Chances are, my words are wasted and no one will change, but I still wish we could maintain civility on these forums. Sasha/Ryan, if you read this comment, I’d encourage you to talk to the moderators at They have managed the impossible: a political forum that attracts significant numbers from both sides of the aisle without significant breaks in civility. We actually have awesome discussions because we are forced by the site rules to maintain civility or be banned. I don’t know the specifics, but I just thought you might like to know. 🙂


  • Bobby C

    Very good read Sasha about these three directors and what their films mean to you. Made me look back as well. While I have not seen many Allen films (the subject matter of his films mostly did not interesr me), I grew up watching Spielberg’s films– E.T. and the Indy films are my favorites– and he was my favorite director. As I grew older, discovered the films of Scorsese (Taxi Driver just blew me away and have been a fan since) and De Palma (Carrie is one of my all-time favorite movies and enjoy his erotic thrillers– Blow Out, Dressed to Kill, and Body Double) and always look forward to their films.

    And I agree, Scorsese’s Hugo is a masterpiece. My favorite film of the year! Win or lose, I am really impressed that Scorsese continues to try new things– making a children film– something Spielberg is very good at– yet Scorsese did it this year and did it well, his first try– and in stunning 3D! I haven’t seen Spielberg’s latest efforts– The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse– and I am sure to be entertained — as most Spielberg films have– and just happy to see two of my favorite directors continue to make movies to entertain us!

  • Mattoc

    Yeah, I had father issues and Field of Dreams is a weepie (predictive text wanted me to write weenie)
    I also gulp in the Wanderers when the brutal father fights alongside his son.

    I was thinking of Longtime Companion the other day when OCCO300 mentioned the Best Film of Summer Awards. That film came to mind.

    Nashville is a classic and I get emotional in several scenes in that film. It’s also very funny is a sad, sad way. What a film. Short Cuts is underrated IMO, although loved by many. It is a classic, even if Julianne Moore refuses to wear pants! Ah, JM…anyone like Safe? I loved it but my guess would be Malick may get a little weary with that one.

  • Scott

    Mattoc I’m talking about all the crime shows like CSI, NCIS, etc that are top rated/most popular. There are tons of them and crime is probably the most prevalent topic in American news. And then like I said, more specifically you’ve got the gangster shows/movies like The Sopranos, The Godfather films, Goodfellas, etc considered some of the greatest of all time. And then hell you’ve got Hitchcock movies like Rear Window and countless other “masterpieces” that deal with crime, murder, etc. Do we just have a weird fascination with this stuff?

  • Craig Z

    Scott, Why did you put mastepiece in quotations? Rear Window is if their ever was one

  • Craig Z

    Also Scott, people like crime movies because crime is an interesting compelling and dramatic topic.

  • Mattoc

    @Scott – I stand by the first quote I said by whomever originally said it – for real life and movie gangsters. I believe they are both thought of as celebrities. Men wanna be them and women wanna be like them. It allows for drama, some of the best stories ever written can be applied to the gangster genre – and it puts food on the table for Frank Vincent and his family.

    As for tv series. Some people like to watch things that have a familiar pattern about them, like a bit of drama, something to work out and resolved within an hour or so. Sopranos is different and the same. It suckered people in with gangsters and then…

    I don’t watch a lot of television but when I do and not watching the news, it’s a crime show or family guy, etc.. Why? Because when it’s over it’s over. I don’t have to watch next week. The same with legal dramas, etc…
    Combine the two and you have satisfied a lot of lazy people in the world.

  • Scott

    I didn’t say it wasnt…it is my favorite film of all time but there has been so much discussion of the word and which films are and aren’t is subjective so it seemed appropriate. I’ll ask again though, what is with our sick fascination with murder? And us it just us Americans or is the rest of the world just as screwy? I know we tend to glorify violence and shun sex more then say the Europeans, but beyond that I’m not sure.

  • Craig Z

    Murder is the single most dramatic thing one human being can do to another. Drama makes great movies.

  • Mattoc

    You ask a different question each time. I can’ t keep up. Is it gangsters, crime shows or murders?
    I’m not an expert. There are millions of sites that can tell you why people are fascinated with crime.
    However, there are not many gangsters or murders in the running this year.

  • Craig Z

    And I don’t find sex in film all that interesting. Everybody does it (well most) so unless I’m involved sex doesn’t interest me. So I don’t see the dramatic qualities. Often times I find sex scenes stop a movie dead in its tracks. coughMunichcough

  • Mattoc

    Also Scott – I live in Australia. Most of our top rated programs are crime shows as well.

  • @Mattoc You’re the first person I’ve ever that mentioned The Wanderers on a comment board or in a book on film..Very gripping movie (especially the fight scene you mentioned) but the book is absolutely phenomenal, as is everything that author, RIchard Price, has written.

    @Scott: As for sex versus violence and crime…I think less is at stake during sex scenes, making them less gripping. Not to say there’s NOTHING at stake during sex scenes, especially on an emotional level. It’s just that if two brother’s are planning a robbery a la Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, it’s far more interesting to watch the build and aftermath than it is to see Philip Seymour Hoffman nail Marisa Tomei (for me, at least).

  • julian the emperor

    I would say, for me (exclusively talking English-speaking directors landing their main work post-1950s, otherwise the list would be endless…), the greatest one is Robert Altman. Kubrick and Allen runs him close (for very different reasons!). Scorsese is obvious,so he is number four. Ken Loach and Mike Leigh at five and six to include the Brits…David Lynch is number seven and based solely on the merits of Brazil, Terry Gilliam (what a brilliant mind!), deserves a mention.

    Contemporary directors: I gotta agree with rufussondheim; Kelly Reichardt’s movies are quietly spectacular and devastating. Really intense experiences (even though they are dramatically un-assuming most of the time).
    I love Fincher (though I get some of the criticism leveled at him, among them his nihilism, which is not as intellectually stimulating, I would say, as that of a Michael Haneke), PT Anderson is a great visionary, as well. Always looking forward to Tarantino’s stuff, although I cannot say I expect greatness from him at this point.

    Hey, maybe this listing was a bad idea, my mind gets sucked into a vacuum when trying to sort these things out in my head, which means I probably just forgot four or five of my absolutely most treasured directors…:)

  • However, there are not many gangsters or murders in the running this year.

    Margaret Thatcher?

  • Mattoc

    That’s the problem Julian, don’t go there. It’s too hard and you won’t be able to look at yourself the next morning.

  • Mattoc

    Touche Ryan.

  • Mattoc

    Jesse, I have not read the novel – but may do so now. I do like Richard Price though.

  • Ugolin

    The 70’s also had Coppola, Herzog, Fassbinder, Wenders, Altman, Chabrol, Blier, Ashby, Bertolucci, etc. Truly cinema’s great decade.

  • James

    For me,
    1. Billy Wilder
    2. Alfred Hitchcock
    3. Martin Scorsese
    4. Stanley Kubrick
    5. David Lean
    6. Ingmar Bergman
    7. Federico Fellini
    8. Fritz Lang
    9. Elia Kazan
    10. Claude Chabrol
    11. Francois Truffaut
    12. Yasujiro Ozu
    13. Akira Kurosawa
    14. Jean Renoir
    15. Charles Chaplin

    Louis Malle
    William Wyler
    Fred Zinnemann
    Josef von Sternberg
    Woody Allen
    Sidney Lumet
    Robert Altman
    Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
    Michael Curtiz
    Francis Ford Coppola
    Buster Keaton
    F.W. Murnau
    Orson Welles
    John Ford
    Michelangelo Antonioni

    Then there’s Roman Polanski; Ernst Lubitsch; Christopher Nolan; Pedro Almodovar; Walt Disney…

    Spielberg is probably somewhere between 41 and 50.

  • Mattoc

    @ugolan – Cassavetes, Peckinpah, Tarkovsky, Friedkin, Weir…

  • Tero Heikkinen

    “Spielberg also said if you turn the sound off a film should have the same power as with the sound on.”

    I don’t remember this comment word for word, but I have taken that lesson. I often watch my favourite films without sound (subtitles on, though – but I do that anyway). It teaches quite a bit and even more if you listen to commentary tracks by directors. Someone has said that sound is 50% of film, but to me it’s more like 20%.

    On the subject: murder is the most dramatic event. I know this personally now, this happened in our family just two weeks ago. It broke everything apart.

    On directors I want to say something about Clint: I just went to see J. Edgar and it wasn’t as bad as many have said. It was pretty good even, and I wouldn’t mind to see DiCaprio nominated. There, I said it. Clint should let someone else compose his movies, though. It’s very often just the same piano playing over and over again.

  • Mattoc

    Tero – sorry for your loss, if that’s what happened.

    Spielberg’s comments are sound, but music for him is 50% I would say.

  • Tero Heikkinen

    Oh, thanks.

    “Spielberg’s comments are sound, but music for him is 50% I would say.”

    I wouldn’t say it this strongly. I just think he lets John do pretty much whatever he wants. On the other hand – I can only think of a couple of times when he has told John to write minimal amount of music.

  • Mattoc

    Well if I was Spielberg’s minder I would say ” excuse me Sir, but the nut bag is loose again and he’s got a trombone!”

  • julian the emperor

    My God, you are right, mattoc! I forgot Peckinpah (how could I?) and Cassavetes! Oh no. And the Coens…Peter Weir, another favorite. Wim Wenders? (Paris, Texas…one of the best films of the 80s…with a score, that I actually find incredible, happens so rarely for me…), Sidney Lumet, as well….

    I like your list, james, especially since you put the “foreign language directors” in there…but where is Tarkovskij??
    I would put Bergman on top, then Fellini…otherwise, a great list:)

    Ryan on this years’ murderers and gangsters? HA!

  • steve50

    70’s directors: Altman was my number 1; Truffaut, Fellini and Kubrick tied for 2nd. For Americans, Lumet is way up there, too. Bertolucci, Roeg, Pontecorvo and Bunuel were hit and miss, but each had masterpieces that land in my all time top 20.

    All time: Murnau and Renoir (Jean)

  • Nic V

    Great article. Great piece of writing.

    I have to agree that Spielburg, Scorcese, and Allen are probably right now at the pinnacle of their careers. For me Spielburg’s masterpiece is Schindler’s List. I don’t think I’ve seen a Spielburg film that I didn’t “enjoy”. I truly enjoyed Midnight in Paris but I too believe that Purple Rose of Cairo is Allen’s best. I’m just not a fan of his earlier work except for maybe Hannah. For me it seemed like when Allen went down the Purple Rose of Cairo street he emerged from the box he had created for himself, that of the whiney nebish.

    My favorite Scorcese film “The Last Temptation of Christ” followed closely by Gangs. I bought Last Temptation without having seen it on the original laser disc immediately after it was released just based on what I’d heard about the film and still have that copy. I was so impressed by that work that it would rank among favorite films. The fact that Scorcese was willing to take a risk such as that and actually in my opinion suceed was amazing.

  • Nic V

    Funny thing is that I didn’t realize until today that Scorese produced Young Victoria. So that elevates him a great deal in my book. Being a bit of student of that last dynasty’s of Europe I was quite impressed by Young Victoria and the manner in which it held as close to possible the truth about Victoria at that age. Funny how you can love a director playing in one field “Last Temptation” and then in another “Young Victoria”.

  • FilmFatale


    “Murder is the single most dramatic thing a human being can do to another?”

    Is that a joke?

    Betrayal is, not murder.

  • FilmFatale

    Sorry Scott and Steve50-

    Fincher is the master of designer glam in his visuals, but don’t talk to me about the “characters” in Fight Club (a film that I love, which also little dramatic weight) or the actors in The Social Network (nice ensemble but only one standout).

    Can someone tell me a single character — just one — that Fincher has delivered that has had texture, depth or growth? Just one. With him, it’s always great actors who enliven his movies, when they do — Kevin Spacey, Jodie Foster, Cate Blanchett, etc. They aren’t directed to perfection; their reputations precede their work with him.

    As someone else said, unlike Allen, Spielberg and Scorsese, he does not have a definitive world view expressed in his movies. Mentioning him with Coppola, Altman, Allen, Spielberg, Scorsese, etc., is truly a misstep. He may be an “auteur” in the visual sense but certainly not with regard to character and story.

  • steve50

    TSN had several standout performances by several non- veteran actors. I don’t think any of them missed a beat, which, considering the overall experience of the cast, I can only attribute to the director. Fincher’s weakest (Panic Room, for instance) is weak because of the material, not the directing. He’s very American in his style, sort of what we would get if Altman rehearsed and did 70 takes instead of just one.

    Definitive world views are developed over time by directors, so within 5 or 6 years, Fincher’s will be very clear.

    BTW – great to see discussions about something other than a certain wizard.

  • rufussondheim

    Fincher is all style. And, wow, he’s great at it. But he has that problem that too many contemporary directors now have, everything is so crowded, there’s no time to breathe while watching his films.

    Yeah, I understand that the vast majority of people in the world have attention span issues and can’t wait to get into the action.

    This is why we need to force our kids to read more.

  • steve50

    Re: attention span issues

    You got that right. It’s the one thing that scares me with regards to where our collective culture is heading. Film and literature are both beseiged by abbreviation.

    Fincher could relax a bit – I know what you mean – but I think he uses that compression for effect. Let’s see how he does on future projects that don’t require as much kinetic energy or adrenaline.

  • julian the emperor

    rufus and steve50: you are so right; it would be wonderful to see Fincher try something that does not rely on immediate rush and the surge of adrenaline. That; and a greater reliance on character….

  • Scott

    “Is it gangsters, crime shows, or murders”

    Well same differences really…common links between ’em obviously, and judging by ratings and such our country has a morbid fascination with all of it.

  • Dave L

    Bravo, Sasha!!

  • Keifer

    Roman Polanski
    Ridley Scott
    Ikira Kurosawa (deceased)
    Fred Zinnemann (deceased)
    Billy Wilder (deceased)
    David Lean (deceased)

    Some other brilliant directors (and personal favorites).

  • Mattoc

    @filmfatale – Michael Douglas character is the game had growth.

    Sloth in Se7en had growth, and after seeing Fight Club I had considerable growth. Benjamin Button didn’t , the compete opposite in fact.

  • Marie

    I seriously don’t understand the Spielberg and sudden Fincher backlash. A person can write dozens of essays about these two directors and their films. I will just make a few remarks.

    War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin are better than most of the movies out there yet are being evaluated by a completely different standard that is absurdly harsh because it is Spielberg. I have seen a major Spielberg anti-bandwagon groupthink overwhelming many sites. I found War Horse to be far superior to Hugo and it will go down as another classic regardless if it wins anything or not.

    Fincher is a modern-master and his films capture the social zeitgeist of our times. I can’t believe people are writing off his films as style over substance. People are penalizing him over his technique, the fact that he is just emerging as a iconic, and the complexity behind the themes of his movies that actually have strong plotlines & incredible execution on every cinematic level whether it be writing, tone, cinematography, or whatever aspect that is necessary to the movie. Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Seven, and The Social Network are either modern masterpieces or are cult classics that will have longevity & legendary status in the future. Even Zodiac, Panic Room, and TGWDT are superior to many works from other directors of his generation.

    His movies certaintly have dramatic weight and refined the best out of Pitt, Eisenberg, Norton, as well as provide breakout roles for other actors. I would have to write detailed reviews of his films but that should not be necessary for any cinemaphile. If you don’t think his movies don’t have depth, then you didn’t understand the movie, period.
    How can anybody label Fight Club and Social Network that dealt deeply with the messages about greed, commercialism, misanthropes, anti-social behavior, depression, the neuroses of our world, and identity among so many other facets as superficial? It was subversive in Fight Club, plot-driven in Seven, and dialogue-driven in The Social Network. Most of his movies have been iconic and exceptional. None of his movies except for Alien 3 have been mediocre. Twenty or even ten years from now, Fincher will go down as profilic and as one of the “Greats”. In the future, he will ranked among Spielberg, Scorsese, and others if he continues to do fine work.

    I’m sorry but some of the other picks from some people seem like pretentious posturing to me. It is odd how backlashes work. First, an amazing director like Spielberg gets labeled as sentimental, hokey, or manipulative by anti-campaigners. Now Fincher is being trashed as light-weight, good grief. You can’t even make a comparison because Spielberg and Scorsese came from different eras. Fincher is a titan for this era and already highly accomplished for his generation.

  • Marie

    Tyler Durden, “Jack”, David Mills, Morgan Freeman’s character in Seven, Mark Zuckerberg, Daisy, and the majority of his characters have had texture, depth, and complexity. What the hell are people talking about? Fincher is a real auteur and hasn’t even had the chance to build up a body of work compared to the other directors that cinemaphiles have labeled as great. No real Fight Club fan would claim that is has no dramatic weight or character progression. His work tends to have really notable characterizations so why are people downplaying it to the point of degrading it. Most of it is subversive and symbolic. It is an insult not just to Fincher but to the many actors who brought these memorable roles to life. Fincher’s films have great pacing. We know it has great execution, a focus on relevant themes, or an intense script with very engaging characters.

    I don’t even comprehend the bizarre blame game by using Fincher’s work to rant about society’s addiction to adrenaline or the rush. TCOFBB and TGWDTT had slower paces and was criticized for it. It would make no sense for a film like TSN or Fight Club to drag it out. Fincher is not some action director hack so don’t blame him for kids not reading more. You can blame all of the directors in the world for that. In fact, some of his movies made me want to read Fight Club and other stories his movies were based on. I am an avid reader and that has nothing to do with the influence of movies.

    If you want to rant about director’s and their toxic impact with direction/focus on mindless action, rant about Michael Bay.

    I could make the same case of character criticism for some of Spielberg’s, Scorsese’s, Terence Malick, and even Kirosawa’s work! All of their movies had flaws and issues. Over time and by studying their films for years, they were labeled as the cinematic greats. Fincher will go down as the cinematic greats and I will not stand for the random backlash by people irrationally using his movies as a soapbox to prop up other directors.

    I think I might need to leave this entry before I lose my mind or temper.
    Whew. Deep breaths.

  • Marie

    “How can anybody label Fight Club and Social Network that dealt deeply with the messages about greed, commercialism, misanthropes, anti-social behavior, depression, the neuroses of our world, and identity among so many other facets as superficial? It was subversive in Fight Club, plot-driven in Seven, and dialogue-driven in The Social Network. Most of his movies have been iconic and exceptional. None of his movies except for Alien 3 have been mediocre. Twenty or even ten years from now, Fincher will go down as prolific and as one of the “Greats”. In the future, he will ranked among Spielberg, Scorsese, and others if he continues to do fine work. “

  • Mattoc

    In regards to sex scenes, if they serve a purpose, it can work.

    Carlito’s Way worked. Team America worked. The Departed worked. Henry and June worked.

    Team America should be shown as an educational film I believe.

  • steve50

    @Marie – beautifully put! I bow down to you.

  • John-Paul

    The thing that bothers me about people considering “Midnight in Paris” to be a minor work is that this opinion so clearly depends on placing it within the context of Allen’s entire career. Of course it doesn’t have the depth or sophistication of “Manhattan” or “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” but why should it? It’s what Woody Allen is doing now, and it’s great. If it had been the work of a young, up-and-coming director, I think a lot of people would be much less reserved in calling it one of the best movies of the year. In fact, I think the biggest compliment I could attribute to the movie is that it feels like it COULD have been the work of a young, up-and-coming director. I know most people think Woody Allen’s best work is far behind him, and that may be true to some extent, but at least he’s not trying to recreate his past glory and is instead opting to try something new every now and again. So no, “Midnight in Paris” doesn’t rank that high on my list of best Woody Allen movies, but that doesn’t mean it can’t rank high on my list of best movies of 2011.

  • The thing that bothers me about people considering “Midnight in Paris” to be a minor work is that this opinion so clearly depends on placing it within the context of Allen’s entire career.

    Not really. My complaint about the film is mostly with the actors. I’m not comparing it to his other films. Beyond that the idea of wanting to live in a time before my own is lost on me. If I were to visit the past, I’d probably go back to a time I lived through.

  • rufussondheim

    Oh, Marie, Marie, Marie. Where do I begin?

    First off, my backlash against Spielberg began in 1998. I was in the theater watching Saving Private Ryan. The movie was, perhaps, midway through, I can’t recall exactly. The troops were roaming about, in danger of some variety, sadly, I can’t recall the specifics. And then suddenly we get a shot of a puddle in tire tracks and we see the water vibrate, and then we go to close ups of the characters and we see them realize that tanks are approaching. And then I say to myself, “Hey, where did I see that before?”

    At that time, I was a Spielberg fan. So, of course I instantly realize that shot sequence was a a direct steal from his earlier work, Jurassic Park (surely you recall the vibrating water in the dinosaur footprint!)

    And so I continue watching the movie and I begin to see other similarities between the two movies and as the film climaxes with the American planes flying overhead, I can’t help but realize that Spielberg used a similar deus ex machina in JP when the TRex came out of nowhere to kill the advancing velociraptors.

    Everybody steals from themselves, it’s impossible to fill a movie with 100% originality. But to copy such iconic shots is, in my opinion, not something I want to see in a film if that film wants to be considered a masterpience.

    Needless to say, I watched many Spielberg movies again and I saw him using the same exact techniques over and over again. It’s been years since I looked at a film of his closely, but when I see a new one, I don’t see anything original or interesting in his works anymore. Even when I watch the old classics like Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark, all I see are the same shots over and over again. It’s depressing.

    As for Fincher, I never said he was without merit, I loved The Social Network and it was the first time, for me, where everything clicked, where he got the emotional complexity that I enjoy in a movie up to the same level as his technical and stylistic prowess. I look forward to every new Fincher movie. He has a place amongst the best directors working today. I offer generic criticisms only to differentiate why I don’t like him as much as the directors I listed as my favorites.

    Now to address the snide tone of your posts, Marie. I will say one thing and then repeat myself over and over until I am confidant you understand what I am saying. I figure I can’t say it just once in a subtle way, like Altman, but I have to announce I am going to say it, then say it, and then double check that you understood it, something more akin to what Spielberg would do.

    And here I now go. Please start the song Also Sprach Zarathrusta so when you hear it you know what I am about to say is important. All of us approach the movies we choose to watch with different experiences and different expectations. We are looking to get different things out of the film watching experience. As a result, not all of us will enjoy the same directors, the same movies or the same scenes. Or, more interesting, maybe we will enjoy the same movies but for entirely different reasons. I declare (the song is hitting its climax right now!) this to be a good thing.

    Now for the repetitive things. Notice I am saying the same thing but in a different way. So, yes, when we choose to list our favorite directors, we will often list different directors as different directors offer different viewpoints. Not everyone will agree. Just because someone prefers one director over the other does not mean they are pretentious or suffering from groupthink or participating in a coordinated backlash. We are merely expressing our opinions.

    Now I am going to repeat myself again, albeit in a slightly different way. But it’s essentially the same thing as before, but I don’t think you will see it that way. Oh well.

    Please don’t accuse me of participating in groupthink by saying I don’t appreciate Spielberg and saying that I need to like Spielberg. You accuse me of participating in groupthink at the same time you criticize me for not agreeing with your opinion, your groupthink. It’s unbecoming and unwelcome and unworthy. You need to do better.

  • Craig Z

    Film Fatale, I disagree cause

    1. Betrayal as a topic is vague. It can be minor or major. Murder is always major.
    2. Like Clint said with murder you take away everything they are and everything they ever will be.

  • Tero Heikkinen

    Murder is always major cause it affects so many people. My 28-year old cousin was killed by a 27-year old. And I feel sorry for the killer and his family, too. I feel for them. This is why I can never understand Death Penalty and the blood-thirstiness. Isn’t enough blood spilled already? No need for revenge.

    I think Tim Robbins dealt with the subject well in Dead Man Walking, saw both sides of the story.

  • julian the emperor

    “Betrayal as a topic is vague”???

    That is a curious statement….betrayal by definition is a gravely serious matter, why otherwise call it betrayal?

    I think Film Fatale is right, betrayal is at the essence of what makes a drama truly compelling (just ask the old Greeks or Shakespeare or…).
    Murder is a much more simplistic concept; a “whodunnit?”, a problem to address, a riddle to solve. It’s a much more “pragmatic” thing to address in a storyline. With betrayal you touch at the very roots (the dangerous, inner core) of what humans are capable of. It’s more complex, more interesting, basically.
    A murder needs a plot in order to be interesting within a story, betrayal is interesting per definition and it doesn’t rely on plot or narrative solely, it relies on character and characterization.
    Put in another way: if you are interested in murder you read Agatha Christie (or some inferior crime novel), if you are interested in betrayal you read all the greats of literature (Dostojevskij, Shakespeare, Stendhal, etc.)

  • Tero Heikkinen

    I would say that Shakespeare is also much about murder.

  • Tero Heikkinen

    But I get the betrayal themes here.

  • I would say that Shakespeare is also much about murder.

    Yes. This.
    So is the Bible.
    So are The Iliad & The Odyssey.

  • Fielding

    And Woody Allen has long been obsessed with betrayal AND murder.

  • Craig Z

    Betrayal is also a common fodder for comedy…. Ever seen It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or most teen comedies? Betrayal isn’t always groundbreaking.

  • Mark

    Hmm, i’m pretty sure murder is more dramatic than betrayal. Especially if it’s happening to you!

  • Mark

    BTW nice piece Sasha. Though i’m confused as to why Fincher would be nominated for Tattoo, it’s just a solid popular genre thriller. And I say that as a huge Fincher fan. The material was below him.

  • it’s just a solid popular genre thriller.

    “Just.” Just that. Must be so easy.

    Last year the Central Ohio Film Critics nominated
    Best Director
    -Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
    -Danny Boyle, 127 Hours
    -David Fincher, The Social Network
    -Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
    -Christopher Nolan, Inception

    This year the Central Ohio Film Critics nominated
    Best Director
    -David Fincher, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
    -Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life
    -Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive
    -Martin Scorsese, Hugo
    -Lars von Trier, Melancholia

    It’s fine if you’re confused about it, Mark.
    So long as I can be confused about why you’re confused.

  • mecid

    These all are great directors

  • mecid

    These all are great directors. But let see which director made us think about our problems, who had great influence on us, with whose films we have grown up. Surely, most of you will say Steven Spielberg. When he began his career he managed to to give pleasure to people with his first films. Jaws(1975) was first blockbuster. In 1981 he was nominated for GREAT Raiders of lost ark? he deserved it, but Warren Beatty took Oscar. Again in 1982 E.T was big film and he again lost to Gandhi director Richard Attenborough. Richard Attenborough said that he took Spielberg”s Oscar. Spielberg deserves this Oscar more than others. Thank you for reading!!!

  • My three favorites are Scorsese – the eternal #1, followed by Cronenberg and Fincher.
    Great post, Sasha. As usual.

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