Unlikely Auteurs: Surprising Filmmakers Who Are Critically Acclaimed

Make a list of critically acclaimed directors, and most people will come up with a list that includes Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and the late Stanley Kubrick. They might want to expand that list to include Christopher Nolan, Brad Bird and Michael Bay. Making science fiction and action films can make a director less likely to receive accolades, if nothing else because they’re “crowd pleasers.” But what’s wrong with that?

Michael Bay Earns Accolades

TG Daily mentions a Los Angeles Times review of “Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon” that says the third installment in the hugely successful franchise had “excellent 3-D and a sense of fun.” It also mentions a review in The New York Times that calls the film “one of the few recent 3-D movies that justify the upcharge.” Bay’s films “The Rock” and “Armageddon” also are included in the Criterion Collection, a video-distribution company known for its high-quality special editions of acclaimed films, loved by acting school students and film buffs alike.

Unmatched Versatility

Christopher Nolan, the creator of the “Dark Knight” Batman trilogy and the mind-bending movies “Memento” and “Inception,” makes io9’s list of genre directors who have never made a bad film. Also making the list is Brad Bird, who is the only director to make a successful transition from Pixar to live-action films. Bird’s resume includes Pixar’s “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille” as well as “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.”

Sam Mendes Works Magic With “Skyfall”

It can be hard for some movie aficionados to admit a live-action film can have artistic merit. And the James Bond franchise is about as live action as you can get. However, the latest 007 film, “Skyfall,” directed by Sam Mendes (“American Beauty,” “Road to Perdition”) has received high praise from critics. National Public Radio contributor Chris Klimek reviewed the movie, noting “the film is a triumphant paradox” that reintroduces some of the series’ “iconic-but-lately-absent tropes and characters” while keeping Daniel Craig’s take on the agent fresh and unique. “Skyfall,” Klimek says, is a “layered, exciting, beautifully shot adventure.”

Directors on a Hot Streak

David Cronenberg makes the io9 list for “eXistenZ,” “Scanners,” “Videodrome” and other films. He also gets a nod from Richard Rushfield, who writes at Rushfield Babylon that Cronenberg also is one of only a few directors he considers having had a six-film streak of good movies (Sam Peckinpah leads Rushfield’s list with seven). Cronenberg’s streak also includes “The Brood,” “Dead Zone,” “The Fly” and “Dead Ringers.”

Of course, legendary directors such as Hal Ashby (“Coming Home,” “Being There”) are named for rare hot streaks at six, but John Carpenter gets a mention for having a five-movie streak with “Halloween,” “The Fog,” “Escape From New York,” “The Thing”  and “Christine.”

Rushfield’s theory about the modern-day difficulty of making hot film streaks is that directors are making more personal films than their predecessors, which carry more risks. He also surmises that a few big successes allow some directors to pursue more grandiose projects, which outrun their creativity.

The “Transformers,” “Dark Knight” and James Bond franchises continue to perform well at the box office, but the good reviews that come their way for their directors should only make it easier for them to continue their good runs.

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