Unpopular Opinions: Directors


The director: the artistic visionary behind the camera responsible for breathing life into the motion picture. Some — like Jean-Luc Godard, Federico Fellini and Alfred Hitchcock — are labeled auteurs for their roles as authors of a film and their distinctive cinematic style. Others are labeled actor’s directors for their desire to understand the performer’s motivation and creative process. No matter the category a director falls into, there are always those who garner too much attention and those who don’t garner enough. This is Unpopular Opinions: Directors edition.


Warren Beatty
Daniella Nichinson, Arts Editor

When thinking of the greatest directors of all time, the mind tends to gravitate to Martin Scorsese, Orson Welles, Federico Fellini, Alfred Hitchcock and the likes. Rarely does the name Warren Beatty come into conversation. The tall, charming and gorgeous star began his Hollywood pilgrimage as an actor. But, like any actor, what he really wanted to do was direct. His first behind the camera experience came as the co-writer of “Shampoo,” a film about sexual politics on the eve of Nixon’s election. From there, he went on to write, direct and produce “Heaven Can Wait,” which focused on a star football player for the Los Angeles Rams killed in an auto accident and placed in the body of a corrupt millionaire. It wasn’t until 1981 that Beatty’s magnum opus came to fruition: “Reds.” A nearly three-and-a-half hour long epic, “Reds” tells the true story of journalists John Reed and Louise Bryant — their love affair, excursions into Russia during the 1917 Revolution and their attempts to bring socialism to the United States. Beatty slaved over this film for decades, originally conceiving the idea in the early ‘60s. “Reds” is a gorgeous, challenging and brutal masterpiece that conveys the importance of Beatty’s work as a filmmaker, not just an actor. He shares stories that deserve to be seen on the silver screen and that ask provocative questions. His films do not take the audience by the hand and lead them through the story; instead, they urge viewers to arrive at their own moral conclusions and pontificate on what they see. In a career spanning more than six decades, Beatty has made few films relative to his contemporaries. But quality triumphs over quantity, and as such, the name Warren Beatty should be synonymous with true greatness.


James Mangold
Guru Ramanathan, Film & TV Editor

James Mangold is one of the best directors working today and people don’t give him enough attention. Go around NYU and you’ll definitely find your Christopher Nolan and Wes Anderson fanboys, but Mangold has been working for roughly the same amount time and has directed a number of amazing movies from the Academy Award-nominated “Walk the Line” to last year’s blockbuster hit “Logan.” While Mangold has distinct stylistic choices — perhaps not to the extent of someone like Nolan or Anderson — his true talents lie in the ability to navigate a breadth of genres like no other. But he is no journeyman director. Unlike a Ron Howard or Jon Favreau, Mangold is still able to leave his stamp on a film due to his intense emotional maturity toward subject matter and impeccable writing that elevate every film he makes. You never know what genre he will tackle next but when watching a Mangold film you know it’s him because of his gritty, unrelenting perspective and sharp direction. Whether it be a Western remake like “3:10 to Yuma” or even a psychological lesbian drama in “Girl, Interrupted,” Mangold has a fantastic grasp on both character and plot, but still allows a striking visual style to be present throughout the film. The only odd film in his career is the Tom Cruise action extravaganza “Knight and Day,” precisely because it felt like Mangold was being held back in some way to cater to Cruise’s star sensibilities. That certainly was not the case on other event-driven films like “The Wolverine” and “Logan” where Mangold hit both the action beats and told a great story in the process. Frankly, James Mangold should be talked about as one of the best contemporary directors alongside Nolan, Anderson and David Fincher.


Steven Spielberg
Ryan Mikel, Arts Editor

Is Steven Spielberg even trying anymore? What ever happened to the boy wonder behind “Jaws,” “Jurassic Park,” “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” and the “Indiana Jones” franchise. While I still hold the legendary director in high regard, his once groundbreaking and inventive filmography feels like a myth. Spielberg’s latest entries into the science fiction-fantasy genre, like “Ready Player One,” lack the charisma and potency of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.” It is here where the world saw an ambitious Spielberg having fun behind the camera and pushing the limits of genre films at the time. The caliber feels pretty low for the risks he’s taking today as opposed to the childlike wonder of his prime. Maybe it’s the cynicism that comes with age, or it could just be the filmmaker’s prolonged foray into formulaic biopics. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good war drama (see “Dunkirk”) or presidential biopic (see “Vice”) but “Lincoln” and “The Post” follow a very vanilla blueprint that leave them conventional and unforgettable. “The Color Purple” and “Schindler’s List” breathe life into their subjects with bold camerawork and production design, unlike today’s History Channel montages hot off of a conveyor belt known as Amblin Entertainment. To spare my childhood hero a few more grievances, I’m not going to come for “The Adventures of Tintin” and his Razzie Award-winning “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” Maybe the upcoming “West Side Story” will redeem him, but remakes seldom do.


Miranda July
Nicole Rosenthal, Music Editor

There are some forms of entertainment you consume when you are younger — typically between the ages of 13 and 15 — that make you go, “wow, that’s deep.” However, as we realize later on, this perceived artistic deepness is given another name: pretentiousness (“meaningless” also applies). This is the case for writer/director Miranda July, whose feature film “Me, You and Everyone We Know” astounded me when I was a first-year in high school. With wild, unrelatable characters that speak in perplexing meter and laughable dialogue that attempt to spark revelations, July’s debut feature and magnum opus feels more like an overly ambitious Tisch freshman’s arbitrary wet dream. This theme continued in her second — and final — directorial piece, “The Future,” in which the same over-the-top quirky rom-com antics ensue. One can only assume why July hasn’t released a feature film since 2011.

Email the Arts Desk at [email protected].