Steven Spielberg

Filmmakers Whose Work Stands the Test of Time

There are occasionally filmmakers who break all barriers, whose work stands the test of time and continues to captivate audiences and critics even decades later. If you’re looking for a master class in original, timeless filmmaking, check out these filmmakers whose originality stands the test of time and offers experiences that are still relevant, riveting, and righteously entertaining.

Alfred Hitchcock

It’s impossible to have a list of enduring filmmakers without including Hitchcock. His silent film roots allowed him to innovate in the area of visual storytelling by mastering mise-en-scène, captivating use of music, and wise editing.

Hitchcock is perhaps best known for his innovative camera movement, and his knack for persuading audiences to feel as if they are a part of the story through the clever manipulation of perspective through close-ups, long takes, and more.

Click here to read more about why we think Hitchcock’s work will be enjoyed for years to come.

Timeless Hitchcock films to watch asap:

  • Notorious (1946)
  • Rear Window (1954)
  • Vertigo (1958)
  • North by Northwest (1959)
  • Psycho (1960)

Akira Kurosawa

Posthumously named “Asian of the Century” in in 1990 by AsianWeek, Kurosawa’s work did more than just put the Japanese film industry on the international map. His superb screenwriting abilities, dynamic style, and innovative techniques went on to influence all of Western cinema, including The Magnificent Seven, a reimagining of Kurosawa’s masterpiece Seven Samurai. From Americans like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas to fellow Asian filmmakers like Hayao Miyazaki and John Woo, countless notable filmmakers have expressed their admiration for Kurosawa’s cinematographic achievements.

Timeless Films

  • Rashomon (1950)
  • Ikiru (1952)
  • Seven Samurai (1954)
  • Kagemusha (1980)
  • Ran (1985)

Steven Spielberg

If there’s one reason Spielberg will be esteemed for ages to come, it’s for his versatility. From intense war stories and terrifying thrillers to adventure movies fun for the whole family, this man has probably done it all — and done it marvellously. While most directors find their niche and stay put, Spielberg’s storytelling prowess has been proven across an amazing range of genres while somehow still expressing his signature style. It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t love at least one film from this iconic director who, at the ripe age of 71 in of 2018, is still behind the camera.

Timeless Films

  • Jaws (1975)
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
  • E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
  • Schindler’s List (1993)
  • Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Spike Lee

This African-American filmmaker began impressing critics and viewers alike with his first feature film “She’s Gotta Have It,” a comedy drama shot in two weeks with a budget of $175,000. When it grossed over $7 million in America, people knew Lee was something special. He has since then delivered several classics that have earned him numerous accolades over the years. Many of his projects are renowned for examining important issues such as race relations, urban poverty, and discrimination even among black communities.

Timeless Films

  • Do the Right Thing (1989)
  • Malcolm X (1992)
  • The Original Kings of Comedy (2000)
  • 25th Hour (2002)
  • Inside Man (2006)

Stanley Kubrick

The late, great Kubrick made an impact on the film industry in a way few other directors have. His constant striving for perfection and mastery of the technical side of filmmaking allowed him to craft cinematic experiences that transcended genre and changed everything that followed. Along with working closely and intensely with his writers and performers, Kubrick was also known for requiring as many takes as it took in order to find what he called “the magic.”

Timeless Films

  • Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
  • A Clockwork Orange (1971)
  • The Shining (1980)
  • Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Francis Ford Coppola

This American filmmaker is responsible for one of the most overwhelmingly praised trilogy of films ever to hit the big screen: The Godfather alone won nearly a dozen Oscars and is #2 in American Film Institute’s list of best American films. The trilogy’s influence inspired the creation of other notable gangster films such as Goodfellas and TV shows like The Sopranos.

Timeless Films

  • The Godfather (1972)
  • American Graffiti (1973)
  • The Godfather: Part II (1974)
  • Apocalypse Now (1979)
  • Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Sofia Coppola

The daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, Sofia has emerged as one of the most talented female directors of all time. She was the first American woman to win Venice Film Festival’s top prize and receive a Best Director nomination at the 2003 Academy Awards, while also serving as the second woman to win best director at Cannes Film Festival. Her Oscar-winning Lost in Translation a great starting point for film fans to witness Coppola’s impressive ability to balance humor and drama.

Timeless Films

  • The Virgin Suicides (1999)
  • Lost in Translation (2003)
  • Marie Antoinette (2006)
  • The Bling Ring (2013)
  • The Beguiled (2017)

Orson Welles

What’s there to say about Welles that hasn’t been said before? The legendary director changed the game with Citizen Kane, a film ranked by many as the best of all time. The 1941 drama went on to influence even the most prominent directors with its nonlinear storytelling, powerful use of themes and motifs, and phenomenal cinematography. Welles would go on to direct several more films, many of which are also worthy of viewing almost a century later.

Timeless Films

  • Citizen Kane (1941)
  • The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
  • The Lady from Shanghai (1947)
  • Touch Of Evil (1958)
  • Chimes at Midnight (1965)

Up-and-Coming Timeless Filmmakers

Christopher Nolan

Still arguably near the beginning of his illustrious career, Nolan came into prominence at the turn of the millenium with Following, a neo-noir crime thriller he funded personally. Since then, the English filmmaker has made a name for himself by producing hit after hit, making him one of the highest-grossing directors of all time. His use of nonlinear storytelling and enticing themes surrounding human morality and identity have allowed him to create films that will likely be watched in film classes for a long time.

Timeless Films

  • Memento (2000)
  • The Dark Knight (2008)
  • Inception (2010)
  • Interstellar (2014)
  • Dunkirk (2017)

Catherine Hardwicke

Hardwicke got her start in the business as a production designer, where she was able to study the techniques of skilled directors like Cameron Crowe. She first proved her own directing talents with 2003’s Thirteen, which won six awards and nearly a dozen nominations. Highly successful films like Twilight and The Nativity Story have only helped cement Hardwicke’s legacy as one of the best female directors of all time.

Timeless Films

  • Thirteen (2003)
  • Lords of Dogtown (2005)
  • The Nativity Story (2006)
  • Twilight (2008)
  • Red Riding Hood (2011)

Ava DuVernay

Leading the new generation of great African American filmmakers is DuVernay, who in less than two decades has already made a name for herself behind the camera. This includes being the first black woman to win the Sundance Film Festival’s directing award. She is also the first African-American woman to be nominated for a Golden Golden Globe award and Academy Award for Best Picture. With so many accomplishments at the ripe age of 45, we’re confident that DuVernay’s best work is yet to come.

Timeless Films

  • Saturday Night Life (2006)
  • I Will Follow (2010)
  • Middle of Nowhere (2012)
  • Selma (2014)
  • 13th (2016)

What other directors would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments below, and learn more about Filmmaking at the New York Film Academy.


How to Style Your Cinematography like Steven Spielberg

From “Jaws” to “The Color Purple,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to “Schindler’s List,” Steven Spielberg has given us many of the most iconic moments in cinema. We have already extolled the genius of Spielberg in this previous NYFA article, but today we examine some of the specific cinematographic techniques he employs to achieve such spectacular results to help inspire your own cinematographic stylings.

Sideways tracking shot.

A sideways tracking shot follows the movement of the characters. Although it is a classic technique, Spielberg makes it his own. Spielberg adds considerable visual texture to the shots by putting all manner of objects and extras between the camera and the two main subjects, to enhance the richness of the frame and the visual perception of movement.

Spielberg also uses the variant of having the actors approach the camera after tracking, ending in a close-up, as exampled by the scene in “Jaws” when the camera tracks Brody and his wife to the fateful boat.

Introducing a character.

As the below video essay details, Spielberg often uses either action or fraction (glimpses of body parts or features) to introduce his protagonists, and some of his most memorable introductions employ both. Think of one of the most iconic character introductions of all film time: to Indiana Jones in the first “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

The long take.

A long take, aka a “oner,” is a continuous shot played out in real time. Unlike other directors, Spielberg’s long takes tend to be less stylized and more emotionally driven. As this No Film School article puts it, “Spielberg disguises these long takes in a number of ways, allowing audiences to become immersed in the dramatic energy of the scene without feeling the kinetic energy of the camera.” For some examples from everything from “Saving Private Ryan” to “Jurassic Park,” check out this video by Tony Zhou.

Over the shoulder.

Over the shoulder shots are common enough in cinema, but Spielberg uses dramatic and claustrophobic over the shoulder shots to create effects that push the boundaries of classic cinematographic framing. The dramatic shot uses a wide lens, making the character in the foreground look bigger than the other character, which conveys a feeling of dominance. The claustrophobic shot increases the amount of shoulder in the frame, pushing the main subject away from center. 

Frame within a frame.

A cinematic frame within a frame utilizes physical objects–mirrors, windows, doors, power lines–to divide the frame and create striking composition. In “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” Spielberg and his cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, use a circular lamp fixture, and in “Minority Report,” they use a headset held by one of the characters in the foreground. The novelty of these framing devices suggests how you can use everyday objects for brilliant aesthetic effects.

What are your favorite examples of Spielberg cinematography? Let us know in the comments. Learn more about cinematography at the New York Film Academy.

Steven Spielberg

Steven SpielbergName: Steven Allan Spielberg

Essential DVDs: Jaws (1975); Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977); Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981); E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982); The Color Purple (1985); Empire of the Sun (1987); Schindler's List (1993); Jurassic Park (1993); Saving Private Ryan (1997)

Oscars: Best Director, Best Picture (Schindler's List, 1994); Best Director (Saving Private Ryan, 1994)

In His Own Words: “If you have a story that is very commercial and simple, you have to find the art. You have to take the other elements of the film, and make them as good as possible, and doing that will uplift the film.”

In analysing Steven Spielberg, the first thing you need to do is clamber past Steven Spielberg. The success, the deification, a near unquantifiable contribution to not just cinema but modern culture itself, and the reams of praise that smother him like a giant quilt. Given such a position, it almost feels moot to extol virtues that have been ringing in his ears for years. Thus it is to the films, in the end, you must return, to cut them loose from the hallowed tag and understand again why this small guy from Cincinnati, Ohio stands so tall over the medium.

So, we'll have no talk of the child within (although, he is expert at conveying multifaceted innocence); no talk of some kind of modern-day P.T. Barnum, barnstorming cinemas with non-stop thrills (are you willing to think of Jurassic Park as a deliberate piece of self-parody?); and hold no truck with the narrow-minded view of a director as Hollywood edifice, unwitting murderer of the poetic seventies. Dash it all, he put Francois Truffaut in Close Encounters. He threaded a Christ allegory into an alien visitation movie. And he finally cut Hollywood free from its outmoded Vietnam preoccupations with the most salutary, shocking twenty-five minutes of war movie footage ever created. That's the thing, Saving Private Ryan's harrowing opening salvo is transcendent, you can feel the medium buckle under its skill, the narrative tappings of cinema being rewritten. There are a scant few who can lay claim to that level of effect. And, goddamnit, Jaws was(ital) a seventies movie.

There seems to be a fair amount of misrepresentation about Spielberg. That he is a formulaic man, a predictable purveyor of the easy-fit populist frame-of-mind. In reality, he is far more elusive, tapping into something subliminal, an understanding of how we work as human beings. His is not the convention of myth and bland heroics, his lead characters come cut from an ordinary cloth, suburban and middle-class more often than not. Even Indiana Jones, certainly born from a heroic archetype, while effortless with a whip and a quip, is forever a man in over his head. He is not just a dusty James Bond. Spielberg puts the audience, their very idea of themselves, into the extraordinary. These are not fantasies but glorious, romping realities of the heart. The greatness of Jaws is not the malfunctioning shark, but the disparate triumvirate of honest-to-god masculinity –the gruff machismo (Robert Shaw), the stubborn intellectual (Richard Dreyfuss) and the determined family protector (Roy Schieder) –required to undo the unknowable force of nature.

Another aspect so often overlooked, or maybe taken as read, is his visual genius. He is, in his own distinct way, as good a stylist as Ridley Scott or John Ford or David Lean (and very much inspired by the latter two). The stunning use of amber light, almost liquid as it pours through the door in Close Encounters, is worthy of Kubrick. The magnificent simplicity of shooting so much of E.T. from not only a child's perspective but the physical dimension of a child. The shifting visual tone of Schindler from the elegant expressionism for the Nazis to the stark, quasi-documentary shudder of the Jewish ghetto. It's the stuff critics clamour about with Scorsese, yet his good friend and compatriot is every bit as film literate and gifted.

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The patterns of his career have been picked clean by the due attention his massive success has brought: the early films, still carrying the vestiges of the Movie Brat movement even as they invented the blockbuster; the towering eighties when he could do no wrong; the quest for the Oscar; the complexities of his post-Schindler era. The shapes are clear, but categorisation is almost impossible (it's why he's been lumbered with his own category: “The Spielberg Movie”). 'Once a month the sky falls on my head, I come to, and I see another movie I want to make,' he said of his approach. Surely, it can't be that simple. Seemingly, it is.

Perhaps more fascinating to us now, are the failures, or should we say, relative failures. Empire Of The Sun, alongside The Color Purple his gearshift into literary aspiration following the popcorn exterior of the early films, is a troubled but noble attempt to capture not only the scope but also the surrealism of J.G. Ballard's memoirs. Is there a more ambiguous Spielberg shot than that of a semi-demented Jim Graham bathed in the holy aura of acetylene sparks, caressing the metallic surface of a Japanese fighter plane? AI, so emotionally uneasy, feeds on an anti-fairytale mythology more Terry Gilliam than E.T. And why did so many critics circumvent the cynical, abusive undertones of The Terminal? Portraying America as a prison cell was hardly the presupposed idea of a Spielberg movie. Hook, we'll grant, is a misfire. But 1941, with its criminal excess, is as magnificent a site of creativity run amuck as Coppola's One From The Heart.

The trouble, as always, is that his name continues to arrive ahead of the film. He's doing his darndest to avoid it –the variety of project in the autumn of his career cleaves closest to the genre hopping likes of Howard Hawks and is way more challenging than the drift into bloated mediocrity so evident with Scorsese. You can bet your bottom dollar, War Of The Worlds will still filter H.G. Wells' socialist context. The Munich Olympics political thriller Vengeance could be his most daring film since Schindler. While a Lincoln biopic sends signals of his great work on his beloved America. And, boy, it needs it.

Spielberg, the world's greatest living director and contestably up there even if you include his deceased forebears, is finally worthy of his status because he speaks to everyone –understanding our fears, translating our dreams and revealing both the world's chaos and its beauty –not just a select realm of highbrow intellectuals or pontificating ironists. The miracle is, he has proven it is not simply entertainment but also art and truth we crave. At twenty-four frames a second.