Last week my pal Andrew Bemis unveiled an ongoing experiment over at his blog, one that entailed ranking directors based on the average rating he's given their films. For many, a list like this would seem odd, but not to me. After all- and here's where I tell my dirty little secret- I've been doing the same for years. The funny thing is that I've long been tempted to unveil mine to my readership, with the rationale that if I'm going to spend so much time on something I might as well share it. I guess Andrew posting his list is as good an excuse as any.
First, the ground rules for the list. The primary factor for eligibility was that I have to have seen five or more feature films from each director, with "feature films" defined as anything over forty minutes in duration. I then made a list of every film I've seen by each filmmaker listed, and rated the films on the 4-star scale, as I do with all "classic" titles. Seemed easier to translate newer movies into the old scale than to translate the older stuff into the 10-point scale. I'll explain more later on.
One thing that really stood out is how top-loaded the list is with old-school filmmakers, while the bottom tier is almost exclusively modern-day directors. I guess a lot of this has to do with my generally avoiding bad movies. While I might occasionally catch a crappy new release (this was especially true when I worked at the theatre) I actively shy away from bad old movies. This is as good an explanation as any- after all, if you're learning about a filmmaker, you watch the canonical stuff first, then work your way through the other well-reviewed movies. Sometimes you end up watching, say, THE SERPENT'S EGG (the primary reason why Bergman isn't ranked higher), but most of the time you do OK.
And now, the top 10, or actually 11:
1. Buster Keaton- I kind of expected him to be near the top, but the truth is he more or less ran away with the top spot here. The funny thing is that had I included short films his ranking would have been even higher, whereas had I included films he wasn't credited for but for which he's generally accepted that he was at least a co-director, his average would have certainly be lower.
2. Carl Theodor Dreyer- the perfect example of a director who fares well here because he (a) took his time making movies, and (b) was consistently great. On the other side of the coin is Robert Altman, who I adore as a director but who made some real clunkers that brought his average down.
3 (tie). Robert Bresson- another gimme, I'd say. All that's really missing is me seeing FOUR NIGHTS OF A DREAMER.
3 (tie). Stanley Kubrick- another "no duh" pick.
5. Howard Hawks- a strange realization I had when compiling this list is that it was sometimes inconsistent with my top 25 directors list from a few months back. I hadn't included Dreyer because I didn't think I'd seen enough at that point to make a definitive judgment, although now that I've seen DAY OF WRATH I feel pretty comfortable calling him a favorite. Hawks, on the other hand, is a stranger case. While I love a lot of his movies (obviously) I don't really think of him when thinking of directors I love. Is it the art-film snob in me, or is it just my "favorite" filmmakers in a subjective sense (as compared to...?) tend to be ones who insist on their own sensibilities? Because although Hawks movies always feel like Hawks movies, they're also great Hollywood movies, which I suppose can throw me off the scent.
6. Ernst Lubitsch- I've only seen five movies by this guy, none of them from before 1932, so I'm not sure I can really call him a favorite. But everything I've seen is awesome, so I've either chosen really well or I've got a good time in store for me. Or maybe both, who knows.
7 (tie). Krzystzof Kieslowski- I included THE DECALOGUE here as one work, although I went back and forth about it. Oh well, it's my list, and if I can make the rules I can bend them too.
7 (tie). Peter Watkins- the highest-ranked filmmaker on my list who is still alive. Too bad he announced his retirement a few years ago.
9. Michael Powell- he'd be ranked higher had I only liked A CANTERBURY TALE a little more.
10 (tie). Charlie Chaplin- the biggest surprise here. I don't consider myself a fan- Keaton's my man, as you can see- but it's hard to get around such classics as THE GOLD RUSH, CITY LIGHTS, and especially M. VERDOUX.
10 (tie). Andrei Tarkovsky- talk about your strange bedfellows...
The entire list can be found here. The "on-deck" list- of directors by whom I only need to see one more film before they qualify- can be found right over here.