Film critics are almost as bad as film studios when it comes to festivals. So desperate are we to herald hidden gold that we will endure some serious crap because it sounds promising. (Speaking of which, go see The Horseman and The Snake.) A writer-director, fresh out of a film school that’s not USC or NYU, becomes the darling of the hour. And usually that film’s pretty awesome. And then we wait for that promise to continue. Sometimes we luck out, as with Jason Reitman, who seems steadily intent on hitting the ball out of the park. Sometimes they start off promising, such as Boaz Yakin, who made the excellent Fresh, followed by Remember the Titans, and then sort of crashed and burned. There are any number of filmmakers who create a canon that looks like Butt-head’s lie detector test — Kevin Smith, Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater. There are even some female filmmakers.
But more likely than not, once the glory of the festival has faded, we find out that some filmmakers only had one good one in them. Sure, they may go on to make two or three more films, but the luster has long since gone lack.
The following is a list of ten writer-directors who pretty much gave up the ghost. I specifically left Richard Kelly off the list because The Box shows promise. You’ve been warned. Honorable mention also goes to Nicole Kassell (The Woodsman) and Billy Morissette (Scotland, PA) because I enjoyed the hell out of their flicks, and I kind of desperately hope they’ll make something else. Well, mostly Kassell, because The Woodsman was scary fucking good.
10. Simon West, Good Film: Con Air
As bad as that buh-niegh slurring accent is on Nic Cage, with a supporting cast of sonsabitches and savages, it’s hard to dislike the ridiculous fun of Die Hard on a prison aeroplane. West was supposed to be the next coming of Michael Bay and the Ratt-a-Tat-Splat Pack, but he steadily made slightly crappier films, like The General’s Daughter and the incredibly unwatchable Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. How you fuck up Angelina Jolie in tight shorts and a boob shirt is beyond me. He’s got some promise with Human Target, due out next year, which looks like it might be a vaguely badass television series.
9. Vincent Gallo, Good Film: Buffalo ‘66
Alright, well, maybe I’m the only one who liked Buffalo ‘66, but I’m still fucking mesmerized by Christina Ricci tapdancing on the bowling alley. It could easily be sloughed off as typical arthouse fare, which is pretty much what Gallo made from then on out. As much as I hate Harmony Korine, at least that little fucker didn’t make Chloe Sevigny suck his cock on camera.
8. Chris Kentis, Good Film: Open Water
I remember seeing this in a relatively empty theater with my friend Bob, and basically twitching with tension. Which is hard to deal with when it’s essentially two people stranded in water for an hour a half. Most people were bored senseless by the film, because it was two people. In water. Forever. Kentis hasn’t tried to do a follow-up film, so we don’t know if there’s anything. However, the studios had no problem doing a direct to DVD sequel. Which probably involves sharks with fricking lasers on their heads or some shit, jumping off cruise ships with jet-skis, I don’t know.
7. Dominic Sena, Good Film: Gone in 60 Seconds
Some people would posit that Kalifornia should be on here. They’re called film studies majors and you should hit them soundly with socks full of subway tokens. For my money, you can’t beat the slick, casual action. It was The Fast and the Furious with a sense of humor. Sure, the bad guys weren’t that bad, but it was mostly about seeing Angelina Jolie in giant blonde dreadlocks. And really, Sena couldn’t beat this, as he moved on to making more and more tepid action-y dreck like Swordfish and Whiteout.
6. Jared and Jerusha Hess, Good Film: Napoleon Dynamite
When first I left the theater, I couldn’t decide if I’d seen the best movie ever made or the worst piece of crap imaginable. Upon further viewing, I realized the subtle genius. The Hessians created a film devoid almost entirely of plot, being all character and environment. Nothing happens of any import in ND, we just follow this idiot around. And it’s mesmerizing. But they followed it up with the tragically bad Nacho Libre, which made Charlton Heston finally look like a passable Mexican. And this year, they manage to go worse with Gentlemen Broncos. If you watch Broncos and Adventures of Power back to back, the next time you see an elder in the white shirt and black slacks and tie, you’ll actually run him down with your car. True story.
5. John Fawcett, Good Film: Ginger Snaps
It seems like monsters have been done to death. It’s very hard to put a fresh spin on zombies, or especially fucking vampires these days. So it was pretty astounding to see Ginger Snaps, an incredibly smart werewolf flick about two teenage sisters coping with turning furry. Fawcett has done tons of television since, and a few scattered films, but really he’s not been able to recapture the magic. And neither has the series, despite a few sequels.
4. Eduardo Sanchez & Daniel Myrick, Good Film: The Blair Witch Project
The Blair Witch was a precedent. Jittery cam hatred, cinematic blueballs up until the fascinating final five minutes, but the movie itself became iconic. Sanchez and Myrick have done exactly fuck-all since. I guess they ran out of ideas after they stole their concept whole cloth from the makers of The Last Broadcast, a documentary about The Jersey Devil. So maybe it’s karmic retribution. God willing.
3. Michael Cimino, Good Film: The Deer Hunter
The Deer Hunter isn’t just a good film; it’s a pretty epic fucking film. Granted, similar to Full Metal Jacket, the entire piece isn’t spectacular, rather only its portions. But by God those portions are fucking incredible. Cimino followed up The Deer Hunter with the legendary tankzilla of Heaven’s Gate. He killed a fucking studio, and in the aftermath, his career. But if you’re going to go out with a bang, I say take a page from David Byrne and burn down the fucking house.
2. Lucky McKee, Good Film: May
You notice there are quite a few horror films on this list. Horror seems to be most popular for spawning those one-flick pricks. I remember hearing about Lucky McKee as the future of horror, and how genius May was. There are quite a few people who hold May in high esteem, and I’ll admit it was interesting. But then McKee epically crapped out, unable to create anything watchable. He got all kinds of obsessed with Angela Bettis, who became a muse of sorts akin to what’s been eating Tim Burton. He made a kind of neat episode for Masters of Horror, but he’s never been able to deliver since. He was even yanked from the film Red.
1. Zach Braff, Good Film: Garden State
Before there was a preggo to be eggo, there was Braff and his darling little hipster flick. I adore Garden State, but I know I am in the minority. People thought it was too precious, too quirky, too derivative, too lazy. It changed my life, but hey, I’m weird like that. Braff’s never been able to capitalize on a follow up. Now that “Scrubs” is coming to an end (or is it? That’s motherfucker’s like Bebe’s Kids), perhaps he’ll take a chance behind the camera again. Because let’s face it. “Scrubs” was the best he got. His acting career peaked and then plummeted behind a streak of odiously terrible films. So, he really won’t have to worry about that getting in the way. I look forward to sitting next to him in a coffeeshop in 2012. Right before Roland Emmerich blows us up.