It can be easy to get comfortable with your movie-watching habits. Lazy Friday night in and you watch a cheesy horror film or a nostalgic ‘80s action movie starring your favorite old ultra-ripped superstars. Going to the movies on a whim and it’s robots or superheroes. Romantic date and you choose a go-to classic romance to please the girlfriend. But there is a big wide world of movies out there that anybody who claims to like movies owes themselves to invest some time in.
I’m not going to be so cruel as to recommend the likes of Andy Warhol, Bill Cunningham, Yoko Ono or Allan Dwan, the likes of who don’t even have a filmography that is readily available beyond the repertory arthouse cinema circuit. Rather, these are all filmmakers whose films are out there just waiting to be ravaged by your eyeballs, but who may still slip through the cracks if you’re not familiar with their impact and important.
For over 50 years, Baltimore native John Waters has been sending audiences into fits of laughter just as often as he has them in fits of rage and sickness. His early works, infamous titles like Multiple Maniacs (1970), Pink Flamingos (1972) and Polyester (1981), were underground sensations that inspired entire generations of other directors to simply pick up a camera and film what makes them laugh or cry or scream. His later works like Hairspray (1988) and Serial Mom (1994) brought subversion to the masses. He’s so far the only filmmaker to ever make a star out of a 300lb-drag queen (Divine) so make of that what you will.
One of the most famous documentarians of all time won a career achievement Oscar just last year for his work and it’s not hard to see why. He is the director of such classic music doc’s as Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back (1967), Monterey Pop (1968) and Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1973) as well as insightful politically-charged titles as The War Room (1992) and Town Bloody Hall (1979) where Norman Mailer and Germaine Greer flirt and fight while debating the merits of feminism in the media.
As horror directors go, almost nobody was as quietly effective as this French-American director. He is most well-known for an unofficial trilogy of slow-burn scary movies that included the original Cat People (1940), I Walked with a Zombie (1943) that updated Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre with Haitian voodoo, and The Leopard Man (1943). However, his work on Out of the Past (1947), Berlin Express (1948) and Night of the Demon (1957) is not to be discounted.
If you like your foreign films to be more on the action-oriented side then French director Leos Carax may be a bit of a stretch, but his imagination knows no bounds. Some viewers may have seen – or at least heard about – his most recent feature, Holy Motors (2012) featuring Eva Mendes and Kylie Minogue, but before that he made several films that looked at the many heartbreaking sides to love. Boy Meets Girl (1984), Mauvais Sang (1986), The Lovers on the Bridge (1991), and Pola X (1999) are all beaming with vividly portrayed strokes of genius.
This New Zealand-born director has a feminist streak that can turn many people off. It certainly did when she put Meg Ryan at the center of a very phallic-centric murder mystery in In the Cut (2003). However, you’ll earn major cool points if you can discuss the themes of the Oscar-winning The Piano (1993), Sweetie (1989) or Holy Smoke! (1999), which features Kate Winslet with perhaps the best fake Australian accent ever put to screen.
He’s a bit insane, but sometimes that madness translates into crazy good films. Early grindhouse splatter films Driller Killer (1979) and Ms. 45 (1981) are nuts and spill fake blood with gleeful abandon. Later he would make his finest work to date, King of New York (1990), about a ruthless drug kingpin played by Christopher Walken. It’s perhaps unsurprising that his latest film is a quasi-fictionalized biopic of Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini.
Pier Paolo Pasolini
Speaking of which… this controversial filmmaker who grew up in the shadow of WWII is more than just his final movie. That one, Saló or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) continues to get people up in arms due to its graphic representations of sex crimes and torture at the hands of fascist sadists and is still banned in many countries. But don’t forget to consider that he also made Teorema (1968) with a mythical Terrence Stamp, The Decameron (1971), Arabian Nights (1974), and even has an uncredited role in writing Federico Fellini’s classic La Dolce Vita (1960).
With only five films to her credit so far, this Oregon native has set herself apart from the pack as one of the finest contemporary independent directors. It takes a lot to not shed a tear at Wendy & Lucy (2008), but for my two cents her best work is the minimalist anti-western of Meek’s Cutoff (2010) about a group of strangers stuck on the Oregon Trail in 1845. Django Unchained (2012) it is not, but amazing it definitely is.