Mailbag Vol. 3: Directors Edition

In Mailbag, we answer some of the questions you send us via Email, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook. Today we tackle directors, directing, and the future of film.

Q: Coppola is a product of the “Golden Era” of the 60s/70s along with his contemporaries like Scorcese, De Palma, Allen, Lucas, Spielberg and even the likes of Kubrick / Bergman – Many of these people are considered the greatest of all time, so my question is: has film peaked, where can we go from here? – David in Australia 

Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen and Martin Scorcese (from left to right)

Nate: The great irony in your question is that when the directors you speak of were coming up, people were asking what this new generation could bring that could top the likes of Fellini, Hitchcock, Kurosawa, Goddard, Ozu, Ford, Welles, Chaplin, Bresson and Truffaut (I could go on but you get the point). Those names I just listed are no slouches in their own right and their influence not only impacted those you mentioned but extend into today. As Michael states below, there will always be new stories to tell and to extend on his point more mediums to tell it from. For example, the 90s – today have produced by far the best animation we have ever seen (All due respect to Walt Disney and his pioneering efforts). From Pixar to the Disney Renaissance to Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, we have evolved film in many ways.

As for the live action aspects. Every filmmaker is a product of their time and the social environment. The names I mentioned above were influenced by the war, class division and differing cultural dynamics. You look back on films like those or even films as far as the 80s there is a significant dose of racism and sexism in the way characters are portrayed. I think we are seeing many of these underrepresented groups start to share their stories on film and many of them are incredibly powerful. Furthermore, we are living longer now and those golden era filmmakers are still going (see Scorcese and Allen who can still knock one out of the park – even 40 years after their first big hit).

So to answer your question. Film has not peaked. I’d argue we are just getting started.

Michael: I think that can be a pessimistic view of where the film industry is headed. There are a number of really great directors working today that continue to put out some really interesting, and solid works of art. They include the Coens, Paul Thomas Anderson, Darren Aronofsky, and of course Damien Chazelle. I am very confident that more great works from these directors and others will continue to appear. I think that as long as we strive to tell compelling stories (regardless of gimmicks like 3D, AVX etc.) then film can never really peak. Stories change with time, but so do audiences and I think it’s an exciting time to tackle the new narratives that can be made in the movies of tomorrow. Technology has also tremendously helped the movie making process (though sometimes it gets in the way of storytelling, again think of 3D and too much CGI) so the prospect of making projects that could have never been attempted in the past is also enticing. Gravity is a great example or Birdman. Also, there will always be greats, I don’t think any industry whether it’s filmmaking or another discipline can stop making innovators, they just adapt over time and changing styles.  Michelangelo and Andy Warhol are obviously both GREAT artists, but they’re different. So the great directors of the past won’t be like the great directors of tomorrow, but that’s not a bad thing. I think there’s much to look forward to as movies progress. And of course the classic filmmaker’s works will always exist, if the future turns out poorly at least we’ll have these films to take comfort in.

Q: As we approach summer blockbuster season with the release of Fate of the Furious next week, what are you guys looking forward to movie wise for the rest of the year – VinDieselIsGroot

Michael: A number of great films are upcoming, some blockbuster and some not, but all definitely very intriguing; they include: The Last Jedi (check out the teaser breakdown we did), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, War for the Planet of the Apes, Dunkirk, It, Murder on the Orient Express, The Greatest Showman, and others.

Murder on the Orient Express, Dunkirk, and The Greatest Showman could all be potential Oscar movies so watch out for those. There’s also Mary Magdalene starring Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix that could attract awards juries. Coco looks to be a charming animated feature from Disney-Pixar.

Nate: We will be doing a most anticipated list coming soon but just to hit on a few Michael didn’t mention, I’m excited for are the as now untitled Paul Thomas Anderson – Daniel Day-Lewis collaboration, Ghost Story which looks like an Oscar contender starring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, Kingsmen: The Golden Compass and the Edgar Wright directed Baby Driver.

Q: What is the best decade for movies? – Ben

Stanley Kubrick

Nate: Broad Question, to answer it you need to understand what you as a film viewer enjoy and a little knowledge of film history. In a cop out answer, I’m gonna give you a breakdown and suggest you check out my Letterboxd list of my favorite movies (which sorely needs updating).

Pre 40s: Silent Film era, the onset of primitive color late in this period. Notable standouts from here include Chaplin’s City Lights (in my top 10 all-time favorite movies), Casablanca, The Warner Brothers Monsters films (Dracula, Frankenstein), M, Disney’s Snow White and Metropolis

50s: Hitchcock at his peak, Kurosawa, and Ozu leading the charge for Japanese Cinema, the Hollywood Musical is huge here with Singin in the Rain and An American in Paris. Bergman knocks out two of his most famous films late in this decade with Wild Strawberries and Seventh Seal. Favorite Movie from this decade: Ikiru.

60s: French New Wave is in full swing here, Italian cinema probably hits a high point here with the rise of Fellini, Bergman continues his hot run. Kubrick cements himself as a visionary with 2001: A Space Odessey, Lolita, and Doctor Strangelove. Favorite film from this decade: 2001

70s: Altman, Allen, Lucas, Scorcese, Spielberg, and Coppola all come out huge here. Arguably the most innovative period in filmmaking, Star Wars release in 77 along with Jaws in 75 brings forth the blockbuster movie. Studios give these filmmakers unprecedented amount of freedom leading to these a huge boom. Meanwhile, in Russia, Tarkovsky puts together a ridiculous run with Solaris, Mirror, and Stalker all in a row. Favorite movie from this decade: Alien (1979)

80s: Studios reign in spending a bit leading to a more reserved landscape. Teen drama is noteworthy here as John Hughes and later Cameron Crowe set unrealistic expectations on romance to a new generation. Spielberg becomes probably the most well-known director on the face of the earth with hit after hit. Ridley Scott reinvents sci-fi with Aliens and Blade Runner while Wes Craven takes horror into new territories and into the nightmares of everyone.   Cheesy action movies (Die Hard) get made here and Hong Kong makes some of the best in the genre that would later become cult classics and The Princess Bride (my personal favorite from this era is released.

90s: Highlighted by a certain darkness and grittiness. Tarantino emerges here along with Fincher, Paul Thomas Anderson, Spike Jonze and Wes Anderson. Sequel Culture becomes a regular occurrence while indie filmmaking becomes a growing sector with the advance in technology (Clerks, Blair Witch Project). The Disney Renaissance is moving along and a small company called Pixar introduces us to 3D animation. Rom coms evolve here ranging from small scale Meg Ryan – Tom Hanks affairs to massive scale Titanic affairs that would have teens everywhere falling in love with Leonardo Dicaprio. Favorite film from this decade:  Pulp Fiction, Se7en or Groundhog Day

00s: Superhero films and indie cinema reign supreme. Pixar can’t miss (until Cars). David Lynch and Wong Kar-Wai put forth some arthouse gems. Female directors are more prominent than ever. South Korean cinema emerges as one of the best in the world and a small time director from Finland by the name of Aki Kaurismaki leaves an imprint with his unique style.  Tough to analyze this era until more time has passed. Favorite film from this decade: Lost in Translation, In The Mood For Love, The Dark Knight.

George Lucas with Alec Guinness on the set of Star Wars: A New Hope

Michael: This is tough, and my answer may well be seen as taking the easy way out. That’s because in honesty there have been really great films in every decade, and some of my favorite films come from various different years. I don’t know if there’s a ‘best’ decade for film, but if I had to pick for the sake of argument I would go with the 1970s. So many iconic and enduring classics emerged from that decade including The Godfather (I and II), Jaws, Star Wars, The Exorcist, Taxi Driver, Rocky, Dirty Harry, A Clockwork Orange, Halloween, Apocalypse Now, Grease, Saturday Night Fever, and many, many others.

Q: Top Five favorite directors….Go! – Wayne from Canada

Nate: Again, probably something that we could one day do a full article for but here goes:

4/ 5: One of the many names listed below, They fluctuate so often but the top 3 are locks.

3. Wong Kar-Wai

2.  Stanley Kubrick

1. Akira Kurosawa

Honorable mentions:  Ingmar Bergman, Ridley Scott,  Hayao Miyazaki, Martin Scorcese,  Woody Allen, Spike Jonze, Wes Anderson, Sophia and Francis Ford Coppola, Paul Thomas Anderson, Chan Wook Park and Bong Joon-Ho, Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee, Charlie Kauffman and Aki Kaurismaki were all terribly hard cuts


5.) Alexander Payne

4.) Steven Spielberg

3.) Coen Brothers

2.) Quentin Tarantino

1.) Martin Scorsese

Honorable mentions: Paul Thomas Anderson, Darren Aronofsky, Alfred Hitchcock

Q: Do you take notes when you guys watch movies? If Yes, How? – Kai in Korea

Michael: Not physical written down notes, but certainly plenty of mental notes. Especially if you’re reviewing a film it’s important to be able to touch on various things in the movie that either worked or didn’t. So a critic has to pay attention to not only the acting but the cinematography, the musical score, the camera angles, the lighting, the costumes etc. While it may seem like a lot to do while just trying to enjoy the movie, the more movies you see then you’ll notice these things more easily and it won’t come as an effort. It may require a few viewings to fully pick up on everything that is present in any one film. You may want to jot down notes, but I personally have an easy time of remembering key things. Again this comes with time and viewing many films to get used to analyzing the different elements in them.

Nate: Like Michael, I take a lot of mental notes. Occasionally I will jot down a quote I want to use in an upcoming piece or note some smaller details. A fun exercise I like to do is put a movie into editing software and breakdown the film that way when I have the chance. By viewing it there you notice some minor details such as hidden cuts, timing, and transitions more than you would normally. Viewing a film at 2.5 – 4x speed is also an occasional exercise that I find beneficial because if your film is fluid and easily digestible at the macro level then it should still be understandable at an increased speed. American Beauty is a great example of this. The film is obviously extremely layered but it has broad appeal because it is understandable even to those not picking up the finer details. A bad movie that suffers from bad editing will not hold up to this test as it will become incomprehensible at higher speeds meaning the delivery of exposition is often chunky or the plot itself has many flaws.

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