Monday, October 25, 2010

Lousy Actors, Good Directors

In the spirit of The Onion’s obsessive lists, I thought I’d make one of my own right quick. So I bring you, a list of actors who make better directors.

1. Woody Allen.

No one is as goofy as Allen in his early films, as smug as Allen in his middle period, and as dated as Allen in his recent acting roles, which makes me happy that he seems to be farming out the leading man gigs to the likes of Larry David and other aging New Yorkers who can grouse and say very Woody Allen-like things but, you know, without bringing to the role all the Allen baggage. Thus, it is somewhat less creepy to see Larry David’s romance with a young girl then it would be if the very geriatric Allen were still forcing all his starlets to French him. That being said, I do like a lot of Allen’s movies, but it occurred to me when I found myself enjoying Vicky Cristina Barcelona that the reason I liked it so much, whereas so many of the post Mia Farrow films bug me, might very well be connected to Allen not being in the movie. My favorite Woody Allen movies are probably Radio Days (no appearance of Allen, just voice over) and Another Woman (no Woody anywhere but behind the camera). See a correlation?

2. Clint Eastwood

Clint has decided: Fuck it— I’ll make a movie every year. This decision has brought us Grand Torino and Changeling and a slew of movies since that I have not seen, most of them with Matt Damon. Who can keep up? Anyway, old-man Clint made the odd appearance, all appearances being odder than the last, though he manages to remind us that he once was a bankable leading man who never cried on film and always kicked wholesale ass. So when he made The Bridges of Madison County, many turned away. When he riffed on the cowboy theme of Unforgiven, many cheered and just as many scratched their heads. Clint was, in a sense, starting to boggle the action movie goer’s mind. Then there was his portrait of Burgess Meredith in Million Dollar Baby, a movie more divisive than proposed tax cuts. In an effort to simultaneously deconstruct and reconstruct his tough guy image, he gave the world what many thought was his swan song: Grand Torino. While it was fun to see Clint play an asshole with a heart, racist though it may be, it was a far worse movie than its compelling cousin, Changeling. The differences in the two are many, but it seems to me that Clint behind the camera is a formula that works better. Or would it matter? I supposed an aging Charles Bronson could have pulled off the role of a widowed vet with a shotgun just as well. That being the case, Clint, in a career where you have stayed the course and then broken it, you have proven yourself to us. Here's hoping you keep that grizzled ass off screen.

3. Ben Affleck

I have not seen the sophomore film from Mr. Affleck, but Gone Baby Gone was so rock solid that I’m on board and excited to see if Big Ben can redeem himself in the world of cinema as an ace director. I’ve always favored team Matt Damon in the inevitable debate over which of the Boston buds was worth a damn, and, let’s face it, there’s really no coming back from Gigli. Affleck is wise enough to know that if he has a comeback in him, it is as a filmmaker, not the big lug who ruins movies by opening his mouth. Even if we are forced to suffer his acting in his own films, at least we might hope that what he brings to the party as a director surpasses his own limited range as a thespian. That and we hope that he is not given to directing romantic comedies with insufferably cute retarded people or little girls. At least we can be sure that J. Lo will be nowhere in sight.

4. Spike Lee

A tough one to justify, as Spike has far too checked a career to even rank him anywhere as a director. The term “director” implies that one has direction, or, better yet, vision. Spike suffers from a lack of direction, too much vision, and a dislike of silence. I might have loved Summer of Sam or Clockers or Jungle Fever if they would slow down, relax, stop with the wall-to-wall soundtrack and just breathe a little. Alas, his films are largely crowded with too many ideas, some of which work, many of which go nowhere or, worse, to ridiculous places. Nevertheless, he can pull off a good movie when he’s really focused (Do the Right Thing is a goddamn classic), though even his best work suffers from excess. Nonetheless, one thing on which all film critics can agree: Spike can’t act. At best, his roles tend to be caricatures and his presence in front of the camera feels so self-conscious that he sinks his own ship. The viewer suddenly thinks, “Hey, that’s Spike Lee, the director… in his own movie!” and subsequently remembers that, yes, they are watching a Spike Lee film, a tenuous effort at best, and thus they also remember that there are better films out there and better directors and damn, why did I waste 9 bucks on this? Speaking of overrated directors who can't act for shit…

5. Quentin Tarantino

We tolerated him in Reservoir Dogs, as we didn’t know him then and his role was minor, but in Pulp Fiction his shitty acting stuck out like a sore thumb. Easily the weakest part in a movie that has not aged well, the whole Bonnie situation segment, well, kind of sucks. Why? Is it the absurdity of gangsters in suburbia? Is it the bizarre hit-n-run performance of Harvey Keitel? No, it’s Q.T. sucking the believability out of the movie just at the point where the viewer is asked to stretch it pretty thin. His lousy acting fucks the movie in the ass right then and there, luckily at the 11th hour when most of the audience has already bought into the mixed bag of goods. Tarantino, perpetual 9th grader that he was, obnoxioused his way out of the limelight with a string of idiotic interviews and knock-offs that somehow bore his name (True Romance, Natural Born Killers, and the goofy hotel movie that really, really sucked) but not his direction, proving also that he is a lousy writer. By the time he came back with Kill Bill—a movie I have some problems with but still kind of enjoy—it seemed he got wise and stepped out of the frame, but no, there he was again in the half-assed Death Proof, trying to act cool and instead acting the fool. Ugh. What a waste. Still, the guy obviously knows how to handle a camera, and he might even crap out a good movie again someday (fuck Inglourious Bastards—that shit is terrible), but here’s hoping I never see his ugly mug on screen again.

Okay, that's it for now.