Question of the week: Which seasoned director do you think has lost his mojo?

Sir Ridley couldn’t even keep Christian Bale awake on set

Though this falls under my Random Movie Question categories, you’d surmise that it’s really NOT so random. I was inspired by my friend Ted who texted me after the EXODUS screening that he was surprised the film was made by an experienced director of Ridley Scott’s caliber, he said it looked like it had been done by some newbie filmmaker.

You’ll see his full review later this week, but that confirms my dread that Sir Ridley seems to have really lost his mojo. I mean this is the same visionary director who did sci-fi classics like Alien, Blade Runner in his early 40s, then Gladiator (one of my faves of all time), Thelma & Louise, Black Hawk Dawn, etc. in his 50s. A lot of people might’ve said he’s lost it long ago and perhaps the 77-year-old should’ve retired and just stick to be an executive producer. Yet I somehow still defended him when he made Robin Hood (which I still enjoyed though I wish he had stuck with the Sheriff of Nottingham concept), and I even think A Good Year has its charm. But after Prometheus, which was fun but definitely no masterpiece by a long shot, The Counselor was panned by critics and audience alike. His latest *Biblical epic* seems um, poised to fall in that same category, and not only because of his questionable casting choices.

Now, he’s certainly not the only director out there who can’t seem to follow up their past success. People have been saying that about Brian de Palma, Oliver Stone, even Francis Ford Coppola are in the same camp.

So I’m curious, which seasoned/famous director(s) you think have lost their touch in recent years?

63 thoughts on “Question of the week: Which seasoned director do you think has lost his mojo?

  1. The thing is, Scott’s “The Counselor” is arguably the most satisfying film he’s made since “Thelma and Louise,” and had the studio gotten behind it its reputation may be substantially different (there’s a cult of well regarded critics who agree with this). Its reception was–like with a lot of “fiascos” like “Heaven’s Gate” & “Ishtar” (though “Counselor” was, contrary to belief, a relatively small-budget–$25 million–venture)–more memetic than authentic. The picture is suffused with a thick sense of dread that is as palpable as “Alien”‘s horror. It’s a thoroughly unsettling movie.

    That noted, I thought “Exodus” was pretty awful, though the tropes and stylistic stumbles that make it such aren’t that different from what makes “The Hobbit” awful. I kind of wished “Counselor” scribe McCarthy had polished its script. “Exodus” is not particularly worse than the younger Ridley’s “Legend” or “1492” (or “Kingdom of Heaven” in its original incarnation). Though the direction (as in the film’s “trajectory” and ambitions) of “Exodus” kind of dooms it from the get-go, and Scott’s embrace of popular filmic methods afforded by technology (the useless 3-D, the frenetic high-impact editing, the constant reliance on CGI aerial shots) are unfortunate, “The Counselor” showed, as did more than a few moments in “Prometheus” (like it or not), that he’s still a master of spatially conducting a scene, and age hasn’t impaired his ability to construct and stage great moments, accumulating tension. His short-comings, and often hackneyed arcs, seem to have their seeds in the scripts, as they always have. Watching “Exodus” I noted how no novice director–or any other director–would use the zoom lens the way Scott still uses it, and uses it well, even in a failed effort.

    But in regards to your question, the easy answer is Tim Burton, though “Big Eyes” is really good. And turning away from the old guys, why can’t we point out that Rob Marshall has always been bad, but still gets to make $150 million movies (Haven’t seen “Into the Woods” yet, but we’ll see)? And that with Marvel, studios want to back movies without any authorial voice whatsoever? Noting how Scorsese, Herzog, Malick, Mann, Polanski, Godard, Spielberg, Allen, Friedkin, etc still make vibrant and beautiful work–and sometimes deeply problematic thematic and aesthetic choices (which leads to confusion and good debate over whether or not they’ve “lost it”)–the problem isn’t so much a Billy Wilder “Buddy Buddy” thing as it is a systemic and financial issue, of what studios are willing to back and what audiences are willing to see and think about.

    1. Hi Niles, welcome to FC and THANKS for the great comment! Y’know it’s interesting about The Counselor as it could be one of the critically-panned film of Scott’s that perhaps also got the most defenders. My friend at work was in fact just saying how much he actually enjoyed it.

      As for Exodus, well I had always dreaded the idea right from the time they announced the casting and every promo/trailer/clip/interviews afterwards just never convince me that it’s going to be a good movie, let alone an excellent one in the vein of Gladiator. It kind of LOOKS like Gladiator (and Kingdom of Heaven) but only on the surface. The special effects, esp the 3D seems to be the worst part about it from what I read, which makes me think that had he cast more ethnically-diverse actors, Exodus still wouldn’t be a good movie.

      I’ve never been a huge fan of Marshall and so I’m going to see Into The Woods tomorrow w/ a cautiously optimistic approach. I do like the cast and the songs sound pretty good from what I heard so far but let’s hope it’s gonna be much better than NINE!

  2. I’ve heard similar things about Exodus from others who’ve seen it already, but I’m still gonna give it a shot. Prometheus was a dud, but I actually really loved The Counselor, and think it’s one of those movies that just flew right over a lot of people’s heads. I thought it was absolutely brilliant, personally, and I’ve enjoyed some of his other lesser popular outings, such as Kingdom of Heaven, so I’m not going to completely write him off JUST yet.

    As for your question, nothing’s immediately jumping to mind, so I suppose I’ll echo the Tim Burton mention from above, as the guy has essentially just become a cheap parody of himself in recent years for the most part. If I can think of someone else I’ll return with some more thoughts on that, too. 🙂

    1. I’ll probably rent it at this point, as I’ve been dreading it from the first time I heard about it and all the reviews haven’t changed my mind. I might give The Counselor a shot at some point, but yeah I wasn’t wowed by Prometheus much.

      I wonder if Burton’s latest Big Eyes is gonna be any good. I’m not super enthused about it but it does have an intriguing premise.

      1. Mos def give it a shot. “Big Eyes” is a sweet, Sirk-flavored pop fairytale. It’s never too emphatic and though it may recall “Ed Wood” the most (which I think is Burton’s best film, written by his collaborators here, Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander), its spirit and colors strangely share the off-kilter sense of “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.” Waltz’s charming ogre here, who even at one point invokes Woody Allen’s courtroom shenanigans in “Bananas,” lives in his own appropriated fantasy world and is like Pee Wee gone bad–Pee Wee as shameless exploiter. Minority opinion, but of the three true-life holiday moves (others being “The Imitation Game” and “Theory of Everything”), this was my favorite.

  3. Ted and I were chatting about Scott on here just the other day and our sentiments were exactly the same as yours. You’re also spot on about Brian de Palma, Oliver Stone, Francis Ford Coppola. In my mind I’d have to go back to Mission Impossible (’96), J.F.K. (’91) and Tucker: The Man and His Dream (’88) for their last really good films. I’ll give Coppola a pass for The Godfather III because he made that to save his studio American Zoetrope which was going bankrupt. I think a man who directed The Godfather’s, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now and penned the film Patton deserves a pass on some of his later work. Personally I think de Palma was too derivative of Hitchcock, especially in his early years. Stone’s ego may have gotten the better of him. When I think of Natural Born Killers I always think “what would Tarantino, in his prime, have done with that crazy script that he actually wrote himself?”

    Since Niles brought up Burton I will only second his mention of his work which hasn’t been good since the ’90’s.

    Lucas? Some would say he was never that good to begin with. After really good films like THX 1138, American Graffiti and Star Wars he seemed pulled in every direction with ILM, Lucas Arts and his numerous other entities. He seemed better suited as a writer/producer with big ideas. It’ll be interesting to compare and contrast J.J. Abrams take on the Star Wars series.

    Spike Lee. Gotta give it up to Spike for Do The Right Thing (’89). Rarely have I seen a film on the big screen that is that electric and has a sense of urgency. It’s been in the news in the last week because of the Eric Garner chokehold death trial. He even cut a mash-up of the film and the footage which can be found online. The incident is eerily similar to Radio Raheem’s death in the movie. 25 years and still nothing’s changed. Sadly Spike’s film career has… and not for the better. Other than his documentary work (4 Little Girls, When The Levees Broke) I’d say 25th Hour (’02) was his last good film. He’s tried to branch out with a genre film (Inside Job), a remake (Oldboy) a war move (Miracle at St. Anna) and he’s just not the same old Spike. Malcolm X, Clockers and his early stuff were uniquely Spike. He just seems like he’s been passed up by the likes of filmmakers like Steve McQueen and Lee Daniels. Consider this… 20 years ago would anyone doubt that the upcoming Oscar frontrunner Selma have been anything other than a Spike Lee joint? But today???

    Lastly I’m gonna say Peter Jackson. I may get some flack for this but hear me out. The final installment if The LOTR was way back in ’03. Since done he’s done King Kong (’05), which actually made me yearn for Jessica Lange in a scantily clad, torn dress. LOL. I like Jack Black but to me, casting him in the lead just felt so wrongheaded. The there’s The Lovely Bones (’09). I can’t recall a beloved book being mishandled that badly since maybe Bonfire of the Vanities. He produced the doc West of Memphis, with his partner Fran Walsh, which wasn’t bad but Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger covered the West Memphis Three much better in their Paradise Lost trilogy. Lastly There’s The Hobbit trilogy. Now in fairness I haven’t seen them. After 12 hours of The LOTR trilogy I just have NO DESIRE to see them. They just feel like they would be a chore to sit through. Also they’ve generally received mediocre reviews and don’t seem the caliber of The LOTR trilogy. I just expect better from the guy who directed the darkly creative Heavenly Creatures (which launched the careers of Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey), the brilliant TV mockumentary Forgotten Silver (even New Zealanders took to be real… LOL) and had the vision to produce District 9 which carried on the very best tradition of Sci-fi as allegory. After the LOTR trilogy I went to see King Kong sight unseen because of he was so on top of his game. Sadly it was just OK. Had he made it today would I go sight unseen now? No I don’t think so. Would you?

    Great question of the week Ruth. As you can tell I don’t much of an opinion about this stuff. 🙂

    1. Whoah!! Dave, your comment put my tiny commentary to shame, ahah. Y’know, as much as I was underwhelmed w/ the last Hobbit film, I still have hope that PJ’s still got it. I’d like to see him do something much smaller though, more story/character and less sfx. I happen to like his King Kong movie and of course LOTR is one of my fave film franchises.

      I’m curious about SELMA, I hope that’ll do MLK’s incredible story justice!

  4. Ridley Scott most definitely as I think he’s gotten to the point where he’s become a name but one that hasn’t delivered. Yet, I would rather see a failure from him than anything from Oliver Stone who hasn’t made a watchable film since Any Given Sunday. The man needs to retire because he doesn’t have it anymore. Francis Ford Coppola does deserve a pass since he’s making films that are based on his own interests and with his own money so at least there’s something noble if he fails. Brian de Palma is someone I think has one more good film in him. It’s just that he needs the right material. Rob Reiner is someone who should just call it quits because the man hasn’t made a good film in 20 years. Oh, people will say “what about Rumor Has It or The Bucket List?” Those films were crap.

    1. I’ve never been a fan of Stone’s style so yeah, he might’ve run out of juice. Interesting point about Coppola, I mean he seems to be more passionate about wine making than movie making, ahah. Heh, I didn’t even know Rob Reiner was still making movies! No interest in either one of those two you mentioned.

  5. Frankly, I lost Ridley Scott in the last two consecutive years. I watched Exodus, it was a grand production, with great details and visuals, but that’s all. I think Scott needs to take some hiatus to repolish his creative mind.

    1. Hi Paskalis! You’ve seen Exodus already? Hmmm interesting that Indo got it before here. I probably just rent it later, I have a feeling I won’t enjoy it.

  6. I actually really loved Prometheus. Yeah, the characters didn’t always make sense, but it was visually stunning and I liked the themes it explored even if a concrete position wasn’t defined. I think he really tried to take Alien further, so even though the original is better executed, Prometheus tries harder. So on that basis I wouldn’t classify Scott as washed up quite yet, though I haven’t seen The Counselor or Exodus yet. I’m more than willing to give them a shot though.
    Some of the other directors that have been mentioned, Coppola, De Palma, etc…. I can’t definitively say they’re washed up, but I’m inclined to because they haven’t made any notable films. They just sort of fly under the radar, I don’t know how good or bad they are because I haven’t seen them. The fact that they haven’t drawn audiences though like Woody Allen or Scorsese still can is definitely worth noting though.

    1. I enjoyed Prometheus when I saw on the big screen but it didn’t make a big impact to me afterwards. In fact I’ve forgotten most of it already, but maybe at some point I’d rewatch it. I might make another post on directors who consistently deliver good stuff or at least still relevant, it’s amazing that Allen and Scorsese are still so prolific in their older years.

  7. I actually really enjoyed Prometheus as well, although I haven’t seen all of Ridley Scott’s films, so I don’t know if I could go as far to say he’s “washed up.” Someone mentioned Peter Jackson, and I’m more than inclined to agree. I really like how involved he gets with fans, and I appreciate his passion to make movies based off of books or stories he really enjoys, but I really haven’t loved anything he made post-LOTR.

    1. Hi Kris! I wish I could say I haven’t lost my faith in Ridley as he’s once one of my fave directors. But really, Exodus just looks awful! He’s really not getting any younger and seems to be getting more out of touch even with the way he addresses the legitimate concern over the *whitewashing* of the Exodus cast. But sounds like the casting is not the worst thing about the film, yikes!

    1. Hmmm, a pretty controversial answer there w/ Chris Nolan 😉 But y’know, I kind of think he’s starting to get a huge ego though I don’t think he’s lost his mojo quite yet. I’d like to see him tackle something less ambitious in scale but something that’d actually have an emotional impact.

  8. Ted S.

    I’m still not giving up on Ridley Scott yet, I enjoyed The Counselor, it’s well directed, just wish he’d fixed the script. Prometheus was entertaining, a good prequel to the Alien franchise, no need to expand it anymore though. I’m hoping the talk of a sequel will die down since I know Exodus will tank at the box office. Also, I hope the much talked about sequel to Blade Runner will never happen.

    I think Coppola just got tire of doing big movies after Apocalypse Now, he really got beat up emotionally and physically during the shoot of that film. He didn’t make another big budget film until Dracula over a decade later, the film was decent but not on the same level as his other flicks from the 70s. He might be able to churn out something good if he can or decides to jump back into big budget film making again.

    The ones who are done are John Woo, Brian De Palma, Oliver Stone, Tim Burton and even Terrance Malick; he hasn’t done anything bad but nothing he’s done since The Thin Red Line have been great. Many mentioned Peter Jackson, I’ll wait and see what he can do after he finished the Hobbit movies, I still think he can make another great film. It needs to be smaller in scale though.

    1. Hey Ted, I’d like to see Ridley do one REALLY good film before he can’t anymore, I mean he’s no spring chicken anymore but yet he’s so prolific and has his hands in everything! Yeah I hope Blade Runner won’t happen either.

      Yep, amen on PJ, I’d like to see him do a smaller and more personal film that doesn’t rely on too much CGI.

  9. Very good question Ruth!

    I must say that I LOVE Tim Burton… but his old stuff. I wish he would go back to that or just stop what he is doing, because he hasn’t done a truly amazing film since Big Fish, which I absolutely adored.

    I would have to think on this some more though.

    1. Hey Zoe! I haven’t seen enough of Burton’s work to say if he’s lost his mojo or not. I do like Big Fish, I saw that just recently actually.

  10. Wow. Outstanding comments from all–you hit a nerve, Ruth. Everyone makes good points. I’m tired of Tim Burton films. I wish Ridley would regroup, downsize, and try something simple for a change instead of trying to catch the tail of his perfect film, Gladiator. No one has mentioned Clint Eastwood. He reigned in the 00s. But I think he’s tapped out and should stay there.

    1. Ted S.

      That’s another director I forgot to mention, I think Eastwood has nothing left. He hasn’t anything great for a long time, his last great film was Letters from Iwo Jima. In fact, I haven’t watched any of his films since the awful Gran Torino. I kind of wish he’d make another western though but then again, Unforgiven was a great end to his long western career.

    2. I can’t comment on Clint’s work as I haven’t seen enough of them. But I do give him props for trying different genres, though he seems more successful in the western/war genre, it seems to me anyway.

  11. Did Oliver Stone ever have mojo? That’s a debate to itself. But I do think filmmakers lose something in older age because it was a youthful passion, almost anger that drove their best work. I doubt Ridley Scott loses his rag on film sets like he did on Alien or Blade Runner. Perhaps the determination to make great film art is lost a little in favor of earning enough money to keep the children and grandchildren happy in future.

    1. Ahah, I never liked Stone so if y’asked me, he probably never had mojo 🙂 Interesting point there about having that passionate drive when you’re younger, though there are still people like Michael Mann and Scorsese (both in their 70s) who I think still got it.

    2. Ted S.

      Dan, you didn’t like Wall Street, Platoon, Born on the 4th of July and JFK? I thought those were excellent films. But I think Stone lost his marbles after Natural Born Killers but then he made a very good football movie Any Given Sunday. He’s going to direct Mission: Impossible 2 but Cruise was stuck shooting Eyes Wide Shut so he went and made the awful Alexander.

  12. Besides Ridley Scott and Oliver Stone, I’ll have to say Spike Lee. He really hasn’t done anything great since 25th Hour and really has lost the spirit which made his older work so special.

  13. Tom

    I don’t know. I’m not sure if there’s a review bad enough that will prevent me from seeing Exodus. I am pretty pumped (though, that should also be read as no one will be more disappointed than me when I turn out to be dead wrong! Lol!), but I do see where it is going to have some problems. Me, personally, I don’t have an issue with the casting of white caucasians in roles that are Middle Eastern. What I will take umbrage with is if the special effects look as cheesy as they do in the commercials! 😦

    Hmmm. .. to answer your question, though. I haven’t really been following too many directors for long enough to determine when there’s been a notable decline in their products, but for my money, I haven’t been very impressed with how the latter half of Rob Reiner’s career has gone (or been painted by critics as). That was the guy who did The Princess Bride, and now he’s doing And So It Goes, The Magic of Belle Isle. . etc. Like, what?

    1. Yeah, I feel that the more commercials/featurettes they release on this movie the more they look convincing to me. I was saying to Ted that IF for some reason the film itself is good then surely ppl can forgive the casting issue. As for Rob Reinier, yeah seems that he definitely can’t replicate his *golden years* back in the 80s or even 90s.

      1. Tom

        Yep, that’s what my thoughts are on Exodus as well. Funny enough, I was meaning to see it this afternoon. But there have been *so* many negative reviews pointing out many other things besides the obvious that it’s actually caused me to back off. I’ll probably catch it this weekend still, but I’m becoming increasingly concerned about th eoverall quality of the product. Which is a huge shame, given the talent involved Ruth! :\

  14. Good question, Ruth. I would agree with Ridley. Having had to analyze Prometheus for a film class, it became painfully obvious how repetitive so many themes of life & creation he was laying on thick. It’s not not enjoyable, but it’s not particularly good when all the layers are peeled back.

    My other name to throw out there, though more in a way of hoping he doesn’t lose his mojo, is Darren Aronfosky. Noah is his most recent sub-par movie, and it’s only one count against him…but I feel like as a long-time passion project for him, it didn’t translate well. I liked it when I first saw it, but thinking about it more, he tried too hard to live up to his passion for the story, Hollywood studios wanting a big budget movie and trying not to anger religious groups.

    1. Hi Katy, that must be interesting studying Prometheus for a film class! It seems that w/ that film, the questions/themes presented are interesting but Ridley just can’t weave a compelling narration out of them. I’ve never been fond of Aronofsky, and in regards of Noah, I think the issue is that he has his OWN vision of Noah that has nothing to do w/ the REAL theme of the Bible. It seems to be in the same camp as Exodus now.

    1. Hi Mark! Yeah he needs to slow down and focus, seriously he still acts as if he’s 35 or something yet somehow he seems to have lost the passion/vigor he had of his younger days.

    1. Yeah I knew his name would keep coming up but yet I’m still hopeful he could still do one more decent film, I mean he’s still young after all.

  15. jackdeth72

    Hi, Ruth:

    I’ll back up Michael on M .Night Shaymalan as a director who never had it in the first place.
    Also add Michael Bay. While Oliver Stone, outside of ‘The Doors’ creates entertainment that has very little to do with history.

    Spike Lee hasn’t had it since ‘X’. While John Sayles stays in the shadows cranking out one large budgeted studio film. On time and under budget. To make one or two small budgeted personal projects.

    Film making is always a gamble and Ridley Scott seems to be gambling badly right now, but the Roulette wheel hasn’t stopped yet on ‘Exodus’.

    1. Hi Kevin! I think Shyamalan is perhaps a better writer than director, maybe he should just get a different director to work on his original story.

      As for Scott, well the Roulette wheel just might stop on ‘Exodus’ if the film bomb at the box office and it’s very likely given the horrible reviews.

  16. A great question Ruth. Lost their mojo? definitely Shaymalan. I think he DID have it to begin with. The Sixth Sense remains one of THE top twist endings in all cinema and look where he is now…After Earth, The Happening. He had it and lost it.

    I’m gonna also throw Steven Spielberg out there…and here’s why. as a director, he gave us Hook, Jaws, Close Encounters, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Color Purple, Empire of the Sun, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can…all movies that are easily recognizable, beloved, respected, etc.

    and then…he gave us War of the Worlds, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Adventures of Tintin, Munich, War Horse and Lincoln. all of which have their following of fans except maybe War of the Worlds. but compare this list of recents to the list above. None hold a stick in comparison. These recents will not stand test of time, they have no memorable overall scenes and themes. You can’t think of any quotes from them. but you can for the ones he did prior.

    Spielberg has lost his mojo. There…I said! haha 🙂

    1. Ted S.

      Yeah I was going to mention M. Night but it’s too obvious, lol! That man showed his true talent after TIME put him on their cover and called him the Next Spielberg. His huge ego got the best of him.

      You know I might have to agree with you about Spielberg, he hasn’t done anything memorable in a long time. BUT he made so many great films throughout his career that I still have a lot of respect for him and I still think he can make another great film. I hate War of the Worlds and Indiana Jones 4; War Horse and Tin Tin bored the heck out of me. I have yet to see Lincoln.

    2. jackdeth72

      Hi, Terrence:

      Collaboration with Lucas worked well for Spielberg early on. Though, those who he’s aligned himself with afterwards have not been up to his higher standards. So, you do have a viable argument.

      Christopher Nolan seems to have taken over the “wonderment” once attached to Spielberg. And with the proliferation of computers and CGI. Directing could be a los art in twenty years.

    3. I’m still a bit hopeful about M. Night, I guess if he somehow could overcome his ego and maybe concentrate on writing an intriguing concept instead of directing. I do think he has talents and I LOVE LOVE Unbreakable so I’m still willing to give him another shot.

      As for Spielberg, well after War Horse I guess you could say he’s sort of lost his touch. I mean I have no interest in Lincoln and Tintin was fun because I read the comics (and it was a collaboration w/ Peter Jackson). But yeah, he hasn’t done anything even remotely iconic for a long time.

  17. Ridley Scott needs to take a break. The Counselor was just awful but amazingly Exodus looks worse. Another one is Von Trier, but apparently he can’t make his shit sober and he is in rehab so happy news. And he never actually had any mojo in the first place.

    1. Ahah yeah, it’s amazing that somehow Scott kept *topping* the awful-ness of his latest film. It’s been fun reading all the reviews of Exodus though, I bet it’s more fun that watching it! I’m glad I’m not familiar w/ Von Trier, there hasn’t been a single film of his that appeals to me.

  18. Scott’s last truly great film for me was American Gangster, but I haven’t hated his recent work, even if several of those films have been letdowns. Fingers crossed for The Martian to be amazing.

    I know he’s been mentioned already, but I’d also have to go with M. Night Shyamalan. As a Shyamalan defender, he’s really disappointed me. And I’m one of the few people who actually liked every one of his films prior to The Last Airbender!

    1. Besson is so hit and miss, I kinda think he only has half mojo in his entire career, ahah. Burton’s name came up a lot, we’ll see how Big Eyes would fare.

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