Director Sam Raimi first got the attention of movie-goers with his dark horror film "The Evil Dead" in 1981. A cult favorite, he followed that with "Army of Darkness" and "Evil Dead II". In 2002, Raimi went from horror films to mainstream with "Spider-man", the well-known comic book hero created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Peter Parker was a bright, Manhattan, high school student who was bitten by an "irradiated" spider. This gave him super powers like great strength and agility, a "spider-sense" and the knowledge that "with great power comes great responsibility!".
2. Spike Lee
Answer: Do the Right Thing
Shelton Jackson "Spike" Lee is a one-man team, i.e., an actor, writer, producer and director. He started his production company, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, in 1983. One of his earlier films was "Do the Right Thing", in 1989. The movie explored racial tensions in a Brooklyn, New York neighborhood.
The film dealt with issues few artists would touch. The setting is a pizzeria in a black neighborhood which has a "Wall of Fame" which only includes those of Italian descent. Some of the neighbors disagree, believing that blacks should be included. On a hot summer day, emotions get even hotter. Even after all these years, this is still a powerful film.
3. Robert Zemeckis
Answer: Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Robert Zemeckis is known for films like the "Back to the Future" franchise and "Forrest Gump", the latter garnering a Best Director Oscar for him. In 1988, we have a comedy which includes both real and animated characters. "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" is a spoof on the old "film noir" movies of the 1940s.
However, this movie is set in Toontown. Gumshoe Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) is hired to investigate a scandal surrounding one of Toontown's biggest stars, Roger Rabbit, whose sexy wife Jessica says "I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way".
When Jessica's alleged lover is murdered, all eyes are on Roger.
4. Howard Hawks
Answer: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Of all the great film directors of the "Golden Age of Hollywood", Howard Hawks (1896-1977) may be one of the most overlooked. Like Hitchcock and Wilder, Capra and Ford, Hawks produced some great films, to wit, "Rio Bravo", "Bringing Up Baby", "The Big Sleep" and "Scarface" (in 1932). One of his best known movies was the 1953 musical comedy "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes", starring Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell.
The plot centers around showgirl Lorelei Lee whose main mission in life is to marry a millionaire because, after all, "diamonds are a girl's best friend", but things don't always turn out the way we plan.
5. Arthur Penn
Answer: The Miracle Worker
A director during the turbulent 1960s, Arthur Penn (1922-2010), created some of filmdom's most masterful moments. He is responsible for both the riveting "Bonnie and Clyde" and "Little Big Man", the story of 121 year old Jack Crabb (played by Dustin Hoffman).
While these are great movies, my personal favorite Arthur Penn film is the poignant 1962 movie "The Miracle Worker" which is, of course, the story of the young Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan. The script was wonderful and the performances electric, winning Oscars for both Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke. Also proving that the Penn is mightier than the sword (sorry, I couldn't help it!).
6. John Cassavetes
Answer: A Woman Under the Influence
Actor John Cassavetes (1929-1989) was a star in the early days of TV, appearing in everything from "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour" to "Burke's Law". He moved on to films, appearing in "The Dirty Dozen" and "Rosemary's Baby". By the 1970s he had reinvented himself as a screenwriter and director of independent films.
His films tended to be about the relationships within families and between husbands and wives, as evidenced in his 1974 movie "A Woman Under the Influence". The movie starred the remarkable Gena Rowlands (Cassavetes' wife), a suburban wife and mother, and her slow descent into madness. Cassavetes dealt masterfully with a subject rarely discussed at the time, i.e., the slim thread of sanity.
7. Robert Altman
Ground-breaking director Robert Altman (1925-2006) was nominated for a Best Director Academy Award five times. He was one-of-a-kind, using satire to express his own personal views, and covering topics others shied away from. He encouraged his actors to improvise, and pioneered the technique of overlapping dialogue.
A comedy about war?...Altman made "M*A*S*H" in 1970, giving us a humorous look at the Korean War. In 1975, he produced and directed a musical comedy-drama about country and gospel music in its natural setting, i.e., "Nashville". Altman assembled a huge cast with twenty-four main characters.
The scope of the film covered not only music but business and politics, while poking fun at it all.
8. Stanley Kubrick
Answer: The Shining
Some of the strangest and most powerful works put on film are the product of the mind and talent of Stanley Kubrick. Ever heard of Kubrick's take on dystopian violence in 1971's "A Clockwork Orange"? I believe that Kubrick is one of the only directors who could put Anthony Burgess' novel on film, making it both horrifying and unforgettable.
There was also his mind-blowing vision of space in "2001: A Space Odyssey" from 1968, and one of the best anti-war films ever made, "Dr. Strangelove..." ("There's no fighting in the war room").
But Kubrick's handling of Stephen King's "The Shining" (1980) leaves an indelible imprint. We see Jack Torrance become the caretaker at the Overlook Hotel while he slowly goes insane before our very eyes...bloody "redrum"!
9. Orson Welles
Answer: Touch of Evil
I could have picked "Citizen Kane" for an Orson Welles movie, but that would have been too easy. Director and actor Orson Welles (1915-1985) went from "boy wonder" and innovator to selling "no wine before its time" (Paul Masson commercials). His radio presentation of "War of the Worlds" in 1939, on Halloween, sent thousands of listeners into a panic. Among his acclaimed films is "Touch of Evil" from 1958. Set on the border between Mexico and the USA, Charlton Heston plays a Mexican drug enforcement agent (a bit of a stretch) who teams up with an American police officer played, with just the right touch of malice and corruption, by Orson Welles himself. Janet Leigh plays Heston's new bride who is in danger.
10. David Lynch
Answer: Blue Velvet
Have you ever seen David Lynch? His appearance is as surreal as his movies. A David Lynch film is like no other. While he sets his films in small towns, his characters and situations are, by no means, small-minded. For example, take his TV series "Twin Peaks" (1990-1991) about the murder of Laura Palmer...I am still trying to figure it out! Then there's that strange baby in "Eraserhead", and the depravity of "Mulholland Drive".
But to me, weird has a new definition when it comes to "Blue Velvet", released in 1986. Kyle MacLachlan (later in "Twin Peaks") stars with Isabella Rossellini, and the always bizarre Dennis Hopper, in a tale of drugs, sex, violence and a severed ear.
The film resulted in Lynch being nominated for a Best Director Oscar.