Thursday, January 21, 2010

My favorite director

I'm not going to say James Cameron. I've learned my lesson about even hinting at something that could be interpreted that way.

No, today's post is about another exercise made possible by my involvement in Flickchart (

Let's get the obligatory one-sentence description of Flickchart out of the way for any newcomers. Flickchart is a website that allows you to rank all the movies that you've seen that are also in their database, via a series of random duels, the results of which eventually create a personalized list of films ranked from #1 to ... well, to #2665 in my case. It's not only addictive on a superficial level, but deeply useful on a material level for those of us who devote ourselves to movies.

As an additional exercise that goes beyond Flickchart's ordinary parameters, I have been taking a snapshot of my rankings at intervals of every 10,000 duels. At these junctures I stop ranking long enough to update the rankings in an Excel spreadsheet -- my way of charting a film's performance over time, to see when I'm getting close to a definitive ranking. (Not that I'll actually stop ranking my movies once I believe I've reached that definitive ranking, mind you -- Flickchart is just too much fun.) Those 10,000 duels are also about how often I've been writing about Flickchart on The Audient.

Over the weekend I completed recording my 50,000 snapshot, but didn't immediately think of any new wisdom I'd gleaned from the previous 10,000 that I wanted to pontificate about. Then I remembered a brainstorm I'd had several months back, something Flickchart would be able to help me do once the rankings solidified: not only determine what my favorite movie is, but also, who my favorite director is.

You see, next to the movie titles in this Excel spreadsheet, I have also been recording the release year and the director for each. So it's easy for me to regroup the films by director. And I figured, all I'd need to do is sum the rankings of each director's films, then divide by the number of films, to get an average ranking. Lowest average ranking -- remember, #1 is the best and #2665 is the worst -- would logically be my favorite director.

Now, doing this for every single director wouldn't make sense. A director would need a minimum number of films to his/her credit in order to qualify. I originally thought five would be a logical cut-off, but then I found a number of directors whose work really interests me -- such as Alfonso Cuaron and Alexander Payne -- who had directed only four films that I've seen. So I arbitrarily lowered the qualifying total to four. Hey, it's my idiosyncratic little game, with my idiosyncratic little rules.

Before I tell you who won -- and it was a bit of a surprise -- let me put forth a few asterisks to keep in mind:

1) There are about 250 films I've seen that do not yet appear in Flickchart. However, most of those are on the obscure side. To have directed at least four films that I've seen, your films are probably not too obscure for Flickchart. So I mention this more as an aside.

2) These rankings are highly fluid. Some films on my list are still several hundred spots away from where they should truly be. All part of the process. Films just recently added are especially likely to have inaccurate rankings -- which means even if James Cameron had been in contention as my favorite director, he would have been sunk by Avatar's #2363 ranking, which is far too low, even if I do have my complaints with the movie. And along these lines ...

3) A single bad film can torpedo a director. Cameron wouldn't need Avatar to pull him out of contention, because he already has True Lies doing that quite effectively. I greatly dislike True Lies and legitimately have it ranked at #2211. The way my system works, the points Cameron gets for movies like Titanic (#36 -- way too high, but as you know I still like this film) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (#41) are basically undone by the True Lies ranking. So my method for determining the relative worth of these directors rewards consistency, also knocking out directors like Martin Scorsese (I hate Gangs of New York) and Steven Spielberg (everyone hates Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull).

4) Fewer films gives you a better chance. Spielberg and Scorsese would have problems anyway because I've seen 21 films and 15 films, respectively, that they've directed. The more films you've directed, the thinner you've spread yourself, and the more likely it is that you've turned in a couple duds. In fact, the highest ranked director on my list who's directed more than ten films that I've seen was Spielberg at #31. I guess a separate argument could be made that if I have seen more than ten of your films, I must consider you a damn good director. One exception to that argument is the famously prolific, diverse and hated Joel Schumacher, who has directed 16 films that I've seen. And speaking of that ...

5) If I've seen at least four of your films, you are probably a decent director. The people who fill out the bottom of this list have at least been good enough to keep getting work. Some of the worst directing I've ever seen won't be recognized here, because the director may not have been given a second chance after the first abomination he or she turned in.

There are exactly 190 directors who have directed at least four films I've seen. And without further ado, the best of them is ...

John Hughes!

It surprised me at first -- Hughes' name hadn't even popped into my head as a contender -- but he actually dominated, with an average ranking of 206 for the six films of his I've seen. The next closest director, the aforementioned Alexander Payne, was nearly a hundred ranking points behind at 303. And looking at those six titles, it shouldn't surprise me: Ferris Bueller's Day Off (#19), Sixteen Candles (#98), Planes, Trains and Automobiles (#183), Uncle Buck (#244), The Breakfast Club (#294) and Weird Science (#396). Some of these are too high -- Ferris Bueller shouldn't be in my top 20, for example -- and the order of my actual preferences might need to be tweaked. But all the rankings hold a certain legitimacy -- if only because they've collectively gotten through 50,000 duels to reach this point. The thing that really surprised me was that I'd seen only six films he directed. Which, of course, is because he wrote a lot more films than he actually directed, his last directorial effort being Curly Sue in 1991. Rest in Peace, Mr. Consistency.

The rest of my top ten, including average ranking of the films, as well as the order I preferred them, according to Flickchart:

2. Alexander Payne (303 - Election, Sideways, About Schmidt, Citizen Ruth). Never a misstep for this man.
3. Alfred Hitchcock (338 - North by Northwest, Rear Window, Rope, The Birds, Rebecca, Psycho, Vertigo). Can't believe I've seen only seven Hitchcock films. Have actually also seen Suspicion, but it's not in Flickchart yet.
4. Christopher Nolan (379 - Memento, The Prestige, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Insomnia). Have also seen Following, but it's not in Flickchart. This is who I thought might be #1, and he probably would have been if I had Insomnia ranked higher than #1079.
5. John Lasseter (402 - Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Cars, A Bug's Life). Would have really contended if not for the #1283 ranking of A Bug's Life.
6. Quentin Tarrantino (411 - Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill Vol 1., Inglourious Basterds, Grindhouse, Kill Bill Vol 2., Jackie Brown). Yes, I counted Grindhouse. It's a gray area.
7. Peter Jackson (450 - The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, King Kong, Heavenly Creatures, The Frighteners). King Kong should drop to last on this list, but otherwise pretty solid.
8. Robert Redford (478 - Quiz Show, A River Runs Through It, Ordinary People, The Horse Whisperer). Some of these movies may be too highly ranked.
9. Nicholas Meyer (500 - Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, The Day After, Time After Time). Kind of a cheat, since The Day After was a TV movie. For some reason I have always counted it.
10. Jim Abrahams (507 - Airplane!, Top Secret!, Hot Shots!, Ruthless People, Hot Shots! Part Deux). Four of these five titles contain an exclamation point. I've seen a ton of bad parodies in my day -- it's hard to believe Abrahams managed to direct only good ones.

And since I've got you here ... the ten worst, with the lowest listed first:

1. Adam Shankman (2227 - Bedtime Stores, The Wedding Planner, A Walk to Remember, The Pacifier). Bedtime Stories is actually alright. The rest ... well, you know.
2. D.J. Caruso (2162 - The Salton Sea, Disturbia, Taking Lives, Eagle Eye). D.J. Caruso and Shia LaBeouf are not a good mix.
3. Keenen Ivory Wayans (2132 - I'm Gonna Git You Sucka!, Scary Movie, A Low Down Dirty Shame, Little Man, White Chicks, Scary Movie 2). Without the first title on this list, he'd surely have ranked last. Too bad, because I like him as an actor.
4. Brian Robbins (2104 - Varsity Blues, The Perfect Score, Meet Dave, Norbit). The fact that I sort of like the first two titles shows you how low the last two, particularly the last one, are ranked.
5. Donald Petrie (2100 - Grumpy Old Men, Opportunity Knocks, Miss Congeniality, The Associate, Mystic Pizza, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Welcome to Mooseport). There are seven titles there, and not a one ranked above #1737. That's just consistently bad, though I will say that Miss Congeniality could be 500 higher than its current ranking of #1956.
6. Neil LaBute (2050 - Nurse Betty, In the Company of Men, Possession, The Shape of Things, Your Friends & Neighbors, The Wicker Man). Two interesting films, four films ranked lower than #2000. Not a good average.
7. Les Mayfield (2036 - Encino Man, American Outlaws, The Man, Code Name: The Cleaner). I like Encino Man. The rest? Dreck.
8. Harold Becker (2016 - Vision Quest, Malice, Domestic Disturbance, Mercury Rising). Not much to say here.
9. John Pasquin (1973 - The Santa Clause, Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous, Joe Somebody, Jungle 2 Jungle). If you align yourself too closely with Tim Allen, you are bound to get on this list. (Notable exception: Galaxy Quest).
10. Michael Lehmman (1936 - Heathers, The Truth About Cats & Dogs, My Giant, Hudson Hawk, 40 Days and 40 Nights). Heathers is really good.

It'll be interesting to see how much these have changed at, say, 100,000. Meet me back here sometime in May.

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