Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Weekly Top Ten: Ten Directors Wasting Their Talent

10. Paul McGuigan
Films That Show Promise: Gangster No. 1, Wicker Park.
Films He’s Done Since: The Reckoning, Lucky Number Slevin, Push.
Perhaps it’s unfair to but McGuigan on this list, because unlike most of the others, he never really made a great film. However, both Gangster No. 1 and Wicker Park were excellent, little films. Gangster was a darkly comic crime drama, with an amazing performance by Paul Bettany, and a fine one from Malcolm McDowell. Wicker Park is one of the best thrillers in recent years, and showed just how good Rose Bryne and Diane Kruger can actually be when they have a decent role. But what has McGuigan done with all that promise? The lame, medieval drama trope/murder mystery The Reckoning wasted Bettany and Willem Dafoe. Lucky Number Slevin wasted Bruce Willis, Ben Kingsley, Morgan Freeman and more with a sub-Tarantino level screenplay. And finally, to complete his downfall, was this year’s Push, an loud, incoherent mess of an action movie. McGuigan was once one of my directors to watch in the future – he’s becoming one of my directors to avoid. His next film is yet another King Arthur movie, so I hold
out no hope.

9. John Stockwell
Films That Show Promise:
Films He’s Done Since: Blue Crush, Into the Blue, Turistas
Like McGuigan, perhaps unfair to put Stockwell on this list, because again, he never really made a great movie. But I still remember really liking Crazy/Beautiful when it came out, and it’s one of the reasons I still have a soft spot for Kristen Dunst, Jay Herendez and Taryn Manning, no matter how much crap each has put out since. It was an honest exploration of teenagers, in an era where there are so few. Since then though, Stockwell seems to make his movie choices based on where he gets to film. We’ve now had three films in a row set in a tropical paradise – each worst than the last. Blue Crush was actually rather sexist, despite disguising itself as a “girl power” movie. Into the Blue featured no reason other than Jessica Alba in a bikini to watch it. And Turistas was torture porn, that forgot the damn torture, which I’m not sure if that makes it better or worse. After Crazy/Beautiful I wondered what he was going to do next. Now that I know, I no longer care. So far, his latest film, Middle of Nowhere, which played the Toronto Film Festival last year, has not been picked up, and his next film Kid Cannabis does not sound promising.

8. Guy Ritchie
Films That Show Promise: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrells, Snatch.
Films He’s Done Since: Swept Away, Revolver, RockNRolla
Ten years ago, Guy Ritchie looked like he was going to become the British equivalent of Quentin Tarantino. True, neither of his first two wonderful films, Lock, Stock and Snatch, were anywhere near as good as Tarantino, but they showed a similar dramatic flair and comic sensibility, yet rose above the level of mere imitators. Now however, Ritchie’s films are damn near insufferable. First there was the mess that was Swept Away, which was an ugly and foul little film, then came the utter pretentiousness of Revolver. True, last year’s RockNRolla was a definite improvement, but it still wasn’t up to where this filmmaker should be. I hope that his Sherlock Holmes this year will get him back on track, but I’m nervous.

7. Neil LaBute
Films That Showed Promise:
In the Company of Men, Your Friends and Neighbours, Nurse Betty, The Shape of Things.
Films He’s Done Since: Poessession, The Wicker Man, Lakeview Terrece.
The first two films by Neil LaBute, In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors, were true brilliant, misanthropic little films about the evil games men play. They were ugly, and at times hard to watch, but brilliantly written, directed and acted features. He followed that up with a much lighter, but no less wonderful, Nurse Betty, which features Rene Zellweger’s best performance by a mile. After a little detour into the romance Posessession, which I found utterly boring, he came back strong with The Shape of Things, giving Paul Rudd one of his best roles. Even if Rachel Weisz was miscast in that movie, it was still a fine film. So what the hell has happened to LaBute in his last two features? First came the horribly painful, god-awful remake of the classic British horror film The Wicker Man, which audiences could barely stay awake through. And then last year, he made the clichéd racial melodrama/thriller Lakeview Terrece, in which Samuel L. Jackson terrorizes a bi-racial couple next door, the whole thing ending in a preposterious shootout. When he first came on the scene, I thought LaBute was going to be one of those truly independent filmmakers, not unlike Jim Jarmusch or John Sayles, who makes exactly the movies he wants to. But he’s sold out – not that there is anything wrong with trying to make money, but shouldn’t he at least pick scripts up to his level? Next up is a pointless remake of the British comedy Death at a Funeral. Why Neil, why?

6. Mathieu Kassovitz
Films That Showed Promise:
La Haine, The Crimson Rivers
Films He’s Done Since: Gothika, Babylon A.D.
Matheiu Kassovitz burst onto the film scene with his stunning film La Haine (Hate), which won the best director prize at Cannes in 1995. It was a brilliant film about three men in the Paris slums – one white, one Arab, one African – as the drift from petty crime into something larger. He made two other films in France, including the gritty crime thriller The Crimson Rivers, before Hollywood came calling. Kassovitz always had Hollywood aspirations – he cites Spielberg as his favorite filmmaker – but you have to wonder why he chose the two films he did. First there was Gothika, a ridiculous thriller with Halle Berry, and then came last year’s Babylon A.D. with Vin Diesel. I know Kassovitz says that studio intereference ruined Babylon, but based on what was on the screen, there wasn’t much to ruin. After his tirade against the studio, it is difficult to imagine him getting another Hollywood job soon, so hopefully, he’ll return to France, and get another great film off the ground. There is no information about his latest film, except that it is indeed French.

5. Justin Lin
Films That Showed Promise:
Better Luck Tomorrow.
Films He’s Done Since:
Annapolis, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Fast and Furious
I remember watching Justin Lin’s debut film, Better Luck Tomorrow, and being completely blown away. It was a movie about four Asian teenagers, who overachieve at school, and start getting into crime because they’re bored and they’re smart enough to get away with it. Things go wildly out of control, and people wind up dead, and the reaction of the gang is chillingly real and unsympathetic. It looked like perhaps Lin would wind up being a voice for Asian Americans in film. Since then though, the opposite has happened. First there was the bad Annapolis, about a working class kid (James Franco) who wants into the famous school. Then came the two most recent Fast and Furious movies. True, they proved he could direct action, but so what? No one was doing films like Better Luck Tomorrow when he came along, and no one is doing them now. There are countless directors who could make those films just as good as he did. His next feature hasn’t been announced, but let’s hope he returns to doing something better.

4. Carl Franklin
Films That Showed Promise:
One False Move, Devil in a Blue Dress, Out of Time.
Films He’s Done Since: One True Thing, High Crimes.
It’s easy to forget that in 1992, the year Reservoir Dogs was released, that it was Carl Franklin, and not Quentin Tarantino, who won most of the best “best new filmmaker” awards for his brilliant debut film One False Move – one of the most underrated films of the 1990s. Franklin followed it up with the gritty African American noir, Devil in a Blue Dress, that gave Denzel Washington one of his best roles, and helped to launch Don Cheadle’s career. But since then, what has Franklin done? A Meryl Streep/Rene Zellweger chick flick. A Morgan Freeman/Ashley Judd legal thriller, both subpar movies. Out of Time, with Denzel again, proved he still had the chops to direct, but since then he’s been doing TV episodes. What the hell happened? He is supposed to have a new film, The Senator’s Wife, released this year, but who knows? All I know is that Carl Franklin once looked to be the next big director, and now he’s just another director for hire.

3. Boaz Yakin
Films That Showed Promise:
Fresh, A Price Above Rubies.
Films He’s Done Since:
Remember the Titans, Uptown Girls
With his first two films, Fresh and A Price Above Rubies, Boaz Yakin established himself as a director with a unique vision and ability. Both were utterly unlike anything I had seen before. Then, he went Hollywood, making the fine football drama Remember the Titans, and then Uptown Girls? Are you serious? Yakin recently seems to have returned to his roots with the film Death in Love, a Holocaust drama that premiered at Sundance in 2008, but so far, no distribution has been announced. That’s too bad, because I was hoping that it would be a step in the right direction for him again. Certainly forming a production company with Eli Roth wasn’t.

2. John Singleton
Films That Showed Promise:
Boyz in the Hood, Poetic Justice, Higher Learning, Rosewood, Baby Boy.
Films He’s Done Since:
Shaft, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Four Brothers
At 21, John Singleton became the youngest director ever to be nominated for an Oscar for his explosive debut film Boyz in the Hood. Time has not diminished that film’s impact, and it still stands as his best work. Since then, there have been many films, and I have to admit that I have enjoyed nearly all of them. Higher Learning, Rosewood and Baby Boy were certainly worthy successors to Boyz in the Hood, and if Shaft, 2 Fast 2 Furious and Four Brothers were not exactly groundbreaking, they were fun. But you cannot help but be disappointed in the path Singelton’s career has taken since Boyz came out in 1991. Here was a director that everyone assumed would be one of the best filmmakers in the country for years to come. Instead, he is a solid craftsman, who sometimes stretches himself a little. I expected a lot more out of him.

1. Alex Proyas
Films That Showed Promise:
The Crow, Dark City.
Films He’s Done Since: Garage Days, I Robot, Knowing
Few directors can boast as stellar a one two punch as the films that Alex Proyas burst into Hollywood on. The first was the comic book adaptation The Crow, still one of the best the genre has produced, a wonderful action movie, and the cornerstone of the cult of Brandon Lee. In 1998, he made the best science fiction film of the decade (and no film this decade can match it either) with Dark City, which Roger Ebert proclaimed the best film of the year, and was not wrong about doing so. It was a masterpiece. So what has Proyas done in the 11 years since Dark City? The Australian indie comedy Garage Days, a comedy about a pathetic rock band, I, Robit, a decent sci-fi action film starring Will Smith and Knowing, a Nicolas Cage science fiction film that is utterly unbelievable. When I watched Dark City, I felt like I was seeing the next Blade Runner, and that the director would soon join the pantheton of great directors of science fiction. It hasn’t happened yet. And at this rate, I doubt it ever will.


  1. "Even if Rachel Weisz was miscast in that movie, it was still a fine film"

    Excuse me but what movie did you see? Rachel Weisz was the reason the film was as good as it was. Her performance made you think and it was sexy and scary at the same time. With out her performance, the movie would not have worked.

  2. Weisz, like Julia Roberts, has always been an actress that to be specializes in playing superficial characters. Compare her performance to Eckhart's in In the Company of Men or Patric's in Your Friends and Neighbors, two similar roles in Labute films, and you'll see a startling difference. Her performance should be chilling, and it isn't.