This is the Internet, where keyboards are weapons used to eviscerate the rich and famous. In keeping with this philosophy, here are today’s five directors whose reputations most outweigh their achievements. Feel free to disagree and call me a moron in the comments. You’ll probably have a point.
5. M. Night Shyamalan: Shyamalan is also known as the director of diminishing returns. If you discount Shymalan’s little-seen 1992 indie (which he also starred in) Praying with Anger and his feature debut Wide Awake, every one of his films since The Sixth Sense became a phenomenon has been met with less fanfare and critical plaudits than the film which preceded it. Though his last three efforts – The Village, Lady in the Water and The Happening – have turned Shymalan into somewhat of a Hollywood punchline, his ability to still get big summer releases greenlit (the upcoming The Last Airbender) confirms his status on this list. Here’s hoping the long-gestating rumors of an Unbreakable 2 are unfounded.
4. Ron Howard: Simply serving as the narrator and one of the executive producers of Arrested Development should be enough to steer him off this list. The fanboy in me even says so. Sadly, for one of Hollywood’s highest-profile directors, Howard’s success rate is only around 50 percent. For every Frost/Nixon, there’s an Angels & Demons. For every Night Shift, there’s a Far and Away. For every Willow, well, there’s nothing quite like Willow, is there? Howard seems seduced by the allure of the blockbuster. Sometimes, he manages to turn that into a credible film (Apollo 13). Sometimes, not so much (How the Grinch Stole Christmas). Still, no online pundit can ever take this away from Howard. That lives on forever.
3. Brian De Palma: How can a five-time nominee for the Razzies’ “Worst Director” award be considered overrated? Blame Al Pacino and gangsta rappers. De Palma’s stock has been heavily inflated over the years, thanks mostly to his Scarface remake’s rise to cultural touchstone and his iconic re-imagining of Sergei Eisenstein’s “Odessa Steps” sequence in The Untouchables. A De Palma release still qualifies as an event movie for some hardcore film devotees, but it’s been a long time since Blow Out.
2. Ridley Scott: Alien is fantastic, and helped inspire a great Space Balls gag. Blade Runner is a classic, whichever of the nine versions you own. Black Hawk Down is impressively shot and acted, if a bit overpraised. By my count, that makes one bona fide “great” film from Scott over the last quarter century. I realize Gladiator won Best Picture, but it’s basically a loose Braveheart remake. Thelma & Louise was an influential feminist yarn, but its most lasting impact was introducing the world to Brad Pitt’s abdominals. Scott’s last four films (Kingdom of Heaven, A Good Year, American Gangster, Body of Lies) have failed to live up to expectations and while casting his muse Russell Crowe as Robin Hood will likely yield a healthy box office haul, it will doubtfully do much to restore Scott’s waning credibility.
1. Clint Eastwood: Sacrilege, I know. Eastwood is a Hollywood deity, has two Best Director Oscars (for Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby), and is revered throughout the industry for his minimalist, hands-off style. That said, he has a bit of a Tony Dungy quality to him. He’s so well liked by his peers that he’s been incorrectly identified as one of the elite of his profession. For years, columnists and analysts tried to position Dungy as an equal to Bill Belichick, despite a lack of evidence. Likewise, Eastwood’s directorial filmography illustrates that he’s not in Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola or even Michael Mann’s class. Look no further than the 2004 Oscars as evidence. The Aviator, flawed though it may be, is a grand cinematic achievement. Million Dollar Baby, meanwhile, is flush with one-note characters and slowly devolves into Barbaro Goes Boxing. In typical Academy fashion, Eastwood walked away with the Oscar. King of the world and all that, I guess.
Honorable Mentions: Spike Lee, Robert Zemeckis, Tim Burton, Leonard Nimoy