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September 10, 2012


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Really surprised Clint Eastwood didn't make the list.

Pleasantly surprised.

I thought Glenn was in the proverbial tank for him.

Surely that empty chair didn't disqualify him. Hereafter, Gran Torino, Million Dollar Baby, etc. are far greater crimes.


Gran Torino is Eastwood's Limelight: like Chaplin, he reconsiders his star persona, recognizes that his character (or his methods) no longer have any place in society and even imagines his own death. So what's not to like?

(The movie also kinda registered as an anti-war film without any actual war sequences, like John Ford's Long Gray Line, but that is just my totally unwarranted subjective, uh, impression.)

Bruce Brown

Any list of Great American Directors that doesn't include Todd Haynes is a fucking wank. Everyone is talking about PTA being the heir to Kubrick, but I don't get that at all, because Haynes has already made the great Kubrick film that Kubrick never made, and it's called Safe. I saw The Master in Santa Monica and it's fine, it's good, but why no one is talking about PTA's complete nutballing of Malick is kind of strange to me. PTA is a good filmmaker and an even better mythologizer. There's a reason he likes to be called "P.T."


Charles Burnett, Monte Hellman, Jerry Lewis?

Joel Bocko

Also, I may not have many comrades-in-arms on this but I was disappointed to see that Francis was the only Coppola on the list.

Dale Wittig

I understand that this list came about by consensus and that your colleagues are probably more conservative or conventional in their tastes than you, but seeing the likes of James Cameron, Christopher Nolan, Joel and Ethan Coen, and David Fincher included on this list, while Terry Gilliam, Gus Van Sant, Todd Haynes, Ken Jacobs, Charles Burnett, Peter Bogdanovich, and, above all, David Lynch are left off, is rather dispiriting (and I happen to think Lynch is much more likely than Cameron to produce something worth watching in the next few years, whether it be a feature, a short, or a commercial for a magical handbag.) But hell, at least Jim Jarmusch was mentioned.


Brad Bird?


Hey, I like this game. Glenn missed out Clint Eastwood, Richard Linklater, Abel Ferrara, Jon Jost, James Benning, Thom Andersen and Stanley Donen and now he's totally ruined my day (my life?).

Joel Bocko

LOL, yeah, concocting these kinds of lists, especially for a well-trafficked website is kind of a thankless task, bound to spur more raspberries than plaudits. Enjoyed reading it anyway though.

But +1 to Dale on Lynch.

Gordon Cameron

>Everyone is talking about PTA being the heir to Kubrick

I like PTA well enough (though Hard Eight is still my favorite of his films, and honestly I'm not just saying that to be contrarian! I think...), but are people really calling him the heir to Kubrick?

I can't think of anyone I would call the heir to Kubrick. Kubrick is about as sui generis as they come, I think...

David Ehrenstein

He's the heir to Delbert Mann.

warren oates

Ditto all the votes for Gus Van Sant. What about David Lynch? And if we're going to put Jarmusch and Spike Lee on there what about Hal Hartley and Richard Linklater who have made at least as many great films.

J. Priest

I'd rather have Todd Haynes over Gus Vant Sant. As much as I love "My Own Private Idaho," "Drugstore Cowboy" and "Elephant," he's made some abysmal films like "Psycho," "Restless" and especially "Finding Forrester."

Brian Dauth

I agree that FINDING FORRESTER is bottom shelf Van Sant; and as for RESTLESS -- I was able to see it only once, so I am unsure. But PSYCHO is a remarkable movie and far from abysmal. Van Sant queers the original, eliminating the homophobia (unintended as I have argued elsewhere, and more the result of directoral choices founded upon limited available knowledge, but present nonetheless -- hard to fault an artist for not knowing what at the time was unknown), with the result being that Van Sant's PSYCHO ends up more harrowing than the original. And if one compares the final two images, you have a perfect visual correlative for the transition from modernism to postmodernism.

James Keepnews

With ya on Linklater, mr. oates, but HH's films have not aged very well, IMO, much as I enjoyed many of them at the time of their release. I'd call HENRY FOOL half-great and admittedly do have more than a little love for AMATEUR (peut-être a synecdohe for my more-than-a-little-love for Mlle. Huppert). Beyond those, for me what remains is merely high-ironic Meh-ville in Melville. Which of his films do you consider great enough to rub shoulders with Spike & Jim?

That Fuzzy Bastard

HH was been in the wilderness for a while now, but the guy who made those first three features and shorts gets something of a lifetime pass from me.
That said, I think Linklatter and Haynes are more likely to make more wonderful movies than Nolan, or even Coppola (TETRO was really good, though). If you need some superhero auteurs on the list, I'd put Bryan Singer in the top ranks of Hollywood directors---X2 is the best superhero movie of the current generation, the first X-Men delivered the goods better than anyone else, and SUPERMAN RETURNS is going to look better and better the further out we get from its release.


Fuzzy-- thanks for saying that about SUPERMAN RETURNS, which is actually my favorite of the last decade of superhero movies, and easily the most underrated.

warren oates

@James Keepnews, HENRY FOOL and TRUST are as good as any of the best films of Jim Jarmusch and Spike Lee. But I'm also keen on SIMPLE MEN, SURVIVING DESIRE and the last episode in FLIRT.

So I've seen THE MASTER and read a number of reviews now including Glenn's and Kent's. And I wish I'd seen the film they describe. The one where all the meandering and not-adding-up nevertheless still perversely adds up. For me it just didn't. All the more disappointing because I loved THERE WILL BE BLOOD so much and was already interested in THE MASTER's time/place/setting and cult-a-clef conceit. Phoenix's performance is the reason to go, but to me it sadly and ultimately feels wasted in a film full of could have beens. The script needed another year of work. As Bergman once said "The film never gets to the wound of the story."

That Fuzzy Bastard

Brian: Matt Zoller Seitz has become an increasingly vocal advocate for it too. So that's three of us!

Harry K.

Thinking about it, I'd like to put a good word in for Woody Allen as well, talking about people likely to have a couple more films in them.


“I remember a magazine wanted to do a big photo spread with a bunch of us -— Todd Haynes, Gus Van Sant, six or seven of us -— the new indies. Maybe I was just an asshole, but I refused to do it.”

-- Hal Hartley, 2005


Ha ha.


Brian (D.), Why is Van Sant's PSYCHO "more harrowing" than Hitchcock's original just "because Van Sant eliminates the homophobia"? Now I've not seen the remake but "better than Hitchcock" is surely a very bold claim you're making for the movie.

I did see RESTLESS, however, and it was easily the worst theatrical experience I had last year - two oh so cuddly overgrown teenagers discover death (or "death" if you will, because nothing about dying is anything like that) - and, although I've privately heaped plenty of abuse on the movie after I came out of the theatre, here's the one I could reasonably post- it was essentially a movie without a director. The shots have been designed like most of the shots in Hollywood are now designed: brief and bereft of any sense of framing or composition. And the sensibility - "death" as redemption or whatever, teddy bears and cheap muzak - appears to be more in keeping with the sensibility of Ron Howard (should he be on the list too?) and the generic conventions that govern a "feel-good" movie. Now, say what you will about AH, but he somehow was able to project his ideas and thoughts, even under the repressive influence of Selznick.

I'm probably sounding more surly than I intend here but when you consider that this film sits alongside such hits like FINDING FORRESTER and GOOD WILL HUNTING, I'm wondering right now why you make such a case for Van Sant.


I wouldn't call THE MASTER my favorite Anderson film - it is a slight comedown from THERE WILL BE BLOOD and MAGNOLIA, but since those, to me, are absolute masterpieces, that's to be expected somewhat - but I found it interesting and challenging because Anderson made Phoenix's character someone who seemed to resist Hoffman's cause (as much as he also embraced it) not because of philosophical differences, or because he felt Hoffman betrayed him in some way, but because of something in his temperament. Maybe this is a sign I need to get out more, but I've never seen that portrayed, or at least not in the way Anderson does here. And I also found the last scene between Hoffman and Phoenix an inversion of the climax between Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano at the end of TWBB, and that too was fascinating. THE MASTER is definitely chillier in some sense than Anderson's other films, and I will need to watch it again, but it was gripping most of the way. I do wish Jesse Plemmons had more to do, but Amy Adams was amazing in this (her part of the whole intervention sequence - for lack of a better term - Phoenix's character goes through was chilling).

warren oates

So lipranzer, just what does the dynamic you describe between Phoenix and Hoffman's characters actually do for the film dramatically or thematically? What's it all about for you? How does the non-embrace embrace you're sketching out do something interesting or necessary for Phoenix's character or the narrative of the film as a whole? What is that elusive "something in his temperament" and if it indeed matters so much to Freddie/Phoenix and to the whole film as it seems too, how come it's never clear what this quality is or how it ultimately shapes his interactions with Dodd/Hoffmann?


What does it do for me? Well, to me, it's a story of how there are some people who, no matter how hard you try, you can't really help. You might not buy that argument - and, to be fair, I'm not sure I entirely buy it either - but the way Anderson presents it I thought was interesting. And as far as "explaining" why Freddie was how he was, I wouldn't have wanted a facile Freudian excuse as to why he was the way he was - you certainly have hints of it, from what sounds like a not-so-great home life to what we learn of his war experiences to the fact he has a relationship with a girl who's barely out of her teens to the fact he's, at the very least, a problem drinker and at most an alcoholic, but none of them are presented as "oh, so THAT'S why he was how he was", and I think the character is more dimensional because of that. As to the relationship between him and Dodd, well, as from Dodd's point of view, if he can "save" Freddie, that's the ultimate validation of his "cause", and as far as Freddie goes, part of him may want to be saved even though, of course, part of him consciously or unconsciously resists.

warren oates

Lipranzer, thanks for the thoughtful and detailed response. I certainly appreciate the dimensionality and irreducibility of Freddie's character and the non-pat hints of his backstory. I just don't think Anderson's film does enough with him, once it establishes his troubled animal nature as such. Likewise, I don't think it's ever clear what Freddie actually needs or wants from Dodd. Or vice-versa. Although Dodd's looking to prove his methods on the ultimate trouble case is maybe close to what the film has in mind. THE MASTER seems to want to be a kind of epic character study. But in the end, the two main characters don't really come together in a terribly significant or revelatory fashion. And I'm left wondering why their meeting mattered, what it did for either one of them, and why they still both feel like ciphers to me after more than two hours.

Brian Dauth

First: THE MASTER. I am with Warren here -- not sure what all the fuss is about. Certainly the movie is now the frontrunner in this year's Het Male Agonistes Sweepstakes (won last year by THE TREE OF LIFE which shares THE MASTER's caricaturing of women and veneration of male woe. And just as with TTOF, I am sure that THE MASTER's partisans are primed to go Freddie Quell all over dissenters).

The movie is straight forward in terms of narrative with modernist ellipses, but the film's awe of its own solemnity (all 70 mm of it) does not invite a spectator into the film to rummage around -- discovering/creating connections and meaning -- but instead asks one to genuflect before its seriousness -- not only does the film take place in an earlier time, it asks a spectator to assume an outdated posture of viewer passivity (unless the film is a satire of just this request and was executed with such subtlety that the movie itself doesn't know it is a satire).

As a queer viewer, I doubt I am Anderson's target audience, but the highbrow bromance aspects of the film left me cold. The movie offers: a) Freddie looking for guidance from Dodd; b) Dodd failing to help; c) Freddie moving on and adopting/adapting Dodd's methods to use on others. All that spread out over 150 minutes: if Dodd's second book could be cut down to a three-page pamphlet, THE MASTER could be beneficially reduced to a 20-minute short subject. Warren notes that Freddie and Dodd "feel like ciphers" to him, but I think that they are even less than that. Ciphers (well-executed) invite exploration and curiosity -- Quell and Dodd registered for me as bundles of authorial/performative tics seeking applause. For all his talent to combine image with sound, I find that Anderson is painfully constricted when it comes to positing the central dynamics of his films -- a parade of male contests that usually take on father/son overtones. Edward Albee knocked off the Oedipus Complex in Act III of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" when Dad murders his blue-haired, blonde-eyed son. Seems times enough for artists to adjust to the new reality and stop misrepresenting the past.

Second: Van Sant's PSYCHO. Shamus: the three films you mention are not the important works for me in his career. The case I make for Van Sant rests on the films I mentioned along with MALA NOCHE; DRUGSTORE COWBOY; and MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO.

As for VS' PSYCHO being more harrowing, I posted about it extensively at davekehr.com In brief: I argue that Hitchcock intended Norman Bates to be a sexually undefined Other, neither gay nor straight. In keeping with this plan, Anthony Perkins plays an ostensibly het male role pansy-side up. But time has played a trick on Hitchcock's film: we are much more sophisticated about sex/gender/sexual orientation so Norman now comes off as strictly gay (due in large part to Perkin's performance). I found it interesting that a group of straight men who saw the film upon its release said they took Norman as straight, while I and other queers I know who saw the film in later years took Norman as gay. Norman as gay makes nonsense of him spying on Marion, but as society and the consciousnesses it gives birth to change, it is hard to take him otherwise. Van Sant having Norman masturbate to Marion marks him as heterosexual and brings to the fore the theme of male violence against women which Hitchcock's version ends up soft-pedaling (not intentionally I would argue) by its positioning of Norman (the key scene here is when Norman swishes up the stairs. There is no other character in the scene, so it cannot be argued that he is swishing to deceive within the film -- he swishes for the audience in order to signify). AH corrects this error in FRENZY, but it sends the second half of PSYCHO off the rails.

By restoring Norman's heterosexuality, Van Sant expands the horror of male violence -- visually reinforced by the last shot where the camera pulls back indicating the vast expanse of where female bodies might have been buried.


Dunno if I think PTA is Kubrick's heir (although Kubrick's influence is all over the place) but I do know I think this is the most evocative "dream movie" since EYES WIDE SHUT. I do think Anderson has changed his game here to making a cinematic time-bomb, the sort of event you walk away from thinking that was good but somehow lacking and then you wind up thinking of nothing else for the next 78 hours. My favorite moment only involved one of the main characters peripherally - a department store model waltzing around as Ella Fitzgerald sings "Get Thee Behind Me Satan." The one thing I will say is anybody expecting the bravura flourishes that concluded THERE WILL BE BLOOD will be disappointed - but the film offers other muted, low-key rewards, grace notes and an experience that sets off explosions in your head days later.

Dan Coyle

I always thought Van Sant's Psycho was like Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, DePalma's Raising Cain, and Cox's Walker: a movie partially, or possibly entirely, designed to drive film critics like myself and others insane. Unfortunately, unlike DePalma and Cox, he forgot to make the movie entertaining.

warren oates

Forget about PSYCHO, Van Sant's death quadrilogy (GERRY, ELEPHANT, LAST DAYS, PARANOID PARK) is far more interesting work than most filmmakers ever produce, let alone by consciously shifting visual style and narrative interest decades into their careers. For these films alone, even more than the promising early work, he should be considered among the very greatest living filmmakers anywhere in the world today.

@ DeafEars, If THE MASTER is a "dream movie" than I dreamt it had a story and a reason for taking up more than two hours of my life... and then a woke up! That department store tracking flourish would almost be great -- if it were introducing us to a character we'd ever seen again. Except, like most other effects in the film, it's a one-off idea, with no narrative or thematic heft behind it. Kubrickian it is not.

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