Anghus Houvouras on the contemporary Masters of Cinema…
Sometimes a good movie conversation can lead you to interesting places. Take the discussion around the wildly overpraised Baby Driver; a good movie that’s being called a ‘masterpiece’ (it’s not). During the discussion my friend Simon Columb posted this on Twitter:
Edgar Wright ain't no "master". Bloomin' eck pic.twitter.com/4HJzn2sS8X
— Simon Columb (@screeninsight) July 2, 2017
I love Edgar Wright. I’ve watched the entire catalog of his work many, many times. Hell, I’ve watched the two series of Spaced AT LEAST a dozen times. The man has an amazing sense of style and kinetic storytelling that feels uniquely his own. But even with a gun to my head I would not list him among the modern contemporary masters of cinema (even one that shoots cars). But, thanks to that hyperbolic burst of circle-jerk fandom, a thought came to mind?
Who are the contemporary Masters of Cinema. It’s a great question, and one that hasn’t been asked in a while. I’m going to try to answer this question. First off, I’m going to focus on the word ‘contemporary’ which means leaving a lot of classic, still working directors off the list. We’re all aware at the amazing work done by Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Ridley Scott, Woody Allen, James Cameron, George Miller and any number of directors who started churning out classics in the 20th Century. I’m more interested in naming those who have consistently mastered the form closer to the start of the 21st Century and beyond.
Quentin Tarantino – The master mind
There isn’t really any other word to describe Tarantino other than ‘master’. The man is a pop culture blender who takes influences from dozens of places and weaves them into brutal narratives that challenge viewers. He can navigate between high drama and low-brow comedy while getting career defining performances from actors saying lines that would seem ridiculous anywhere other than the strange, violent worlds he creates. His work has suffered a little since Sally Menke passed on. Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight were both too long and not lean enough. Still, there is no one else out there doing what Quentin does. He’s a master who has earned his title with some amazing movies.
Wes Anderson – A personal choice I will get crucified for
Anderson is a director who discovered his voice early on and has been honing his storytelling technique with each subsequent film. There was a time where it felt like he might implode as his heavily effected style threatened to become more interesting than the stories he told. However, with Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson discovered some new layers and depths to both his style and his storytelling. Anderson had always been adept and writing eccentric characters but his more recent work has also made them feel more three-dimensional. He’s a filmmaker comfortable in his own storytelling skin.
Christopher Nolan – The master of big, engaging blockbusters
There are few filmmakers on this list as adept as Nolan, especially when it comes to big, flash spectacle. Nolan isn’t merely an exceptional storyteller, he’s also brilliant at a scale and budget level that crushes most filmmakers. There are few filmmakers capable of working in the same rarefied air making blockbusters with a level of earnestness and craftsmanship that has enthralled audiences and critics both.
Paul Thomas Anderson – The challenger
A storyteller who often travels to more unconventional spaces, Paul Thomas Anderson is probably the most challenging filmmaker on the list. He has passionate fans and befuddled detractors. And I completely understand both sides of the spectrum. There Will Be Blood is a hypnotizing masterpiece. Inherent Vice was so muddled & affected that I fought every urge to walk out of the theater. Still, Anderson builds worlds at an almost molecular level. His understanding of the motion picture and the composition of his work shows an artist working at a higher level.
The Coen Brothers – The true masters
It’s crazy to think that the Coen Brothers have been making movies for over thirty years. I was almost reluctant to include them seeing as I could have easily grouped them with so many of the other 20th century masters. But I would argue that the Coen Brothers are still at or near the top of their game. I think you could also seriously argue that the Coen Brothers might be the most original and consistently excellent filmmakers in the history of the medium. The 21st century has produced some of their most noteworthy cinematic works including No Country for Old Men, A Serious Man, and True Grit.
Alejandro G. Inarritu – The visionary
That classifies someone as a ‘Master of Cinema’. To me it’s a couple of things. Number one, the strength of your cinematic vision. Two, the consistency to produce films that exhibit those strengths clearly to audiences. Three, the ability to navigate between different types of material with success. These attributes perfectly describe Alejandro G. Inarritu who has made some of the most arresting features of the 21st century. He’s a unique visionary who I think achieved the title of ‘Master’ with 2014’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). A movie that exhibited his strengths as a filmmaker as well as deviating into some new and somewhat experimental territory. While not everyone was a fan of The Revenant, it was another project where he pushed himself creatively a unique cinematic experience.
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