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Burning Questions: On Perfect Games and "Noah" Jitters

Hey everybody. Michael C. here. Quick question: By your estimation, which directors are currently pitching a perfect game? By which I mean, which filmmakers have yet to make a bad or even a so-so film so far in their career. I can think of three off hand: Spike Jonze, Brad Bird and Darren Aronofsky.

Darren Aronofsky and Logan Lerman on the set of NoahOf course, your mileage may vary on these choices. Right away, I’m sure a lot of you jump ship with The Fountain (Aronofsky), and one could debate whether Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (Bird) is a great movie or merely great for a Mission Impossible movie. Feel free to substitute one of your own choices for any of the above. My point isn’t to reopen the debate on these movies. My point is, rarely, if ever, do filmmakers make it through a full career without stumbling at least once, more likely a few times. Even the Coens, who made it nearly two decades without a misstep (Shut up. I like The Hudsucker Proxy), eventually crashed against the rocks with Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers. So when directors are in a golden period where they have yet to step wrong, it’s bittersweet because chances are excellent it is not going to last.

Not that a failure-free career should be an artist’s goal, anyway. If I can paraphrase Laurence Fishburne's sage advice from Searching for Bobby Fischer, you can’t play not to lose. The edge of defeat, that’s where you want to be. I prefer my filmmakers who approach things like Robert Altman. Taking huge, all-or-nothing swings at every pitch, knocking it into the parking lot when he connects, lying flat on his ass when he wipes out.

Take Aronofsky. I can't shake the feeling that his upcoming Noah is a giant miscalculation. 

I’m not looking to tread on anybody’s religion here, but it’s hard to deny the essential silliness of the Noah story, and the recently released first official images did nothing to quiet my concerns. I have tremendous faith in Aronofsky’s ability to raise some impressive Biblical thunder, but at some point Russell Crowe will start marching animals on to a big boat and when that happens it’s going to be difficult to keep a straight face, yes?


Chances are excellent Mr. Aronofsky will transform the familiar tale in ways I never anticipated, and when that happens I will shake my head at ever having doubted him. But even if my worst fears are fulfilled, it will still be gratifying to know we still have a cinema where filmmakers are free to indulge in a grand folly now and then.

Can you think of a director to who managed to make it a full career without tripping up? (One could make a strong case for Kubrick. I would disagree) Can someone out there give me reason to look forward to Noah? Let me know in the comments.

Previous Burning Questions
You can follow Michael C. on Twitter at @SeriousFilm. Or read his blog Serious Film

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Reader Comments (44)

What about Paul Thomas Anderson? Some of his films are far from perfect, but they're also pretty far from so-so.

September 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoe K

Sofia Copola

September 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterstjeans

I pretty much agree with the three you mentioned. Some would argue Steve McQueen (although I wouldn't). I would make the argument for Tarantino - I genuinely don't think any of the films he directed are bad, or even so-so (at least by general standards). I'd also be tempted to do so for Alfonso Cuaron (FINGERS CROSSED for Gravity), but I don't remember his Great Expectations all that well.

The two that pop immediately to my mind as currently pitching a perfect game are both foreign auteurs: Asghar Farhadi and Jacques Audiard. Although I haven't seen either's earliest works, I have it on good authority they're worthwhile films.

September 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

My only hope for 'Noah" would be that "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is may favorite Wes Anderson film. Perhaps "Noah" will bring out something similar in Aronofsky?

September 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrad

Sophia Coppola is really the only one I can think of. Even 'Somewhere', which I thought was a lite regurgitation of her previous works (especially 'Lost in Translation') was still a very well constructed and effective film. Before seeing 'The Soloist' a few weeks ago, I would have also said Joe Wright, since the other four films in his filmography are pretty damn near perfection.

Michael Haneke is another one who has a very impressive resume. Half of his filmography is brilliant and the other half is very, very good.

Aronofsky, Anderson and Fincher are three of my favorite directors working today, but they have all had their stumbles ('Pi', 'The Game' and 'Punch-Drunk Love' come to mind).

September 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

Without a doubt, Steve McQueen. 2 near perfect films and a 3rd about to run away with Oscar. And his muse Fassy on board for all 3. Who can deny this?

September 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

@ Andrew

HARD EIGHT THERE WILL BE BLOOD are the most problematic of his filmography. BOOGIE NIGHTS the closest thing he'll make to a mainstream populist accessible audience friendly vehicle. PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE MAGNOLIA THE MASTER are directorial exercises that display his peak prowess.

September 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

Steve McQueen definitely. Possibly Haneke. (Haven't seen all of his.)

OH here's one --- Ben Affleck? As a director, he really hasn't dropped one yet.

And Noah looks interesting enough! All you can say at this point.

September 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTommy B

um.. Alfonso Cuarón, anyone? he's never made a bad film. I was going to say PTA but Magnolia is quite so-so IMO

September 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commentereduardo

When reviewing the Coens' career, we must not forget, oh though we might try, the cinematic torture known as Burn After Viewing...er, Reading. Not a misstep--an amputation.

September 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Todd Haynes: definitely no mistakes.
Jane Campion (yes, even In The Cut).

September 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterferdi

My view:

Edgar Wright (I know some would argue on this, but I felt The World's End was a screamingly funny and genuine nearly pure character piece with a slight gloss of sci-fi and Scott Pilgrim was still enough of an aesthetic marvel to not be a total dud.)
Darren Arronofsky (Pi's plot is kind of stupid, but his eye for how to frame shocking visuals is enough to make it not totally worthless)
Wes Anderson (The Life Aquatic is at least visually interesting enough to justify a B.)

Close, but there IS a total dud in there:

Ang Lee. The big culprit: The Wedding Banquet. The movie ends with a rapist completely absolved of her actions, on both linguistic and aesthetic levels. Even Moulin Rouge! and Reality Bites knew a main character doing amoral things needs to, AT LEAST, be visually criticized. Rancid.
Fincher. The big culprit: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. (I know people like to rag on The Game or Panic Room, but I could at least see those being thrilling and engaging during the watch, even if the plot falls apart at the end. Button is kind of like watching paint dry, even with the "interesting" hook.)
The Coen Bros. (Haven't seen Intolerable Cruelty) The big culprit: The Ladykillers. A weak aesthetic vision and plodding script paired with, EASILY, the worst performance Tom Hanks has ever given. (Thought exercise: Would that performance have gotten him a Razzie nom if they DIDN'T include George W. Bush in 2004?)

September 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I'd stump for Almodovar. Maybe Campion, although I haven't seen a couple of her earliest films. Prior to My Blueberry Nights, I'd definitely throw in Wong Kar Wai. It's interesting that you can't really say that about classic Hollywood directors, not because they were lesser auteurs. Far from it. I think it's more that the system was designed to accommodate some middling pictures. You could pace yourself then in a way that I don't know that directors can do now. Every film has pressure to be great or you're at risk of losing future funding.

September 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTB

Jeff Nichols: Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter and Mud are all excellent films.

September 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHannes

Great choices by all, I'd have to definitely agree with Paul Thomas Anderson as having the highest-quality filmography.

As for me, I'm biased because I'm a huge admirer of his work, but I have to say Terrence Malick. His consensus weakest film seems To the Wonder, which I was cool on at first, but came around to really liking it.

September 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMDA

Is it too early in her career to suggest Sarah Polley?

September 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterchoog

Um, I happen to like The Wedding Banquet quite a lot, so the only dud that leaps to mind for Ang Lee is Hulk, and that was kind of a crazy failure.

Oh, and I also have fond memories of Intolerable Cruelty too.

September 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

Am I the first one to suggest Scorsese? That seems odd to me. I know Cape Fear is divisive, but it's still hugely entertaining.

September 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTyler

Plenty of people will be able to keep a straight face during Noah. It may be a fictional tale but it's a great fictional tale. Just because you're an athiest doesn't mean you have to be a snarky asshole.

September 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commentertr

PT Anderson, Alfonso Cuaron, and Christopher Nolan. None of them have made a bad movie, all of their films are over 70% on RottenTomatoes.

September 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commentertr

I'd say Todd Haynes and Sofia Coppola are the two that I wouldn't argue. Haneke too, for everything I've seen of his. And Steve McQueen is chugging along. His first two features are both perfect.
But an imperfect batting average isn't a flaw. I may not have liked Inglorious Basterds or The Master or Intolerable Cruelty, but I think they're important pieces of their respective filmographies, and I'm glad each director got to flex that muscle.

September 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

Miyazaki. 11 films and no stinkers.

September 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterReuben

Rian Johnson

September 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterIF465

Kubrick, both of the Andersons,
and I'm going to go with a sentimental favorite and say Cameron Crowe. Some of his films are problematic, sure, but I'd never consider them bad.

September 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBeau

Todd Haynes, Christopher Nolan, Jacques Audiard, Steve McQueen.

Billy Wilder and William Wyler came close, but no cigar in either case. (Wilder's late ones, Wyler's early ones: no, thanks.)

September 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Paul Outlaw: Ooh, it's true! I forgot Jacques Audiard.

September 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

i have liked all of sofia coppola's work, but i was not a fan of bling ring. I thought it was a movie that should had never been made. It gave attention to real life figures who don't deserve a movie made about them. My opinion has soured on that film heavily. I'm not usually one to make a criticism like that, but the movie didn't even seem to add anything special to these people. It just gave them more attention and wanted us to be entertained by there spoiled behavior.

To me the one that wins best stride right now is hands down Steve McQueen. Hunger and Shame are complete masterpieces and introduced us to a completely new and fresh voice. When i think of Steve McQueen i think of a breath of fresh air. He is a filmmaker that truly knows how to get underneath one's skin. And he is not affraid to do what is necessary.

I have to agree with another post that mentioned Ben Affleck because they are right whether we like it or not.

My favorite filmography is PTA because like McQueen he is a breath of fresh air. Though PTA is on the same level as kubrick in my book. there is nothing more i can say about this gift of god except that every film of his are just incredible. He does it his own way and i love his work.

September 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJosh

PTA - If you think Punch Drunk Love is bad, you're drunk, I hate you, and I will punch you.
Ben Affleck - maybe the best first 3 films anyone has ever done.
Sam Mendes - All different types of films, but all good. A Rob Reiner and Kubrick mix.

September 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJames

We need to set the record straight. Sure, the Ladykillers isn't the Hudsucker Proxy or Barton Fink, but it's a fine movie. Why does no one ever seem to like it? :(

I'll give you Intolerable Cruelty, though.

I'll second (third?) Todd Haynes, though. Also I know the hate for SLP in these areas is great, but as someone who thoroughly enjoyed it, I can throw around David O. Russell as well, even if I'm alone in that opinion.

September 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPitry

I don't hate SLP; I just hate how it was overpraised and overrewarded last year. It's not a bad film, but it's a slight actors' showcase. Does anyone posting here really hate it?

September 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

I can't believe no one has mentioned Tarkovsky yet. Sure, Ivan's Childhood is a bit weaker than the others, but it's hard to deny that it's visually stunning and really only ended up with its undeserved reputation for being 'plain' because of how deeply unconventional his following six films turned out to be.

And I'd say Malick fits the bill too. To the Wonder was fantastic - I don't care what y'all say.

September 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMikadzuki

I don't think indie horror director Lucky McKee has released a bad film yet. Some would argue that The Woman is too extreme to be effective or that The Woods is too dry, but I really like both of those. The big question mark is Red, but he was fired from that job before completion and it's pretty obvious that two directors with conflicting visions made the film.

Now, that's probably going to change when the remake of his undistributed slasher comedy All Cheerleaders Must Die comes out later this year. Everything I've read about the film (by his own admission) suggests it's not good. There's a reason he and his collaborator did not choose to pursue distribution of the original version of the film and they freely admit it's bad.

September 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

Ingmar Bergman, Malick, Kubrick, Aronofsky, Lynch, von Treir, Hanake,Tarkovsky, Audiard, Cianfrance, Noe, Farhadi, Carruth.

These guys films are the only ones that need to exist.

September 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterenigma

I'd actually say Jason Reitman. All 5 of his features thus far have been completely successful for me.

September 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHannahlily

I'd say if you're looking at sheer filmography, Wyler has the best track record. More classics than any other director. Even a wildly overpraised movie like Detective Story is way, way above average.

September 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

From Hitchcock to Spielberg there isn't a single great director with out a dud in his resume.

September 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Currently, I think Audiard, Haneke and Haynes are world-class film-makers without a single turkey between them.

Tarkovsky is the best example I've seen of a director with a complete body of work to review who never put a foot wrong, whilst also being a true cinematic innovator and risk-taker.

I am a Bergman fanatic, but having seen every film he directed, I can vouch for there being some real stinkers in that pile (The Serpent's Egg, The Devil's Eye and Now About These Women in particular and most of his films from the 1940s are only really of retrospective interest to auteur theorists), but he was such a prolific talent that his masterpiece:dud ratio has got to be one of the best track records in film history.

September 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSally W

Definitely agree on Aronofsky and im looking forward to Noah, stellar cast Clint Mansell and fhe brilliant DP Matty Libatique on board - hard not to get excited. I would add to,the list Jason Reitman, Sarah Polley Jeff Nichols and Edgar Wright. I would so love to add Joe Wright but I couldnt stand the soloist.

September 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAD

Out of curiosity: Why would you disagree on Kubrick?

September 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlex D.

On Noah: while I agree with the sentiment, I think (and hope) that Aranofsky approaches this from a fantasy angle, kind of like with the sci-fi/fantasy fusion on display in The Fountain. If he does, it could be cool. If he's trying to create a movie for church-goers, then your fears will likely come to fruition. I'm cautiously optimistic.

September 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

Alex D - I could never get on board with Eyes Wide Shut despite many attempts. I don't hate it but I think it is a minor film from the great director.

September 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

I actually haven't seen that one yet, but from what i've heard, that sounds about right. I'll have to check it out soon though

September 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlex D.

Also I would suggest Jeff Nichols and Martin McDonough both have not had a bad film yet. Granted: they've only done 3 and 2 films respectively that I can think of off the top of my head

September 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlex D.

I think this is going to surprise a lot of people. As I being a christain take the story as historical Just as millions of christians do so this if done right will do well. I am very interested in seeing the first trailer...

September 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRandy abell

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