Cameron.  Cameron is a tricky one for me because he only has 7 archiveable films and doesn’t have a big glaring heavyweight masterpiece. Usually someone like that wouldn’t make my top 100 director list. However, he already has 4 films in the top 500 which is really high this far down. These 4 films, with Avatar (which isn’t eligible yet) are an indelible part of cinema these past 35+ years. As to Cameron’s qualifications as a director- he blurs the line between technical achievement and stylistic achievement. I don’t care so much for the former but there’s plenty of the latter in Cameron’s cinematic world.

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the opening of Terminator 2: Judgement Day– magnificent imagery

Best film:  Aliens. This is one of the best pure genre films, sequels, sci-fi films, war films, feminist films… I could keep going.

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He’s not shooting landscapes or exteriors like say Malick– but this is incredible photography — this one from Aliens

total archiveable films: 7

top 100 films: 0

top 500 films: 4 (Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Terminator, Titanic)

top 100 films of the decade: 5 (Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Terminator, Titanic, Avatar)

world-building and masterful mise-en-scene art production design in Avatar

most overrated:  Terminator. I’m really close to the TSPDT so this isn’t even worth really mentioned. I’m at #460 all-time and the TSPDT consensus is at #446.

justifiably iconic imagery- this one in Terminator

most underrated:  Terminator 2: Judgement Day. This one is a little further off—I have it at #356 (flipped with Terminator) and TSPDT is at #610—still very respectable.

a gift for angles and the camera frame- here in in Terminator 2: Judgement Day

gem I want to spotlight:    Titanic

  •  Magnificent match transitions both coming in and out of flashback
  • A dozen transcendent-level establishing shots of ships
  • Like Avatar, Cameron takes clichés like the star-crossed rich girl/poor boy lovers and class struggle and reinvents them and makes them iconic. These are clichés for a reason—its storytelling that’s deep down in us
  • The mayhem in the last hour is such a pop art achievement
  • Two great actors of their generation (if not the greatest)- Dicaprio and Winslet- they were not made great because of this- this was a stepping stone for them on their way up to greatest
  • Kathy bates, david warner and billy zane are all excellent as well and perfectly cast
  • It’s not quite as good as gone with the wind– it isn’t as well written and I’ll take some of the shots and sequence in GWTW over this but it’s not a terrible comparison—both superbly produced
  • Well-earned iconography- the “I’m the kind of the world” scene is very well shot and with an iconic score by james horner
  • Again, not a flawless film- the “something Picasso, he won’t amount to a thing” writing is terrible as is leo’s line “you’re amazing astounding girl, rose” line. Brutal—
  • Lots of transparent foreshadowing “you’ll never get to the likes of her”
  • Watch the introduction shot of winslet overhead to begin with and then go under her hat
  • Strobe lighting while the ship is sinking with the lighting going out is absolutely gorgeous- taking from the scenes in aliens
  • I would love to hear a harsh critic of the film and see what they have to say about the set pieces and visual film-making. They’re ignoring it.
  • One way to watch the film is as a vastly superior film in the Poseidon adventure towering inferno genre
  • Epic film-making at its best. Wonderful use of extras and overhead shots with hundreds seen drowning.
establishing shots as artwork– here in Titanic

stylistic innovations/traits:    Cameron is certainly a key figure in modern blockbuster cinema and the box office grand poobah. He and Spielberg have got to be the godfathers. He’s a master of technical innovation—which as I said in the opening is sometimes akin to film style—but more often than not isn’t. If we’re talking about traits we have to mention that he’s also known for not making really intelligent films often times singling out Cameron for his weak screenplays (or at least weak dialogue). Intelligent dialogue, box office dollars and technical innovations don’t really matter though when it comes to artistic cinema. Cameron, though, has an irrefutable talent for visual imagery. He’s no David Lean but his establishing shots are certainly worthy of praise. His narratives are about mythology- tapping into universal and relatable archetypes.

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an incredible dystopia built through gorgeous production design

top 10

  1. Aliens
  2. Terminator 2: Judgement Day
  3. Terminator
  4. Avatar
  5. Titanic
  6. The Abyss
  7. True Lies
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from The Abyss– connective tissue to Avatar and technological advances

By year and grades

1984- The Terminator MS
1986- Aliens MS
1989- The Abyss R
1991- Terminator 2: Judgement Day MS
1994- True Lies R
1997- Titanic MS
2009- Avatar MS

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives