Paolo Sorrentino – The Great Beauty
In this absolutely dreadful Oscar winning Italian film, Sorrentino tries to capture Rome as Fellini did in La Dolce Vita; he fails on every level it is possible for a film director to fail on.
Best Director – Top Ten
Park Chan-wook – Oldboy
Movies simply don’t come more intensely directed than this one. Chan-wook has an absolute mastery of the form and function of visual storytelling. The way he captures characters in their environments, the often frenetic editing, the use of scene changes and jump cuts to create humor, pathos and terror, these things are beyond masterful. And when a character raises a hammer and the action freezes to let a dotted line zip from the hammer to the head of its intended target . . . well, wow. And that fight scene? You know the one.
Park Chan-wook – Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
Chan-wook isn’t quite as frenzied in this film as he is in Oldboy, but it’s still a pitch perfect job of direction. Chan-wook lets his camera linger on some scenes here until you have to look away; and he leaps seamlessly through time to tell this brutal story of wrongful imprisonment in an elliptical fashion. It’s less flashy and raw than Oldboy, but it’s every bit an artistic masterpiece.
Alfred Hitchcock – Psycho
Hitchcock’s absolute mastery of suspense is on perfect display here; after lush, poetic masterpieces like Vertigo, Hitchcock takes things to a gripping, more minimal level – stark black & white photography, a methodical camera that moves slowly and quietly to enhance suspense, the explosive editing of the violent scenes. It’s a taut, gripping directing job.
Tobe Hooper – The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Hooper’s camera is a weapon. The goal is to disturb, disorient and discombobulate the audience and Hooper succeeds in spades. His camera sweeps wildly, chaotically at times, to capture the raw horror and terror of the characters; other times, he quiets the camera, calms it, just long enough to allow us to take a single breath before the next explosive scare. Hooper’s visual style here is assaultive and brutal; nothing less would have worked.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu – Birdman
Inarritu’s film features an astounding conceit; the seamless editing of almost the entire movie into a single shot is a fool’s errand, but he pulls it off. It’s a magical experience, truly, as we follow the characters through the clutter and chaos of this theatrical environment; the camera’s unblinking gaze and constant movement put us in the world of the film in the way few directors can.
Spike Jonze – Her
Jonze creates a vision of the future that seems tantalizingly within our grasp and he does so with his signature grace and wit. His eye for beautiful images remains strong and his ability to make us emotionally engaged in a story where we can never see one of the main characters is astounding. Perhaps the pinnacle of his directing career to date? It’s also his simplest moment – a sex scene beautifully rendered in pure sound.
Henry Selick – The Nightmare Before Christmas
As stop motion films go, there may simply not be a more stunning and visually beautiful one. The world building is fantastic and the film remains genuinely eye-popping. Revisiting it twenty years after its original release, I found it to still look like the next big thing.
Ben Stiller – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Stiller’s maturity as an actor is impressive, but I found his maturity as a director even more so. He tells this tale of a sad sack loser who’s thrust into a world of globe-trotting adventure with a wonderful eye for memorable visuals. Moments of fantasy are spectacular; so too are moments of beautiful reality. A flock of birds in the sky takes beautiful shape; a suitcase plummets downward through ocean water; a birds-eye view of a waterway fades into an extreme close-up of a strip of film. Color me surprised and thrilled.
Jean-Marc Vallee – Wild
Vallee’s gorgeous, artistic direction was one of the most overlooked things about 2013’s otherwise much lauded Dallas Buyers Club. He’s once again given the opportunity to coast on a fine central performance, but he refuses to do so. Vallee’s vision is one in which past and present slip together and the emotional realities the characters face are reflected in everything from the sound design to the editing style. Vallee is one of my favorite directorial discoveries of the past couple of years and this film is one of the reasons.
Denis Villeneuve – Enemy
Villeneuve’s artful direction on Prisoners just missed a placement on last year’s top ten, if memory serves, but his direction here is even better. In a sepia-toned, inky shadowed film noir world, Villeneuve turns Toronto, such a beautiful city in reality, into a nightmarish, dread-soaked dreamscape where reality breaks in increasingly unsettling ways. It’s a striking directing job; probably no film this year so deserves the word “atmospheric.”