Here’s a few names I considered but ultimately didn’t include…
Right now me from 2003 is freaking out about this omission. After Jackson received his well deserved Academy Award for Return of the King, I was convinced he was going to become the greatest filmmaker ever. He was a guy who had proven himself in the low-budget world as well as the monster Hollywood blockbuster. Unfortunately, each subsequent movie he made felt like it existed to invalidate that theory. His King Kong was an ugly, bloated mess. The Lovely Bones was a cringe-inducing slog. He went back to the well with his Hobbit trilogy. Unfortunately that well was filled with disappointment and terrible special effects work. With half of his filmography now filled with less than stellar dreck, it would be hard to assign him the title of ‘master’.
I really struggled with this one. Mostly because I love David Fincher. The one movie he’s made in the 21st century that feels ‘masterful’ is Zodiac. Would I use that word to describe Panic Room or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Even The Social Network, a movie I like, isn’t exactly a movie I would list as a challenging masterpiece. Same with Gone Girl. I think Fincher has the ability, but maybe he needs to choose more challenging material, and I don’t think World War Z Part Deux is it.
If I was putting my money on one director to soon join this list, it’s Villeneuve. Though if I’m being honest the praise for Arrival was lost on me. It was deliberate and well crafted but emotionally vacant. Still, his body of work is crazy impressive. He has the skill set and I think it’s only a matter of time until he’s added to the list. I’m a little worried about what the world of Hollywood Franchise filmmaking is going to do to him. I’ll be curious to see is Blade Runner 2049 is a step forward or a momentary stop on his ascendancy.
There are a few movies on Coppola’s resume that when strung together could be used to make an argument for her skill as a filmmaker. But for every Lost in Translation there’s a Bling Ring. For every Beguiled there’s a Marie Antoinette. Too many missteps and muddled movies to claim a strength of vision.
You could make a strong argument for Wright, a guy who has a ridiculously clear vision for his films and an amazing sense of style. At this point in his career, he’s starting to diversify and make different kinds of movies. Baby Driver is a great step in the right direction, but I can’t call him a ‘Master of Cinema’. He’s mastered one type of storytelling and personally I haven’t seen a lot of growth when it comes to character development. The World’s End had more complex and better rendered characters than Baby Driver. I need more before I start throwing the word ‘master’ around.
Nicolas Winding Refn
You got the looks baby, but you lack emotion. Put those things together, you could be causing a commotion.
Great filmmaker, but I’d be hard pressed to describe what a Kathryn Bigelow movie is. Hurt Locker was an interesting character piece. Zero Dark Thirty was a procedural bereft of emotion. Maybe Detroit will give us a better barometer of her storytelling identity.
Half the time it doesn’t seem like Malick even knows what kind of movie he’s making until he gets to the editing bay. Plus, his 21st Century output has been a blend of unique successes and complete creative failures.
Anyone who saw Hulk or Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk wouldn’t bring this name into the discussion. Even though I consider Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon one of the best films ever made.
Children of Men may very well be the best movie ever made. And Gravity was an absolute cinematic pleasure. He also made the best Harry Potter movie in the entire series with Prisoner of Azkaban. However, his filmography feels so bare. Four films in the 21st century. A masterpiece, two very good movies, and an entertaining franchise film. Is that enough to qualify as a ‘master of cinema’?
Here’s another filmmaker that I was shocked to find myself leaving off the list. Soderbergh is such a talented, interesting filmmaker but his body of work has a level of inconsistency that makes me uneasy adding him to my ‘master’ list. His 21st century material is such a grab-bag of quality. For every Traffic or Solaris there’s A Good German or Contagion. Some of his vanity projects like the two-part Che feel like missed opportunities. He’s a filmmaker who is consistently good, but how many of his 21st century films would you call ‘great’?
Well, there’s my list of the contemporary ‘Masters of Cinema’ based solely on my opinion. What do you think? Anyone I left off the list, or somebody that shouldn’t be on it? I’m curious to hear your thoughts.