January 7, 2011

2010: The Retrospect: MVPs of the Year (Directors)

It's getting even more legitimate!

Though they are never seen on the screen, unless they're named Clint or Woody, but directors are the real artistic forces behind whatever film it is that you are watching. Actors can be bad, sure, but at the end of the day, most, if not all, of the blame will be placed on the director. Director's are closely scrutinized, aren't they? They'll make one great film, be heralded as a new master, and then tank on the next one. 2010 saw once great directors fall into a deeper pit of awfulness, once lackluster directors up their game, and the usual masters turn in their standard excellent work. There were some sour apples, to be sure. But, how can you complain when the sweet apples were sooooooo sweet. Here are FFTSBH's MVP Directors of 2010.

Before we go on, let's notice some that didn't make my list of ten. David Yates (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1). Mark Romanek (Never Let Me Go). Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3). Joel and Ethan Coen (True Grit). Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy). Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass). Zack Snyder (Legend of the Guardians). Floris Sigismondi (The Runaways)

But, you don't really care about that, do you? You want the real list. Take a leap, and enjoy!

Oh hell no!

10. Nimrod Antal (Predators)
A director who understood completely how over the top and ridiculous the film needed to be, Nimrod Antal was the perfect choice for this update of the classic alien franchise. Under his leadership, his actors play it straight, the action is vicious and well shot, the monsters are scary and intimidating. The sense of dread permeating the first half of the film is remarkable, and Antal is just as capable when the big guns and effects come out in Act 3. Not bad, considered this is the guy who gave us Vacancy. God, I hate that flick!

9. Tom Hooper (The King's Speech)
Ordinarily, a film like The King's Speech wouldn't merit a notice on this list, but Hooper does more than the minimum with his story of stammering royalty. Rather then shoot in the usual, stagnant, character-in-center-of-frame, way, Hooper employs some nifty tricks, often shoving his characters to the side of the frame and really accentuating the sense of the space. His actors are all note perfect, and the climax of the film is on the most uplifting moments of the year.

8. David O. Russell (The Fighter)
After Three Kings, you'd be forgiven if you'd given up on O. Russell, a director whose only contribution since then was the forgettable I Heart Huckabees. He comes soaring back into the mainstream with The Fighter, a sports movie that wisely does away with the conventions laid out by Rocky and instead focuses on the characters over the game. His direction of his actors, particularly Christian Bale, is superb, and his idea of shooting the boxing matches in the same style as ESPN or HBO is aces! He's back in the limelight, but why the hell is he making the damn Uncharted movie? How could he possibly think that will be good for his career? Oh well. At least he'll have this gem to fall back on!

7. Martin Scorsese (Shutter Island)
How sad is it that a Martin Scorcese movie is getting little to no awards buzz? Answer: very, and unfair. Sure, Shutter Island is nowhere near up to the level of Goodfellas or The Departed, but come on! It was still pretty flippin' sweet! Taking a trip down psychological thriller lane for a change, Scorsese's movie is moody and atmospheric, utilizing clever cuts and shots to hammer home the main characters frayed psyche. Under Scorsese's direction for the fourth, and hopefully not last, time, Leonardo DiCaprio is at the top of his game. Look, it's Martin Scorsese. Even it's not up to par with some of his other work, it's still better than most, if not all, other movies out there!

6. Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World)
This one's for fun. I still can't believe a movie this inspired and entertaining was so ignored at the box office. I JUST CAN'T. For his third feature, Wright stepped away from Pegg and Frost and tackled Bryan Lee O'Malley's excellent series of graphic novels, and he did a great job. His action is sharp, inventive, frenetic, and fun. His direction of his actors is top notch. The humor of the comics comes shining through. Sure, Michael Cera might still be doing sort of the same thing again, but under Wright, he, and everyone else, are all fantastic. Look, ask yourself this. Do you want to see a film where two guys fight by having an extreme bass duel, every character knows ridiculously awesome kung-fu, declaring you love someone will grant you a sword that pops out of your chest, being a vegan grants you psychic powers, curse words are blocked by a black box, people burst into coins when they are defeated, and your evil self actually turns out to be a really sweet guy with whom you have a lot in common? That's what I thought!

5. Ben Affleck (The Town)
I know I hated on The Town when I first saw it, but I have since gained a new appreciation for it after watching the far superior Director's Cut. For his second time behind the camera, Affleck returns to Boston, raises the stakes and the action, and turns in a thrilling, engrossing crime epic. His direction of urban, cop v. crook, violence is some of the best since Michael Mann; the opening bank heist is taut and deliciously intense. His direction of his actors is just as good as it was in Gone Baby Gone; Rebecca Hall and Jeremy Renner are both astounding, and the late, great Pete Postlethwaite makes cutting flowers oh-so-scary! It seems we have a new Clint Eastwood on our hands, an actor who has found his true calling as a gifted director. Let's hope he can continue his streak, cuz the results will no doubt be awesome.

4. Matt Reeves (Let Me In)
Reeves exploded onto the scene with Cloverfield, proving that a big scale film told from the perspective of found footage could not only be awesome, but surprisingly intimate and character based. He does it again, showing everyone that American remakes of beloved foreign films don't have to suck. In fact, they can actually be better. Reeve's moody take on this tale of a pre-teen vamp and her new friend is beautiful, scary, stupendously acted, and all around excellent. His cinematography is aces; his sparse use of violence is shocking and brutal; his quiet moments are the most haunting and devastating of the year. Reeves has created a vampire movie that every modern vampire film (looking at you Twilight) should aspire to match! It's simply marvelous!

3. David Fincher (The Social Network)
Fincher's tale of money, power, sex, corruption, and internet dating is his least violent movie to date, but still retains everything that made his best films (Se7en, Zodiac) so damn good and entertaining. All his atmospheric visual traits are there; Harvard is lit like a dungeon. His direction of his actors, ranging from the narcissistic to the voice of reason, is just as good as it's ever been. His handling of Aaron Sorkin's stinging script is superb. He made a scene of a guy hacking into various sites, a very boring thing to watch in in real life, one of the most exciting scenes of the year. No easy feat!

2. Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan)
Aronofsky has confused me in the past. He's not the most consistent of fellows, making a film as good as Requiem For a Dream, and then turning around and making a film as weird and inexplicable as The Fountain. However, The Wrestler showed everyone what he could do with actors, and Black Swan is yet another step up from that. Tackling the realm of psychological horror, Swan, under Aronofsky's meticulous eye, is wickedly terrifying and wonderfully disturbing. That one scene near the end will leave you curled up in a ball, eyes shut tight against the images on screen. Natalie Portman turns in the best performance of the year, and her supporting players are no slouches either. Aronofsky is enjoying a steady climb into the upper echelon. Let's hope The Wolverine doesn't fuck it all up!

1. Christopher Nolan (Inception)
Please. Like I'd choose anyone else! Nolan made the most exciting thriller of the year, with the most visually astounding feats and the most inventive action. The hamster wheel hallway is something for the books. But all the action is not at the expense of characters and writing, and both these things are given just as much care as the fun stuff. Leonardo DiCaprio, Jospeh Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hardy, and Ken Watanabe, actors who don't usually star in big budget blockbusters, all perform admirably. The writing is delightfully complex; the world and mythology that Nolan has created is perfectly realized. An action film this original doesn't come around very often, and it would have epically failed in the wrong director's hands. Nolan wasn't the wrong director. He was the perfect one!

We're almost done. Just two more days until we get to the final list, The Best of the Year. Be sure to refresh yourself on everything 2010 with 2010: The Retrospect until then. See you tomorrow kids. Don't stick metal objects into wall sockets.


  1. As much as this year was somewhat a disappointment in regards to consistency from January to December, it wasn't until this list that I realized how many kickass directors we had putting out total winners. Think I might have to give it to Wright, but who am I kidding, Nolan owned.

  2. @Aiden: Haha, well, I'm happy to have shown to the light. Yeah, Wright was awesome, but, as you say, Nolan owned, and he owned spectacularly!

  3. Yes! Brilliant list! Haven't seen The Fighter yet (not out in AUS), but I totally agree with all of these picks (I might movie Wright and Scorsese up a bit, Reeves and Affleck down, but still!)

    I'm especially pleased with the inclusion of Antal. That guy made Predators a truly great action film. Can't wait to see what he does next.

  4. @Tom: Yeah. I loved what Antal did with that film, especially considering how epically it could have failed!