Monday, June 23, 2014

The Directors Project: #50 - Hal Ashby

Scene from Cinema Paradiso
With the many lists and essays written on the subject of film, there has been one thing that The Oscar Buzz has tried to understand: Who is my favorite of the film world? For 10 weeks this summer, I will be exploring this with a countdown of the Top 50 names based on a numerical ranking of ratings from various sources, the following is a list of directors who rank above everyone else. With occasional upsets, this is intended as both a discussion opener as well as a better understanding of me as a film critic and fan. Please enjoy and leave any comments you have regarding the entry's selection.


Years Active: 1956-1988

Films as Director: 11

Oscar Wins: 1 - Best Editor (In the Heat of the Night - 1968)

Who: Upon the release of his 1971 film Harold and Maude, Ashby became one of the most iconic voices in 70's cinema. Capturing a contemporary viewpoint of American culture, he brought life and immediacy to these characters mixing quirk and more hard hitting dramas. He is an actor's director, allowing the performances to outshine any technical flair. His films felt organic and rooted in something raw. It lead him to an impressive period between 1973 and 1979 of being an Oscar darling, with 23 nominations for five films. Unfortunately, shortly after his 1979 film Being There, he fell into a decline and became reclusive and hard to work with. While this tarnishes his legacy slightly, his body of work has gone on to influence other directors, including Wes Anderson. Of every 1970's filmmaker, he may be the most underrated icon of his time.

Scene from Being There
-- Harold and Maude (1971) --

Flickchart Ranking: #147 (800 points)
IMDb Rating: 6/10 (60 points)
Perks: None
Total: 860 points

-- The Last Detail (1973)--

Flickchart Ranking: #208 (700 points)
IMDb Rating: 6/10 (60 points)
Perks: None
Total: 760 points

-- Being There (1979) --

Flickchart Ranking: #297 (650 points)
IMDb Rating: 6/10 (60 points)
Perks: None
Total: 710

OVERALL TOTAL: 2330 points

Scene from Harold and Maude
In general, 1970's cinema was a fascinating time that perfectly encapsulates mainstream cinema and auteur directors. There was a grounded sense of urgency that came from real world politics and an urgency to be defiant and truthful. While Ashby may not be the most obvious of these names, he did produce a lot of great work exploring the human condition and trying to understand the uncertainty of American culture. My only regret in compiling this list is that I missed two of the big ones (Bound for Glory and Coming Home) and feel like I don't get a strong sense of a more mature Ashby. Even then, his work in the 70's is impressive and his legacy is somewhat rooted in tragedy. Nonetheless, for a decade, he produced some of the best cinema by calling out to the vulnerable every man and telling their stories of struggle in fresh and inspirational ways.

UP NEXT: Another 1970's director who helped to shape cinema with raw intensity that explored some universal themes in exciting ways.

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