The Guardian recently published its list of the 23 best film directors in the world today: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2012/sep/01/best-film-directors-world-2012 Take a look at it and you’ll notice something odd: all the people on that list are from America (12) and Europe (11) (an intentionally equal mix?). Really? The best film directors in the world today are focused here (?):
This kind of narrowness on a global scale worries me. The list left out the South Korean masters ( like Chan-wook Park, Kim-ki Duk, Bong-Joon ho), Spaniards (Alfonso Cuaron, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Guillermo Del Toro) and even the Chinese (dammit there’s over 2 billion people in that country, and not a film director worthy to be on the list?). I’m not saying that I know a whole lot about international cinema, even my worldview is extremely limited. But the reason why our worldviews are so limited is because we keep talking about films from that narrow worldview. It’s a never ending cycle, and directors that get noticed by the international community are those whose films get distributors in the US and Europe for the most part. I wonder if we’ll see an Indian director on that list someday (I’ve actually seen films from 12 of those directors on the list and heard about the rest).
But, let’s forget this misrepresentation of international cinema for a second and question the Guardian’s idea of creating such a list. Can one really ever say who the greatest living film director is, if not all time? I don’t think so, it’s a flawed question to ask. It’s like asking who the greatest painters are or who the greatest authors are. No one can ever give a definitive answer, because no one would have seen all the movies in the world, and even if they did, they would be biased towards a certain type of movie. But then, you can use measures like box office statistics and critical opinion to gauge what has been seen as successful through the eyes of the majority. In that sense, Paul Thomas Anderson loses out commercially, while Joss Whedon and Christopher Nolan, the men responsible for the greatest superhero movies of all time, seem to have the healthiest mix of the two. So then why is Anderson considered the greatest film director in the world?
From what I believe, cinema has a spectrum along with any movie can be placed. There are two classifications: clinical films, and emotional films. Clinical films are those that are generally much more technically refined, with excellent cinematography and music and composition and great performances, but the characters in these films don’t connect with the audience. Examples: Stanley Kubrick, Christopher Nolan, Steve McQueen and Nicholas Winding Refn films. The audience is just an observer in the tale that plays out in front of them. Emotional films on the other hand are all about the story and the characters, but the technique is secondary. Examples: The Wrestler, The Blind Side, and The Diving Bell and The Butterfly. An extraordinary film provides the audience with a potent mix of these two extremes to end up in the middle of the scale.
I’m not favoring one end over another, I’m just saying that critics tend to prefer clinical films more because they are cooler to watch. Clinical films tend to have more accomplished and flowery writing, but that kind of writing further distances audiences from the movie because they appreciate the flow of words, not the situation that plays out in front of them. I guess that’s a part of the grandeur of such movies. That’s why I believe the Guardian’s question is itself flawed. When the viewing of cinema is so subjective, it’s quite impossible to make such definitive statements.