Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The "Must-See" Directors

There are movie directors and there are "must-see" movie directors. The one's that make you say "Oh, he directed that? I should check it out" -like Scorsese, or Spielberg or maybe for some people Tarantino...but not for me. I want to pay tribute to the greatest "must-see" directors of all time and they range from the golden age of Hollywood to some of the foreign legends. Chances are you have probably already seen at least one film from most of these directors. If not then I think you MUST SEE at least one before you die. That's why I call them "must-see" directors.

John Ford

You cannot discuss American film without mentioning John Ford. He has won the most Academy Awards for directing with four and he is absolutely the king of the American western genre, although, ironically he didn't win an Oscar for any of his westerns. Just a small sample of his great films- Stagecoach, The Searchers, The Grapes of Wrath, The Quiet Man, How Green Was My Valley, Mister Roberts, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Billy Wilder

Billy Wilder directed so many classic films that sometimes I forget which ones, even when I'm watching one! Like John Ford he won a few Oscars including two best picture winners The Lost Weekend and The Aparment and those two are fifteen years apart! He is one of the most versatile directors with classics in film noir- Double Indemnity- comedy- The Fortune Cookie- and wartime drama- Stalag 17. His greatest film is probably the dark but magnificent Sunset Boulevard. But the one that's gotten the most acclaim is Some Like It Hot which AFI voted the greatest American comedy of all time.

Federico Fellini

Fellini is always mentioned when film buffs start talking about the "greatest director ever". He is certainly at the top of the Italian school of directing. Many of his later films became too sensationalist for my taste but you could never say he wasn't interesting. Even his bad films are interesting. He's most famous for the classics La Strada, La Dolce Vita, and his very personal masterpiece 8 1/2, but he has many critically acclaimed films like The Nights of Cabiria and Amorcord. For the uninitiated I would suggest starting with La Dolce Vita. It is in my opinion a perfect film with all of the Fellini elements: religion, sex, and death. Which is just another way of saying it is very Italian!

Elia Kazan

There was a time in my twenties when Kazan was my favorite director. Like the others on this list, nearly everything he made was incredibly good. It is amazing watching his very first film, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn when you realize he had no previous experience because he was a stage director. And he only got better from there thanks in large part to a certain unknown actor (at the beginning) named Marlon Brando. Together they made A Streetcar Named Desire and 1954 Best Picture winner On The Waterfront vaunting them both to the top. Kazan later introduced another unknown actor to the world in his classic film adaptation of John Steinbeck's East of Eden- James Dean in his best film role.

Alfred Hitchcock

The master of suspense is still influential and relevant today. There's no way to escape his classic body of work. North By Northwest, Psycho, Strangers on a Train, Vertigo, The Lady Vanishes, Rear Window, Notorious, The Birds, etc. If you are already familiar with his most famous works look into some more obscure titles like Foreign Correspondent,
Spellbound, Shadow of a Doubt, or Saboteur.

I will highlight some more directors next time.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Now that we've established that Ben Affleck and Keanu Reeves are equally horrible in the latest poll question, I want to apologize for my lapse in correct grammar. I had just gotten home from work and was barely awake when I posted the question "Whose acting is worse" instead of "WHO'S acting is worse". I'm sorry but being a stickler for my own grammar that was unnacceptable!

This is the genre that every schoolboy in America loved the most in the middle part of the last century and influenced many newer genres, including the Star Wars films. It has had a resurgence with the popularity of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise but nothing compares to these swordfighting classics- my top ten favorite swashbuckling films.

The Sea Hawk

The face synonymous with the swashbuckler genre is undoubtedly Errol Flynn, hailed as the "king of the swashbuckler". He made many good films in other genres as well, but his acrobatic abilities, charming personality, and good looks fit well with these tales of chivalry, action, and derring-do. The Sea Hawk is set during Queen Elizabeth's reign and the battle of the Spanish Armada. Flynn has one of his best swordfighting sequences in the finale set in the Queen's palace.

The Black Pirate

If Errol Flynn is indeed the "king" then Douglas Fairbanks is the "father of the swashbuckler". As only Jackie Chan could now appreciate, Fairbanks did it all himself. He is the original film daredevil, stuntman, acrobat, and action hero and this silent classic is one of the best showcases of his talent. Check it out and remember, no stunt doubles, no safety nets...this is how they did it old school!

The Crimson Pirate

Burt Lancaster was well known for his dynamic acting style but he was probably more talented as an acrobat. With his former circus sidekick Nick Cravat playing alongside, Lancaster pulls out all the stops for action and adventure. This one still holds up today and is fun for the whole family.


Speaking of pulling out all the stops, this classic, starring Stewart Granger in his most famous role, boasts the longest sword fight in film history clocked at about ten minutes!


This classic based on Sir Walter Scott's novel is like a companion piece to the classic Robin Hood. Both are set during the exile of King Richard and usurpation by the evil Prince John. This story has more depth though, with it's examination of anti-Semitism and a compelling love triangle between Robert Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor, and Joan Fontaine. The action in this one is top notch.

The Adventures of Robin Hood

This Errol Flynn classic is the most popular swashbuckler of them all and is still shown regularly on TCM and elsewhere. If you haven't ever seen it, what's your problem dude?

The Mark of Zorro

Of all movie sword masters none was more talented than Basil Rathbone. Early in his career Rathbone made a name for himself as the legendary slueth Sherlock Holmes in over a dozen films. But he became better known as the suave, sword fighting villain in many swashbucklers including The Adventures of Robin Hood and this film, The Mark of Zorro. Tyrone Power, who plays Zorro was paid the highest compliment by Rathbone who said he was the best swordsman he ever fought on film. That's saying something since Rathbone sparred with Flynn and many other action stars of the time.

Captain Blood

You remember that old movie Sloth is watching in his little cell in The Goonies where the pirate thrusts his dagger into a ship's sail and slides down to the deck, which Sloth copies himself later aboard One-Eyed Willie's ship? That was Errol Flynn in Captain Blood, one of his all-time best films. Once again as in Robin Hood he is paired with Olivia de Havilland and once again he captures her once unwilling heart. This one only gets better with age.

The Court Jester

The swashbuckling comedy combining the talents of Danny Kaye and Basil Rathbone into one of the most fun movies you will ever see. The script is clever with every twist imaginable and a sword fighting sequence which is equally thrilling and funny. Watch it with your kids repeatedly.

The Princess Bride

This contemporary Wizard Of Oz-type fairy tale has one of my favorite sword fights- The Dread Pirate Roberts vs. Inigo Montoya. Like The Court Jester it combines some written wit with some dexterous swordplay. And of course Inigo's revenge is classic, too!