Ever since the advent of the modern motion picture industry, critics have praised directors as the key to great film. The auteur theory of cinema is idiotic, since writing is truly the key – no director could make a masterpiece out of “The Ugly Truth
.” It is one of the great travesties of artistic justice that no one remembers the writers of great movies – nobody knows Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, for example, but everyone remembers Frank Capra. Together, those three wrote It’s a Wonderful Life
. (Together, Goodrich and Hackett also worked on The Diary of Anne Frank
, The Thin Man
, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
, and Father of the Bride
Directors get too much credit when a movie goes right, and too little blame when a movie goes wrong. There are certain directors, however, who get credit even when movies go wrong. Here, then, are my top ten overrated directors of all time...
10. Ridley Scott:
Ridley Scott has, for some odd reason, received accolades that far outpace his actual accomplishments. He’s made one entertaining film, Gladiator
, and a host of second rate films masquerading as masterpieces. Blade Runner
is a bizarre and massively overpraised mess. Thelma and Louise
is liberal tripe, although it does provide the best imagistic summary of modern feminism: two irritating “independent” women driving themselves off a cliff. White Squall
is the single most depressing film ever made. Black Hawk Down
is loved by conservatives because it isn’t anti-military, but that’s about the only praiseworthy element to a film that is an endless series of quick cuts between white guys who look alike in their helmets. Who’s been killed? Who’s still alive? You have no way of knowing. Then there’s Kingdom of Heaven
, which is an homage to the “religion of peace” and a slap at Christianity through and through. Alien
is slow. GI Jane
is hysterically terrible. Plus, it’s got Orlando Bloom, who has about as much charisma and credibility as Al Gore. Scott is a key player in the rise of the infernal shaky-cam, which is not only biologically inaccurate (the human eye adjusts for bodily movements), but incredibly annoying. For that alone, he should be exiled to a land without cameras.
9. Michael Mann:
All style, no substance.
8. David Lean:
Everything Lean made is too long by at least half an hour. I know it’s mortal sin to suggest that Laurence of Arabia
, Dr. Zhivago
, The Bridge on the River Kwai
, and Ryan’s Daughter
are anything less than masterpieces, but … they’re all less than masterpieces. Great Expectations
was good. Everything else was downhill.
7. Darren Aronofsky:
Aronofsky is a talentless dud who has bamboozled his way into Hollywood upper echelon. Every film he’s ever made is a disaster. Pi
is a jumble of nonsense that starts nowhere and goes nowhere. It may be the worst film ever made. Watching it made me want to rip out my own retinas, then replace them through surgery, then rip them out again. Of late, Aronofsky has been spicing up his chaotic, disordered crap with explicit lesbian sex scenes, a stylistic trait he apparently cribbed from David Lynch (don’t worry, we’ll get to Lynch shortly). Requiem for a Dream
is noteworthy only in that Aronofsky somehow convinced Jennifer Connolly to participate in a lesbian scene involving mutual anal sex and a dildo (the scene, by the way, is meant to be depraved, but therein lies Aronofsky’s problem: he’s got to have sympathetic characters before we feel bad for them). The fanboy press is already agog over rumors that his newest ode to depravity, Black Swan
, will feature a sex scene between Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis. Clearly, his target audience is pathetic losers in college dorms looking for an excuse to watch girl-on-girl action in the name of art. Not one of his films has been a major commercial success. Yet somehow, someone keeps giving him money. It’s enough to make one question the existence of a beneficent God.
6. Mike Nichols:
No. Just no. The Graduate
is contemptible and snort-worthy spoiled 1960s-child angst. The ending of that movie alone makes it unworthy of human viewing. All future directors take note: having your main characters staring blankly into nothingness is not an ending
. It is a cop out
. Nichols’ directorial style is ordinary and he picks bland material. And he was an icon for the Baby Boomers. If that’s not a sign of their mental disturbance, I don’t know what is.
5. David Lynch:
Pure and absolute suckage, with the exception of The Elephant Man.
Lynch is one of those annoyingly “deep” directors we’re all supposed to puzzle over. Forget it. There’s nothing worth puzzling. He’s as empty as they come, and he makes up for it with graphic sex scenes, just like his imitator, Aranofsky. John Nolte calls Lynch’s Mulholland Drive,
“Mesmerizing, sexy, frightening … and all driven by a visionary director who created a hypnotic puzzlebox unlike anything we’ve seen before or will again.” Uh … no. This movie makes no sense, doesn’t try to make sense, and then fills the vacuum with Naomi Watts and Laura Harring feeling each other up. This ain’t great moviemaking. It’s Vivid Entertainment spliced with the worst of Raymond Chandler. Unfortunately, that just about sums up Lynch’s career.
4. Quentin Tarantino:
I recently watched Inglourious Basterds
and marveled at Tarantino’s skill. But he is a gifted high school child given a camera for his birthday, and entranced with his knowledge of cinema. Which means, in simple terms, he doesn’t know how to tell a story. His films are Wagnerian: long periods of boredom and “artistic” violence punctuated by moments of utter brilliance. To paraphrase William McAdoo on Warren G. Harding, Tarantino’s films are like an army moving over a landscape in search of an idea. Sometimes Tarantino’s films actually capture a struggling thought and bear it triumphantly a prisoner … until the idea dies of servitude and overwork. Tarantino is to homages and gore what James Cameron is to spectacle. Unfortunately, he is also to plot what Cameron is.
3. Woody Allen:
He’s pretentious and unbearable. His movies are like nails screeching on a chalkboard, only with less humor. He is as nerdy as Peter Orszag, but he acts out his fantasies and illuminates his insecurities in film and expects us all to watch. It’s okay for a director to be self-centered – Orson Welles was famously self-centered. But you actually have to be an interesting person in order to spend that much time focusing on yourself. Allen isn’t. He’s a whiny narcissist with sexual inferiority issues. And no one except for him cares about the status of his penis. As a side note, he made Diane Keaton into a “legitimate actress,” which alone should qualify him for the Seventh Circle of Hell.
2. Martin Scorsese:
In the musical Damn Yankees
, a group of hapless baseball players sing the following lyric: “You’ve gotta have heart / All you really need is heart!” Martin Scorsese never saw that musical. His films are entirely devoid of anything resembling likable characters. They are cold and calculating and ruthless – and boring. Nobody cares what happens to Leonardo DiCaprio in The Departed
(in fact, in one screening I saw, people cheered when he got it in the head). The Aviator
takes as long to tell as Howard Hughes did to live. Gangs of New York
featured a brilliant performance from Daniel Day Lewis, and not much else (on a side note, there is no excuse for killing Liam Neeson in the first ten minutes of a film). Casino
is nasty, brutish, and long. Goodfellas
is similarly disgusting – you feel the need to take a shower after watching. Why anyone would want to spend several hours of his/her life with coke-snorting Ray Liotta and Co. is beyond me. The Last Temptation of Christ
is baffling. The Color of Money
is a snooze-fest (if you want to see a directorial clinic rather than Scorsese’s garbage, try Robert Rossen’s The Hustler
, to which The Color of Money
is a sequel). Raging Bull
is gross. Mean Streets
is gross and soporific. Taxi Driver
is perhaps the most overrated film in Hollywood history -- dreary, grungy, and subzero. Scorsese has never seen a main character he liked, a villain he hated, or a pair of editing scissors.
1. Alfred Hitchcock:
He’s not even close to the worst on the list, but he’s certainly the most overrated. He never made a great film. He was the Stephen King of the silver screen: he made films with great premises, but he never knew where to go from there. The psychoanalysis at the end of Psycho
is laughable. North by Northwest
relies on the tried-and-true random helpful coincidence to save our hero, time and again. It brings to mind one of Twain’s rules of writing, directed toward Fenimore Cooper: “the personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.” Not so much for Hitchcock. Spellbound
once again relies on amateur psychoanalysis. Notorious
is the same movie as Rebecca
. Rear Window
makes one reach for the fast-forward button. Vertigo
makes one reach for the cyanide. The Birds
quickly becomes inane. If you want to see good Hitchcock, rent Alfred Hitchcock Presents
. Restricted to the one hour medium, he’s at his best. Left to his own devices, he’s slightly better than mediocre.
Whom would you nominate?