Spread across the Internet are the same old recycled lists of the ‘The Best Films of all time’ and ‘The Greatest Directors ever’ and the usual suspects crop up again and again. We know that Scorsese’s Taxi Driver is a masterpiece; we know that 2001: A Space Odyssey was innovative. What about films by these great directors that are often overlooked? Here are five excellent films by famous directors that you may not have seen.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Before Spielberg scared us out of the water with Jaws, he scared us off the road with Duel. The story is simple enough; a weak-willed salesman is pursued across the desert by an aggressive tanker truck. We don’t know who the driver is and what his motives are; the only thing the viewers need concern themselves with is the truck itself. A steady supply of low-angle shots are provided throughout the film to give the truck it’s opposing presence.
A short phone call at the beginning of the film reveals a lot of information about David, our protagonist. His wife complains that he did nothing when his friend made sexual advances on her. This tells us that David is a man who doesn’t address issues and ignores them in the hope that they will disappear. After the first cat and mouse game between tanker truck and car, he has the chance to confront the truck driver at a gas station. He chooses not to and naively gets back into his car (big mistake.)
Spielberg taps into male anxiety; the truck driver has a bigger and better vehicle and dominates the protagonist’s rusty old car; pushing the car towards a moving train and trying to cause a collision.
David is faced with proving his competency as a man by fighting back- a theme Spielberg would further explore in Jaws. Don’t watch this one before a road trip.
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Tough guys like Jake LaMotta and Henry Hill are what we expect from a Scorsese lead but this earlier effort is a feminist drama featuring the independent Alice Hyatt. Ellen Burstyn brings this character to life in an Oscar winning performance. Alice is a headstrong woman who is full of the wisecracks we may expect from one of Scorsese’s leading men.
After the death of her husband in what is perhaps the worst product placement for Coca Cola, Alice leaves her home behind to hit the road with her son in search for a better life and with the hope of becoming a singer. This is a film about the American Dream, being a single parent and finding friends in unlikely places.
The film was released during a time where equality was becoming more prevalent in society yet had not yet reached the movies. Alice’s relationship with her son was especially original at the time, they bounce off one another with the kind of spontaneous and intelligent banter one would expect from a Woody Allen script.
Barry Lyndon (1975)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Barry Lyndon is widely regarded as a masterpiece by critics and directors alike. If you want to witness a flawless execution of cinematography then look no further. The film is set in 18th century Ireland and to give the film its look no electric lighting was used. This means ultra-fast lenses were used to shoot the film using natural lighting such as candlelight. The result is stunning. Each shot of the film could be an oil painting and considering the film runs for over three hours this is a huge accomplishment.
The film marks the rise and fall of Redmond Barry, from naïve boy to admirable soldier to loathsome stepfather. Like any epic worth its salt, Barry Lyndon is divided into acts with an intermission in between.
The film also includes a voice over recording from Michael Hordern as the third-person narrator so often feels more like a novel than a movie.
Interestingly enough, Barry Lyndon is Martin Scorsese’s favourite Kubrick picture.
Rumble Fish (1983)
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
After the success of The Godfather 1&2 and Apocalypse Now, Coppola stepped away from Hollywood and made this avant-garde piece. Initially, this film ostracised viewers, confusing them with new film techniques they had not seen before. Nowadays it is regarded as somewhat of a classic.
The film focuses on Rusty James, (Matt Dillon) a young gang member and younger brother of the Motorcycle kid (Mickey Rourke.) Rusty is trying to convince his brother to join him in forming an unstoppable gang but the dreamy and distant Motorcycle Kid has no desire to do so.
This film captures Rourke in his prime, before all the surgery. He is soft spoken and handsome as opposed to the broken-voiced, beaten-faced man he is today. Dennis Hopper makes a small yet memorable appearance as the drunken father of the brothers.
Whilst not as groundbreaking as some of his more famous work, Rumble Fish is a great example of Coppola’s versatility as a director.
Blood Simple (1984)
Director: Joel & Ethan Coen
The Coen Brothers directorial debut set the precedent for their darkly comic, genre-defying filmography. Blood Simple is a film about the American West, a place where, for the right price- an unfaithful girlfriend can be silenced. A simple hit-job becomes an over-complicated mess due to the assumptions and foolish mistakes of the central characters who have all become somewhat ‘blood simple.’
The Coens dose of black comedy/circumstantial irony is ever present as is the Carter Burwell soundtrack. For those of you that don’t know Burwell has provided the soundtrack for nearly every Coen Brothers film to date and Blood Simple contains his first (and arguably best) piece of work.
Immerse yourself into the saturated blues, greys and browns of the American West in this astonishingly suspenseful debut. Is this a film noir? A suspense thriller? Or is it a Western? The answer is all and none of these things.