The New School of Directors

With the oscars over and Danny Boyle and David Fincher having been treated like Hollywood royalty for a couple of months, I thought it time to put some of my thoughts on a school of filmmakers and set them apart stylistically and temporally. Ok, so for a while I had lumped Jim Jarmusch in with these guys, but then I set some ground rules and I have myself a school. I call them the New School cause that's the best I can do. I could call them the crazy colorful, oddly sexual, violent school of hyper editing and excellent cinematography, but that doesn't have the same kind of pizazz as Nouvelle Vague or Neo-Realism. Anyway, I'll also take a second to tell you who not to confuse them with, because their trends are similar, but time is a key factor. There's the Old School of off-hollywood types who made audacious and challenging films that have made them famous iconoclasts. They all got started in the 80s and have become big deals in the art world. I mean Jim Jarmusch, Lars Von Trier, David Lynch, Gus Van Sant, Terry Gilliam, and Stephen Soderbergh. They could get almost any film made today if they wanted to, but they will always be just this side of the system. Then there are the Second Wavers (post New Hollywood) Ridley Scott, Michael Mann, Jonathan Demme, Paul Schrader, and James Cameron who have a visual style, really firm grasp on storytelling, and fearlessness to walk into new territory who have influenced the new school. Then there are the way-too-stylish generation X filmmakers: Quentin Tarentino, Robert Rodriguez, Luc Besson, Tim Burton, and John Woo; the fellows who need to get back to their roots before they become irrelevant. Oh, and if anyone's wondering how I get my homework done, so am I. So onto the point of the post, the New School. The New School's films are characterized by an incredible visual sense, vivid color or inventive use of black and white, an unconventional approach to editing, stories about youthful issues given a subtle political edge, timelessness of theme, homage to older generations of filmmakers (especially American), literary scripting and pacing, they often turn genre conventions on their head, and have a preternatural command of their mise-en-scene. They all got their start in the 1990s with small films and now have accumulated reputations and a recognizable style. There's a catch of course, they haven't always made great films. In fact with a big enough budget they can look pretty foolish. I always look at it this way, when a director makes a bad film for a lot of money, every dollar he earns goes towards a film with a brain a few years down the line. That's why I only included the films I consider to be entirely theirs and deserving of artistic merit. Almost all of them have new films slated to come out in the next year or so. Let's look at our players.

Paul Thomas Anderson
Films: Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood

The youngest of all of them Paul Thomas has directed perhaps the greatest film of the last 10 years, There Will Be Blood. A professed fan of Max Ophuls and Jean Renoir, Anderson's films are all about the shortcomings of men and their efforts to save themselves from being pulled under a terrifying current of self-destruction. Technically brilliant, Anderson loves sprawling narratives that span time and fortune and he almost always plays with color; look at the montages at the start of Punch-Drunk Love and the deep colors of its heroes wardrobe. A man who believes in the tragic power of love, familial and romantic, Anderson makes films as great as his favorite directors.

Mathieu Kassovitz
Films: Métisse, Assasin(s), The Crimson Rivers, La Haine

Now before you say anything, let me start by saying that he hasn't made a decent film since 2000. That out of the way, he has made great films and his next one looks like it might be pretty great, so I'll just say now that I'm calling him great because I've seen how great he can be and now how great he'll be again. Cute, Paris born Mathieu Kassovitz, best known for acting in Munich and Amelie, got the world's attention with 1995's La Haine, his second full-length feature and one of his many with Vincent Cassel. His films take on violence, murder, race relations, ethnicity, and all the confusion that results when you mix hate with any of them. Proving just as adept at comedy as he is with horror, Kassovitz tries to stir humanity into his viewer, sometimes with stark visuals, sometimes with a bald headed Vincent Cassel reciting lines from Taxi Driver, he can always excite.

Wes Anderson
Films: Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited

Wes Anderson, whatever else may be said of him, has perhaps the most specific production design of any filmmaker who ever lived. In 2001, with his greatest film The Royal Tenenbaums, he proved that just the proper amount of quirkiness can help articulate one of the most endearing stories ever made. Like Yugoslavia's Dusan Makavejev, every frame, every second of his movie has been written to be viewed in a specific way. The beautiful colors, the costumes, every prop, every line, every glance, and every piece of set-dressing, no matter how trivial has been designed to within an inch of its life by its tireless auteur. Born in Houston, Anderson has made a name for himself with his queer characters and their father issues, and he has never been bested in his congruence of wierd elements. He burst onto the scene with his tribute to the French New Wave, 1998's Rushmore, a screamingly funny story of a boy not content with normality or mediocrity. Rushmore is the story of every kid who with wild dreams who never fit in, the story of Wes, and all the world's greatest filmmakers. A legion of imitators (Jared Hess, David O. Russell, Zach Braff) have yet to make a film as heart-warming and delightfully absurd as his best work.

Danny Boyle
Films: Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, Vacuuming Completely Nude In Paradise, 28 Days Later..., Millions, Sunshine, Slumdog Millionaire

Manchester's Danny Boyle is an anomaly if ever there was one, like David Fincher, he broke through to the mainstream completely by accident and on his own terms. His feature debut Shallow Grave set the tone for the rest of his career; furiously paced, set to a driving techno score, populated by truly fascinating characters who learn both sides of wealth and understand what makes friendship and family work, at the highest cost there is. His films examine human beings at their wit's end through fantastic and very real circumtances. Hallucinatory, colorful, otherworldly, and always miles ahead of the competition, Boyle's films have been something I've always looked forward to because he always bends or breaks genres thoughtfully and leaves behind a host of memorable characters in his path. The mark of a good director, to me, anyway, is when they can make one great horror film and move on. Like Stanley Kubrick and William Friedkin, Boyle gave the world one of the most incendiary horror films in 28 Days Later... which features one of the most powerful climaxes in film history. He's shown the world the talents of Ewan Macgregor, Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Dev Patel, Kelly Macdonald, and Irvine Welsh and along with Ang Lee he's the only one who's received an academy award for his direction; he's been overdue for 14 years.

Todd Haynes
Films: Poison, Safe, Velvet Goldmine, Far From Heaven, I'm Not There

One of the gay community's most pronounced filmmakers, Todd Haynes' style has the immediacy of Spike Lee and the narrative strength that only comes from studying Douglas Sirk. His films Far From Heaven and Safe, apart from featuring Julianne Moore's strongest performances, are brilliant depictions of what goes on beneath the surface of human emotion and relationships. Haynes' filmography shows a love of melodrama and a love of music; passion and the effects that being in the limelight has on that. Though I wouldn't call I'm Not There an unqualified success, it did give Heath Ledger a chance to look normal and gorgeous one last time before his death; his segments are easily the best of the film. Todd Haynes frequently puts the horrors of adult life through the eyes of a child or an impressionable sort; he shows that our decisions effect the youngest lives more than anyone else and his courage and art will continue to effect younger generations.

Wong Kar Wai
Films: As Tears Go By, Days of Being Wild, Chungking Express, Ashes of Time, Fallen Angles, Happy Together, In The Mood For Love, 2046, My Blueberry Nights

Wong Kar Wai may love American cinema more than any other director here. His films, from his debut As Tears Go By to his milestone Chungking Express to his latest My Blueberry Nights all revel in their debt to the films of the golden age of Hollywood. Even his Jidai-Geki epic Ashes of Time owes more than a little to the films of Otto Preminger and Orson Welles. As for Welles, Kar Wai is finishing up a remake of The Lady From Shanghai. His style and collaborations with cinematographer Christopher Doyle came to define Hong Kong cinema and apart from John Woo he was the most influential action director of the 90s. What action heroes of the last decade don't pay homage (or rip-off) the gun toting hero of his Fallen Angels. Slickly edited, his movies are the tribute to American Cinema that Jean-Luc Godard's always tried to be. To see the greatest Tracey-Hepburn film never made, watch his In The Mood For Love, and you'll leave with some of the most striking visuals in recent history; his use of neon lights and repetition is unparalleled. The repressed love of Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung is wonderful and comes to say all that lovers cannot with their words. His movies, all of them bathed in deep expressive colors are about feelings, spoken and unspoken, and all that passes between two forces, man and woman, director and cinema, time and love.

Darren Aronofsky
Films: Pi: Faith In Chaos, Requiem For A Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler

With Just two films under his belt, Aronofsky was already a legend in film circles. Requiem for a dream is unquestionably the most famous drug movie ever made and will be fodder for dormroom cinematheques for years to come. Showing us, in what he calls his Mind-Body-Spirit trilogy how permanent the actions of mankind are, Aronofsky created lasting, bleak visions of humanity. From his grimy New York Subway mysticism of Pi: Faith in Chaos to his much lauded but stunning tale of timeless love The Fountain, Aronosky has given rise to a polarizing body of work and a whole new way to think about film. His latest, The Wrestler, is a departure for him and the other members of the New School. Shot for 6 million dollars on digital cameras, The Wrestler is an in-depth and devastating look at the life of a man who forgot how to be a human being. Mickey Rourke, in the part he was born to play, makes suffering seem palpable and Aronofsky's complete understanding of the man and his shortcomings is heartbreaking to say the least. Though things seem dark, happiness is not impossible, and the wonderfully sad ending to the Wrestler is just proof that Aronofsky is capable of awesome power.

Tom Tykwer
Films: Deadly Maria, Winter Sleepers, Run, Lola, Run, The Princess & The Warrior, Heaven, Perfume: Story of a Murderer, The International

Tom Tykwer made perhaps the biggest splash in the international cinema when his Run, Lola, Run made its way to the states. The Wuppertal, Germany born filmmaker's fast and furious reinvention of cinema theory involving jump cuts, long takes, lapses into animation, post-modern soundtrack, and a wicked sense of humour. All of a sudden recognizing Franka Potente's fiery dye job became a cultural secret handshake. His films blend political subtext and stylistic audacity as in The Princess & The Warrior and Heaven and the result are strange and undeniably entertaining. Proving that he could make brainy films in spite of a big budget, Tykwer's enormous latest films The International and Perfume: Story of a Murderer have his crazed style plastered all over them. Though The International may seem like a fairly ordinary spy film on the surface, consider that its hero is constantly defeated by the things that surround him. In a wonderful grey landscape, he's afraid of violence, gets beaten physically and mentally, is constantly thwarted by outside forces; his hands even shake uncontrollably when confronted with the film's awesome shoot out in the Guggenheim; Tykwer's comment on artistic norms. He hasn't sold out, he's just tearing the world apart from the inside.

Guillermo Del Toro
Films: Cronos, Mimic, The Devil's Backbone, Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth

Guillermo Del Toro was for a long time the one ally I had in the horror community. His little films (made in between his big ones) made effective use of cinematography, set design and Del Toro's penchant for storytelling. Even in his big budget work, Del Toro's stories are all masterfully told; with a reliance on strong likable characters amidst unambiguously evil ones, he crafts fairytales set in the not-too-distant past or the frighteningly near future. Del Toro's fixation on the Spanish Civil War produced two of our most enchnating horror films: Pan's Labyrinth and The Devil's Backbone. Del Toro's spooky humanity and his view on the importance of community breeds hope even in the most comically dark times.

Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry & Charlie Kaufman
Films: Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Human Nature, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep, Be Kind, Rewind, Synecdoche, NY

I sort of unfairly stuck these three together because they arrived on the scene in each other's work at roughly the same time and between them there are only six films. As directors, they all rely on vivid imagery, incredibly set and production design, creative storytelling about lovable losers, most from Kaufman's screenplays, ambiguously hopeful endings, and really impressive direction. Spike Jonze's films probe the psyche of failures who've finally discovered what they're good at. Using fantasy and voyeurism as his tools, Jonze finds the most exciting parts of everyday life. Gondry's set design is the work of an adult who never quite grew up, and I mean that in the best possible way. His first two films examine relationship problems from a lens I can say with some certainty had never been used before. Crafting entire worlds out of household items and populating them with the logic of a dream, Gondry makes magic out of depression and regret. His latest Be Kind, Rewind is a feel good film that revels in its message of hope despite its pratically neo-realistic setting and is funnier than half the fare at a multi-plex. Charlie Kaufman, the writer who gave Gondry and Jonze their first films, showed he was just as capable of galling cinematic majesty with his debut Synecdoche, NY. A harrowing mixture of Fellini and Woody Allen with a visual style second to none, Kaufman's film goes deep into the darkest recesses of an artistic mind and the horrors of not being able to control your legacy and in the process tells a gorgeous, elegiac tale that you'll never forget.

Alfonso Cuarón
Films: Sólo Con Tu Pareja, Little Princess, Great Expectations, Y Tu Mamá También, Children of Men,

Children of Men is a little like the password at film schools. Any film kid worth his salt will tell you how much he loved the tracking shots. I'd like to take a second and brag that I was ahead of the curve. Cuarón's films and his unmistakable style have been one of the biggest motivating forces behind my wanting to make films. Watch any of his films and you'll notice (through Emmanuel Lubezki's astoundingly gorgeous photography) that the color green always makes an appearance. Sometimes it's faint, sometimes its overwhelming; it is always wonderful. No one has navigated genres quite as smoothly as Cuarón. Sólo Con Tu Pareja, a screwball comedy about AIDS, if you can believe that, was a cautionary tale that transcends its 1991 release date. His next two, though perhaps not as sound, were aesthetically stunning; The Little Princess remains a children's classic and Great Expectations has some of the most amazing camerawork in history. Following a three year hiatus, Y Tu Mamá También arrived marking a stylistic shift and announcing one of the most distinct mise-en-scene's in a hundred years. His docudrama style, composed of gorgeous colors mixed with amazing use of long takes, invisible but brilliant technical camera work, and a blinding whir of sexuality, violence, drinking, drug use, and a love of both nature and people, Y Tu Mamá También remains a timeless piece of filmmaking. His entry in the Harry Potter series, though suffering from producer's wishes and a PG rating, is one of the best of the series and a fine film. And then came Children of Men. A nightmare given full realization, Cuarón weaves a road movie unlike any other. Clive Owen's Theo navigates politics, war, gender, genocide, assassination, loss, and trust in war-torn england, and Emmanuel Lubezki reinvents cinematography under Cuarón's direction. Like Blade Runner meets Bloody Sunday, Children of Men, like its auteur is relentless and genius.

Ang Lee
Films: Eat Drink Man Woman, The Wedding Banquet, Sense & Sensability, The Ice Storm, Ride With The Devil, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain, Lust, Caution

Taiwanese director Ang Lee has made films championing understanding, tolerance, and harmony since his start. His first two films Eat Drink Man Woman and The Wedding Banquet examine the clash between tradition and modernity across culture and time are literate entries into the film world. His next film Sense & Sensibility is one of the easiest romantic films to watch. Though it's plot has been done and redone more times than I can count, it's never been done with the softness and sympathy of Ang Lee. Like a modern day David Lean Lee continued to navigate classic novels with his interpretations of The Ice Storm, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain, Lust, Caution and his next film Taking Woodstock. His two chinese language films Lust, Caution and Crouching Tiger are uncompromising works of art that take roots in the films of his countrymen. Ride With The Devil, Brokeback Mountain, and the Ice Storm brilliantly evoke their time period while doting over the timelessness of falling in love for the first time. Brokeback Mountain is a beautiful tale of love repressed by norms and circumstance with a wonderful score by Gustavo Santaolalla. The Ice Storm remains a hysterically funny yet heartrending tale about youth and adulthood and how the lines begin to blur when placed under a microscope. Ride With The Devil is an engaging tale of friendship in the American Civil War wrought with excellent performances. Ang Lee makes big films and little films and almost always makes great films and the best of them are just about perfect.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Films: Delicatessen, City of Lost Children, Amelie, A Very Long Engagement,

Though Jeunet's color scheme and composition in the film Amelie is largely identical to Kieslowski's The Double Life of Veronique, his film is still a peerlessly quirky, charming, and inspiring tale of love. Jean-Pierre Jeunet arrived on the scene after decades of making animation with two dark films: Delicatessen, a sort of horror film about cannibalism in a dystopian future and City of Lost Children, a crooked fairy tale with the weirdness of a carnival. Delicatessen and City of Lost Children smacked heavily of Brazil, Satyricon, and Jan Svankmajer and were art directed within an inch of their lives. Jeunet's films are so uniquely imagined and thoroughly realized visions of abstruse politics. When he changed his tune and began making romantic films, his visual style and his non-linear logic remained. Amelie is the French film that all Americans tell you they enjoy when the question of foreign films come up and I've yet to meet anyone unsatisfied with A Very Long Engagement. Using Audrey Tatou (and her perfect skin complexion), Jeunet builds endearing and astoundingly pretty stories of love and the many places it takes us. A Very Long Engagement features some of the greatest images of post-war France ever dreamed up. Jeunet knows from the ordinary and he thrives on the extraordinary.

Noah Baumbach
Films: Kicking & Screaming, Mr. Jealousy, The Squid & The Whale, Margot At The Wedding

If you know Noah Baumbach and don't spend all your spare time watching films it's because he co-wrote Wes Anderson's Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. That film's strangeness really only scratches the surface of the odd cast of neurotics who populate Baumbach's beautifully staged films. His first few features, Kicking & Screaming and Mr. Jealousy examine relationship foibles and though they are a little out of the ordinary, next to his later films, they simply can't hold a candle. The Squid & The Whale, his first post-Anderson film recounts his childhood living with his brother and separated parents in New York City. Amidst a beautiful autumnal surrounding, Baumbach's feuding brothers discover the hardships of life, lose their identity and fight desperately to get it back while all around them crumbles. In Margot at the Wedding, expertly shot by Harris Savides, we get the portrait of the artist as a young adolescent with his severely disfunctional mother played by Nicole Kidman in what may be her best role. Things spin out of control, stopping only to linger over tragic injustice, and the entire family, including Margot's sister played by Baumbach's wife Jennifer Jason-Leigh, her husband-to-be Jack Black, and overbearing neighbor Ciarán Hinds, are victims of insanity. Baumbach opens old wounds so he can show the world that we all bleed and that it's never as nice as it looks onscreen. Life is hard, strange, and through it all, beautiful.

David Fincher
Films: Alien³, Seven, The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

David Fincher would probably not like to be remembered for his feature film debut Alien³, but I give him more credit than he takes. The film, for all its shortcomings is good because of Fincher. His uncanny visual sense and his seriously dark vision of humanity; no one is innocent. When he appeared again with Seven, it was on his own terms. Giving his own twisted notions to the police procedural, Seven is a grimy, grey nightmare world that's still being copied by the makers of horror films. The Game started his chain of films about the underbelly of polite society and honed his ability to make audiences suspend their disbelief for the sake of a thrilling cat-and-mouse game. Fight Club has taken on a whole new meaning as the anthem film of my generation since its release in 1999. Panic Room, while not nearly as well received, is one of Fincher's strongest pieces of characterization. He one-upped himself three years later with Zodiac, a triumph of camerawork, screenwriting, and above all atmosphere. Harris Savides' blue tinted reproduction of San Francisco in the late 60s and early 70s replete with cops one step behind the killer of the title and grizzly (and often affectively humourous) murder scenes. Fincher deftly maneuvers 15 years of investigation and punches suspense and scares into a story that everyone knew the ending to with complete success. His latest The Curious Case of Benjamin Button abandons his typically dirty approach at major city crime and finds himself equally suited to the task of turning a love story into a meditation on life and death without compromising. The film is indisputably beautiful to watch, but when you think about the material, that's where Fincher's vision comes out in the open. Fincher delivers an unflinching sinister look into the human spirit, aided by characteristically magnificent production design and cinematography. Bad never looked so good as when Fincher delivers it.

Park Chan-Wook
Films: Joint Security Area, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, Lady Vengeance, I'm A Cyborg but That's Ok, Thirst

Park Chan-Wook, Korea's wildest and least-conventional auteur has done more with violence in three films than most directors do in  a life-time. Filling his movies with pain the likes of which most people dread everyday, Park has dissected revenge in his so-named trilogy, romance in his two latest features, and friendship in his first picture. If we start at the beginning, the flaws in J.S.A are mostly budgetary. A film ostensibly about the division between North and South Korea sheds the boundaries of cost and becomes an incredibly compelling story about friendship. Proving money no setback, he turned byzantinely complicated revenge stories about cause and effect into some of the most beautifully haunting films of the new millennium. Park deserves some kind of prize for the editing and story-telling he employs in Lady Vengeance, which drifts between memory and current events (making use of unbelievable amounts of footage) between prison cells, alleyways, lush apartments, machine shops and cake shops, each given a ridiculously gorgeous treatment. Ask anyone who's seen Oldboy about the hammer fight and chances are they'll fail to describe it; it's extraordinary. His latest film, Thirst leaps between ultra-violence and unendingly cute romance, something he's proven himself more than capable of mastering. Highs and lows are no object to Park and whether it's flirting or maiming, you can bet it'll be beautiful and unforgettable.

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