Six and a half years ago I ran an extended version of an Empire piece called “The Top 100 MVP’s — Most Valuable Players.” It was based on a telephone and e-mail poll I conducted in the summer of ’03, and then updated the following November. The central question went as follows: “Which Hollywood folk are due the most credit for making (or otherwise significantly contributing to) those relatively few movies each year that really deserve to be called cool, high-calibre, great, memorable, or some kind of really special?
It was all relative and depended, obviously, on who I was talking to, and what kind of axe they were looking to grind. But I got in touch with several dozen directors, studio execs, screenwriters, publicists, journalists, actors and an assortment of plugged-in fans, and a certain consensus about certain people started to emerge.
I’m reposting this in order to ask (a) what new-to-the-game player deserves to be on the MVP list now? and (b) which ’03 players have dropped off the list, and why?
Da Coolest were listed alphabetically. There were scores of other cool people working in Hollywood (like Albert Brooks) who didn’t make the cut. This was merely how it shook down this one time. [People who’ve since died or gone to jail are so indicated.]
1. Pedro Almodovar (director-writer). Credits: TALK TO HER, the upcoming BAD EDUCATION with Gael Garcia Bernal. Will probably never make a film in Hollywood proper, which is one of the reasons everyone thinks he’s so cool. That and the fact that Spain’s onetime leading farceur and most accomplished filmmaker is so good. When’s that musical he’s been talking about shooting going to happen?
2. Robert Altman (director) — Unrelenting, impudent, perpetually snarly and probing — go Bob! His ballet movie, THE COMPANY, was, okay, underwhelming. His next, the soon-to-shoot PAINT, is being called (per the IMDB) “a look at the treacherous, back-stabbing world of the New York art gallery scene.” [Deceased]
3. Paul Thomas Anderson (director-writer) Credits: PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE, MAGNOLIA, BOOGIE NIGHTS.
4. Wes Anderson (director-writer). Credits: THE LIFE AQUATIC, THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS, RUSHMORE, BOTTLE ROCKET. Probably the most assured, self-aware and most “together” young auteur-level director in the business today. AQUATIC — part parlor comedy, part seafarin’ adventure, complete with pirates and a killer shark of some kind — looks like a growth spurt.
5. Roger Avary (writer-director). Credits: RULES OF ATTRACTION; wrote a good script about Salvador Dali a few years back that Al Pacino was going to make, but bailed from over budget. “Yes, of course…RULES was very ballsy.” — L.A. publicist. “I love the guy. One film every eight years = major coolness.” — Studio-based producer. [In jail, but sure to rebound.]
6. Jacques Audiard (director — READ MY LIPS; co-writer, VENUS BEAUTY INSTITUTE).
7. Michael Barker, Tom Bernard (co-chiefs of Sony Classics) — One of the genuine good-guy players among “the dependents.” Excellent taste, aggressive (they were on Errol Morris’ superb documentary THE FOG OF WAR as partners before it was made), generally well-liked, etc.
8. Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa (producing partners, Bona Fide Productions). Credits: COLD MOUNTAIN, I AM TRYING TO BREAK YOUR HEART, ELECTION. Guys with moxie, taste, political skills, etc.
9. Bob Berney (president, Newmarket Films). Brilliant marketer. Sold the bejeezus out of MEMENTO and WHALE RIDER. Currently working for Mel Gibson in distributing THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, but only as part of a “service deal.”
10. Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner (co-owners, Working Title Films). Producers of (mostly) quality-level films since forever, and accepted by Los Angelenos as smart, grounded, astute. They can be forgiven for the revolting LOVE ACTUALLY because they’re behind so many other interesting- sounding projects, including the forthcoming WIMBLEDON, BRIDGET JONES: THE EDGE OF REASON, THE INTERPRETER, EVEREST.
11. Laura Bickford (producer) Credits: TRAFFIC, Jonathan Glazer‘s forthcoming CHAOS. “She’s something…got TRAFFIC made through blood and guts.” — Literary agent.
12. Cate Blanchett (actress) and Tilda Swinton (actress). There’s some kind of perceptual overlap with these two. Freckles, red heads, quietly intense auras, great talent, well respected. Swinton is a bit older, but after that differences are harder to single out. Blanchett credits: VERONICA GUERIN (uggh!), THE MISSING. Swinton credits: YOUNG ADAM, ADAPTATION, THUMBSUCKER, CONSTANTINE. “Blanchett is [always] looking for the films that will become classics.” — Phillip Noyce.
13. Adrien Brody (actor) Credits: THE PIANIST, THE VILLAGE (now filming), THE JACKET. Turned his life and career around with his Oscar-watching PIANIST performance. And for the encore…?
14. Tim Burton (director, visionary, semi-nutter). Credits: BIG FISH, PLANET OF THE APES, ED WOOD, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. In the doghouse after PLANET OF THE APES, but semi-redeemed after BIG FISH, his most personal and touching film yet.
15. Colin Callender (president, HBO Films). Credits: ELEPHANT, AMERICAN SPLENDOR, the upcoming THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS.
16. George Clooney (actor-director-producer, partner of Steven Soderbergh in Section Eight). Credits: INTOLERABLE CRUELTY (his best performance ever), O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU?, OCEAN’S 12. Clooney and Soderbergh’s respected HBO series K STREET adds to their brief.
17. Joel and Ethan Coen (writer-directors). Credits: THE LADYKILLERS (remake of Ealing Studios classic with Tom Hanks in Alec Guiness role), INTOLERABLE CRUELTY, THE BIG LEBOWSKI, THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE, FARGO; exec producers, polishers of BAD SANTA. Lump SANTA and CRUELTY together, and the inescapable conclusion is that the Coens are the funniest comic duo currently working in Hollywood.
18. Chris Cooper (actor) Credits: SEABISCUIT, ADAPTATION, John Sayles‘ SILVER CITY. Winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar last year cinched his rep. At the top of everyone’s list. Years of doing first-rate work in indie-level features finally paid off.
19. Sofia Coppola (director-writer) Credits: LOST IN TRANSLATION, THE VIRGIN SUICIDES. Awards and nominations for LOST work have obviously upped her rep, as she did find her voice with this fine (if very small) film.
20. Stuart Cornfeld (producer, head of Ben Stiller‘s Red Hour Films). Credits: STARSKY AND HUTCH, ZOOLANDER, MIMIC, THE FLY, THE ELEPHANT MAN. Hip operator, cool guy….been operating as such for 25-plus years. “It is Cornfeld’s enduring wit that makes him both a friend to writers and the front-runner to be the modern Herman Mankiewicz,” wrote L.A. WEEKLY profiler Paul Cullum.
21. Cameron Crowe (writer-director). Credits: VANILLA SKY, ALMOST FAMOUS, soon-to-shoot ELIZABETHTOWN). One of the very few gold-standard directors working today, and one of the best liked. But man, those recent casting problems!
22. Billy Crudup (actor). Latest credit: Tim Burton‘s BIG FISH. Primarily admired for his work in four underrated films: JESUS’ SON, ALMOST FAMOUS, (the bootleg director’s cut version on DVD), WAKING THE DEAD and WITHOUT LIMITS. “Plus the one time I saw him onstage in Tom Stoppard‘s ARCADIA, in which he blew me away” recalls journalist/ screenwriter Josh Mooney. “He’s still young, and I think his best work is ahead of him.”
23. Tom Cruise (actor-producer). Credits: THE LAST SAMURAI, the recently-wrapped Michael Mann action film COLLATERAL, in which he plays a professional assassin. As much a brand as a player. Presumptively in his golden years as an actor, now that he’s in his 40s.
24 & 25. Alfonso Cuaron (director) and his screenwriter brother, Carlos Cuaron, who worked together on Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN. “Yesh, yes, yes.” – L.A.publicist. DISSENT: “Directing a sequel to a Chris fucking Columbus film [i.e., HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN]?…not cool, dude.” — Studio-based producer.
26. John Cusack (actor-producer-screenwriter). Credits: IDENTITY, MAX, RUNAWAY JURY, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, HIGH FIDELITY.
27. Benicio del Toro (actor). Credits: Jonathan Glazer‘s CHAOS, Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu‘s 21 GRAMS, Steven Soderbergh‘s TRAFFIC (for which del Toro won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar). Flat-out, hands-down, one of the two or three coolest actors on the planet.
28. Guillermo del Toro (director-writer). HELLBOY, BLADE 2, THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE. The Orson Welles of Prague, Mexico and all points in between. “Rooting for HELLBOY to be great. A $60 million Ron Pearlman movie? That’s ballsy. A great talented guy.” — New Line production exec.
29. Michael DeLuca (production chief, DreamWorks) “The only executive in town who totally and instinctively gets it.” — Don Murphy, producer. “Simply the best.” – New Line production exec. Seen as being obstructed and interfered with by senior DreamWorks production honcho Walter Parkes. However this drama plays out, DeLuca has good instincts, excellent cred with talent.
30. Leonardo DiCaprio (actor) Credits: Martin Scorsese‘s THE AVIATOR, Baz Luhrman’s ALEXANDER THE GREAT (if it ever gets made), CELEBRITY, TITANIC. In career recession for now (GANGS didn’t up his stock, and the party-hound rep still lingers), but one of the most searing talents of his generation.
31. Clint Eastwood (director-actor-sometime composer, legend). Credits: MYSTIC RIVER, UNFORGIVEN, His films have spoken for themselves for last 30 years. (Even the so- so ones have been pretty good.) Venerable, top of the mountain…directing seems cleaner, more commanding each time out.
32. David Fincher (director). Credits: PANIC ROOM, FIGHT CLUB, THE GAME, SE7EN…but what’s he been doing since he walked off the latest MISSION IMPOSSIBLE?
33. Mel Gibson (director-actor-producer) Credits: THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, SIGNS, WE WERE SOLDIERS. “[He’ll] be revealed as the truest artist in the whole city state once everyone sees his latest.” — director Phillip Noyce. “His zealousness is a bit freaky,” says an L.A. publicist. “Possibly has lost his mind” — Studio-based producer #1. “Anyone willing to declare the Three Stooges as an influence is beyond hip.” — Joe Corey.
34. Terry Gilliam (director, dreamweaver extraordinaire). Credits: THE BROTHERS GRIMM (recently wrapped in Prague, costarring with Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, due in late ’04), FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN.
35. Steve Golin (founder and CEO of Anonymous Content LLP, a development, production and talent management company based in Culver City). Credits: FIFTY FIRST DATES, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH. “I think if you really, really want to be a producer, you just have to hang in there,” Golin told the L.A. WEEKLY’s Paul Cullum. “You can never quit. Once you fixate on that, you’re ahead of every other idiot in Hollywood. David Brown is 78 years old, and he’s still doing it. That’s genius. That’s what I want to do. There’s no retirement.”
36. Christopher Guest / Eugene Levy (writers, actors & all-around satirists) Credits: A MIGHTY WIND, BEST IN SHOW, WAITING FOR GUFFMAN. ADDED ELEMENT: Guest-Levy producer Karen Murphy — “The secret weapon,” says a New York marketing vet.
37. John Lee Hancock (director-writer). Credits: THE ALAMO (thought to be holiday Oscar bait, then delayed until March ’04), THE ROOKIE. Good guy, careful writer, assured director. Delivered one of the best G-rated films ever made with THE ROOKIE, and helped Dennis Quaid give one of his best-ever performances.
38. Chris Hanley (producer, head of Muse Productions). Credits: THE HEART IS DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS, DIGITAL BABYLON, SPUN, LOVA LIZA, BULLY, THIS GIRL’S LIFE. Coolest, most eccentric indie-level producer in town, and one of the best-connected. “Chris is from outer space,” BULLY director Larry Clark told the L.A. WEEKLY’s Paul Cullum. “He definitely is from another planet. But it’s what makes him interesting, I guess. And somehow he has the knack for raising money for these difficult films.”
39. Curtis Hanson (director, writer, sometime actor) Credits: 8 MILE, WONDER BOYS, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL). “In my opinion, the most versatile director working in the biz. Can’t believe he’s the same guy who directed LOSIN’ IT.” — Production exec. SLIGHT DISSENT: “Bright, good, and just plain unpleasant.” — Publicity company owner.
40. Todd Haynes (writer-director). Credits: FAR FROM HEAVEN, POISON, his upcoming Bob Dylan movie that’s being called I?M NOT THERE: SUPPOSITIONS ON A FILM CONCERNING DYLAN.
41. Philip Seymour Hoffman (actor). Credits: COLD MOUNTAIN, OWNING MAHONY, HAPPINESS, LOVE LIZA. One of the best of his generation. “Always classy” — L.A. publicist. “It’s a damn shame Miramax passed on his playing Ignatius C. Reilly in A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES,” opines one observer. “It might have been his MARTY.”
42. Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu (director-writer) Credits: 21 GRAMS, AMORES PERROS. Only two features under his belt, and already widely regarded as one of the most talented and vital helmers working today.
43. Peter Jackson (director-writer). Credits: LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, HEAVENLY CREATURES, the upcoming KING KONG.
44. Nina Jacobson (senior Disney production vp). “Has a good eye for the Wes Anderson’s and John Lee Hancock’s.” — L.A industry analyst.
45. Spike Jonze (director) Credits: ADAPTATION, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH.
46. Charlie Kaufman (screenwriter) ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, ADAPTATION, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, HUMAN NATURE. “Genius… period.” — Studio-based producer.
47. Nicole Kidman (actress). Credits: THE STEPFORD WIVES, COLD MOUNTAIN, BIRTH, ALEXANDER THE GREAT, THE HUMAN STAIN. “Uses her power to kick start movies that otherwise would never see the light of a projector” — director Philip Noyce. Could have easily fallen into a Julia Roberts career path after BATMAN FOREVER, but has taken major risks with a majority of her roles.
48. Sherry Lansing (Paramount Pictures production chief) – “Longest-running chair in town. What boys have beaten that act?” – Literary agent.
49. John Lasseter of Pixar (FINDING NEMO, THE INCREDIBLES) — “First among all imaginations and creative genius… blend of art and commerce and originality and technical virtuosity.” — L.A.-based industry analyst. Probably the best marriage of business and creativity in the business today . Also presides over the most gutsy development process anywhere.
50. Ang Lee (director, writer – THE HULK, CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON). Obviously, despite the misfire of THE HULK. “Yes — a natural cinema stylist.” – producer Don Murphy (LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN). Deserves points by showing that the intelligencia can embrace popcorn movies too. DISSENT: “THE HULK is perhaps the worst movie adaptation of a comic book ever. Pretentious, portentous, endless, clueless …ZABRISKIE POINTLESS.” — Movie writer for major daily.
51. John Lesher (Endeavor talent agent). Reps the coolest directors — directors Alejandro Gonzales Innaritu (21 GRAMS, AMORES PERROS)., Paul Thomas Anderson, David O. Russell, etc. Shrewd, hard-working, eccentric — this last attribute said to be one reason why talent relaxes around him.
52. Baz Luhrman (director). Credits: MOULIN ROUGE, ROMEO + JULIET, the apparently defunct ALEXANDER THE GREAT (what’s the latest on this puppy?…Dino still running into snags with financing?…is it toast?). Baz’s intensity factor overrides.
53. David Lynch (director). Credits: MULHOLLAND DRIVE, LOST HIGHWAY, BLUE VELVET, THE SHORT STORY. L.A. people don’t bow down to Lynch the way New Yorkers and Londoners do (the GUARDIAN named him “the most important filmmaker of the current era”), but the hipper types all mention him as one of the Good Guys. Helping to raise $1 billion to build a network of Transcendental Meditation “peace palaces”….strangely cool.
54. Ewan MacGregor (actor). Credits: BIG FISH, “the mustard & ketchup man” in YOUNG ADAM; DOWN WITH LOVE, MOULIN ROUGE. “Normally I would say yes, but his performance in DOWN WITH LOVE was …I don’t know, pasty. And this is coming from a girl who was completely enamored of him in MOULIN ROUGE.” — L.A.-based publicist. The new Albert Finney — he’ll work until he’s 90. It’s not a genuine indie film until Ewan drops trou.
55. John Malkovich (actor). Credits: RIPLEY’S GAME . Terry Zwigoff’s ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL, COLOR ME KUBRICK (actor) and THE DANCER UPSTAIRS), plus his Mr. Mudd producing partners, Russell Smith and Lianne Halfon.
56. Anthony Minghella (writer-director). Credits: COLD MOUNTAIN, THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY, THE ENGLISH PATIENT. Creating the poetic, large-canvas soulfulness of COLD MOUNTAIN was a formidable feat, and deserving of serious respect. Producing with Mirage partner Sydney Pollack since ’00. Wrote that sublime narration heard at very beginning of THE QUIET AMERICAN. A gentleman.
57. Hayao Miyazaki (director-animator). Credits: SPIRITED AWAY. A lot of people admire him and want to be in bed with him on his next animated film, if for nothing else than the prestige factor. In the end, coolness doesn’t know from geography.
58. Julianne Moore (actress). Credits: LAWS OF ATTRACTION, WITHOUT APPARENT MOTIVE, MARIE AND BRUCE, FAR FROM HEAVEN, THE HOURS.
59. Jonathan Mostow (director, writer — TERMINATOR 3: THE RISE OF THE MACHINES). Craftsman extraordinaire, temperate fellow, top-notch.
60. Dennis Muren and the other “geniuses” at Industrial Light and Magic who regularly churn out some of the best visual effects in movies today. “The secret hero of the STAR WARS movies.” — Youngish production exec. Secret? In ’99 Muren became the first special-effects whiz to be honored with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.
61. Don Murphy (producer). Credits: THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, PERMANENT MIDNIGHT, the forthcoming BIBLIONAUTS (about two kids who stumble upon a device invented by an eccentric scientist that enables them to be transported into great works of fiction). Not exactly a mellow, serene, cosmic-flow type of guy…but mellow is over-rated. Was buying and adapting comic book properties way before they were cool. “The industry’s point man for the geek Zeitgeist,” says L.A. WEEKLY’s Paul Cullum.
62. Sandra Nettlebeck (director-writer — MOSTLY MARTHA). Crafted one of the best personal-growth female dramas in recent years, and in so doing inspired two U.S. remakes. Larry Kasdan was reportedly planning to direct the U.S. remake of MARTHA in ’04 sometime. Gary Marshall’s RAISING HELEN (Disney – due in September ’04) is also MARTHA-inspired.
63. Robert Newman (ICM agent for indie-style writers, directors — Baz Luhrman, Danny Boyle, Jonathan Glazer, Joanthan Demme, etc). “Of the hundreds of agent jokes, not one applies to [Newman],” wrote Amy Wallace in a profile that ran in LOS ANGELES magazine early last year. “In a town of people who fake being interesting,” says Newman’s client Greg Berlanti, a writer-director, “he’s the genuine article. He’s like a fan. A fan that somebody let into the club.”
64. Jack Nicholson (actor) Credits: SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE, ANGER MANAGEMENT, ABOUT SCHMIDT, THE PLEDGE. Legend has it that Nicholson buttonholed Academy members at parties last year and asked them to vote for Adrien Brody‘s performance in THE PIANIST over his own in ABOUT SCHMIDT…as a favor to his old homie Roman Polanski. Nothin’ but class.
65. Chris Nolan (director-writer). Credits: INSOMNIA, MEMENTO. Now working on (God save us) a new BATMAN film. After this comes THE EXEC, a futuristic chiller he co-penned with brother Jonathan, who wrote the short story that became the basis for MEMENTO.
66. Philip Noyce (director). Credits: THE QUIET AMERICAN, RABBIT PROOF FENCE, CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER; presently working on an adaptation of Phillip Roth’s AMERICAN PASTORAL. Respected for bailing out of highly-paid, big-studio rut and returning to indie roots, and making excellent films in the process.
67. Alexander Payne (director-writer). Credits: ABOUT SCHMIDT, ELECTION, the currently-in-production SIDEWAYS (dramedy about oddball guy couple taking a tour of California’s wine country, with AMERICAN SPLENDOR’s Paul Giamatti, Thomas Hayden Church, Sandra Oh, Virginia Madsen).
68. Sean Penn (actor-director) Credits: MYSTIC RIVER, I AM SAM, DEAD MAN WALKING. Lock to win Best Actor Oscar in Feburary, and perhaps Hollywood’s greatest contemporary actor. “In visiting Iraq he showed he cared more about the truth than what’s quoted on Fox News.” — Joe Corey. Okay, but when Penn directs does everybody always have to suffer and die?
69. PDI — the guys who did that wonderful digital animation work on SHREK. Upcoming credits: SHREK 2, MADAGASCAR, SHARK TALE, OVER THE HEDGE.
70. Brad Pitt (actor, 40ish-but-still-potent young girl magnet). Credits: TROY, soon-to-shoot OCEAN’S 12, SPY GAME, THE MEXICAN, FIGHT CLUB. He’s only moderately cool, you’re thinking? Not quite rock ‘n’ roll? Listen to Pitt’s voice-over commentary on the Criterion DVD of SE7EN.
71. Roman Polanski (director). Credits: THE PIANIST, CHINATOWN, REPULSION. For obvious reasons. “Has celluloid in his bloodstream.” — Don Murphy, producer. After napping for two decades, Polanski delivered a film [in THE PIANIST] that exposed as much of himself as his actors, and hit the jackpot in the bargain.
72. Sydney Pollack (director-producer). Credits: (as director) TOOTSIE, RANDOM HEARTS, OUT OF AFRICA, THE FIRM, the upcoming THE INTERPRETER; (as producer) COLD MOUNTAIN, THE ASSUMPTION, LEATHERNECKS. Shrewd, seasoned pro who knows the game and the system cold. Anthony Mingella’s producing partner, and about to get back into directing after a long hiatus. A straight shooter.
73. Parker Posey (actor) – “[She’s] old hat, but Parker still has an extremely good batting average for the films she’s in, regardless of whether she was the go factor behind them,” a screenwriter comments.
74. Keri Putnam (HBO production exec under Colin Callender) — “The one behind AMERICAN SPLENDOR and ELEPHANT, which won the big prize at two of the three most important film festivals in the world, Sundance and Cannes.” — Literary agent.
75. Dennis Quaid (actor – THE ALAMO, THE ROOKIE, FAR FROM HEAVEN) – “I’ve always loved him as both a leading man and a great actor, and felt that the studios have short-changed him for far too long. I’m pleased he’s having more visibility now. He’s one of those few actors people root for.” — director of a big Hollywood action flick who requested anonymity.
76. Bingham Ray (just-resigned president of United Artists – co-founded of October Films) Despite the dirty looks he passes out at film festivals and despite having once referred to yours truly as “the devil himself,” Ray is one of the most committed and impassioned indie distribution execs anywhere. One of the stars of Peter Biskind’s “Down and Dirty Pictures.” Producer of CODE 46. Played “bartender” in a 1987 flick called SHOCKER (a.k.a., NO MORE MR. NICE GUY).
77. Peter Rice (president, Fox Searchlight). Credits: IN AMERICA, 28 DAY LATER. Cool exec, go-getter, hot career. Exudes an appropriately conservative manner befitting hot-shot studio exec…but behind-these-scenes passionate about films he wants to make and/or distribute.
78. Gary Ross (director-writer) Credits: SEABISCUIT, PLEASANTVILLE. Seen as being perhaps a bit too pandering in his instincts, even if SEABISCUIT is enjoying heat as a possible Best Picture contender. Give him credit for pulling those great supporting perfs from William H. Macy and Chris Cooper, and a sturdy, sensitive one from Tobey Maguire.
79. Scott Rudin (producer). Credits: THE STEPFORD WIVES, A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES, THE LIFE AQUATIC, THE SCHOOL OF ROCK, THE HOURS, CHANGING LANES. Volcanically tempered, but a brilliant, tenacious, Tiffany-level producer. Only high-profile, quality-level guy working with Paramount Studios, a corporate outfit that has otherwise tarnished itself with bottom-line attitudes.
80. James Schamus (Focus Features president/producer/screenwriter). Focus Features distributed LOST IN TRANSLATION, 21 GRAMS. Schamus, a longtime Ang Lee collaborator, wrote THE ICE STORM, CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN, etc. “Schamus wrote THE HULK? Banned for life!” — Movie writer for major U.S. daily. “Loves the credit, loves the spotlight.” — publicist.
81. Bryan Singer (director, writer). Credits: X2, APT PUPIL, X MEN, THE USUAL SUSPECTS. Has built his directorial rep with tremendous visual pizzazz, yes, but known also for his lengthy, verbally dextrous flirtations with the darker side of human nature. “Solid peeps.” — Studio-based producer.
82. John Sloss (indie financier-executive producer / IndiGent Films). Credits: PIECES OF APRIL, TADPOLE, THE FOG OF WAR, FAR FROM HEAVEN. Slick, high-powered, go-for-broke New York attorney. Widely respected, neck deep in the shit.
83. Kevin Smith (writer, director, sometime actor, internet maven). Credits: JERSEY GIRL, DOGMA, JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK, CHASING AMY, CLERKS, the upcoming RANGER DANGER AND THE DANGER RANGERS, FLETCH WON. Yes, I’m on the take, but does that mean the guy’s rep isn’t what it is? Who else seems to have a more established handle as the savviest, most commercial, and most satirically influential auteur-level filmmaker of the under-40 generation? (Please…I’m open to suggestions.) Bennifer casting in JERSEY GIRL seems unfortunate, but at least Jenny kicks it early on. Another leading player in Biskind’s “Down and Dirty Pictures.”
84. Steven Soderbergh (director-producer-writer). Credits: OCEAN’S 12, OCEAN’S 11, FULL FRONTAL, TRAFFIC, OUT OF SIGHT, THE LIMEY. Currently slumping, but respect is still strong. DISSENT: “He’s overrated. Managed to make the only Julia Roberts movie in ten years to fizzle financially and it didn’t even cost anything.” – Studio-based producer. “Will he quit screwing with the color schemes in his films? I’m sick of having to explain to my mother that the TV set isn’t out of whack.” — Joe Corey.
85. Steven Spielberg (director-producer). Credits: CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, MINORITY REPORT, A.I., SCHINDLER’S LIST, the upcoming TERMINAL and INDY 4. If you’re as rich and powerful as Spielberg, and involved in hiring as many people as he is on a regular basis, people are going to call you “cool” and a “good guy” whether you are or not. Which isn’t to diss or under-value his better films.
86. John Stockwell (writer-director). Credits: BLUE CRUSH, CRAZY/ BEAUTIFUL). A-1 with actors, knows how to bring out realism in performances. One of the smartest, hippest, most personable directors in the business.
87. Oliver Stone (director-writer – ALEXANDER, ANY GIVEN SUNDAY). “Always on the edge, out there …and ALEXANDER yet to come.” — L.A. industry analyst. “The fact is that we’re in the middle of America’s McCarthy era revisited, and we need Stone and his ilk more than ever.” — owner of publicity company. “You think so? Addled, I say.” — Studio-based producer.
88. Quentin Tarantino (director-writer-actor). Credits: KILL BILL I & II, JACKIE BROWN. Gifted lazybones (some think BILLwas a huge kick), and a relentless party hound. Was it really necessary for BILL to be chopped in two and the two films to be opened four months apart? Will his next effort take ten years to deliver?
89. Billy Bob Thornton (actor-director). Credits: (actor) BAD SANTA, WAKING UP IN RENO, PRIMARY COLORS; (director) ALL THE PRETTY HORSES, SLING BLADE. Post-Angelina Jolie, he’s surged with his SANTA performance- one of the funniest damned things any actor’s ever done. What happened to the directing career?
90. Team Todd (producers Jennifer and Suzanne Todd). Credits: MEMENTO, HBO’s IF THESE WALLS COULD TALK, BOILER ROOM, the Austin Powers films, the forthcoming ZOOM’S ACADEMY.
91. Robert Towne (screenwriter-director – WITHOUT LIMITS, PERSONAL BEST, TEQUILA SUNRISE) Towne’s ASK THE DUST biopic about John Fante, expected to roll in early ’04 in South Africa with Colin Farrell in the lead, may belie this legendary screenwriter’s rep about having lapsed in recent years into a gun-for-hire status.
92. Christine Vachon (producer). Credits: John Waters’ A DIRTY SHAME, PARTY MONSTER, THE COMPANY, GIRLS DON’T CRY, the upcoming I’M NOT THERE: SUPPOSITIONS ON A FILM CONCERNING DYLAN (from director Todd Haynes). If the film is about gay characters or a gay sensibility, or is being directed by a gay man or woman, and /or is in the lower-budget realm, chances are Vachon is the producer. She has this turf well covered, and always aligns herself with quality.
93. Ruth Vitale (co-president, Paramount Classics — former president of Fine Line). Credits: exec producer on GUMMO, LOVE, VALOUR, COMPASSION!, Keith Gordon’s MOTHER NIGHT. Currently championing Mike Hodges‘ I’LL SLEEP WHEN I’M DEAD. The hippest, shrewdest, most unabashedly honest “dependent” distribution honcho I’ve ever encountered, bar none.
94. Larry and Andy Wachowski (writer-directors). Credits: THE MATRIX RELOADED, THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS, BOUND. Larry and Andy who…? The bloom is definitely off these two following the seismic disappointment that greeted the final two MATRIX flicks, but they’re hip and gifted, and there’s always the next act. And…well, Larry’s happy…right?
95. Christopher Walken (actor). Credits: CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, STEPFORD WIVES, MAN ON FIRE, POOLHALL JUNKIES, GIGLI. A legend. The best in his class. Most vocally imitated actor in recent history.
96. Chris Wedge (honcho of Blue Sky, the award-winning animation studio). Credits: ICE AGE, TITAN A.E., FIGHT CLUB, THE SOPRANOS (i.e. the talking fish with Big Pussy’s voice).
97. Peter Weir (director-writer). Credits: MASTER AND COMMANDER, his best film since Witness or Gallipoli (a tossup), DEAD POET’S SOCIETY, PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, THE LAST WAVE. Admired by everyone. “Without fuss, Peter has always done his own thing, his way” – Philip Noyce.
98. Harvey Weinstein (co-chairman, Miramax Films) — After all is said and done… unstoppable, unquenchable, undeniable….a major mover and gambler extraordinaire. “Where would we be without him?” – Phillip Noyce. DISSENT: “No — bullies don’t deserve [to be honored].” — writer for U.S. daily.
99. Debra Zane (casting director). Recent credits: MATCHSTICK MEN, SEABISCUIT, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, FULL FRONTAL, ROAD TO PERDITION.
100. Terry Zwigoff (director) Credits: Bad Santa, Ghost World, Crumb, the forthcoming Art School Confidential. A late bloomer (in his mid 50s), but riding a sensibility that’s at once funny, compassionate and agreeably twisted.