An auteur translates literally into author. It is a French term made famous by the Cahier Du Cinema critics in the fifties (of whom many went on to form the French New Wave film movement. You know that thing I write an entry on every wednesday…). It is applied to directors who have a definite stamp on their films and are usually writer-directors. The theory is that if you take a screen shot from a film and without seeing the film, you can identify who that director is. A pretty easy example that I won’t highlight here, because I have already written on him is Tarantino. If I show you a screen shot form Inglorious Basterds and put it near Pulp Fiction, you could probably deduce that it is the same person who made both pictures if you don’t know anything else about him. It is that simple. Not all directors are auteurs. These are usually the directors that are not heard of very much and are usually called journeymen. They aren’t necessarily bad, they just has a style that changes and shifts depending on the subject matter. You see this most overtly in the studio era. It is also hard to argue that a director is a journeyman, because even the most chameleon of directors still have at least one type of shot that they favor or one type of story they like to do and are good at. This is why this blog post is not called my favorite journeymen directors. I don’t feel up to the challenge.
My criteria is simple. If I think that the director has a distinct style that is shown over several films then he or she is an auteur. Yes. My list will be obvious. Get over it.
5. Hayao Miyazaki
I love animated films and I took an intense class on them while I was still in college. I give much kudos to people who make films outside of the Disney/Pixar moniker. Miyazaki has his films distrubited in the U.S.A. by Disney, but they are financed and realized by his own studio in Japan. His films are full of impressionistic pictures and whimisical fairylands that appeal to both children and adults. He deals with loss in his films a lot and it is usually in the form of an absent parent. His signiture films are My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away.
4. Woody Allen
One of my favorite filmmakers of all time, he definitely has a style to his filmmaking. Famous for making a film every year and usually set in New York City, he has broken that chain in the last few years with films set in Paris, Barcelona, and London. However in every film he makes you get a strong sense of city life. He makes films about personal and intimate problems of a dysfunctional family system. His signiture films are Annie Hall and Husbands and Wives.
3. Terrance Malick
Known for his stunning cinematography and the many years it takes him to complete a picture, Malick is truly one of the best auteurs working today. His films usually involve a man vs. nature motif where the nature always wins. He is a master of conveying feeling through images alone as opposed to sound, image, and dialogue. His most iconic films are The Thin Red Line and Days of Heaven. If you want watch the Thin Red Line, make sure to turn your sound system to eleven…Malick demands you to.
2. Federico Fellini
Master of the surreal, Fellini is known to be one of the most distinctive directors. He uses the same actors, writes about his experiences in Italy as a child, an adult, and while he was a part of a circus, and puts gorgeous women in his films. I would suggest going with his more obvious features before delving into his more obscure films. They are more obscure for a reason. His most iconic films are 8 1/2 and La Dolce Vita.
1. Wong Kar-wai
This is the list of my favorite and not necessary objectively the best auteurs. He may not be as distinct as a Fellini or a Malick, but Kar-wai has a style of storytelling that is all his own. He usually shoots films about loss and missed connections. It it is an epic, an intimate melodrama or a samurai film, he infuses the story with a sense of beauty unique only to him. My favorite films of his are Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love. Also patience with him reaps big rewards.
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Gus Van Sant
Seijun Suzuki- super cool B Japanese director. Watch Tokyo Drifter and have your life changed forever!