Anghus Houvouras picks his top five five directors whose output is getting progressively worse and rates their chances of redemption…
Some filmmakers age like fine wine. Others ferment. Every filmmaker has an occasional miscue or a film that doesn’t live up to expectations. But there are others who consistently work and yet seem to be spiraling down a slippery descent into mediocrity… or worse. Here’s a list of the top five filmmakers who have seemed to have lost their way.
5. Francis Ford Coppola
It feels like a lifetime since we’ve seen a Coppola film that is worth the two hour investment. At one point he was the riskiest, most daring filmmaker in the business. He took big risks and reaped big rewards. But then he started turning out junk that barely qualified as mediocre. It was right around the time he released the family friendly drama Jack with Robin Williams that his films went from well intentioned misfires to irredeemable garbage. Then, he decided to start playing with the technology (never a good sign) and is now primarily interested in releasing digital garbage that no one has any interest in watching. Twixt was the kind of awful I wouldn’t wish on anyone and it makes me wonder how someone who turned out some of the best films ever made is now incapable of making something watchable.
Chance at Redemption: Low – As one of the elder statesman of cinema, Coppola seems to have little interest in getting back into the game. It would be nice to see the man return to form for one last great movie.
4. James Cameron
He’s made the two biggest movies of all time, and yet, has he ever made anything as engaging as The Terminator or Aliens? The man knows how to push buttons and get an audience to react to his work, but as a filmmaker he’s abandoned the idea of three dimensional characters in favor of three dimensional cinematic theme park rides that assault your every sense. It’s hard to watch Avatar and see growth. Malignancy, maybe.
Chance at Redemption: Fair – If Cameron spends as much time crafting characters as he does immersive worlds for them to inhabit, he could deliver a masterpiece.
3. Kevin Smith
At one point I was such a fan. Clerks was a movie I could put on almost any time and watch again and again. A wonderful little foul mouthed independent comedy with great dialogue and memorable characters. Smith took that little film and started an online empire making comic books, an animated series, and subsequent sequels with his most famous chronic characters Jay and Silent Bob. Unfortunately the movies have been getting progressively worse. Chasing Amy is a good movie, but almost everything after is a morbidly embarrassing orgy of excess. Barely watchable junk like Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Jersey Girl, Clerks II, and Cop Out are prime examples of a filmmaker who has lost his way. He tried to find it again with the low budget Red State, a movie that felt like it was directed by someone who had never made a film before. Amateur hour style filmmaking that served as glaring proof that nearly twenty years in the film business had taught Smith very little.
Chance at Redemption: Poor – Smith announced he’ll make one more film, Clerks III, before retiring. It would have to be pretty exceptional to wipe away a decade of miscues.
2. Judd Apatow
Apatow’s descent is a fascinating one. The 40 Year Old Virgin is a fantastic comedy with great characters, funny dialogue, the kind of R rated sexual situations that had been sorely lacking in comedies, and a brief appearance by Leslie Mann. He repeated his success with the same basic formula in Knocked Up. Funny characters, sexual based comedy, for some reason a 2 hour plus running time, and a supporting role for Leslie Mann. Not as good as the 40 Year Old Virgin (debatable, I know), but not bad. Then he released the heinously unfunny Funny People with Adam Sandler. Same formula, same basic type of movie, same two plus hour run time, and a big part for Leslie Mann. Now Apatow releases his latest two plus hour comedy opus This Is 40. Same basic scenario, same kind of humor, and what do you know: Leslie Mann.
Apatow’s biggest failing is delivering such predictable product. You know exactly what you’re getting with Judd Apatow. You’re getting a movie about people who refuse and/or struggle with maturity that’s going to be two plus hours long, and feature Leslie Mann. A Judd Apatow film has become as predictable as a Michael Bay movie. There are no surprises, and the material is so similar that it’s starting to feel like he’s directing one, long never ending movie slash Leslie Mann highlight real.
Chance at Redemption: Fair – Providing he can make a movie without Leslie Mann
1. M. Night Shyamalan
Could anyone else top this list? Is there another filmmaker alive that started out with so much promise before crashing down into a firey crater that seems to have no bottom? At one point I was such a fan of Shyamalan. I loved The Sixth Sense. What a perfect little movie. And with Unbreakable he made one of the best superhero movies ever, deconstructing the idea of an everyday guy with superpowers. His penchant for twist endings was worrisome. I think everyone saw the potential for disaster coming when every subsequent film relied on some kind of third act gear shift. Still, I liked Signs. It was an effective thriller with another great ending. The dividing line for Shyamalan’s career was The Village, an imperfect film that I still find myself defending in spite of some pretty glaring flaws. After that, the man released three of the most laughably put together studio films in the history of cinema. Lady in the Water was a ridiculous mess. The Happening might be the best bad movie ever made. And The Last Airbender was like a master class in how not to put together a film.
Like Coppola, it’s mind boggling to watch someone capable of orchestrating and executing films so early in his career now unable to even construct a cohesive narrative.
Chance at Redemption: Fair – After Earth may be Shyamalan’s return to form. Whether it’s Sixth Sense form or The Happening form, we’ll have to wait and see.
Agree with these choices? Are there any other directors who you feel have lost their way, and what are their chances at redemption? Let us know in the comments below…