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.
Best film: Aliens. This is one of the best pure genre films, sequels, sci-fi films, war films, feminist films… I could keep going.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Terminator 2: Judgement Day
- The Abyss
- True Lies
By year and grades
|1984- The Terminator||MS|
|1989- The Abyss||R|
|1991- Terminator 2: Judgement Day||MS|
|1994- True Lies||R|
*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
My opinion on best 20 directors is this
1. Orson Welles
2. Martin scorsese
3. Stanley Kubrick
4. Victor Fleming
5. Steven Spielberg
8. James Cameron
9. Ridley Scott
10. Woody Allen
18. Fritz Lang
19. Roman Polanski
20. Terrence Malick
Haha I forgot to mention john ford, carpenter, david lynch, and griffith among others who are amazing but I love all in my top 20
@M – thanks for sharing- I adore your top 3– and include some greats along the way like Cuaron and Nolan who will be there one day. I guess my biggest problem or beef here would be Victor Fleming. I get he directed “Wizard of Oz” and “Gone With the Wind” but 4th?!? I would argue that he is not worthy of being 4th ahead of so many other deserving auteurs.
I know Fleming is a weird one and there are discrepencies over if he directed in entirety gone with the wind and wizard of oz but those films are two of the greatest ever and I love their visual achievements.
I think wes anderson might be a great sleeper director. I just love how unique his movies are and how you know who the mastermind is by just looking at the poster.
@K — thanks for the comment and for visiting the website. Wes Anderson is a genius- surely one of the greatest auteurs of the last 25 years. I think I’ve reviewed all his films on the site, he is featured often on my “best of” lists and I have a page for him here too http://thecinemaarchives.com/2019/06/24/the-65th-best-director-of-all-time-wes-anderson/
No MPs from Cameroon according to you? Even if he dont have a MP, he’s made some incredible movies. Do you think (from what you’ve seen and his strength), he has the potential to make a MP? Are there any movies that are borderline MP/MSs?
@Azman- I mean I wouldn’t argue strenuously if someone had any number of films for Cameron has a masterpiece- certainly anything in the MS range isn’t going to get much beef from me. And yeah- when i went to do my top 500 Aliens came in at #212. Regardless of the “MS” or “MP” that feels like MP range. Regardless of the grade I give it when doing the decade top 100 or overall top 500 if you can’t get past a film— like Aliens– I feel like that says something. Avatar clearly has genius in it. My biggest problem is how he never makes any films anymore. 1 movie in the last 22 years right? Titanic was in 1997 and it’s 2020 now. I love Avatar but I don’t know if it’s worth a 22 year gestation (artistically of course– financially it surely was/is).
@Drake, I heard James Cameron was planning on making 4 avatar sequels. This means that he will probably never make another non-avatar movies 🙁 . Did you know about this? How do you feel about this news? Maybe he can improve upon avatar (2009).
in my opinion, He is one of the greatest directors of all time, maybe the best director born in Canada and one of the greatest directors alive today.
@Azman- I sort of figured that this may be it with Cameron either with how long it takes him to make a new film. I expect (and hope) that whatever he makes here is spectacular.
well he is planning on like 22 sequels to avatar. but really he is a great director, and terminator is a partof my childhood. those first two he directed are two of my favorite movies ever andin my opinion perfect masterpieces. even tarkovsky liked the 1984 movie. i’d say look at the first film (better technically) with the nightclub scene. despite how i feel about tarantino being overrated, i do think the bruce willis al green scene is beautiful with the bar. this (nightclub scene) predates that scene and is quite reminiscent. i think that is his best directed scene before he relied on green screens too heavily.also terminator 2 has oneof the best most satisfying and watchable narratives in film, and i do think Arnold’s performance is one of the best of the 90s. also the scene where dyson blows up the building is really cool, and some of the visuals of his house, andthe skynet chip, and especially of the terminators appearing from lightning.andalso id say the scene where arnold ‘now understands why he cries’ is one of the best scenes in a film. also, i think its funny,but a lot of camerons best visuals include lightning and fire.
The Nuclear Apocalypse sequence from Terminator 2 of Sarah Connor’s prophetic vision might be the single most horrifying scene for me when I was a kid. You have the score that slowly builds toward a Crescendo and the slow motion shots capturing the innocence of childhood with kids on swings and seesaw right before the the bomb detonates in what is apparently one of the most accurate depictions of a nuclear attack. It’s funny how scenes like this are way scarier than anything you’ll see in a traditional horror film.
Just saw Titanic the other day in the theater and god, what an experience. The peak of Hollywood storytelling and Cameron’s finest work for me. A huge masterpiece in my book.