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Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

Who Will Be… The Next Scorsese?

About seven and a half years ago, Esquire Magazine asked five film critics to nominate a young director to answer the question, “Who is the next Scorsese?”  The man himself even offered up his own nomination.

What does it mean to be the next Martin Scorsese?  I’m going to say that it means a filmmaker of unique vision and ambition, who makes personal and hard-hitting films that shape the cinematic landscape.  That is how I think of Scorsese himself, one of the masters of cinema and one of the most knowledgeable folks when it comes to the history of the movies.  He would be in the top five of any film lover’s best living directors list.  But there must be more to it than that, it must be a director who can wow us visually as well as being a filmmaker who is similar to Scorsese in some respect in regards to the themes and nature of the characters.  Otherwise, we would be asking who is the next Spielberg or Coppola, etc. and that would be another column.

I don’t think the person who is the “next Scorsese” has to be someone who is exactly like the man himself, but someone who just feels right.  Someone who you could say, “oh, he’s the nextMartin Scorsese” and you could feel that you gave an accurate description.

So, with that in mind, let us take a look at the filmmakers nominated by Esquire seven years ago, what they did to earn their nominations, and what they have done in the years since.

1. Kevin Smith (nominated by Andrew Sarris) – I think of Andrew Sarris as one of the finest film critics ever.  Anyone who has an interest in either film or criticism should read reviews by Sarris because even if you disagree with his opinion, he makes persuasive arguments.  With that in mind, I have a hard time understanding this nomination.

The most fascinating thing about Sarris’ prediction is that of the four films that Smith had made at that point, he was only a fan of one:  “Paradoxically, as far as my prediction goes, I must confess that I have been overwhelmed by only one of Smith’s four films, but this one winner was a home run with the bases loaded, which more than makes up for his overall batting average.”

The film he is speaking of is Chasing Amy. But Sarris bets on Smith moving onward and upward, on the basis of that one film amongst four.  He was hoping that Smith would take the talent and flair apparent in Chasing Amy and bring it to the studios.

What Smith has done since then is made three films: Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Jersey Girl, and Clerks 2. It seems as if Smith is unable to find that stasis he found in Chasing Amy, that line where potty-mouth meets sentimental.  In Smith’s last three films, he has gone a little too far in either direction rather than striving for that balance.  Jay and Silent Bob … and Clerks 2were too sophomoric while Jersey Girl was too saccharine.  (For the record, I am a fan of two more of his earlier films, Dogma andClerks.)

Either way, it is clear from the choices he’s made since his nomination that Kevin Smithdoesn’t feel he’s capable of being the next Scorsese, which is a shame.

I’m actually a Kevin Smith fan.  I like his movies, read his blog, I even bought copies of his book and his An Evening with Kevin Smith DVD.  I genuinely like him as both a filmmaker and (seemingly) as a person. He is an incredibly intelligent and talented man who seems to suffer from the insecurity of straying too far outside his comfort zone.

Hopefully, with his upcoming horror film Red State, Smith will become invigorated by the change in style and become comfortable enough with his ability to wow us again.  But so far, he’s no Scorsese.

2. David O. Russell (nominated by Kenneth Turan) – Turan’s nomination is a perfectly acceptable one to me, especially coming as it did on the heels of Russell’s wacky indie pseudo-comedies Flirting with Disaster and Spanking the Monkey, films that deal with adoption and incest respectively.  Russell is obviously a man with a voice of his own, willing to go against the grain.  In Turan’s words, “His films are audacious and entertaining, Hollywood with a twist, able to deliver traditional satisfactions while going precariously far out on a limb.”  No one could argue that Russell is not an artist.

Pay no attention to the recently YouTubed footage of Russell going crazy on the set of his last movie, as it has nothing to do with what is on screen.  Russell famously had a shoving match with star George Clooney on the set of Three Kings and it certainly didn’t make the movie any worse.  In fact, that film might be the most daring and subversive war film ever made with the aid of a major studio.

Since the nomination by Turan, Russell has made exactly one movie: I Heart Huckabees. This was a film that was absolutely polarizing. People hate it with the kind of scorn that makes me question my own adoration of the film.  It has big ideas and it carries them off with both wit and whimsy.  By painting a world that is completely eccentric, Russell says more about the world we live in than most movies that focus on realism.  It is both a fable about a young man finding his place (both in the world and in his own head) as well as a sad portrait of how we can lose our way.

Russell hasn’t worked often enough to see what kind of filmmaker he plans on being, but he has a voice that is all his own no matter what topic he broaches.  I don’t think he’s the next Scorsese, as he clearly walks to the beat of his own drummer, but he’s definitely a filmmaker whose films must be seen by all those who care about movies.

3. Alexander Payne (nominated by Tom Carson) – At the time of Carson’s nomination, Payne had only made two feature films: Citizen Ruth and Election.  I thought the former film was good enough, smart, engaging while the latter film was nearly revelatory.  Election is a wonderful film about real people.  It’s just about regular folks in Omaha, Nebraska, a deeply layered satire about how the world tends to beat down the overly ambitious in favor of the mediocre.

Tracy Flick (played marvelously by Reese Witherspoon) is clearly the only one in this town who is going places and will stop at nothing to get there.  While she might seem like pure evil in the eyes of Broderick’s Jim McAllister, we have to keep in mind that she’s just a kid and it is the job of her teachers to nurture her talent, not try to starve it.  It is a damning indictment of the education system as well as a remarkably funny film about politics.

Tom Carson wrote seven years ago, “It’s safe to say that nobody has ever made tarter, funnier movies about life in Omaha.”  That much is definitely true, but his next phase showed a desire to move out of Nebraska, with middling results.

Alexander Payne has made two films since the nomination as well, both of which I think are good films, but a little bit overrated.  The films are About Schmidt and Sideways, and I think the former suffers from the star power of Jack Nicholson while the latter suffers from two insufferable leads.

About Schmidt is a perfectly acceptable piece of Coen Brothersesque eccentricity, with strange blue-collar characters intersecting.  I watched it, liked it and forgot about it.  I remember thinking that Nicholson’s personality was too big for a film that small, it overpowered the smaller moments because you couldn’t help but think “hey, that’s Jack up there.”  Scorsese himself used Nicholson perfectly in The Departed because the part called for that kind of overpowering figure.  Nicholson’s Warren Schmidt, however, was supposed to be a simple, boring man and unfortunately at this stage of his career, it’s impossible to imagine Jack as that.

Sideways is much praised and when it was winning all those awards I didn’t feel angry about it because it is an absolutely worthy film and an interesting one.  But, I just couldn’t get past the fact that the two lead characters were so masochistic.  It was almost like watching a horror film, saying to myself “oh please, don’t do that, don’t drink another glass!”  Perhaps some people found appeal in that, but I found it was hard to keep my sympathy for these guys because they kept making bad choices.  I suppose that’s life and all and I respected the film for being willing to show those bad choices, but my admiration for the movie didn’t translate to adoration.

So is Payne the next Scorsese?  I don’t think so.  He might be the next Coen Brothers, dealing with peculiar characters and writing snappy dialogue and hey, that’s no small compliment.

4. The Wachowski Brothers (nominated by Elvis Mitchell) – I absolutely love Bound and I’m a fan of the Matrix films, but I think this is kind of a ridiculous nomination by Elvis Mitchell. I can see the connection to Scorsese, with Bound being a crime film and all, but after the firstMatrix film, it was easy to see that the Wachowskis were more interested in bigger – literally – films.  However, perhaps hindsight is 20/20 and we should see what Mitchell was thinking at the time.

In 2000, when Mitchell made his nomination, Larry and Andy Wachowski had written and directed Bound, a wonderfully gritty and suspenseful lesbian pseudo-heist film, and The Matrix, which was as groundbreaking in 1999 as Mean Streets was in 1973, as it opened up the doors to so many possibilities in film.  It created new special effects and spawned an online community.  The Wachowski Brothers were nothing, if not influential.

Interestingly, in Mitchell’s nomination, he makes only a mere passing mention of their first film.  Instead, he lists all the reasons why The Matrix is such a landmark film: “For those of us who love comics and have given ourselves TMJ disorder from grinding our teeth over the shabby treatment comics have received from a medium that’s far more compatible than it lets on, the Wachowskis found a way to employ the calculated clutter in the motion-picture frame.”

Well, I wouldn’t argue that the Wachowskis are not talented, commercial filmmakers who have a lot of big ideas.  But just because they were able to make a successful genre film that didn’t insult people’s intelligence, I don’t think that makes them the next Scorsese.

Since the nomination, the Wachowski Brothers have made the two sequels to The Matrix – which I thought were both a lot of fun, but ultimately disappointing due to the hype.  They are now at work on adapting and directing Speed Racer for the big screen.  I think the talent of these guys was realized best on a film they didn’t even direct: their adaptation of V for Vendetta, a film that so deftly blends comic books and politics.  It is a film about the past, the present, and the possible bleak future.  The film was directed by their long-time assistant director James McTiegue and I found it to be the best film they were associated with since the original Matrix because it was one that dared to be different.

The reason the Wachowskis cannot be considered the next Scorsese is because they don’t seem capable of working outside of genre films and I’m okay with that.  I’m okay with having a few guys who won’t insult my intelligence just because I want to be entertained.  They don’t need to be the next Scorsese to be important, they just need to keep doing what they’re doing.

5. Paul Thomas Anderson (nominated by Todd McCarthy) – I expressed a lot of my thoughts about PT Anderson in my last column, when I said that his new film There Will Be Blood is my most anticipated of the fall, but there is always so much to say about a filmmaker like him.  Todd McCarthy wrote that PT Anderson said, seven years ago, that he doesn’t know “if I’m the type of guy who’d want to run the world like Spielberg or retreat to a mansion in London like Kubrick. I haven’t got it figured out yet.”  The mere fact that it’s been five years since his last film seems to indicate he’s more interested in being like Kubrick.

The director that Paul Thomas Anderson is most often compared to is the late, great Robert Altman and while their styles seem similar, I find there are two important differences between the two.  The first is that Anderson works far less often than Altman ever did.  The second is that while Altman’s world view was often despairing, Anderson’s is much more hopeful.  Altman would find the ugliness within glamour (like in The Player or Ready to Wear) while Anderson seems to be like John C. Reilly’s policeman in Magnolia, finding the beauty in a broken, abused addict like Melora Walters in that film.

Anderson’s biggest strength is his fearlessness.  Here is a man who is unafraid of having his characters break out into song or have frogs rain down upon them (both in Magnolia) or have an impromptu choreographed dance or show his main character’s penis in the last scene (Boogie Nights) or make Adam Sandler the lead in a romantic and tragic comedy (Punch Drunk Love).  Even in Sydney, Anderson isn’t afraid to have two of his leads disappear from the film 2/3 of the way in.  Regardless of how you might feel about his films, you have to admit that he is one of the most daring filmmakers currently working.  As for myself, I think he might be my very favorite.

But he is not the next Scorsese.  No, he is too original a filmmaker to be compared to anyone else and rather than trying to be the next Scorsese, he is blazing his own path.

6. Wes Anderson (nominated by Martin Scorsese) – So this is the director that The Manchose as his successor.  At that point, Wes Anderson had directed two brilliant films: Bottle Rocket and Rushmore. The first was shot on a shoe-string and if you’re upset with the fact that Owen Wilson seems to appear in every dumb comedy these days, just remember how magnificently odd he was in Bottle Rocket.  And don’t forget that he co-wrote Wes Anderson’s first three films.  In Scorsese’s words, Bottle Rocket is about, “A group of young guys think that their lives have to be filled with risk and danger in order to be real. They don’t know that it’s okay simply to be who they are.”  I agree whole-heartedly.  After all, who am I to argue with Marty?

Rushmore was an even more successful film in my eyes, a film that finds the joy in longing and first love.  It’s also about Max Fischer realizing that his art is his greatest love and that all the pain he suffers throughout his life will only help his playwriting.  Bill Murray is absolutely hilarious and subtle in his poignant portrayal of a man who has forgotten what he loves, his success blinding him to the fact that he is incredibly depressed.  Olivia Williams plays Mrs. Cross, the object of affection for both a 15 year old boy and a 50 year old man and it’s not hard to see why she’s the catalyst for these men to both grow up.

Since Scorsese’s nomination, Anderson has directed both The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic. If Anderson is the next Scorsese, then Tenenbaums is his Taxi Driver andThe Life Aquatic is his New York, New York. What I mean is that The Royal Tenenbaums is an incredible portrait that is both gritty and fantastical, the seminal Anderson film; while The Life Aquatic is a film where Anderson lost his voice in an attempt to cover-up a weak script with stylistic flourishes.  Hopefully, The Darjeeling Limited will be Wes Anderson’s Raging Bull.

So, is Wes Anderson the next Martin Scorsese?  Like I said earlier, who am I to argue with Marty?

It’s been seven years since those nominations, who would YOU nominate as the “next Scorsese” now?

– Noah Forrest
August 28, 2007

Noah Forrest is a 24 year old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writers and do not neccessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

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~ David Simon