Rank directors with box scores instead of box office
Director Paul Thomas Anderson on the set of his 2014 film, Inherent Vice.
November 25, 2020
Whether I liked it or not, I was raised on sports. My dad, whom I’m 80 percent sure has listened to every Chicago Cubs game on the radio since the 1960s, signed me up for Little League tryouts as soon as I was of age. For the better part of a decade I played in at least two leagues every summer and spent, easily, five hours every day training or playing in games.
Eventually I became more interested in basketball and football, if more so as a fan than a player. I studied the box scores of every single game in all of the three major American sports by the time I was 10 years old, a tradition I continue to this day.
My real love, however, is art, mostly film and music. I study these mediums with the same obsessive gusto I study sports. I read everything I can find about the films and albums and artists and directors who do work that I love. I memorize their filmographies and discographies, investigate their influences, and keep up on news about their upcoming projects.
And, like any real dweeb, I collect the work. My apartment looks more like the famous (and now defunct) Mondo Kim’s Video and Music store on New York City’s Lower East Side and, I’m not ashamed to say, my 3,000-plus movie collection is organized by director.
Often I sit and look at my walls of films and think of all the stories, all the ideas, and all the work that went into these movies, not unlike how I used to spread the sports pages out on the floor while studying box scores.
By age 17 I started working at record and video stores and was introduced to the fine art of list making. Any regular reader of this column knows by now that I love to make a good list. I love to give grades. I love to quantify my passions.
And so this week, as the weather has pushed us all indoors, I’ve been working on a spreadsheet in which I rank and rate the filmographies of all the most prominent, “important” directors who are currently working in their prime.
Art reduced to numbers.
To qualify for said spreadsheet study, the filmmaker must have made at least two relevant films in the last decade, must have directed at least four feature films, and, as noted above, must be an active filmmaker who is working in what could arguably be the prime of their career (i.e. no Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg, or Jean-Luc Godard on this list). Also, they can’t largely direct superhero films, documentaries, or animated films. Arbitrary as they may seem, them’s the rules.
It was a labor of love inspired by this classic-auteur era and made possible by the limitations brought on by a pandemic. I gave every film in a director’s filmography a score out of 10, then came up with an average. Some directors have around 40 films, while others have made only four so far.
Here’s the Top 35, including scores and number of masterpieces made by each filmmaker:
1. Paul Thomas Anderson (9.8, 6)
2. Martin Scorsese (8.7, 10)
3. Quentin Tarantino (9.4, 6)
4. Richard Linklater (8.3, 7)
5. Wes Anderson (9.2, 5)
6. Pedro Almodovar (9.1, 4)
7. Lars Von Trier (8.9, 4)
8. Coen Brothers (8.2, 5)
9. Alejandro G. Inarritu (8.9, 4)
10. David Fincher (8.4, 5)
11. Terrence Malick (8.3, 5)
12. Jim Jarmusch (8.1, 5)
13. Spike Lee (6.7, 9)
14. Steven Soderbergh (6.6, 10)
15. David Lynch* (7.8, 5)
16. Spike Jonze (9.2, 3)
17. Darren Aronofsky (8.8, 3)
18. Dardenne Brothers (9.1, 2)
19. Alfonso Cuaron (8.2, 3)
20. Kathryn Bigelow (8.2, 3)
21. Yorgos Lanthimos (8.9, 2)
22. Bong Joon-Ho (8.3, 2)
23. Ridley Scott (6.1, 8)
24. Clint Eastwood (6.8, 6)
25. Nicolas Winding Refn (8.2, 2)
26. Sophia Coppola (7.8, 1)
27. Todd Haynes (7.8, 1)
28. Guillermo del Toro (7.7, 3)
29. Michael Haneke (7.7, 2)
30. Jacques Auidard (7.7, 2)
31. Kelly Reichardt (8.9,1)
32. Ang Lee (6.8, 3)
33. Oliver Assayas (8.4, 1)
34. Danny Boyle (7.3, 4)
35. Denis Villeneuve (8.1, 1)
*I’m counting David Lynch despite him not meeting the criteria. Deal with it!