I was discussing the the current British film landscape and the relative merits of Andrea Arnold and Steve McQueen and the idea came up that it might be possible to say that one is “better” than the other. I’m not sure I know how I would go about making hierachys of filmmakers and deciding who is better than who but its certainly something we do as audiences and critics and enthusiasts etc. So it seems like an interesting thing to question and try and articulate some answers to (or at least opinions on). Where better than Mubi for the big questions?
Soooo I was just wondering how (if at all) people decide that one filmmaker is better than another.
Hit me with some subjective wisdom.
For me it comes down to a simple fact…and thats is, in general, whose films do I enjoy more. The reason I enjoy a certain film is a little more broad however.
Where it does start to get messy is when comparing a filmmaker who has made, say, 2 films, compared to one who has made 10. How can you even compare?
It seems like you are already suggesting that what you enjoy isn’t as simple a fact as maybe we’d like. Also, there are films that I certainly don’t enjoy in any perjorative sense that I think are great works of filmmaking. Klimov’s Come and See is definitely not an enjoyable film by any normal standard (more like having your heart torn out through your eyes) but I could confidently say it was a masterpiece. It quickly comes down to the terms you use I suppose.
Therefore, I’d definitely say it gets messy before we even begin to think about volume of work (although I’d like to think that proliferation wasn’t a key issue with art in general) but I think I could say that someone like Lanthimos with Dogtooth and Alps could be seen as better than all of Richard Kelly’s scattergun work despite his first film Donnie Darko being so full of promise and possibly better (at least in terms of critical reception) than either of Lanthimo’s films.
Maybe I want to get down to the nitty gritty and talk about cinematic composition, plot or historical value but at the same time I think some films are better for me than others because they surprise me. That’s reception theorists crowding into my head though. Probably.
Can we set any real parameters though for ascribing relative value to film? Someone must know?
Certain films cannot be validly compared. For instance, Calvaire and Avatar (though maybe if I thought about it for awhile I could come up with something…anyway). However, certain films inevitably warrant comparison such as remakes, sequels (though I don’t believe they always should be compared), adaptations, and that odd blend of self-awareness known as the “sequel remake” (Evil Dead 2, Escape from LA, etc.). There are probably more I’m sure but that’s all I can come up with at the moment.
There’s also certain stylistically/thematically/conceptually-linked films such as Equilibrium and The Matrix or The Thing and Leviathan … certain films that are so similar to each other (some are easier to debate which is ‘better’) that it’s just unfathomable that one wasn’t an influence on the other.
Bringing this back to the topic at hand: Filmmakers are not films and few filmmakers actually fall into a specific and lone genre IMO. So, comparing say, Lynch to Jodorowsky of course has some merit but their films are wildly different from each other. I guess, the safe way is to compare directors by their approach to filmmaking.
I often compare Nicolaus Winding Refn to John Carpenter, not only because Refn has cited him as an influence but because the stylistic inclinations Refn tends to have (in non-horror films even) are very much in common with Carpenter’s technique (Carpenter himself of course comparable to Hawkes, etc., everyone knows his influences pretty thoroughly).
But really, to be honest, it’s a bit ridiculous to compare filmmakers because it’s rarely necessary. There’s a myriad of ways to compare filmmakers; by relation (Coppola, Cassavetes, etc.), by style (as previously mentioned), by sheer output (Corman, Fassbinder, etc.), by nationality (Teshigahara, Kurosawa, etc.) and by popularity (my least favourite, but some people find that interesting), but that just distracts from the films themselves because most filmmakers are inconsistent in the quality of their work (there are exceptions).
I tend to “rate” filmmakers on their individual traits such as the cinematography in Malick’s films compared to that of say, that in Greenaway’s work … or who’s better at camp horror, Argento or Rollin (I lean toward the later myself)…what have you. This doesn’t mean one filmmaker is “better” than another, simply that one is better at certain things than another.
What makes one filmmaker better than another? Here are some things I would look at:
>_Technical skill and craftsmanship_. Is the acting, writing, cintematography, etc. good? If it’s not good, do we think the blame falls on the director?
>_Insight_. Here I’m thinking of how well director seems to understand human beings and human existence.
>_Personal vision_. Does the director have a unique view way of looking at the world? Can they translate this vision in a coherent manner?
If one director has a superior technical skills, deeper insight, and a clearer and unique vision than another, I think that’s a solid basis for saying the former is better than the latter. Do you agree with that?
Am I missing anything?
This doesn’t mean one filmmaker is “better” than another, simply that one is better at certain things than another.
I agree with this, but can we say that some filmmakers are better than others, or do we think that “better” is strictly subjective? If some directors can be better than others, what does that mean? How do we know this? This is the way I read the OP.
This forum is just too broad to comment on.
Just in general, when one makes a comment like, “Director A is better than Director B,” one is typically thinking of or referring to a specific aspect. There is some connection, however arbitrary, they are drawing through those works.
So Ozu may be called a better director of family dramas than Wes Anderson, or a better Japanese director than Akira Kurosawa, or a better silent-era director than Buster Keaton, even if those statements are inaccurate. You can debate or analyze or disagree from there, but it’s not very often that someone will, with no incentive or invitation, outright say Ozu is a better director than Jan de Bont, even if that argument is accurate.
In the absolute sense, I’m not sure you can unless you can somehow crystallize some concept of technical skill and creative vision.
In the personal sense it’s just the director I expect more from.
I wouldn’t even include ‘insight’. That’s something you would call ‘Intersubjective’, if a director tries to be insightful, you judge him on insightfulness, but what if the director is not trying to be insightful? The idea that a film should be judged solely on whether it has a ‘message’ is something I’d strongly disagree with. I think that’s just sort of what cinephiles like us prefer.
Wouldn’t giving examples with explanations be a way to crystallize technical skill and creative vision?
I wouldn’t even include ‘insight’. That’s something you would call ‘Intersubjective’, if a director tries to be insightful, you judge him on insightfulness, but what if the director is not trying to be insightful?
I’m thinking of “insight” in a much broader way than you seem to be—namely, how well does the filmmaker understand human beings and human existence. This understanding is pertinent in all types of films, not just serious, message films.
…but it’s not very often that someone will, with no incentive or invitation, outright say Ozu is a better director than Jan de Bont, even if that argument is accurate.
Doesn’t this depend on who you’re talking to, though? I mean, amongst cinephiles this may not happen (then again,…), but if you’re talking with non-cinephiles, the type of discussion you describe above wouldn’t be so unnusual.
Simple. Script and acting.
de gustibus non est disputandum. There is no such a thing as the best director,the best movie,the best performance or better director,movie and performance.you can’t compare comedy with drama, or Hollywood blockbuster with Bela Tarr films.they’re incomparable not in the matter of quality but style and purpose.the only way films can be compared is if they have the same subject – like is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo better in Swedish or American version? and even then different people will have different opinions.I’m very tolerant when it comes to movies,I respect anything or anyone that has it’s/his circle of admiration.I myself like all kinds of movies – depending of the mood.But finally i like this diversity in filmmaking where everyone can find something to watch (though I don’t like when Hollywood studios spend dozens of millions of dollars on ridiculous movies that look all the same while being totally blind for something original and different).
When it comes to directors I have a little more respect for directors with vision and those who write their own scripts or make the kind of movies they want, then for those who are hired to direct (no matter how skilful they are).But that doesn’t mean that I like their movies less.For me it’s the film that matters doesn’t matter who directed it (though of course I’m anticipating the films made by directors I know,but I always keep an opened mind)