The Pantheon (1998-2008)

On July 1st, I will be celebrating 10 years as an online film critic. The name, address and design of this website has changed numerous times over the years, but one thing has remained constant: my passion for cinema.I already did a retrospective of my first years on the internets when I hit the five year anniversary, so I won’t go through that history again. But I thought I could take this opportunity to establish my own personal pantheon of the most important filmmakers of these last ten years of avid moviewatching that are taking up bandwidth in here.A few precisions: this isn’t about all-time greats, but about folks who’ve done consistently great work between 1998 and 2008. So no Coppola or Scorsese, whose golden years seem to be behind them. I also haven’t included guys like Baz Luhrmann, who’s only made one film in the last 10 years (even though said film, Moulin Rouge!, might be my favorite film of all those years), and Peter Jackson, who definitely had a monumental impact on my moviegoing life with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but towards whose filmmaking I don’t feel that strong a kinship otherwise.

Without further ado…

THE PANTHEON!

1. Paul Thomas Anderson
1998-2008 output: Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood

Three films, three masterpieces. No one can compare on a pure quality of the work level. What’s more, each of the three is wildly different, which makes PTA as versatile as he is brilliant. This guy should make anyone’s pantheon.

2. Quentin Tarantino
1998-2008 output: Kill Bill 1-2, Death Proof

This one’s inevitable. I’ve written about this here and there, I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for QT. His Pulp Fiction single-handedly opened my eyes to the possibilities of cinema beyond Schwarzenegger flicks and got me interested in indie film, the auteur theory, cult movies and so on. He almost didn’t qualify for this because, in fact, Kill Bill is really only one film which happened to be split in two and Death Proof‘s half of one (Grindhouse). But still, while I wish QT was more productive, I adore that film and a half he made in ten years!

3. M. Night Shyamalan
1998-2008 output: The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, Lady in the Water, The Happening

Don’t mind the haters, Shyamalan has built a film cycle of unparalleled thematic and stylistic consistency with the first five titles listed above. The Happening, which just came out, feels like a slight letdown at this point, but it might hold up better upon further viewings.

4. Cameron Crowe
1998-2008 output: Almost Famous, Vanilla Sky, Elizabethtown

Now it gets even more personal. While Almost Famous is generally accepted as a great movie, Vanilla Sky and Elizabethtown have divided critics, to say the least. I don’t care, I love them all the same. Crowe is the filmmaker who speaks to me the most directly, on a sentimental level.

5. Steven Spielberg
1998-2008 output: Saving Private Ryan, A.I., Minority Report, Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal, War of the Worlds, Munich, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

The only truly old-school guy on this list, and pretty high up, too! And as I explained, this isn’t an exercise in nostalgia – Spielberg is on this list strictly because I honestly believe he’s done some of his best work these past ten years.

6. Lars von Trier
1998-2008 output: The Idiots, Dancer in the Dark, Dogville, Manderlay, Direktøren for det hele

While I’m not a big fan of everything he’s done (The Idiots and Direktøren for det hele are rather mediocre), Dancer in the Dark and particularly his (still incomplete) USA trilogy still haunt me to this day.

7. David Gordon Green
1998-2008 output: George Washington, All the Real Girls, Undertow, Snow Angels

Maybe the most refreshing new voice to have emerged in the last decade, Green has taken the feel of 1970s American cinema and brought if firmly into the 21st century. Most excitingly, he makes it feel like he’s just getting started!

8. Steven Soderbergh
1998-2008 output: Out of Sight, The Limey, Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven, Full Frontal, Solaris, Ocean’s Twelve, Bubble, The Good German, Ocean’s Thirteen

Soderbergh is by far the most productive filmmaker on this list (11 films in 10 years, 12 if you count his “Che” diptych which was just unveiled in Cannes), which is a mixed blessing, because some of those are bloody awful. Still, he keeps coming back with great and surprising work (he’s also the director who’s made my year-end top ten the most often — 4 times out of the last 10), and even at his worst, you always feel that he’s trying to challenge himself and explore new avenues.

9. Kevin Smith
1998-2008 output: Dogma, Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, Jersey Girl, Clerks 2

Here we have a guy that I wasn’t sure I should include, as his movies haven’t all been that good. Then again, Smith’ sense of humor and male camaraderie, which predates and outdoes Judd Apatow’s, is perfectly aligned with mine… Maybe because I spent much of these last ten years working as a convenience or video store clerk, shooting the shit with like-minded dudes.

10. Christopher Nolan
1998-2008 output: Following, Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige

I’m kinda surprising myself with this last pick, because unlike the above directors, or others who didn’t make the cut like Danny Boyle, Sam Raimi, David Fincher, the Coen brothers, Tim Burton and many more, Nolan has never really made me run to go see a film on the basis of his name alone. But when I was looking back through all the Directors Series and checking specifically what each filmmaker had made over the last ten years, I just couldn’t ignore how strong every single flick Nolan’s ever made is! So there you have it, Chris, you’ve made my pantheon!