Movies are a collaborative effort, but the director is truly responsible. They are at the helm of the project instilling their vision and their passion to their partners. From positioning the camera to fundraising, every part – or who does individual parts – is up to them.
Part of our Best of 2020 episode.
Ridley Scott does big genre pictures, but he does them… British. He can nail all the beats you’d expect from a sci-fi, sword-and-sandals, or horror film, but with enough slow-motion shots of hands brushing through grain and ambiguous unicorn dreams to make the project feel a bit classier. The opening of Alien features almost five minutes without any dialogue, quickly establishing this isn’t going to be your standard alien in a rubber suit film. Beautiful wide-angle cinematography mixed with claustrophobic shots of darkened hallways creates the perfect “haunted house in space” setting. Throw in some fantastic performances from the entire cast, and it’s easy to see why Ridley Scott commands such respect.
Steven Spielberg is possibly the most well-known director in cinema. He is on this list this year for not only being responsible for the first blockbuster, but also his creative influence behind the scenes. This year we delved into “Spielbergian” moments that seem to be those quieter pieces in movies where characters live and breath. These moments lend believability to the picture which helps contrast with the impending onslaught of horror.
Stanley Kubrick left a legacy as much myth as fact. Hundreds of takes to nail a single shot. Driving actors to tears to illicit a realistic performance. Having little interest in the source material and the trappings of the genre he’s working in. Regardless of how much is true and how much is legend, it paints the picture of someone with a singular, uncompromising vision. The Shining is a film no other filmmaker could have created, and the fact that it continues to leave such a mark on viewers only serves to validate Kubrick as an auteur.
Wes Craven spent his career balancing between artistry and genre. A Nightmare on Elm Street features dream sequences containing subtle references to surrealist director Buñuel… while at the same time grinding up Johnny Depp in a bed garbage disposal. Craven was fascinated by what scared audiences, but he approached it with a thoughtfulness that seemed to push past the basic “boobs and blood” approach of so many of his peers.
It only takes looking at the other directors on this list to realize how much Sam Raimi sticks out from his peers in the horror community. Ask someone about good horror directing and they’ll go on about slow, deliberate shot choices and slowly building up tension. While Raimi can do tension, he’s at his strongest when he’s cut loose like a sugar-addled five year old. His directing style mixes the horrific with slapstick to bizarre effectiveness. In his hands the camera suddenly becomes its own character, soaring around and forcing itself into faces of every character to catch every scream in wide-angle glory. In The Evil Dead series the camera literally is a character, smashing through windows and attacking our protagonists. It paved the way for the energized camera work of the 90s and 00s, and changed what horror fans wanted out of their midnight films. Not bad for a kid from Michigan goofing off with his friends in the woods.