From an auteurist standpoint, the great directors have the power to transform bad, lackluster, or cliched material into great art. But even the mightiest directors have had a few duds. Robert Altman’s Quintet is ignored by almost everyone; stalwart Fordians do not look kindly upon Born Reckless; even the hardcore Hawksians consider Trent’s Last Case to be without merit. (There is also some disagreement regarding A Song is Born.) Hitchcock had Juno and the Paycock, and Michael Mann probably doesn’t like to think about The Keep.
It’s quite rare, then, that a filmmaker (or, occasionally, a filmmaking team) should pitch a no-hitter, from start to finish. Here’s a list of ten. For sanity’s sake we are grading on a slight curve: feature filmmakers only, their documentary work (if any) doesn’t count, nor do their shorts, TV episodes, and “etc” work.
Exalted by many, Kubrick is, for many young cinephiles, the first great director they encounter in their travels. Reviled by a few who still recall the way Kubrick’s star ascended during the decline of the classical period of the “Hollywood system,” the oppressive nature of which enabled auteurist critics to conduct search-and-rescue missions for Hawks, Hitchcock, Mankiewicz, Aldrich, Cukor, and the like. It’s highly improbable that anyone whose favorite film is 2001 or Dr. Strangelove would also write passionately in favor of The Legend of Lylah Clare or The Honey Pot, let alone Man’s Favorite Sport? or Marnie. It’s hard to believe, but there was a time when the very suggestion that Hitchcock was an artist would provoke violent disagreement, while Kubrick’s films, love ‘em or hate ‘em, have always been regarded Art with a capital “A”.
All the same, Kubrick remains a fundamental ingredient in anyone’s cinema education, even if you eventually come to leave him behind, and from the perspective of his fan base, which is enormous, there isn’t a false step in his 44-year directing career.
Introduce yourself to Kubrick: 2001: A Space Odyssey or Full Metal Jacket
Master Class: Eyes Wide Shut, The Shining, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Paths of Glory, The Killing, Barry Lyndon
Deep Cuts: Killer’s Kiss