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A Beginner's Guide to the Auteurs

Updated on April 6, 2020
Jill Townley profile image

Jill owned a video rental store in Portland, Oregon for five years, when such stores used to exist. She holds a bachelor degree in German.

Over years of watching movies and owning a video store, the significance of a director's vision and competence became clear in determining the quality of a movie. An auteur is a director who has a distinctive style and writes his own scripts. Auteurs are more concerned with creating their personal, artistic vision than achieving Hollywood fame and fortune.

A few Amazon streaming links are provided to help get you started.

Stanley Kubrick

Although Kubrick was American, he preferred to live in England where he died in 1999. His movies are uniformly excellent, so picking his best is a difficult choice.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) A team of astronauts heads off on a mission to Jupiter, but runs into mechanical problems with their evolving computer, HAL. At 139 minutes, the pacing and sparse dialogue can induce napping, so feel free to fast forward through some of the light show towards the end, but do watch the ending itself. Decide for yourself what the black monolith symbolizes, but its connection with the origins of life and/or aliens is implied.

Lolita (1962) Don't be put off by the subject matter, because Kubrik never gets sleazy in this film about a grown man who marries an irritating widow to be near her underage daughter. James Mason brings maturity and emotional conflict to Professor Humbert Humbert, Shelly Winters plays the trashy mother perfectly, and Peter Sellers adds a touch of bohemian humor, but the real star here is Kubrik's crisp direction style and clever interpretation of Nabakov's novel.

Clockwork Orange (1971) You may never look at a bit of the old moloko quite the same after seeing this tale of violent youth and criminal reform. The use of Ludwig van (Beethoven) is unforgettable as Alex (Malcolm McDowell) leads his gang of droogs on nightly nauseating romps of rape and murder, then undergoes an experimental treatment in prison. Does Alex become the victim or does he get his just desserts?

Other recommended viewing:

Dr. Strangelove (1963)

Shining (1980)

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Clockwork Orange
Clockwork Orange

Martin Scorsese

Taxi Driver (1976) A young, unknown Robert DeNiro plays a lost soul who drives taxi in New York City and struggles with his misguided sense of morality. The outstanding script was written by Paul Schrader, and many of the shots are nothing short of masterpieces on celluloid. Watch for Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, and Cybill Shepherd also flashing talent early in their careers.

King of Comedy (1983) This film is largely unknown and a real gem. Jerry Lewis plays a late night talk show host stalked by Robert DeNiro and Sandra Bernhard. All of the characters are simultaneously pathetic and funny.

Last Temptation of Christ (1988) Jesus braves the challenge of being God's messenger, only to come face-to-face with his last test. Several religious groups protested the film, because it tinkers with the Jesus mythology and explores his human side, but the story is really a "what if", rather than a "he did". The acting, photography, and music all come together to form an engaging story.

Other recommended viewing:

Raging Bull (1980)

Goodfellas (1990)

Taxi Driver
Taxi Driver
Last Temptation of Christ
Last Temptation of Christ

Robert Altman

Altman is a truly independent director whose films are often off-beat and feature an ensemble cast of realistic characters.

MASH (1970) The doctors at an Army hospital during the Korean War blow off a little steam in some very creative ways. The movie was really ground-breaking at the time for taking a different look at war that featured more than bombs and bravery.

Short Cuts (1993) Based on the stories of Raymond Carver, this movie stars a total of 12 diverse actors, such as Tim Robbins, Lily Tomlin, Tom Waits, Lyle Lovett, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, playing Los Angeles residents who occasionally bump into each other while making bad choices and missing opportunities to fix their empty lives. The movie is long and can be watched in segments without losing too much continuity.

Other recommended viewing:

Nashville (1975)

The Player (1992)

Short Cuts
Short Cuts

Woody Allen

On the lighter side of individualist filmmaking lies Woody Allen and his comic touch of angst. His career started with comedies before examining New York intellectual neurotic attempts at relationships. He started his career by dubbing substitute dialog into a Japanese spy thriller in 1966, called What's Up Tiger Lily.

Sleeper (1973) Allen awakens two hundred years in the future to a world very different from those imagined by doomsday writers and Star Trek. The science fiction comedy zips along through numerous gags and jokes that reflect Allen's general cynicism and obsession with sex.

Annie Hall (1977) Focusing on Woody's other favorite subject, a man and a woman try to form a relationship amid their own neuroses and equally shaky friends living the 70s lifestyle. Woody won a Best Picture academy award for this ode to New York City.

Deconstructing Harry (1997) Woody plays the title character Harry Black, a writer who is preparing to receive an award from his alma mater and coming to terms with his life. Vignettes of the writer's stories offer some funny moments and numerous cameos by big stars. Incidentally, the film is an homage (remake tribute) to Bergman's Wild Strawberries.

Other recommended viewing:

Love and Death (1975) Currently free on Amazon Prime! This send-up of philosophical reasoning and Russian literature is hilarious.

Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)


© 2008 Jill Townley


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