Monday, July 30, 2018

My Top Favorite Filmmakers Pt. 2

Last time, I talked about what are probably my Top 5 Favorite Filmmakers of All Time. Today, I'm here to talk about some MORE of my favorite filmmakers of all time, people that made movies that really influenced me or meant a lot to me growing up, and in my life in general. So without further ado, lets get to it!

Steven Spielberg - This one is a "gimme" for a lot of movie fans. This man has made so many great, classic movies throughout his career, and BECAUSE of his body of work, he is a very strong argument to some for "Greatest Filmmaker of All Time". I'm not sure I would go quite that far, but he deserves recognition as ONE of the very best. I don't love EVERY movie he's ever made, in fact there are a handful I still haven't even seen, due to lack of interest, and others still, like The Adventures of Tintin, that I just wasn't feeling. But it would certainly be fair to say he's probably made more movies that I like and care about, than ones I don't.

One of the most iconic scenes in cinema history.

My own personal experience with Spielberg started very early. As I've recounted in the past, growing up, I spent the vast majority of my childhood NOT being able to see movies in theaters, because my grandmother was anti-social and claimed that "they were a waste of money". In her mind, you could just easily wait for the movies to come out on TV, or home video. But when I was VERY young, let's say between the ages of 3-5, I do remember two specific movies I DID get to see in theaters at such an impressionable age. One of them was Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, which was one of many re-releases Disney did throughout the 80s. The other, was E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. The scene where Elliot waits outside in the yard alone for ET to show back up, and then ET appears, and scuttles slowly over to his lawn chair in the middle of the night, at that age scared the shit out of me! But then ET held out his grubby little three-fingered hand, and dropped some of the Reece's Pieces that Elliot had left around the forest to attract him, and little kid me was like "Oh OK, the scary alien likes candy, me too!" Outside of the scary scenes, I'm sure that movie made a big impression on me, and I likely wished that I had some kind of alien/magic/extra-dimensional/whatever buddy of my own.

Other early experiences with Spielberg films, included Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and of course, the Indiana Jones trilogy. For the former, my grandmother was a major science fiction and alien nut, so it was a no-brainer that she loved that movie. To me, it was definitely interesting and entertaining, but also quite a bit darker and scarier for most of it, than ET was. I clearly remember them showing the "Extended Edition" on TV, where they showed the extra scenes he filmed in the early 80s, such as showing the inside of the giant spaceship at the end. Kid me thought that scene was super cool, and wondered what all the different aliens inside were like. Adult me realizes he never should have caved to studio pressure and filmed that scene, because it's better to leave things like that a mystery. As for the latter, I more or less loved Indy growing up, even though of course I didn't get all the adult references, and the scary parts really scared me. But I've always had a thing for the supernatural, and treasure-hunting stories, and so combining the two was a great move in my eyes. Similar to how I would flip on the Star Wars trilogy (more on that in a minute) as I grew up, I also flipped on the Indy movies. As a kid, my favorite was The Last Crusade, because, I dunno, Sean Connery is awesome, and it had even more action. But adult me settled on the original, Raiders of the Lost Ark, as my favorite Indy film, and perhaps my favorite Spielberg movie overall, though that's a tough call.

One final note about Steven Spielberg before I move on, in addition to being one of the most prolific and successful directors in Hollywood history, he has also been one of the most prolific and successful producers. He has produced a ton of movies, even helping to jump-start many other filmmakers' careers. And in addition to that, he ALSO helped bring many awesome TV shows in to existence, such as Amazing Stories, Tiny Toon Adventures, and Animaniacs

My Favorite Works: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T: The Extra Terrestrial (1982), Hook (1991), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)Jurassic Park (1993)

Other Works I Like: Duel (1971), Jaws (1975), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), The Lost World (1997), Minority Report (2002), Catch Me If You Can (2002), The Terminal (2004), War of the Worlds (2005)

Works He Produced That I Like: Poltergeist (1982), Gremlins (1984), Back to the Future (1985), The Goonies (1985), An American Tail (1986), The Money Pit (1986), Batteries Not Included (1987), Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), The Land Before Time (1988), Back to the Future Part II (1989)

George Lucas - Now George Lucas is an odd, and rather special case. Of all the people I'm listing as my favorite filmmakers, outside of Ray Harryhausen who only acted as director on his own early stop-motion shorts, Lucas is by far the least prolific as a director of the entire bunch. In total, he is only officially credited as director on six of the films he's made. A serious point of contention among Star Wars fans, mainly between the fans who love Lucas and the "fans" who act like they hate his guts, is his lack of director credit on his films The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Those who like to give Lucas as little credit for his own works as possible, making him out to be nothing more than a hack who got really lucky and "had great talent around him", like to give all the credit of those films to the people who were credited as directors: Irvin Kershner and Richard Marquand. But while it is true that for the last two films of his original trilogy, Lucas took more of a producer and supervisory role, officially, UN-officially, he was still the mastermind behind the entire operation.

I personally liken it to the 1982 hit Poltergeist, which was officially directed by Tobe Hooper. But quite suspiciously, it doesn't SEEM like anything else Hooper ever did, tone-wise, even direction-wise, and that's because Steven Spielberg was on set almost every day as producer, and was practically making ET at the same time. In point of fact, the only reason Spielberg DIDN'T direct Poltergeist, is because he wasn't allowed by the studio to direct two films at once. But UN-officially, it is well known that Spielberg was still the one calling all the final shots, and it was in fact he who shaped the direction of the film, even if Hooper was the one he hired to yell "action!" and "cut!". As far as I'm concerned, it's no different with Kershner and Marquand, in that Lucas was the one driving the vision, and in my mind, it is he who was still basically the director, UN-officially, of both movies.

Just chillin' with Obi-Wan.

Regardless, the truth for me personally, is that AS the creator and godfather of Star Wars, George Lucas makes it onto my list for practically that alone. Even though I was either unborn or too young to see any of the original trilogy in theaters when they were new, Star Wars was nonetheless a HUGE part of my childhood. From the movies, to the 80s Droids and Ewoks cartoons, to the great first Ewoks TV Movie (and its not great sequel), to my early experience playing the Star Wars arcade game, and more. Luke Skywalker was a hero of mine as a kid, as he has been for so many children, and as I grew up, and experienced more of the so-called "Expanded Universe", that mythos Lucas created only continued to grow on me. Video games like Rebel Assault II on Playstation, and Shadows of the Empire on Nintendo 64 were pretty big to me when they were new, warts and all. And when the original trilogy was re-released as "Special Editions" in 1997, I was thrilled, because I was able to actually see those movies in theaters. When the "controversial" Prequel Trilogy came out, even 1999's The Phantom Menace, while they weren't perfect, I loved them. So for giving me (and the world) the Star Wars franchise alone, George Lucas will always have my respect.

But the thing is, he has done and meant so much more in film over his career. He is and always will be rightfully known for Star Wars. But he has innovated or had a hand in so many other things as well. His first big hit film, THE movie that was such a smash-hit it allowed him the leeway with studios to take a chance on a huge, effects-heavy project like Star Wars in the first place, was American Graffiti. A solid "coming of age" film in its own right, very much inspired by Lucas' own teen years, Graffiti is most notable for its soundtrack, as it was the first major Hollywood film to feature a lot of contemporary music throughout, instead of a typical, more orchestral film score. Not only did this give rise to more films using popular music, but it also almost single-handedly helped to create what is now known as "Classic Rock Radio". Radio stations before then typically played mostly newer hits in whatever genre they covered, but with the popularity of old rock songs in Graffiti, it eventually led to a rise in "Throwback" stations that dedicated themselves to playing older music.

Lucas also, along with being the godfather of Star Wars, is pretty much the same thing for Indiana Jones. While his friend Spielberg acted as director on those films, it was Lucas who originally conceived the character, concept, and wrote the stories. Much like Star Wars, Indy hearkened back to old film serials of Hollywood's "Golden Age", and the Indy films themselves had a huge influence on action and adventure films, just as Star Wars did on science fiction and big special effects movies. He also wrote and produced another great 80s film, the fantasy epic Willow. Much like Spielberg, Lucas also acted as producer on many films, as well, helping many projects to get off the ground. And beyond that, his hand in innovating film technology has been invaluable to the industry. The original Star Wars represented a massive leap in effects-driven films. Lucas also had a direct hand in creating technical companies, such as the THX theater sound company, the Industrial Light & Magic effects house, and even originally founding what would become Pixar Studios. All in all, George Lucas' role in the evolution of Hollywood and filmmaking cannot be diminished or dismissed, as it was huge.

My Favorite Works: Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Return of the Jedi (1983), The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002), Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Works He Produced That I Like: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure (1984), Labyrinth (1986), Captain EO (1986), Willow (1988), The Land Before Time (1988), Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade (1989) 

Richard Donner - Donner is another director, much like Carpenter and Dante, where I didn't actually get to see his films until I was into my teens, after my grandmother passed away. No, not even The Goonies, which, trust me, is one of MANY movies I lament not being able to see and enjoy as a kid. Experiencing things as a child is significantly different than as an adult, or even as a teenager. You are far more open, and raw, and just take things at face value. Everything is bigger and more epic and more "real". So not being able to enjoy Goonies through the eyes and mind of a child? Pretty lame. The real shame is, when I finally DID get to see it, over time it became one of my Top Favorite Movies of all Time!

Talking shop with Mr. Kent.

But when I DID finally start seeing his films, I very quickly became a big fan. If I had to take a stab at which of his movies I first saw, I'd have to guess the original Superman (very possibly shown on TV together with Superman II). To be clear, while I went as Supes (ironically at my grandmother's suggestion) for Halloween when I was 5 years old, I was not a huge Superman fan growing up, and certainly wasn't in my teens. I even went through a dumb phase in my late teens, where I insisted that Supes (and most DC heroes by extension), were "generic and lame". In my defense, I didn't know what the fuck I was talking about, and I was a die-hard Marvel kid. But the ONE thing Superman that I always liked, even during that phase, was Donner's films. Christopher Reeve was, and to me remains, THE Superman (even though Tim Daly from the 1996 animated show is a close second). Those first two movies are gold, even though the producers really screwed Donner around, and hired another director (Richard Lester) to finish the second film after they fired him. But Donner really seemed to understand the character of Clark Kent, and his films truly embodied, what I feel is the best possible representation of what Superman is (and SHOULD be) all about.

I also saw The Goonies around 15 or so years old, and instantly loved it. It is very "against type", looking at most of Donner's body of work, but I think in many ways that makes it more special. To me, hell to a LOT of people, Goonies is a quintessentially "80s" movie, to its core. And it was a perfect storm of elements, with a story by producer Steven Spielberg, a script by future big-shot filmmaker Chris Columbus, and Richard Donner himself delivering what I consider to be his finest directorial performances. It is one of those rare films that I can watch at almost any time, and I consider it to be fairly flawless. There really isn't anything to NOT like about it, from the cast to the story to the humor, or the great Astoria, Oregon locales, or the overall tone and spirit of the film.

I eventually also watched Donner's famous "Lethal Weapon" movies, and while not AS big a fan of those, I still love them, particularly the relationship between the lead characters of Murtaugh and Riggs (Danny Glover and Mel Gibson). In my movie-going prime, in the late 90s, I even saw a couple of Donner films in theaters, including the great Conspiracy Theory (also starring Gibson), and Lethal Weapon 4, which was my first exposure (as I'm sure it was for many people) to the amazing Jet Li. On a final note, like Spielberg and Lucas, Richard Donner, both with and sometimes separately from his producer wife Lauren Donner, has also produced some really great films that I love. In my book, Mr. Donner is one of the best directors in Hollywood history, and he should be remembered as such.

My Favorite Works: The Goonies (1985), Superman II (1980), Conspiracy Theory (1997), Lethal Weapon 4 (1998), 16 Blocks (2006)

Other Works I Like: Superman (1978), The Toy (1982)Lethal Weapon (1987), Scrooged (1988), Lethal Weapon 2 (1989), Lethal Weapon 3 (1992), Timeline (2003)

Works He Produced That I Like: The Lost Boys (1987), Delirious (1991), Free Willy (1993), Free Willy 2 (1995)

Robert Zemeckis -My personal experience with Zemeckis, oddly enough, didn't start out with the usual type of movies that one would imagine. I didn't get to see Who Framed Roger Rabbit? OR any of the Back to the Future films, again, until my early teens at least. I honestly think that while sometimes, I didn't see something because my grandmother didn't "approve" of it, there were other times, such as with BTTF, that I think she just never bothered to rent them, like they didn't jump out to her or something. But the one Zemeckis film she DID rent, that I DID see as a child, was Romancing the Stone. Definitely not kid fare, or a "family" film really. But I guess even as a kid I must've somewhat liked it. Stone is an odd duck, because it's a mishmash of romantic "chick flick" elements, and Indiana Jones style action/adventure. It's kind of a serious movie, but it's also funny. I came to appreciate it more as a teen and adult, because I "got" more of the references and humor. But in general, it's just a good, entertaining movie. Its highly unnecessary sequel, however, while not a  BAD movie, not so much. And to be fair, Zemeckis had nothing to do with it.

Gonna Go Back In Time.

Stone also happened to be Robert Zemeckis' first major hit film as a director, and it probably, along with the added power of Spielberg producing, directly led to him being able to do the film(s) that he is arguably most well known for: Back to the Future. The original 1985 classic, is a quintessential 80s movie, and like most great 80s films, it was 100% a product of its time, even IF, ironically, most of its action takes place in the 1950s. But to me, while the first Future movie is great, the sequel, which didn't come out until 1989, is light years beyond it. It just has everything going for, and going on IN it. We go on a roller coaster ride from the future, to the past, to a dark parallel reality present, and it just rocks from start to finish. Which is also why I will always argue, that the third film in the trilogy, which takes place in the "Wild West", should have been the second. Because even though Future Pt. 3 IS a good movie, it's not "epic end of a trilogy" good. That would be Pt. 2. But either way, the series as a whole is cinema greatness.

Zemeckis became less prolific, when it came to churning out movies, in the 90s and 2000s, etc., but he still created some classic hits. Two of which, happen to star the great Tom Hanks, and they both were massive critical and financial successes. Those movies of course being Forrest Gump, and Cast Away. Gump I did not see in theaters, as it was before I was able to start doing so (and I doubt at that age it would have been super high on my list), though I do think it is a good movie. Cast Away I DID see in theaters, and I actually quite enjoyed it, even if it had a frustrating/bittersweet ending.

My Favorite Works: Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), Romancing the Stone (1984), Back to the Future Part 2 (1989), Cast Away (2000)

Other Works I Like: Back to the Future (1985), Back to the Future Part 3 (1990), Death Becomes Her (1992), Forrest Gump (1994), Contact (1997)


Walt Disney - Even though I did not put him in my Top Five favorite filmmakers, the undeniable truth is, that few filmmakers had a bigger, more lasting impact on my childhood and development, than Walt Disney. Either through works he directly was involved in, or works that the company he founded continued to make after his 1966 death, Disney was a huge part of my early years, as I'm sure he was for a lot of kids of my generation or earlier. The Disney Channel, which was a fairly new thing on 1980s cable TV, was one of the first "special" channels we had when I was a little kid. As such, I was able to see all sorts of Disney programming, from TV shows, to holiday specials, to classic Walt Disney shorts. And of course, as I've already recounted, one of the first (and for many years only) two films I got to see in a movie theater as a small child, was the 80s re-release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. A movie that also, ironically, happened to be Walt Disney's first feature film.

Walt with arguably his greatest creation.

Now I should, and likely shall, write a piece solely dedicated to the person and works of Mr. Walt Disney someday. But for now, I will simply state, without paying it more attention than it deserves, that the modern notions some people seem to have, that Walt was somehow a major asshole, or worse, a "racist and anti-Semite", etc., are absolute bullshit, and always have been. Walt was hardly a perfect person (no one is), and he absolutely earned a reputation as being a taskmaster and sometimes being difficult to work with. But the truth is, Walt was a perfectionist. He demanded the people around him worked as hard as he did, because he absolutely did work his ass off, constantly. And that work ethic, for good and for ill, is what drove him, along with his brother Roy and key employees like animator Ub Iwerks, from being a small-time outfit based out of Kansas City struggling to get by, to becoming one of the biggest and most successful studios and companies in Hollywood, during his lifetime.

As a filmmaker, Walt started as a simple cartoonist and animator. He did or helped with animation on many of his earliest theatrical animated shorts. Eventually, he had enough other animators, that he stepped back from drawing himself. But he acted as director on dozens of shorts, from the early 20s through the mid-1930s. He continued as the primary producer, both for the continuing Disney shorts, as well as his expansion in to pioneering feature-length animated films, and later still live action movies, all the way up through to his death, in 1966. And on top of that, one of the coolest things about Walt, was that in addition to directing, producing, writing, etc., he also voiced his single most famous creation, Mickey Mouse (and various other characters from time to time), from his genesis in the late 1920s, all the way through 1947, when he finally handed the job off.

The company that still bears his name today, in my book, is a far cry from DESERVING to bear it. But Walt Disney, the MAN, in my estimation, should be remembered for what he was: a key pioneer and innovator, both in animation, as well as the film industry in general. While the Disneyland theme park and other ventures, definitely were passion projects that took up more and more of his time later in his life, I do believe that animation always remained his one true creative love.  If it hadn't been for him taking a massive risk, that could have bankrupted his studio, by making Snow White in the 30s, full-length animated movies likely wouldn't have been a thing. And the world owes him for that much, at the very least. But his works helped make and keep animation popular, period, and pretty much every animator that has followed him in all the decades since, owes quite a lot to Mr. Disney, and most of them were likely heavily influenced by him.

In the interest of saving space and time, I will only list feature films, as far as works of his that I like.

My Favorite Works: Alice in Wonderland (1951), The Sword in the Stone (1963), Fantasia (1940), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), The Jungle Book (1967)

Other Works I Like: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937), Pinocchio (1940), Dumbo (1941), Bambi (1942), Fun and Fancy Free (1947), The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949), Treasure Island (1950), Peter Pan (1953), Lady and the Tramp (1955). Swiss Family Robinson (1960), One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), The Absent-Minded Professor (1961), Babes in Toyland (1961), In Search of the Castaways (1962), Mary Poppins (1964), That Darn Cat! (1965)



Before I wrap this up, I figured I would list some other filmmakers that I really love. I could probably stretch this series out to have several more parts, but in the interest of time, and seeing as that isn't currently on my article agenda, I'll just make a "quick mention" list here, just to let you know a few folks who I think are awesome:

Don Bluth - The Secret of NIMH (1982), An American Tail (1986), The Land Before Time (1988), All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989), Titan A.E. (2000)

Hayao Miyazaki - The Castle of Cagliostro (1979), Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984), Castle in the Sky (1986), My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Princess Mononoke (1997), Spirited Away (2001), Howl's Moving Castle (2004), Ponyo (2008)

Wes Anderson - The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), Moonrise Kingdom (2012), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Jim Henson - The Frog Prince (1971), The Muppet Movie (1979), The Great Muppet Caper (1981), The Dark Crystal (1982), The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), Labyrinth (1986)

Arthur Rankin Jr./Jules Bass - Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), Frosty the Snowman (1969), The Hobbit (1977), The Return of the King (1980), The Flight of Dragons (1982), The Last Unicorn (1982), The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus (1985)

Terence Fisher - Dracula (1958), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), The Mummy (1959), The Brides of Dracula (1960), The Gorgon (1964), The Devil Rides Out (1968) 

Richard Fleischer - 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), Fantastic Voyage (1966), Doctor Dolittle (1967), Conan the Destroyer (1984), Red Sonja (1985)

Chris Columbus - Adventures in Babysitting (1987), Home Alone (1990), Only the Lonely (1991), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Bicentennial Man (1999), Harry Potter 1-3 (2001-2004)

James Whale - Frankenstein (1931), The Old Dark House (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

John Hughes - National Lampoon's Vacation (1983), Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986), Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987). The Great Outdoors (1988), Uncle Buck (1989), Christmas Vacation (1989), Home Alone (1990), Career Opportunities (1991), Only the Lonely (1991), Dutch (1991)

George Pal - War of the Worlds (1953), Tom Thumb (1958), The Time Machine (1960), Atlantis The Lost Continent (1961)

Alfred Hitchcock - Strangers on a Train (1951), Rear Window (1954), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963)

Frank Capra - Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Lost Horizon (1937), You Can't Take It With You (1938), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Meet John Doe (1941), It's a Wonderful Life (1946)


So that's a wrap, for now! I could go on for quite some time. In fact, in a way, I have. As one FINAL little note that I'd like to share with folks, I started a little "game" or project of sorts, many years ago, a file on my computer that I've been adding to over time. I call it "My Favorite Directors", and what it is, is a list, similar to that above, except ONLY including films someone has been credited as director on, not just producer, writer, etc. Only Ray Harryhausen was included as the exception, for reasons I mentioned in Pt. 1.

So the rules to this "game" are rather simple: You think of a movie you like, let's say, and you go look it up on Wikipedia or the Internet Movie Database. Look at who directed the film, and then look at other movies THEY'VE directed. Simply put, if that director has made AT LEAST two films that you can say that you either love, or at least like, then you put that director, and those movies, on the list. Now, granted, I DID call it "My Favorite Directors", so with many inclusions on my list, it is fair to say that a lot of them are NOT my favorite directors, by a longshot. But I included them anyway, as part of the "game". To denote directors who truly ARE my top favorites, I put an asterisk ("*" symbol), next to their name.

I've been trying to get other people to participate in this "game" for years, and no one ever really seems to bite. So maybe some of you out there, that are both as movie AND perhaps even as list-crazy as I am, will finally pick up my torch, and carry it forward! If you do, let me know in the comments, or on the Retro Revelations Facebook or Twitter pages, or hell, even my e-mail (which can be found at the bottom of the page). I'd love to see other people's lists!

So that's that! I hope you enjoyed this look into my passion for film. And as always, if my writing about these directors and movies, inspires you to want to watch some, or ANY of them, please do! That's half the reason I write these articles, is so people not only learn/know about this stuff, but so they might actually want to go enjoy these things themselves! Until next time then!

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