Lost in the Movies: The Director's Chair

The Director's Chair

My 32 favorite directors (maybe)

My picks are subjective - these are favorites, not best, though I think all of them can stand among the best. They are conditioned by what I've seen, at age 26, and of course by what I haven't...yet. Nonetheless, I think it's an exciting list, and a great guide for anyone looking to expand their experience of auteurs. This post is a response to Films from the Supermassive Black Hole; meanwhile Justine Smith responded to my own tag at The House of Mirth and Movies. (Impressed by her "Unofficial Female Film Canon" I encouraged her to follow suit with a director's list and she did).

For my own picks, I took the visual approach - a title card representing each pick, followed by a lineup of great video clips, perfect if you want to re-live or (better yet) introduce yourself to the fascinating worlds of these filmmakers. Enjoy...

F.W. Murnau (1888 - 1931)
Faust (1926)

Sergei Eisenstein (1898 – 1948)
October (1927)

Carl Theodor Dreyer (1889 - 1968)
The Passion of Joan of Arc (1929)

Charlie Chaplin (1889 - 1977)
City Lights (1931)

King Vidor (1894 - 1982)
The Champ (1931)

Howard Hawks (1896 - 1977)
Scarface (1932)

John Ford (1894 - 1973)
Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)

David Lean (1908 - 1991)
Great Expectations (1946)

Yasujiro Ozu (1903 - 1963)
Late Spring (1949)

Federico Fellini (1920 - 1993)
Nights of Cabiria (1957)

Alfred Hitchcock (1899 - 1980)
Vertigo (1958)

Jacques Rivette (b. 1928)
Paris Belongs to Us (1960)

Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922 - 1975)

Mamma Roma (1962)

Michelangelo Antonioni (1912 - 2007)
L'Eclisse (1962)

Jean-Luc Godard (b. 1930)
Band of Outsiders (1964)

Orson Welles (1915 - 1985)
Chimes at Midnight (1965)

Ingmar Bergman (1918 - 2007)
Persona (1966)

Robert Bresson (1901 – 1999)
Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)

Jean-Pierre Melville (1917 – 1973)
Le Samourai (1967)

Bernardo Bertolucci (b. 1940)
The Conformist (1970)

Eric Rohmer (1920 - 2010)
Claire's Knee (1970)

Francis Ford Coppola (b. 1939)
The Godfather (1972)

Martin Scorsese (b. 1942)
Mean Streets (1973)

Stanley Kubrick (1928 - 1999)
Barry Lyndon (1975)

Steven Spielberg (b. 1946)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Andrei Tarkovsky (1932 - 1986)
Stalker (1979)

Peter Greenaway (b. 1942)
A Zed and Two Noughts (1986)

David Lynch (b. 1946)
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)

The Quay Brothers (b. 1947)
Are We Still Married? (1992)

Michel Gondry (b. 1963)
Hyperballad (1996)

Zhang Ke Jia (b. 1970)
Still Life (2006)

Lars von Trier (b. 1956)
The following video contains graphic content.

Antichrist (2009)


Stephen said...

Wonderful. I love the use of the title cards.

Saying "great choice" is a bit pointless seeing as it's a matter of taste rather than objective fact(!) but I like the vast majority of the Directors here quite a lot and there is only a minority that would get nowhere near my list (Scorsese, Gondry, Lean, Welles, Greenaway, Antonioni, Bertolucci)

Thanks for the clips - I will be looking through them.

Joel Bocko said...

Thanks Stephen, and the clips are definitely worth watching, even if (as I realized afterwards) it would take something like 3-5 hours to watch them all in one fell swoop! (It's great to go from style to style too I find, each one distinctive in its own way.)

On the taste vs. objective fact, I sort of made the distinction between "best" and "favorite" here not just in terms of our old argument (which needn't be restated) but also to signify different but overlapping subjective experience. What I think of as "favorite" is usually signified by a rush of visceral pleasure, what I consider "best" has more to do with a cerebral admiration, an understanding and appreciation of what I'm seeing. I would say the directors featured here mostly fall into both categories, though the visceral aspect was the essential prerequisite.

Stephen said...

"What I think of as "favorite" is usually signified by a rush of visceral pleasure, what I consider "best" has more to do with a cerebral admiration, an understanding and appreciation of what I'm seeing."


3-5 hours? That is quite a lot but I suppose it serves as both a crash course to Cinema and a window into someone else's mind through their loves and likes.

Joel Bocko said...

It serves as that but more importantly, it's a blast! (I find.) One could complain it's like a course of appetizers, but I always loved appetizers myself. Even if some of the directors aren't your favorites I find watching a clip in isolation often makes one appreciate them more and even enjoy them a bit more, since one doesn't feel "committed" to something they aren't necessarily into for the whole hog. It can sometimes even give you a whole new perspective on them, particularly when presented with enthusiasm (I've been turned on to films or filmmakers I wasn't initially keen on this way).

The approach also has a whole lot to do with how I got into movies - not so much by sitting down and watching this film, then that film, then this one. But by getting a little taste - through books, clips, and images - of a movie and hungering desperately for more.

Anyway, apparently I can't do math. The clips add up to 146 minutes, a little less than two and a half hours or about the length of long (but by no means epic) movie. To anyone out there still reading this long comment (which already proves you have endurance!) I'd suggest one of two approaches: split the viewing into 2 or 3 sections when you have some time to spare or else choose the ones you haven't seen (avoid Hitchcock or Pasolini if you're concerned with spoilers) plus maybe a few that you haven't seen in a while and watch those. Maybe hop around from clip to clip based on your own whim of what you're curious to see next - there's a huge variety to sample here (THAT impulsive, subjective guide might be the approach most bound to satisfy).

Or, if you're as nuts as me wait and watch them all at once - though God knows when I'll find the time...

Joel Bocko said...

I should have added to that last paragraph "watch them all CHRONOLOGICALLY" - I'm a sucker for seeing not only the individual styles, but the way film style changed over the years.

Richard Bellamy said...

Excellent work, MovieMan - truly a labor of love. I'm glad you chose the ending of City Lights. The whole film is his masterpiece, and the last scene is a work of art. A most thrilling moment in film!

Joel Bocko said...

Thanks Hokahey - Gold Rush is probably my favorite Chaplin but I think in many ways City Lights is his masterpiece, and it definitely has one of the greatest endings in cinema. The last time I saw I found myself a bit shocked by his appearance - not just the ragged clothes, but look of almost mentally ill vacancy in his eyes. I'd forgotten how far his fortunes had fallen in the film. Makes the conclusion even more poignant.

I look forward to your list, right?

Marilyn said...

Thanks for the invite. I'll have to consider whether this is something I feel I can do. Lately, I'm feeling that the focus on directors shortchanges the collaborative effort it takes to make a movie.

Tony Dayoub said...

Joel, your memes are starting to feel more like homework (I say with a slight wink). Picking 15 favorite directors is easy enough, but "to discuss the film [I view] as a crucial turning point in each of [my] favorite director's careers"? What if some of my favorite director's don't have such turning points (more than a few don't)?

Unknown said...

Fantastic list! Wow... I love the amount of detail and the use of clips.

Here are my picks:


Sam Juliano said...

The mother of all posts, and a true labor of love!

A good number of these artists will place in my own listing, (which I hope to post at this site later tonight)and I join you in celebrating their craft.

What a showcase of great clips that are here for all of us to access regularly.

You have really climbed to the top of the ladder here my friend!

See you later!

Sam Juliano said...

And I couldn't agree more with Hokahey on the final scene of CITY LIGHTS, which is my favoorite sequence in all of cinema, and one that always brings me to tears.

James Agee was right when he posed "it's the high point of the movies."

Chris said...

This is seriously fantastic - damn my company's firewall for not allowing me to see the videos now!

Also reading through the comments I love your distinction between "best" and "favorite" - something I've been discussing (ok, arguing) with friends for years now.

Joel Bocko said...

Thanks everyone for the comments! I have moderation turned on because of spam but if I get another similar rush of comments while I'm away from a computer I might have to shut it off! Hope you all enjoyed the list and are contemplating your own - I'll respond to each in turn in this comment.

Marilyn, I hope you do jump at it but in the mean time (or instead if you decide you're not up for this one) what about a top 15 filmmakers/film artists who AREN'T directors. Heck, you could even turn that one into a spin-off meme - I'd bite!


Yeah, I know. ;) As for your list, I'll look forward to it whatever approach you take but you raise a fair point. I'd say in response that I'd be as much interested to see which ones you feel do and don't have the turning points as in what those turning points are...


thanks - I was originally going to do more, but this turned out to be ambitious (and time-consuming) enough. I'll check out your picks, looks like you jumped in right before me...


Thanks - and I can't wait to see your list! Tonight? That's fast work - and not surprised at all to see City Lights is your favorite moment.


Methinks your company would not be too happy to catch you watching the Antichrist clip at work, ha ha...thanks for the praise & I've had that (exhausting) conversation too. I like "best" lists but most of the time I want a balance between the two categories in my own exercises. Btw, I hope you'll jump into this meme too.

Sam Juliano said...

Here are mine:

Charles Chaplin and Ingmar Bergman
Robert Bresson
Yasujiro Ozu
Carl Theodor Dreyer
Kenji Mizoguchi
Jean Renoir
F. W. Murnau
Y. Yoshida
John Ford
Powell and Pressburger
Buster Keaton
Luis Bunuel
Satijit Ray
K. Kieslowski
Ernst Lubitsch
Orson Welles
Max Ophuls
Abel Gance
Abbas Kiarostami
Vittorio De Sica
Anthony Mann
Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Billy Wilder
Andrei Tarkovsky
Alfred Hitchcock
Jean-Pierre Melville
Frank Capra
Stanley Kubrick
Billy Wilder
Jacques Rivette
Mikio Naruse
Carol Reed
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Frantisek Vlacil
Federico Fellini
Terrence Malick
Akira Kurosawa
Peter Greenaway
Lars Von Trier
Preston Sturges
Val Lewton (counted as a director here!)
King Vidor
Steven Spielberg
Francis Ford Coppola
Howard Hawks
Woody Allen
Jean-Luc Godard
Sergei Eisenstein
Victor Fleming (for two films)
Jacques Tourneur
Francois Truffaut
David Lynch
A. Wajda
Rric Rohmer
Kon Ichikawa

Joel Bocko said...

Great list - is it in order? I especially like seeing Gance and Weerasethakul on there. The only one I'm not familiar with at first glance is Vlacil (though, ironically, I see he directed Marketa Lazarova which was on my Holy Grail list!). I assume the two Flemings you speak of are Red Hot Romance and The Road Had No Turning?

Dennis Polifroni said...

This is an inspired idea for a thread and one that brings back many memories for me and my film-going youth.

The clip from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND sent chills down my spine as it has done many times in the past. It makes you remember that Spielberg's genius as a contructor of great visual moments was evident from the very word go. Prodigy if there ever was one.

Thriled to see you choose BARRY LYNDON for the Kubrick selection and i couldn't agree with you more on Hitchcock and VERTIGO, Chaplin and CITY LIGHTS and Bergman and PERSONA.

This was a really nice way to sign off for the night...

Chris said...

Consider the meme jumped.

Joel Bocko said...


I thought you'd like this! Not surprised to hear the CE3K & Barry Lyndon picks thrilled you. I'd love to see your own list for this exercise - maybe that could be your next post on Wonders in the Dark?


Just gave it look (I'll be back later for a more substantial view) - great picks and awesome on-set photos. I especially love that opening one of Kubrick!

Marilyn said...

Joel - You can see my dilemma when neither you nor my great friend Sam Juliano can come up with a single woman. The noninclusiveness of the directing field means marginalization of women and, in the U.S., minority directors. Who knows what Barbara Loden could have accomplished as a director if she had been given a chance? As it is, we only have one film she helmed, the superlative Wanda. I'd want to start a meme of directors that would focus ONLY on these marginalized people - absolutely NO white/majority-race (as in Kurosawa for Japan) men allowed from any country. But how many people do you think would participate? Probably not many.

Joel Bocko said...

I would!

As for women directors, I hope Justine decides to give it a go, as I'd love to see her picks. For myself, there are a few who could've made this list if I'd seen a few more by them - Agnes Varda, Vera Chytilova, and Sofia Coppola are among my favorites. In the first two cases I've only seen 2 Vardas and 1 Chytilova (all of which I loved), as for Coppola she's my favorite young American director working now, one more of the caliber of Lost in Translation and she'd be on here alongside her Dad (luckily she's just at the start of her career).

I think the lack of women/minorities is more a selection bias than a bias of the selectors (as I think you suggest) - due to societal circumstances there are not as many to choose from. For what it's worth I think this will change a lot in the next few decades, as the production/distribution models change, thus opening up access to everyone (including those previously not widely represented in filmmaking). I can say that I've seen a lot of female students attending film school their work is often excellent (the male-to-female ratio is still pretty high, but not as high as you would expect; for whatever reason a lot of the student films I've seen that I remember best were produced by women).

Anyway, I still hope you'll participate - whether it be per my suggestion, or with a non-director list, or with a "lesser-noticed" directors list. I'd love to read it and share my own thoughts, maybe even bounce back a second list. (I don't know about you, but I can never have enough of this sort of thing...)

Joel Bocko said...

I do have to specify though - I'd probably be uncomfortable making it a strictly gender/race thing, and would want to focus more on "counter-filmmaking" by people and visions usually excluded from the systems in place (i.e. I think attitudes about gender and race play a role about what films will be financed, but that other factors do as well, so I'd be uncomfortable restricing any white male from a list of "marginalized" filmmakers). But I would definitely be interested in reading your own list of purely female/non-white directors.

Marilyn said...

I don't see why you'd be reluctant to exclude white/majority-race men, since you excluded minority and women from your list with no discomfort. Why not let go of the security blanket and really try to identify with the Other.

Joel Bocko said...

Marilyn, I do not exclude women and minorities from my list. They were eligible.

I don't have much more to say on this topic except that I look forward to whatever list you may compile and I respect your decision if you chose not to participate. I would hope you respect my own views and decisions in return.

Nostalgia Kinky said...

Wow, what a cool idea and thanks for tagging me. I will happily participate and will follow your specific request of me. I will try and get it posted this weekend. Thanks again...

Joel Bocko said...

Thanks, Jeremy - can't wait to see your contribution.

Gordon Pasha said...

Hello MovieMan. I am late to respond to this (as I was to your recent comment on my Kim Novak post) because of being away for offsite maintenance (similar to Westworld). I find the idea of listing directors (with your added first encounter requirement) of interest and, as further maintenance permits, will undertake the effort -- with the appropriate linkage.
I would also like to watch the clips, consider and reflect on your robust list which should prove edifying. I learned much from the Goodfellas Directors series back in summer -- both the postings and the comments. Best. Gerald (or Gerry or Gordon)

Joel Bocko said...

Gerald, no worries, I sometimes take weeks to check up on comments, and even longer to catch up with blogs! I very much look forward to your list. Dave's was great - I meant to mention it in my intro but forgot. Looks like he's been taking a break too...

Joel Bocko said...

The intro was shortened on Nov. 23. Here is the original:

I'm kind of surprised it took so long (then again, maybe it didn't) for this meme to emerge. But Films from the Super Massive Black Hole has finally laid out the bait, and even though I wasn't tagged (to my knowledge), I'm biting. The original idea was 15 directors but my list kept growing, so I doubled the number and made it a full 30, and then 31, finally settling on 32. Even that was problematic - I should note from the outset that these are "favorite" filmmakers, not "best," so I've left out a lot of no-brainer auteurs for whom I have more admiration than affection (not to say I don't enjoy their work, just that it doesn't necessarily hit me on the same gut level as what I've included here). No Renoir, Bunuel, Truffaut, Kurosawa, Lang, Tati, among other inexcusable omissions. There were also several borderline cases - like Griffith or Satyajit Ray - for whom I couldn't find a satisfying clip online. At the very last minute I remember the director who appeared last - hence the odd number. Meanwhile, I have included what to some will be surprising latter-day picks. As I said, this is a favorites list but I do think these younger filmmakers have intense, unique visions that can stand with the best, however different the nature of their work (and it should be noted that for three of the five final filmmakers, I have their short subjects in mind).

Joel Bocko said...


Below are images proudly proclaiming their author's achievement - title cards from films by the directors in question. Following this, a list of names for those who want something more solid (or can't read Japanese), accompanied by a clip from one of their masterworks. The clips were tricky. I prefer to upload videos myself, given the transitory nature of You Tube and the way the clips will never align with exactly what you wished for (in one video, the user cuts just seconds before the punchline to the whole encounter!). However, there wasn't time, so I went with the internet's most ubiquitous cinematheque. Some of the You Tube clips run up to 10 minutes, but most hover around 5; ideally, all the clips could be watched in a few extended visits to the post. Most have English subtitles; those that don't, don't need them because the communication of the scene is mostly visual. I avoided clips with obscurations, commercials, or added titles (which unfortunately axed what would have been one of the best, and most surprising, choices), and while my selections were limited, in most cases I've chosen a scene which satisfactorily illustrates my attraction to the artist in question. Fair warning for those who need it: the final clip contains graphic content. Since we are talking directors here, not writers or even whole-package filmmakers, I tried to focus on scenes which rely for their power in largest part upon direction. Yes, the screenplay sets up a situation, but without the expression of the director through performance, sound design, editing, photography, and above all that intangible yet evocative aura of artistic completeness, a totality of what's onscreen which the French call "mise en scene," these works would not be half as astonishing as they are. So here are my 32 directors. Perhaps someday I'll return and replace these clips with my own, more precise selections (as I still intend to do for my actress post where almost all the videos have disappeared over time).

Before I begin, let me tag - with a twist. I have a specific approach I'd love to see each blogger use. Partly for fun, and partly because I half-suspect they might have done this exercise already. Top 15's are fine, though you can go higher or lower, as you like. Please link back to me as well as to the originator of the meme, mentioned above. Gerry of Lazslo's on Lex is to recall his first encounter with each of his favorite directors - in his 70 years of moviegoing, he must have witnessed many a career unfold in real time. Jeremy Richey of Moon in the Gutter is to choose his favorite screen-cap from his favorite film of each auteur. Marilyn Ferdinand of Ferdy on Films is to explain the qualities, in style and sensibility, that make the filmmakers in her pantheon great (this is either the easiest or the hardest assignment!). Tony Dayoub of Cinema Viewfinder is to discuss the film he views as a crucial turning point in each of his favorite director's careers. Jon Lanthier, of Aspiring Sellout and Slant, is to unveil his favorite moment from each filmmaker - in action and appeal. Finally - and this assignment limits the selection rather than the presentation - I would love to see Justine Smith's list of favorite female directors at The House of Mirth and Movies. Her Unofficial Female Film Canon was an ambitious undertaking, thematically focused - and this could provide a nice auteurist complement to that exercise. Oh, and if you're not tagged, you're still tagged. Get to work.

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