The film industry is full of popcorn movies. Most box office hits nowadays are template action movies, reboots and franchises based on highly successful comic books, driven by big names and even bigger budgets.
So when a really good films driven by classical film techniques, and the unique voice of the filmmaker comes along, you’ve got to take a moment to appreciate it.
Not that I don’t appreciate blockbusters. I’m first in line whenever a new Transformers movie comes out because it’s still aesthetically pleasing and generally entertaining.
But it’s a tough thing as a writer and/or director- contending with the politics and marketing process in the modern film industry- to keep your voice distinctive in your own films. So when a filmmaker is able to do this, I’ve got utmost respect for them.
Here’s a list of 5 auteur filmmakers who are presently active in the film industry.
1. Lars von Trier
Show me a list of the things you’re not supposed to put in a modern film, and I’ll show you how many damns Lars von Trier doesn’t give. It’s no wonder he’s lacking in U.S film awards, despite the fact that he often lands some pretty famous actors in his films.
Who is this guy? You’d be surprised how many people don’t know him. And for those who do know of him, they either love his work, or hate it. This isn’t surprising considering how controversial many of his films (and opinions) are.
You can’t, however deny that he has a distinctive narrative and visual style: Delving into the depths of forbidden stories of humanity, relentlessly picking beneath the superficial surface of the global film industry. I actually did a review on his latest films Nymphomaniac Volume I and II, where I briefly analysed the films and general reaction to their explicit nature.
At the very least, you have to respect his ability to tell prohibited stories in a captivating manner. ‘Melancholy’ is almost certainly the best way to describe his visual style as well, as it’s mostly as dark as the story itself.
2. Zack Snyder
It may seem odd that Snyder is on this list, as some consider his films to be popcorn movies. I actually beg to differ, and although I don’t think he’s fully matured as a filmmaker, he’s well on his way. I’m going to focus on his work more specifically in the action genre, which he’s possibly redefined in modern cinema.
The fact that he does so many action movies skews his brand as a filmmaker. When your movie is the biggest opener on the weekend, it’s tough not to slip into mainstream perceptions of film where people see you as an alternative to Michael Bay (insert explosion here).
Action sequences in most films are dominated by fast cuts, huge explosions and that shaky camera. While great aesthetics are not missing from his films, Snyder opts instead for mid to long shots with fully sketched scenes that drive a higher-scale view of the action in a way that has been missing from action movies for a long time.
Furthermore, Snyder’s use of slow motion, specifically speed ramping has revolutionised action sequences, changing the speed and zoom on a single shot to intensify the action and emphasise specific actions.
His direction of hand-to-hand combat has managed to elevate the art of fight-sequence direction beyond the result of the fight. In 300, as well as Man of Steel for example, no fight sequence was diminished to an outcome for the sake of moving the narrative forward. It’s a spectacle in its own right as each strike has purpose.
3. Quentin Tarantino
The thing with a Tarantino film is that it’s a Tarantino film. He’s been branded as possibly the most innovative modern filmmaker, who’s managed to woo both film snobs and the mainstream hordes alike. So every time he release a film, people are queuing up to see it.
From the trunk shot, to long takes, he’s popularised many otherwise underutilised visual film techniques. As an accomplished writer he’s also got a reputation for detail, interconnectedness, and lengthy dialogue.
In fact, he has an elaborate list of trademarks which you can access here: Tarantino Trademarks.
I believe the most significant thing about Tarantino as a filmmaker is that he will always surprise you, and that’s his biggest and most important trademark as a modern film auteur.
4. Coen Brothers
I recently re-watched two films from the Coen Brothers, namely The Big Lebowski and Burn After Reading. The most interesting thing about their films for me is their ability to take a completely static setting and animate it using something as simple as a conversation.
I’m making a bold statement here, but I honestly think they are the best writers of dialogue in modern film. They also seem to have a knack for directing very unique nuances into their characters, defining each character more specifically beyond the archetypes they generally fall into.
Their narrative style is one full of misunderstandings, irony and dry humour that make everyday events more interesting to watch. They are not afraid of silence, so you’ll experience a deadpan cropping up from time to time. They also have a knack for mixing violence and humour in a way that makes the devil inside chuckle, and leaves you questioning your morality just a tiny little bit.
5. Tim Burton
Probably the most visually dominant auteur. You will instantly notice his dark, Gothic style. As if to mirror the visual aspect of his films, the narrative style is often macabre, yet very quirky- which kind of makes it very disturbing.
His first ever film recently re-appeared on YouTube for the first time since it aired in 1983, and even though you can tell he was very inexperienced in creating it, there’s been a definitive signature on his film work from the very start.
Talk about revolutionising modern dialogue and narrative, and I’ll show you a Scorsese film. His depictions of violence and religion are raw and visceral, and he has no qualms with the use of profanity in his body of work. I personally think he is the only person who can use extensive voice-overs and not bore an audience to death.
Always whimsical and playful, with a unique colour palette present in every film, and often in every scene. Watching an Anderson film is like living inside the dream of a person with a vast imagination, or someone on drugs.
Let’s talk cities from any era in history, including fictitious futures, and Ridley Scott’s name pops into mind immediately. He has done many genres but his ability to make a setting stand out and become a part of the story itself it a truly unique aspect that he’s achieved within sci-fi, high fantasy and period pieces throughout his career.
Let me know who you think is missing from the list, I’d love to hear your take on modern film auteurs.
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