Movie Directors and Mount Rushmores: Eleven Country's Best Filmmakers

The Mt. Rushmorification of social discourse is destroying any semblance of nuanced, sophisticated analysis. And I'm right there with it, doing what I can to continue the trend.
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The Mt. Rushmorification of social discourse is destroying any semblance of nuanced, sophisticated analysis. And I'm right there with it, doing what I can to continue the trend.

Here is a Mt. Rushmore for film fans to love and hate and argue over, and call me names, and I'm sure eventually curse President Obama and Muslims and your fascist neighbor who parked too close to your Lexus.

I am selecting the four most important directors from each of eleven major filmmaking nations - ten out of the top eleven in terms of number of features produced annually. Sorry, Nigeria. Nollywood is number two with a bullet, but I haven't seen nearly enough of your movies to make selections. I replaced you with Australia because I write for a film blog in Australia, and well, I don't really have a better reason than that. And I'm probably pissing off all my Australian friends by including New Zealand in the Australia category, even though I know full well they are two distinct nations.

But that's how it goes when you do Mt. Rushmores. You just make up your own rules. For instance, for those of you reading closely, I said I was choosing the four most important directors. But I'm really not. I'm tossing adjectives like "important," "influential," and "iconic" into a pot and adding my own bias as to who is actually the "best" and coming out with four names that I think accurately represent the best of what a particular national cinema has to offer.

And so, in alphabetical order ...

Australia/New Zealand

Peter Weir - Peter Jackson - Jane Campion - Baz Luhrmann

I included New Zealand because I didn't know what to do with Campion, who I wanted on my mountain. She was born in New Zealand but resides and works a lot in Australia. Once I included the Kiwis, Jackson became an obvious choice. Weir was already an obvious choice, and Luhrmann - well, I know as many hate him as love him, but he is more significant than Bruce Beresford.

China (in all its entities)

Wong Kar-wai - Zhang Yimou - Chen Kaige - Ang Lee

In one way, China is easy because it hasn't been a filmmaking giant for very long. In another way, it's very complicated because you have to figure out what constitutes Chinese film. I'm being ultra inclusive, which is why Lee, who now works mostly in America, is on the list, along with Hong Kong master Wong, and Fifth Generation stalwarts Zhang and Chen. I considered John Woo, but worried he might karate chop my mountain to bits. In slow motion.


Jean Renoir - Jean-Luc Godard - Chris Marker - Francois Truffaut

We have the opposite situation with France. Long, long history. How many Poetic Realists of the '30s and the New Wavers of the '60s can you fit? Is there room for pioneers like Georges Melies? Apparently not. But there is room for Marker, the little known world traveler who made great pieces of cinema for longer than many of us have been alive. If you want to drop Truffaut for Vigo or Bresson, by all means do so.


F.W. Murnau - Fritz Lang - Rainer Werner Fassbinder - Werner Herzog

Despite its rich history, I found Germany surprisingly easy. Two early giants. Two New German Cinema giants. Sorry to leave off Lubitsch, Wenders, and Haneke, but Mt. Rushmore is a stern master.

United Kingdom

Alfred Hitchcock - The Archers - David Lean - Ken Loach

Though it really could just be four Hitchcocks, right? Maybe I'm cheating with The Archers - Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger - who wrote and directed movies together, but they have to be here. Lean is more significant than Carol Reed, though I like Reed more. And Loach represents, as he always has, the English working man, a jolly old bugger if ever there was one.


Satyajit Ray - Raj Kapoor - Mrinal Sen - Anurag Kashyap

Oh my God. The most productive nation in terms of film output is also the most complex. Various regional cinemas compete with other. Or trash each other. How do you weigh Bengali film (Ray and Sen) against Bollywood (Kapoor and Kashyap)? How do you judge formative masala (Kapoor) against wave of the future works (Kashyap)? What about Tamil and Telugu cinema? If you want to argue that Kapoor was not a great director, so be it. But he was the face of Indian cinema for many, many years. Kashyap may not have the heft to be on my mountain as yet, but I'm betting he will in the near future.


Federico Fellini - Sergio Leone - Vittorio De Sica - Mario Bava

With Italy, you have to figure out how to rate the neo-realists. Rossellini and Visconti were arguably better directors than De Sica, but De Sica made the most iconic neo realist movies. And by selecting just one of them, it leaves room for world class horror master Bava and that great international stylist Leone (who I'd want filming my Mt. Rushmore promo. The man had a way with big faces.)


Yasujiro Ozu - Kenji Mizoguchi - Akira Kurusawa - Hayao Miyazaki

Opposite decision for the Japanese mountain. I'm taking the three giants. I just can't see leaving any of them off. And though I'd love to include my own personal favorite Shohei Imumura, Miyazaki is cinema's greatest animator. He gets a spot.

Russia (or the Soviet Union)

Sergei Eisenstein - Andrei Tarkovsky - Dziga Vertov - Aleksei Balabanov

You could easily choose four directors from the 1920s alone, but I've chosen two, leaving room for Tarkovsky, the greatest Russian director since the silent era, and the more obscure and provocative Balabanov, whose career is a good marker for the complexities of Russian cinema.


Luis Bunuel - Pedro Almodovar - Luis Garcia Berlanga - Carlos Saura

The first two are easy. Berlanga, a contemporary of Bunuel, was a satirist of the first order, who always stayed just on the good side of being censored. The veteran Saura may be the most awarded of all Spanish filmmakers.

United States

Charles Chaplin - Howard Hawks - Orson Welles - Stephen Spielberg

If you want replace all of them with Griffith and Ford and Keaton and Scorsese, you have my blessing. But Hawks was the most versatile ever, Spielberg the giant of the blockbuster era. And having the Boy Wonder and Little Tramp side by side carved in stone is something that I know would make me smile.

And isn't that what Mt Rushmores are all about?

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