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Best Directors By Decade


JefCostello
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Found a similar topic on the internet, so I thought we should debate it here as well.

 

1910's - *D.W. Griffith*

1920's - *F.W. Murnau*

1930's - *Jean Renoir*

1940's - *Howard Hawks*

1950's- *Alfred Hitchcock*

1960's - *Ingmar Bergman*

1970's - *Francis Ford Coppola*

1980's - *Woody Allen*

1990's - *Quentin Tarantino*

2000's - *Martin Scorsese*

 

 

 

Honorable mention goes to Orson Welles for the 40's, Kurosawa and Wilder for the 50's, Godard, Antonioni and Melville for the 60's, and Kieslowski for the 90's. The other decades were pretty easy choices for me.

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I won't attempt to address each decade. But some of this peaks my interest. At first I was surprised you picked Hawks for the 1940's. Overall, I prefer the work of John Ford. But one of Ford's best was in the 1950's, another in 1939. Hawks, as you suggest, owned the 1940's. HIS GIRL FRIDAY, BALL OF FIRE, RED RIVER and quite a few other terrific films cast his name in an impressive light. I might go with Ford for the next decade. THE SEARCHERS and THE QUIET MAN are hard to beat.

 

We all like Hitchcock. But his resume covers so many years. His greatest period is hard to pin down. My favorites came early. THE 39 STEPS, YOUNG AND INNOCENT. But he peppered the following decades with such classics as SABOTEUR (1942), REAR WINDOW (1954) and PSYCHO (1960). Which is the master's best era?

 

Woody Allen is another one who's sporadic. He made some fine films in the 1980's. A couple in the 2000's. But his two best came in the 1970's. ANNIE HALL and MANHATTAN. I don't disagree with your choice. As a fan, I would probably give him the 70's and the 80's.

 

Interesting topic!

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Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, Vertigo and North by Northwest are all films I consider to be great. Films like I Confess, Dial M for Murder, To Catch a Thief and The Wrong Man are films I consider to be good, but not quite great compared to the others above.

 

All those are films Hitchcock made in the 50's. I don't think he had another decade that matches it, imo.

 

I never really considered Ford as a serious threat for the 50's. I listed Kurosawa and Wilder instead. Of course all of this is subjective, but I think the Searchers was the only truly "great" film Ford made in the 50's. He did make a lot of good movies in that decade and was prolific, but not as many masterpieces as the others had in the decade.

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Jef, this is a great topic. I'm going to limit it to Hollywood films of the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s.

 

30s--For me, this is more a decade of stars than a decade of directors. Although I'm not the biggest Frank Capra fan, this was his decade to shine. Wyler's best work is spread out through the 30s, 40s, and 50s. Ford's best work is later.

 

60s--John Frankenheimer. The Manchurian Candidate, The Train, and Seconds are all masterpieces. Seven Days in May and All Fall Down are close, and that's not counting Birdman of Alcatraz and The Gypsy Moths, which have their moments.

 

50s--I'm with you on the four great Hitchcock films from this decade. Another vote for Hitch. Kazan not only could have been, but actually was, a contender, with his best films from this decade. Anthony Mann is another serious contender, and you've mentioned Wilder. Zinnemann's best work stretches from The Seventh Cross to The Sundowners instead of fitting neatly into a decade. The Band Wagon and The Bad and the Beautiful show Minnelli in top form.

 

40s--A rich decade for actors, great movie stars, and great directors. Hawks makes some good films, but he has plenty of competition, and I'm not including challengers from across the pond like Lean or Powell & Pressburger. Huston, Lang, and Ford make some of their best movies, and Wilder and Wyler are no slouches either. Preston Sturges directs some classic comedies. In the last half of the decade newcomers Dmytryk and Negulesco make some stylish noirs and romantic dramas which are seriously underrated; too bad their bigger projects in the 50s aren't really at that standard. So who the heck am I voting for?

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Ford is a better choice for best of all time than one particular decade. But in addition to the two I mentioned previously, the 1950's saw THE WINGS OF EAGLES, THE LAST HURRAH and the underrated THE HORSE SOLDIERS. Are these the director's best films? No. But together, they fill out an impressive list.

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Interesting. I hadn't even thought of Minnelli, yet the 50's was an amazing decade for him. Some Came Running and Lust for Life are two other films I could add to the ones you mentioned. I should have thought about him more. Same with Kazan. Still, I don't think either of those guys comes close to Hitchcock, Kurosawa, or Wilder.

 

Best American director of the 60's isn't even close for me. It's Kubrick. Spartacus, Lolita, Dr. Strangelove and 2001: A Space Odyssey. That's a pretty impressive decade. Better than Frankenheimer's. I just think that foreign directors and foreign films in general dominated that decade. Can't put anyone above the names I originally mentioned for the 60's.

 

Lastly, I should slap myself for forgetting Powell and Pressburger. In the 40's, they made several masterworks, such as The Red Shoes, A Matter of Life and Death and the Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. You could add Black Narcissus if you want, although I've never been the biggest fan of that movie. Still, I'd have to give it to Hawks overall, but I should have thought about Powell and Pressburger more.

 

Thanks for responding and pointing out some of the omissions in my list. I guess I posted off the top of my head too fast.

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I'm not qualified to really answer such a question since I haven't seen nearly enough modern films or foreign-language films or silent films to fairly comment. I can only comment on what I have seen.

 

10s - Louis Feuillade

20s - F.W. Murnau

30s - John Ford (The films don't have name recognition, but they are quite good)

40s - Alfred Hitchcock

50s - Alfred Hitchcock (I agree, this is his best decade)

60s - Stanley Kubrick

70s - Francis Ford Coppola

80s - Steven Spielberg

90s - Coen Brothers

00s - Coen Brothers

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At this particular moment:

 

 

10s - C. B. DeMille (before he found religious themes)

20s - F.W. Murnau

30s - Frank Capra (runner up: George Stevens)

40s - John Ford (runner up: Michael Curtiz)

50s - tie: Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder

60s - Mike Nichols (runner up: Norman Jewison)

70s - Francis Ford Coppola

80s - Steven Spielberg

90s - Coen Brothers

00s - tie: Christopher Nolan and Peter Jackson

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10s - D.W. Griffith

20s - F.W. Murnau, Alexander Dovzhenko, Charlie Chaplin

30s - Josef von Sternberg, Jean Renoir, Yasujiro Ozu

40s - John Ford, Powell & Pressburger

50s - Nicholas Ray, Yasujiro Ozu, John Ford

60s - Jean-Luc Godard

70s - John Cassavetes, Rainer Werner Fassbinder

80s - Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Woody Allen

90s - Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Abbas Kiarostami

00s - Hirokazu Koreeda, Olivier Assayas, Gus Van Sant

 

Couldn't help picking Ozu and Ford more than once, they're just that damn good (and Godard may get another spot when I see his later films.) And then there are people like King Vidor and Carl Theodor Dreyer who are among the greatest but never "owned" a decade the way others did.

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It's hard for me to slap Billy Wilder's name onto the 50's. His best movies sandwiched that decade. DOUBLE INDEMNITY, the cleverest, creepiest crime drama ever filmed, was earlier. THE APARTMENT, the director's most poetic effort, slides into the 60's by one year. SUNSET BLVD (1950) and STALAG 17 (1953) are awfully good. But there's some weaker stuff in there as well. SABRINA, LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON and others.

 

The Wild Man is one of my favorite filmmakers. More for writing than directing. But, like Hitchcock, like Ford, his record doesn't isolate on any ten year period.

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You really think Mike Nichols is the best director of the 60's?

 

And if so, are you just basing that off two films, namely Virginia Woolf and The Graduate?

 

Interesting but strange choice, imo, especially since he didn't make any films before '66 if I'm not mistaken.

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Nice list. Seems like most people agree with Murnau as the top director of the 20's, despite the fact that his films are rarely shown on TCM, other than Sunrise, which is a Hollywood film.

 

I like your choice of Von Sternberg. I prefer him to Renoir by a mile, but I'm not exactly sold on him being a better director than Renoir.

 

Ozu is another interesting name, because although I respect him and have seen many of his films, I never really saw him as a candidate for best director of the 50's. He's like Bresson in the sense that he's great, but often forgotten. Both were great in the 50's.

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If we're including foreign directors, no one has mentioned Fellini as a candidate for the 50s, and this is his great decade, especially if you count 1951-1960, as people used to. If you can give Antonioni a decade that runs from Il Grido through Blow-up, he had a remarkable decade, too. The 50s and 60s were great decades for foreign films.

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I mentioned Antonioni, but not Fellini for the 60's. La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2 are probably good enough to get him mention, but his other two films in the decade were abysmal.

 

The 50's were a more consistent decade for Fellini, but his two best films came in the 60's. I didn't forget him by any means. Just chose not to mention him.

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Well, how to decide? I suppose one way to do it is to figure out a director's best decade and then compare the suspects. This leads to some curious results. While some director's films in one decade might be considered better, or more important than another's, still their best collection of work is in another decade, and therefore, cannot be considered. Only, when it comes down to it, there often isn't one option. Here's my list:

 

1910's---D. W. Griffith, reluctantly

1920's---Murnau, Eisenstein

1930's---Wellman, Capra, Renoir

1940's---Wyler, Powell, Lean, Ford

1950's---Wyler (alternate), Hitchcock, Kursawa, Ozu

1960's---Fellini, Antonioni, Kubrick, Godard, Truffaut

1990's---Kiarostami

 

The 70's and 80's I do not feel confident enough to choose. Some directors I am not familiar enough with to list. They are: Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Satyajit Ray, Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog.

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Nobody listed John Sturges for either the 50's or 60's. Three of the best Westerns ever made- Gunfight at the OK Corral, Last Train From Gun Hill, and The Magnificent Seven - Bad Day at Black Rock, The Great Escape, and to prove he could make you laugh The Hallelujah Trail. I know I've left out some others.

 

Edited by: wouldbestar on Mar 18, 2011 2:26 PM

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*SUNSET BLVD (1950) and STALAG 17 (1953) are awfully good. But there's some weaker stuff in there as well. SABRINA, LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON and others.*

 

Don't forget *Ace in the Hole* (aka *The Big Carnival* ) one of the most cynical films ever made.

 

As for my pick of Mike Nichols, most directors in the 1960s (excluding foreign directors) only had one to three films making them worthy of being chosen as best for the decade.

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*What about Kubrick?*

 

I like *Spartacus* which always strikes me as a film from the 1950s than the 1960s and *Strangelove* plenty but the other two, not so much.

 

And while I love James Mason, I'm not a big fan of *Lolita* and I've never understood the appeal of *2001* though MrCutter likes it more than me.

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> {quote:title=JefCostello wrote:}{quote}

> I mentioned Antonioni, but not Fellini for the 60's. La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2 are probably good enough to get him mention, but his other two films in the decade were abysmal.

>

 

Fellini's first color film, 1965's *Juliet of the Spirits* by itself, is enough to warrant consideration of Fellini as "best director" of the decade.

 

I don't usually participate in threads that ask for a single "best of," because I don't think that is really possible. But, I note that many of my favorite directors haven't even been mentioned - like Fritz Lang for the 20s. I like Murnau, but I think that Lang's Dr. Mabuse films, and *Metropolis* beat the pants of of him.

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Fritz Lang in the 20s: I prefer Die Nibelungen above everything else he did. The great irony about the film is that it was Hitler's favorite but the second half completely eviscerates the nationalist properties of the source material (that message to the German people at the beginning was clearly a warning.) It is an anti-nationalist film. You go from the stateliness and order and classicism of Siegfried to the obsessive self-destruction and madness of Kriemhild. There's nothing else quite like the feeling of insanity of part 2, maybe only Greed comes close to replicating it.

 

Dr. Mabuse is also wonderful but Metropolis, like Kubrick's 2001, seems too wrapped up in grandeur and spectacle, more impressive as a production than its pure vision or ultimate meaning (for the record I like both a lot.) The other films, as enjoyable as they are, are mostly minor Lang.

 

I would actually consider Fritz Lang for the 1930s. M, Testament of Dr. Mabuse, Fury, You Only Live Once (unfortunately taken off of an upcoming TCM schedule,) and You and Me (or so trusted associates would have me believe; I would love to see this on TCM!)

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"Strangelove" is one of my favorites. I find SPARTACUS long and overblown. 2001 I don't even understand! The 60's were not a great time for mainstream movies. I'd have to do some research to see if anybody had an impressive run. As you say, Nichols had a couple. Martin Ritt made a good showing. Terence Young gave us the best Bond films. It's hard to be a cheerleader for this "far out" time!

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