(Harlem Nights, 1989)
(Dances With Wolves, 1990)
(Heaven Can Wait, 1978)
(Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, 2002)
George Clooney has been an industrious director, but never an outstanding one. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, in which he has a supporting role as a government spook, has the pedigree of a madcap Charlie Kaufman screenplay, which explores the unsubstantiated claims by American game show impresario Chuck Barris (Sam Rockwell) that he was a CIA hitman on the side. The humour is dry, the narrative turns inside out, and Julia Roberts proves she can do a great femme fatale, but the result is lightweight and hollow.
(In the Land of Blood and Honey, 2011)
For her debut as director, Angelina Jolie thankfully gave no ground to convention: set in Bosnia, and with Bosnian dialogue subtitled into English, during the brutal war just over 20 years ago, In the Land of Blood and Honey illustrates how conflict legitimises nightmarish violence, particularly against women. A Muslim woman, Ajla (Zana Marjanovic), and a Bosnian Serb man, Danijel (Goran Kostic), with romantic history are reunited when she’s interred at a military base he commands, and while the pair give fine performances, Jolie can’t quite turn suffering into resonant drama, or escape the demands of expository dialogue.
(The Water Diviner, 2014)
For reasons of financing and marketing power, Russell Crowe stars in his first film as director, playing the grieving father who travels to Turkey in the wake of World War I to find out what happened to his three sons lost during the bloody and ill-fated Gallipoli campaign. Crowe’s control of his own performance, along with the compassionate consideration given to former wartime enemies, is one of the best qualities this pleasing widescreen drama has.
(Whip It, 2009)
A Hollywood fixture before she was old enough to go to school, Drew Barrymore made up for several decades of shortcomings in terms of roles for women by assembling a handful of promising ones in this action-comedy about a young Texan waitress, Bliss (Ellen Page), who finds purposeful independence in joining a roller derby team crewed by the likes of Kristen Wiig and Barrymore. There are both sports and coming-of-age clichés (dad comes through at the end!), but it’s made such obvious good spirit that the familiarity becomes warming.
(Ordinary People, 1980)
Often derided as the film that denied Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull a Best Picture Academy Award, the movie’s focus on the fractures that divide families and the struggle for understanding inside a supposedly loving environment now appears an emblematic influence on the domestic drama where parent and offspring collide. Several generations of American (and Australian) dinner table conflict stem from Redford’s film, which stars a young Timothy Hutton as a teenage boy with survivor’s guilt after the drowning of his older brother, and Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore as his divided parents.
(Play Misty For Me, 1971)
Boasting the finest director’s CV from this list, Clint Eastwood had barely graduated from spaghetti westerns when he made this small and surprisingly primal thriller. Finding ways to question his own broad visage, so that intimations of weakness appear, Eastwood plays Dave, a successful radio DJ who casually sleeps with a fan, Evelyn (Jessica Walter), who soon becomes dangerously attached to him, descending into self-harm and knife-wielding violence. Eastwood’s sparse visual command was apparent from his first film, though perhaps not Jersey Boys.
(The Indian Runner, 1991)
(Gone Baby Gone, 2007)
Ben Affleck’s directorial career has become increasingly prominent, culminating in Argo’s box-office and awards season success in 2012, but his first film, doggedly made when his acting career was in a trough, remains the best. Morally complex instead of reassuring in its outcomes, this Boston noir stars Affleck’s brother Casey and Michelle Monaghan as Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro, low-key private investigators and a couple who investigate a missing child case where the suspects begin with an errant mother (an unforgettable Amy Ryan). Heavy tension and sudden violence are in close proximity throughout, and the ramifications are impossible to ignore.
(The Night of the Hunter, 1955)