Sunday, January 22, 2012
The battle for the biggest output
When a director releases two movies in quick succession, you tend to take notice. It usually says something about how prolific he or she is.
Not every director, mind you. Steven Spielberg had two movies come out a week apart in December, but they were his first two movies as director since the disaster known as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008, so in that case it really was just an accident of timing.
With Steven Soderbergh, it's pure volume of cinematic output.
Soderbergh had a movie in September (Contagion, which I just watched last night) and now one in January (Haywire). He's clearly making them as fast as his body will allow. (Without the content itself suffering, apparently.) It's not the first such period of intense activity of his career, either. Remember, this was the guy who got nominated for best director for two different films in the year 2000 (Erin Brockovich and Traffic, the latter of which netted him the Oscar).
Soderbergh's frenzied moviemaking rate made me think of other directors who are constantly going behind the camera, and three other names immediately jumped to mind: Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood and Michael Winterbottom. Allen's and Eastwood's movies usually make headlines; Winterbottom's don't necessarily, because they're a bit more out of the mainstream. But these are three guys who are constantly delivering new features, presumably on or ahead of schedule, since that would be the only way for them to keep pace with themselves. True to form, each had a film in 2011 (Midnight in Paris, J. Edgar and The Trip).
So I thought it would be interesting to see who's truly the most prolific of the foursome, and I'd love to hear your suggestions for which others might belong in the conversation. (Current directors only, please -- that eliminates all the hacks who made four or five movies a year back in the studio system days.) I have my suspicions, but as I write this, I really don't know who will take the prize.
In order to do this, we'll need to examine each director's career, starting with the year that the least experienced director in the group released his first feature. We'll look at their filmographies from that moment onward, and may have to make some judgment calls if there are films whose status as a feature is borderline. For our purposes, documentaries are considered features because they run at feature length. Before we even start I know there's an asterisk with Winterbottom's The Trip, which was a TV series edited into a feature. However, you could argue that a TV series might take even longer to film than a feature, so Winterbottom should get credit for it and then some.
It turns out that the newest to the game is in fact Winterbottom, whose first theatrical feature was 1995's Butterfly Kiss. (Or 1995's Go Now -- I'm having a hard time telling which one was released first.) He'd made TV movies before then, but his first feature wasn't until 1995.
So starting with the release year 1995 and onward, here's how it looks for each of our contenders:
Butterfly Kiss (1995)
Go Now (1995)
Welcome to Sarajevo (1997)
I Want You (1998)
With or Without You (1999)
The Claim (2000)
24 Hour Party People (2002)
In This World (2003)
Code 46 (2003)
9 Songs (2004)
Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (2006)
The Road to Guantanamo (2006)
A Mighty Heart (2007)
The Shock Doctrine (2009)
The Killer Inside Me (2010)
The Trip (2011)
That's 19 titles in 17 years, nine of which I've seen. It appears he has two movies due out in 2012, one of which premiered at last year's Toronto International Film Festival (Trishna), one of which is about scheduled to shoot (Bailout), I guess with the intention of getting released this year. But he loses out due to the timing of this post. (Sorry, I'm not counting the film festival premiere.)
The Underneath (1995)
Gray's Anatomy (1996)
Out of Sight (1998)
The Limey (1999)
Erin Brockovich (2000)
Ocean's Eleven (2001)
Full Frontal (2002)
Ocean's Twelve (2004)
The Good German (2006)
Ocean's Thirteen (2007)
Che Part 1 (2008)
Che Part 2 (2008)
The Girlfriend Experience (2009)
The Informant! (2009)
And Everything is Going Fine (2010)
And Soderbergh takes the lead with 21 films since 1995, 15 of which I've seen. I'm glad he didn't pull ahead of Winterbottom by only one, because I had to make the judgment call to split Che into two films. They were released that way, with separate admissions in most cases, and they contain over four hours of content in radically different styles. If that's not two movies, I don't know what is. (Though since they were filmed at the same time with the same crew, you could just as compellingly make the argument that they should be one film, if in this context you are quantifying a "film" as a distinct project in a distinct location that requires a certain amount of the director's undivided attention. So many ways to interpret the same information.) Incidentally, Soderbergh's Magic Mike is also expected later in 2012, with something called The Side Effects due in 2013.
The Bridges of Madison County (1995)
Absolute Power (1997)
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997)
True Crime (1999)
Space Cowboys (2000)
Blood Work (2002)
Mystic River (2003)
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
Gran Torino (2008)
J. Edgar (2011)
Well, Eastwood has let me down. I guess he has only been hugely prolific since 2008, releasing five films since the fall of that year. His 15 movies in 17 years -- 11 of which I've seen -- leave him at a pace of less than one a year. Still, not bad for an 81-year-old, especially when many of his films are painted on a huge canvas and seem to require a great deal of logistics. IMDB doesn't list a 2012 movie for him, so either someone charged with updating his page is slacking, or the man is finally giving his weary bones a short rest.
Mighty Aphrodite (1995)
Everyone Says I Love You (1996)
Deconstructing Harry (1997)
Sweet and Lowdown (1999)
Small Time Crooks (2000)
The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001)
Hollywood Ending (2002)
Anything Else (2003)
Melinda and Melinda (2004)
Match Point (2005)
Cassandra's Dream (2007)
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Whatever Works (2009)
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010)
Midnight in Paris (2011)
My suspicion was that Woody would be the most prolific. That's why exercises like this are great. Turns out he's only third most prolific, with 17 movies in the 17 years, 13 of which I've seen. But Woody does get a special commendation for being the only one on this list to make at least one movie (exactly one) in every year since 1995. If I were going only by U.S. theatrical release dates, Cassandra's Dream was released in January of 2008, leaving him with two movies in 2008 and none in 2007. But it played a number of places around Europe in 2007 and is generally credited with that release year. And sure enough, Allen's 18th film in the last 18 years (Nero Fiddled) is due out later this year. If you want to know how far back this streak goes, you have to go all the way back to 1981 to find a year in which Allen did not direct a film.
So our champion is: Steven Soderbergh! The guy who inspired the topic in the first place.
Take a vacation, will you, Steven? You're making everyone else look bad.