Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.
With nothing coming out this weekend that I can grasp onto as a theme for this week’s article, I thought I would look to last weekend for inspiration. I know I said last week that there was none forthcoming, but I had an epiphany while inadvertently looking at last week’s content for this week’s consideration. Last weekend, Regina King’s directorial debut, One Night in Miami, released on its march towards Oscar consideration. The film is terrific. That brought to my mind a rather interesting question: actors-turned-directors.
While some actors balanced acting and directing (Kevin Costner), some never returned to the performance realm and kept directing as their primary source of output (Sofia Coppola). King has too exceptional a career to only direct, so I imagine she will keep going with that while pursuing small directorial projects when the mood hits her. Of course, she could also turn into a Charles Laughton and never direct again, but she’s young and will no doubt be empowered by this release. Of course, Laughton was 7 years away from death and who knows if he would have tried his hand again if he had lived longer than the relatively young 63 years of age at which he died. King is on a little younger that that (she turns 50 tomorrow, Friday, Jan. 15) and Laughton was 56.
It doesn’t matter, though. Whether they kept directing or went back to acting, there are some great movies directed by actors out there. There are also a lot of bad ones (here’s looking at you, Mel Gibson), but we look at my favorites each week, not my least favorite, so let’s get started. My first priority was narrowing down the list. The big problem was narrowing the list to only five. There were a lot of good and great films that have come out in the last few decades helmed by actors, especially compared to years prior to that, the question is how do you make the list shorter. As always, let’s dive into some of the selections I had on my list and didn’t ultimately pick.
Finding a way to pare down the list was incredibly difficult. I even made exceptions to some of my exceptions. There were a lot of great actors who were also directors. One of the things I did was take out some people who are now far better known as directors than as actors. This would include Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation, Somewhere), Sydney Pollack (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?), Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent), Ron Howard (Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon), and the most impressive of them all, Orson Welles (Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, Touch of Evil). The exception that made the list: Penny Marshall.
The next category I pulled people from included Terry Gilliam (Brazil), Woody Allen (Annie Hall, Bullets Over Broadway, Hannah and Her Sisters), and Charles Chaplin (The Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times). That category is directors whose directorial work was comparative to their acting work and who cannot be entirely removed from one without removing them from the other, though Gilliam is debatable on that point. Exception: Greta Gerwig.
Actors who began their careers as comedians and then shifted primarily into comedy directing. They still acted occasionally, but their careers were almost entirely diverted into the directing space. Harold Ramis (National Lampoon’s Vacation) and Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect 2). The same is also true of dramatic actors moving into the dramatic directing space: Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby) and John Huston (The Maltese Falcon, Treasure of the Sierra Madre). And there are even comedic actors who went primarily into dramatic direction: Rob Reiner (Misery), though you could really say he directed a mixture of film types. Exception: Jordan Peele.
Like Laughton before them, several actors directed a little, but were still primarily actors. Examples included John Krasinski (A Quiet Place), Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born), and Paul Newman (I sadly haven’t seen any of his five directorial efforts yet). This category also includes actors who seemingly directed themselves far more often than others. Kenneth Branagh (Hamlet), Laurence Olivier (Hamlet), Kevin Costner (Dances With Wolves), Warren Beatty (Reds, Dick Tracy), George Clooney (Good Night, and Good Luck.), and Robert Redford (Ordinary People) are on the list. Exceptions: Laughton and Ben Affleck.
That isn’t to say any one of these directors or their films couldn’t have made my list, because there’s no question that Affleck’s career (as an example) hasn’t been as great as say Redford’s or several others on this list, but this isn’t a quintessential list, a definitive list, or whatever you want to call it. It’s also a list of favorite films, not necessarily best. I also chose to do a bit of diversity in the ranks, trying to make sure that there’s a mixture of titles from directors with different styles, backgrounds, genders, and periods. It’s all in good fun, so don’t assume any one of these five selections is any better than the above. They are just examples that I think I’ll enjoy talking about.