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.
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 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.
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!
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.
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.