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Who Got Snubbed? 10 Directors Who Surprisingly Aren't On The Sight & Sound Top 50 Greatest Films List

by The Playlist Staff
August 2, 2012 2:02 PM
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5 Great Living, Still-Working Directors

Terrence Malick
Probably the most surprising absence from the Top 50, certainly in terms of directors who are still active, the cult around Terrence Malick only grew in his near-twenty-year absence from filmmaking, between "Days of Heaven" and "The Thin Red Line." And even into his recent (relatively) prolific patch, he's been an absolute critical darling. While it was divisive, "The Tree of Life" inspired some passionate critical raves and indeed, many had tipped it to crack the list. But not only did that film fail to make the cut (which we'd expected), but his four earlier films, from 1973's "Badlands" to 2006's "The New World," were also nowhere to be found. Few would argue that the films are not extraordinary (even the less-well regarded "The New World") but we wonder if the lack of a single film to get behind was what kept him out. "Days Of Heaven" is the most obvious critical favorite, but we can see the votes being split fairly evenly among the others. Other directors on the list had more than one film, but those have one obvious frontrunner that collects the most votes (Hitchcock's "Vertigo," Godard's "Breathless"). With Malick, it may be that no one film stood out from the pack, and as such, the director might have to wait a little longer for cinephile recognition. With three films due in the next few years, there'll be plenty more opportunities to cement his standing on the list.

Michael Haneke
It was only a few months ago that Michael Haneke became one of only seven directors to win the Palme d'Or twice times at Cannes, the world's most prestigious film festival. He took the prize with two consecutive films (2009's "The White Ribbon," and this year's "Amour") and he also earned Best Director in 2005 for  "Cache." And really, the Austrian helmer has been on an extraordinary run for a couple of decades: ever since his international breakout "Funny Games" in 1997, virtually every one of his films (bar the redundant English-language "Funny Games" remake in 2008) has numbered among the best of that year. And yet not one of Haneke's films made the Top 50. In some respects, it's not surprising: only three of the fifty were released since Haneke became internationally renowned, and this year's Palme d'Or win might have suggested to critics still compiling their lists that the director's best work might still be ahead of him. It may also be that, as with Malick, no one film has had the time to emerge as the consensus critical favorite: "Funny Games," "Code Unknown," "The Piano Teacher," "Time of the Wolf," "Cache" and "The White Ribbon" all have their advocates, and it may be that the next decade will see one of 70-year-old Haneke's films come to critical prominence. But given that he might be the most influential filmmaker in world cinema right now (just look at something like "Martha Marcy May Marlene" to see his stamp), it's still a little surprising not to see him make the cut.

Pedro Almodóvar
These days, Spanish helmer Pedro Almodóvar is one of the most respected filmmakers in the world, an Oscar winner whose films have become Cannes mainstays and who's capable of attracting almost any talent that he'd like, despite having never made a film in the English language. But his global reputation is all the more remarkable considering just how challenging his fare can be. His violent, sexual taboo-pushing early work is the most obvious example, but throughout his career his interest in gay issues, Sirk-ian melodrama, explicit sex and obsessive behavior has hardly been the kind of thing that usually makes the chattering classes line up around the block. But it's the quality of his work, the way that his films are weirder, sexier, wittier, more puzzling, more moving and richer than 95% of the stuff that sees the inside of theaters, that's made him one of the most beloved filmmakers working. And there's barely a bad film in his canon, particularly in the extraordinary run of films since 1997's "Live Flesh." And yet none have cracked Sight & Sound's list. While our own favorite of his, 2007's "Volver," is probably too new to judge whether it'll stand the test of time, some of his most acclaimed films like 1999's "All About My Mother" and especially 2002's "Talk To Her" (which Time named among the Top 100 Movies Of All Time in 2005), didn't make the crop either. Are his films, like Fassbinder, too vulgar, too sexual, and not serious enough for the critical establishment? Or is it simply a matter of letting time pass a little?

Roman Polanski
With a career marked by controversy and tragedy, triumphs and disasters, that Roman Polanski has shaken off personal obstacles and professional setbacks is a feat in itself. But that he has become a legendary and influential filmmaker in the process speaks to his remarkable strength and skill behind the camera no matter how you feel about the man personally. Though best known as a craftsman of stylish thrillers --  most notably the informal Apartment Trilogy of "Repulsion," "Rosemary's Baby," and "The Tenant" -- films that trade on nightmarish images, claustrophobic spaces, and creeping paranoia, Polanski has actually tackled a wide variety of genres, from literary adaptations ("Tess," "Oliver Twist") and comedy ("The Fearless Vampire Killers, "Carnage") to harrowing WWII drama ("The Pianist") and sizzling noir ("Chinatown"). And yet there's no Polanski to be found on the list, despite a wealth of options. Has his troubled personal life tainted him in the eyes of too many critics? Or has the unneven nature of much of his work in the 1980s and 1990s (which included disappointments like "The Ninth Gate" and outright disasters like "Pirates") seen the quality of his earlier work diminished for some? We know that "Chinatown" would certainly sit on this writer's personal Top 10, and we imagine that it's true of many others, so we'd be interested to see how that film, and some of his other works, did in the rundown.

Werner Herzog
Few filmmakers have had as varied or colorful a career as Werner Herzog. A man that François Truffaut once called "the most important film director alive," Herzog has been knocking out classics, in both the feature and documentary worlds, for over 40 years now. Perhaps still best known for his tempestuous relationship with Klaus Kinski, with whom Herzog produced many of his very best films, the director's oeuvre goes far beyond those five, from minor classics to eye-opening documentaries, from classics of German cinema to a star-driven remake of an Abel Ferrera film. In recent years, Herzog has become something of a famous cultural figure, inspiring memes and YouTube impersonations, and is now carving out something of a side career as an actor (he's currently voicing a character on Adult Swim series "Metapocalypse," and will play the villain in Tom Cruise blockbuster "Jack Reacher" later in the year). Is it this sideshow that saw Herzog's work fail to crack the Top 50? Few would argue that the likes of "Aguirre, The Wrath Of God" or "Fitzcarraldo" are undeserving, even if his later work is patchier. Could it be that we'll only truly appreciate Herzog's work after he's gone? We certainly hope not.

Other Notable Absences: Of course this is a quick smattering of five directors we feel passionate about, but this list could be endless. What about Robert Altman, Sergio Leone, Woody Allen, Sidney Lumet, Hayao Miyazaki, Howard Hawks, The Coen Brothers, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Jean Cocteau, Nagisa Oshima, Andrzej Wadja or Seijun Suzuki? Any others you felt were missing from the list? Let us know in the comments section below.

- Oliver Lyttelton, RP

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  • Andrea Ostrov Letania | January 19, 2014 11:29 AMReply

    Alain Resnais

    Kon Ichikawa

    Lina Wermuller

    Shohei Imamura

  • hah | August 8, 2012 4:41 AMReply





  • kirk lazarus | August 7, 2012 5:47 PMReply


  • P K MATTOO | August 6, 2012 2:58 PMReply

    Bunuel, Kieslowski, Hawks, Ritwik Ghatak, Coen Brothers, Sergie Leone, Alain Resnais , T G Alea, Glaber Rocha...
    Visconti's " The Leopord' , Resnais' ' Night and Fog', Kieslowski's 'Colors ' trilogy, Howard Hawks' 'Red River', Powell's ' Peeping Tom', Carol Reed's 'Third Man' ....

  • Alexander | August 6, 2012 1:02 PMReply

    "Any others you felt were missing from the list?" - Err, any women? At all. I can think of certain films worthy of this list from Andrea Arnold, Jane Campion, Lynne Ramsay, Agnes Varda, Kathryn Bigelow, Mary Harron...

  • Wade | August 6, 2012 8:08 AMReply

    Edward Yang

  • tronic | August 4, 2012 11:17 PMReply

    Hou Hsiao Hsien

  • AFD | August 4, 2012 5:37 AMReply


  • Eric | August 3, 2012 11:01 PMReply


  • Joseph Garza Medina | August 3, 2012 8:09 PMReply

    Bernardo Bertolucci, Eagle Pennell, Jacques Rivette, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Jean-Pierre Melville... there are way more than 50 great directors let alone 50 great films. Which is why it's always important to educate yourself and make your own canon.

  • Wes | August 3, 2012 7:30 PMReply

    What about films that got snubbed? For example: Casablanca, Raging Bull, Touch of Evil, La Grande Illusion, Third Man, Dr. Strangelove, Gold Rush, Sunset Blvd., Children of Paradise, Blade Runner, Night of the Hunter, It's a Wonderful Life, M, Rear Window, Lawrence of Arabia, Jules et Jim, and Wild Bunch.

  • Porter | August 3, 2012 7:04 PMReply

    Mr. von Trier

  • Sam M Bell | August 3, 2012 12:35 PMReply

    Where the hell's Cronenberg? These lists always ignore contempary cinema or something that is interesting as opposed to 'set the rules'.

  • yes! | August 3, 2012 11:33 AMReply

    totally agree!! its a crime that Herzog, Almodovar and Haneke aren't included. they are insanely prolific for the world of filmmaking!!

  • Marco "Stanze di Cinema" | August 3, 2012 5:05 AMReply

    Probably it's a partisan comment by an italian cinephile... but where are Luchino Visconti and Bernardo Bertolucci? The Leopard, The conformist, Rocco and his brothers, The last tango in Paris?

  • Jose Angel | August 3, 2012 4:30 AMReply

    I've been campaigning for Once Upon a Time in the West ever since I watched in a revival theater. I think people can't judge films like this (or The Shining for that matter) unless they watch them on the big screen. The visuals of Leone and Kubrick make many of the films in the list look quite lame, and these visuals I consider are been underestimated. Glad to see Apocalypse Now up there, though. Too much Tarkovsky and Godard and too little Welles, Chaplin, Bergman and Kubrick. No South Americans. The list is also missing William Wyler, Scott, Gilliam and Eastwood's Unforgiven.

  • wes | August 3, 2012 7:18 PM

    Too much Tarkovsky? The man never gets enough respect!

  • javed | August 3, 2012 12:04 AMReply

    "...Stanley Kubrick, a man known for his reluctance in praising others..."

    Actually, he's known for exactly the opposite, at least for those who aren't too lazy to do some basic research.

  • Fry | August 2, 2012 8:52 PMReply

    Sergei Parajanov is to me one of the greatest auteurs and at least one his films -I'm pointing to either 'Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors' or 'The Color of Pomegranates'- should have gotten a place on that list, other than that I'm glad Dreyer had three of his own. Oh, and kudos to Béla Tarr for Sátántangó.

  • Tom | August 2, 2012 6:25 PMReply

    I hope Woody Allen, R.W. Fassbinder and Wim Wenders at least make the freakin' top 100.

  • StephenM | August 2, 2012 6:11 PMReply

    I agree it's a shame about Kieslowski, but I think there's a pretty simple explanation: The voting rules this year stated that multiple films could not be cited for one spot. In other words, voters couldn't select "The Three Colors Trilogy" or "The Decalogue" anymore--which a fair number of critics did in 2002. Faced with choosing only single film from those series, I think most people just went for something different. I doubt it's a real drop in his reputation.

  • ralch | August 2, 2012 5:20 PMReply

    If I'm not mistaken, this article refers to directors that do not appear in the Top 50 films selection by critics, not the Top 10, hence the omission of Lean.

    I agree about Herzog and Wajda. Wajda's war trilogy (A Generation, Kanal, Ashes and Diamonds) is one of the more forcefully poetic works of cinema (and my favorite trilogy overall).

    Names that hopefully will be more explored in the future are Chantal Akerman, Frantisek Vlácil and especially Otar Iosseliani. I also think there is a wealth of (to some) undiscovered greatness in the classic cinema of Latin America. Names like Glauber Rocha, Nelson Pereira dos Santos, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Emilio Fernández do get some recognition, but others like Manuel Antín, Ismael Rodríguez, Alejandro Galindo, Ruy Guerra, Patricio Kaulen or Octavio Cortázar go completely overlooked. The early work of Carlos Saura and the films of Víctor Erice rival Almodóvar's work as far as Spain is concerned.

    I forget if Abbas Kiarostami was included... Anyway, Nory, Dory and Loaury, your comment is one of the most ridiculous things I've read in a site like this. I hope you're 13 or something.

  • ralch | August 2, 2012 5:22 PM

    No accents. Damn. I meant Frantisek Vlacil, Tomas Gutierrez Alea, Emilio Fernandez, Manuel Antin, Ismael Rodriguez, Octavio Cortazar and Victor Erice.

  • Nory, Dory and Loaury | August 2, 2012 4:07 PMReply

    Because the directors you've all mentioned that have been snubbed are pretentious and that's about all. They make films for themselves and at that they are selfish.

  • nory is clueless | August 3, 2012 11:31 AM

    if you believe that being an auteur means being pretentious, then you really shouldn't be reading film blogs... what kind of film lover are you?? Haneke & Almodovar are GENIUSES - they continue to break the mould, and actually aren't selfish at all in that respect!

  • AS | August 2, 2012 4:32 PM

    Filmmaking is an art form, therefore, every film should be intensely personal.

  • jawsnnn | August 2, 2012 2:58 PMReply

    Hayao Miyazaki is the one who should be counted the greatest anime director. He is the best example of the truth: "It is very easy to be difficult, but it is very difficult to be simple"

  • AS | August 2, 2012 3:53 PM

    Ha! He has obviously never met Michael Bay.

  • samir | August 2, 2012 2:48 PMReply

    Roger Ebert posted the top ten that he submitted to Sight & Sound earlier this year, and in his top ten he did include "The Tree of Life." I'm looking forward to seeing how many ballots it appears on when they release the individual top ten's later this year. Even if it's on a few it would be impressive considering no one wants to take too much of a chance on a recent movie that hasn't had time to simmer in the collective minds of film culture. But I'm pretty confident it will appear on the list in 20 years.

  • StephenM | August 2, 2012 6:06 PM

    Seconded. All of it.

  • AS | August 2, 2012 2:43 PMReply

    Michael Mann, the most underrated director of all time.

  • Tony Macklin | August 3, 2012 5:30 PM

    When I submitted my best ten list to Sight & Sound this year, I chose Mann's The Insider as my tenth pick.

  • tristan eldritch | August 2, 2012 3:28 PM

    Right on!

  • Wes | August 2, 2012 2:42 PMReply

    They're also missing Coen Bros, Sergio Leone, Paul Thomas Anderson, Woody Allen, Ridley Scott, Luchino Visconti, and John Huston. But I'm fine with the absence of Howard Hawks, Steven Spielberg, D.W. Griffith, Ernst Lubitsch, Max Ophuls, Michael Curtiz, Alain Resnais, Sam Peckinpah, Preston Sturges, Victor Fleming, and Frank Capra.

  • Wes | August 2, 2012 2:46 PM

    And I second the confusion about David Lean and Robert Altman.

  • James | August 2, 2012 2:23 PMReply

    Robert Altman. Where's he at?

  • Ryan | August 2, 2012 2:15 PMReply

    David Lean anybody? Hello?

  • TimmaeXVX | August 2, 2012 2:42 PM

    He's mentioned in the Powell-Pressburger text but i think his absence is much weirder. I guess the voters couldn't decide between Lawrence, Kwai, Zhivago and Brief Encounter. I'm positive he's gonna be in the directors list.

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