By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com November 8, 2012 at 2:26PM
In his seminal book "Making Movies," Sidney Lumet wrote, "I've done two movies because I needed the money. I've done three because I love to work and couldn't wait anymore. Because I'm a professional, I worked as hard on those movies as on any I've done. Two of them turned out to be good and were hits." As with any freelance job, few filmmakers are in full control of their destiny -- they're at the behest of what they're offered, what they can actually get made, and, even once a film is in production, any number of factors that can make the difference between a creatively successful or creatively lacking film.
But even so, it's hard to look at the choices of some directors and feel that they're not squandering their talent somewhat with the wrong projects, the wrong picks, the wrong direction. After taking a look a few weeks ago at ten actors who need a little adjustment in their career trajectories, we've picked out five directors who've all done good work in the past, but could do with a little revaluation of where they go from here. There's plenty more where this lot came from, so if there's a filmmaker you'd like to see make some better choices in future, let us know who they are in the comments section below.
This is arguably a relative one so read before you fly off the handle, please. Few would have thought back in 1995 that the neurotically charming lead of indie hit "Swingers" -- who also wrote the movie's script -- would have turned out to be a major tentpole filmmaker down the line. By the time of the release of megahit "Iron Man" in 2008, few would have suspected that Jon Favreau, by then established better as a director than an actor, would be having the kind of difficulties he faces these days. Favreau made his directorial debut with the solid "Swingers" spiritual sequel "Made" in 2001, but soon found himself with a huge surprise hit after directing Will Ferrell smash "Elf" just two years later. The film had a ridiculous premise, but Favreau walked the line carefully, keeping it smart, charming and sweet, with inspired directorial touches like Rankin/Bass-style stop-motion animation for the visual effects elements. Fewer people saw it, but follow-up "Zathura" was almost as good, a spacebound family adventure that captures the spirit of classic Amblin family fare. And by the time that "Iron Man" was busting blocks at the box office, Favreau was firmly ensconced on the A-list. And yet things haven't been so happy since. "Iron Man 2" was allegedly beset by creative differences between Marvel and Favreau, and the results on screen sadly speak for themselves. And maybe Favreau shouldn't take the fall for that one, but the same can't be said for follow-up "Cowboys & Aliens," a silly concept done in an overly serious manner with a too-many-cooks script and a generic orange-and-teal look. Worse, the film was also a big money loser. As a result, Favreau's had problems getting other projects off the ground. Disney's "Magic Kingdom" doesn't seem to be going anywhere fast, and musical "Jersey Boys" just got put into turnaround by WB. We're not saying that Favreau isn't talented. He is and he's proven it. But as someone who shot up to the A-list so fast and so unexpectedly, he seems to be stumbling at the moment. There was a spot of brightness with J.J. Abrams-produced TV pilot "Revolution," which Favreau directed. It was not great to be frank, but it was at least a huge hit. But we can't be alone in thinking that maybe Favreau needs to take a tentpole break and go back to his "Swingers" roots for something that could reinvigorate him creatively. Failing that, maybe a big-screen collaboration with Abrams would be the answer?
Actor-directors don't always have the easiest time of it, but like Jon Favreau, Peter Berg has been creeping towards the A-list over the years. The one-time "Chicago Hope" actor made his directorial debut with 1998's enjoyably mean-spirited dark comedy "Very Bad Things" (coincidentally starring Favreau), and proved to be a consistently impressive filmmaker over his next few pictures. First, with underrated Dwayne Johnson actioner "The Rundown," and more importantly with "Friday Night Lights," the 2004 football movie that numbers among one of the best sports movies ever made. The film spawned a beloved TV series which was just as good, with Berg directing the pilot, and while it was never high-rated, it's become something of a pop culture touchstone, to the extent that Mitt Romney tried to steal the "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose" slogan of the show for his presidential campaign (Berg objected strongly). 2007's "The Kingdom" wasn't quite as strong overall, but was, nevertheless, a decent thriller with some cracking action sequences and some interesting political texture to it. But like with Favreau, the lure of the tentpole seems to have been Berg's undoing. First up was 2008's "Hancock," a ludicrously uneven, tonally bonkers superhero vehicle for Will Smith. It was undoubtedly a creative failure, but we suppose kind of an interesting one, and it was at least a giant hit. The same can't be said of this year's "Battleship," easily one of the worst films of the year; a laughable, noisy, dull blockbuster actioner that's most notable for an absolute trainwreck of a script, and for Berg abandoning his own visceral action aesthetic to become a third-rate Michael Bay knock-off. Furthermore, the film lost a whole bunch of money for Universal. Berg, after the fact, admitted that the film didn't work out, saying earlier this year, "It was a movie that I tried as hard as I could to get inside of. But the concept is so big and powerful, and the money is so big and so powerful, that the movie is going to run away with itself." And follow-up "Lone Survivor," currently filming with a good cast including Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Eric Bana and Emile Hirsch, will hopefully pick things up. It's a bona-fide passion project for the director, which Universal financed in exchange for him making "Battleship." But maybe it's time for Berg to leave the gung-ho militarism alone for a while and tackle something else? Disability drama "Fathers' Day" and the mooted "Friday Night Lights" TV series-derived movie both sound like they could be the antidote.