The difficult second album has troubled and frustrated musicians since people started buying vinyl. But what about filmmakers and their second feature-length film..? Here’s ten of the best.
There are many directors who explode onto the scene with incredible first films. There are too many to mention here but a few would-be artists like Sam Mendes, who won best director for American Beauty, Wes Craven for his intestine-squeezing, pulse-pounding, heart-stopping film Last House on the Left and even lesser known films like Arlington Road by director Mark Pellington, who made what I consider one of the best of 1999.
But what about those directors who might have made good films for their first one, but absolutely blew us (me) away with their second ones? I find this to be a bit more interesting as we may have not even seen their brilliance coming, and yet their second films were absolutely astonishing in so many ways.
Here, I take a look at what I consider to be the top 10 best second films from a director. One caveat to this is that I will admit that my point of reference doesn’t go back before 1970. I am simply not knowledgeable enough to speak intelligently, or remotely coherently about these films. So this will be from 1970 until now. I’m sure some of these choices will be a big WTF to some of you, but these are the artists and films that have left an impact on me and on the film world.
10. Katherine Bigelow – Near Dark (1987)
Bigelow made a film in 1982 called Loveless. No one really saw it. It took her 5 years until she would make her next film. And a strange one it was. Near Dark was blessed with a terrific cast highlighted of course by three of the main actors from Aliens, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen and Jeanette Goldstein. It came out the same year as the other vampire film, Lost Boys. Both films were terrific but told and shot in as diametric polars as one could possibly imagine. Her comedic timing, intensity and ability to get fantastic performances out of her entire cast was never more on display than it was here. It’s no wonder, at least to this author, that she won the Oscar for best director 23 years later.
9. Sylvester Stallone – Rocky II (1979)
Stallone, in my opinion, is one of the all time underrated directors. He hasn’t done many films but the ones he has done have, for the most part, been some of the most entertaining films of their respective years. He has been the punchline all of his professional life. Even in success, his detractors would go after his speech impediment, husky voice and/or his “dumb jock” reputation. Nothing is further from the truth as he is an Oscar-nominated actor and writer and has written more than 20 films. Rocky II is almost as good as the original. Stallone says he learned how to direct when he did Paradise Alley. And when John G. Alvidsen wasn’t asked back for the sequel, Stallone stepped in and showed his ability. His choreography of the fight is better than Alvidsen’s vision. Rocky II is just one of the strong entries in the Rocky saga.
8. John Hughes – The Breakfast Club (1985)
One of the all time under-appreciated writer/director’s in the history of film. John Hughes could direct a film that takes place in a phone booth and it would be interesting. Never has anyone been able to relate to one generation as well as he. He just understood what it was like to be a teen in the 80’s. Sixteen Candles started this wonderful journey but The Breakfast Club simply transcends a generation. It examines the high school pyramids, paradigms and parameters of jocks, beauty queens, brainiacs, basketcases and criminals. There’s a reason why this film has remained relevant over a quarter of a century later.
7. Joss Whedon – The Avengers (2012)
If you are Marvel and you are ready to spend about 350 million dollars on a one of a kind film, who do you hire to helm it? That’s simple…the man who has one directing credit to his name and (ostensibly) has no idea how to handle a budget of that size. And yet The Avengers turned out to be one of the best films of 2012 and is spoken about in the pantheon of great superhero films like The Dark Knight and Spiderman 2. Whedon brought his own geeky sensibilities to the film. There are scenes in it that are right from his childlike mind, like playing Galaga in the floating fortress. So many tiny touches of brilliance were brought to the film because of him. A truly ballsy move by producers Kevin Feige and Alan Fine (among others).
6. Tobe Hooper – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
There are films that are remembered for being great. There are films that are remembered for winning Oscars and there are films that are remembered for making gajillions of dollars. Then there is Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This is a film that once you see it, it will never leave you, at least it hasn’t me. It’s ephemeral and one film that will still be spoken about 50 years from now. Based loosely on Ed Gein, who was also the basis for Psycho, Hooper should be lauded for his raw and innovative film making. This was filmed in July and August in Texas, which is the hottest time of year. The feeling of this film is painted brilliantly in every shot. The dinner table scene is one of the most iconic scenes in any horror film. And the blood in some of the shots near the end is real. Marilyn Burns did twist her ankle jumping through the window and Gunnar Hansen chased the actors with a real chainsaw. This obviously adds to the authenticity of the film, making Texas Chainsaw Massacre one of the all time greats.
5. Ridley Scott – Alien (1979)
Is there a more gut wrenching scene than the alien chest bursting scene? If there is, I can’t think of one. It terrified a generation of movie goers and it is still imitated today, some 30-plus years later. For a man who directed a fencing movie starring Harvey Keitel and Albert Finney, to suddenly show off his immense talents with Alien, it was truly a surprise. Alien has stood the test of time and even though there has been 5 other alien films (including his pairing with the Predator) none has been able to match the sheer audacity of the first one. Scott is now an Oscar nominated director and one of the most revered men in the business. Alien started it all.
4. Quentin Tarantino – Pulp Fiction (1994)
The film that changed the way we see films today. And that is not hyperbolic in any way. QT came along and turned everything upside down. This is a film that will often be imitated but never duplicated. That is an old cliche but it is so true in this case. It is completely original and without a doubt, what makes it so original and so great is simply the writing and directing. What other film can have gangsters talking about foot massages and the importance of them just before they are about to perform a hit. What other film can describe in great detail what a pilot for a film is and then talk about a man that fell through a four story window and develop a speech impediment, all before entering into a room to ramble on about the Bible and how tasty the burgers are before executing them with extreme prejudice. There is a simple and definitive answer to that question – no film. Pulp fiction takes violence and surrounds it with every day conversations with people that seem to be in a different world yet they jump through some strange porthole and into ours by discussing things like blueberry muffins, how good coffee is, cleaning a blood smeared car with domesticated products that are located under Jimmy’s sink, oral pleasure, speaking Bora Bora, getting day jobs as opposed to robbing banks, being cool like Fonzie and five dollar milkshakes. A giant among giants.
3. The Wachowski Brothers – The Matrix (1999)
Another game changer. We all know about bullet time but what is also so iconic about this film, is, well everything. The story of a computer hacker who just knows that something isn’t quite right with the world, but he can’t put his finger on it. This is a film that is about as symbolic as they come. We are all living in The Matrix. We are all asleep and somewhere out there, people like Morpheus do exist and they are trying to tell us something. Unquestionably one of the best films of 1999 and in so many ways, much more memorable than American Beauty. The Wachowskis were never able to duplicate their success here although the sequel, for all of its detractors, is a remarkable film as well. But to go from Bound (a film about lesbians trying to steal mob money) to this genre bending, iconic film, is just mind blowing.
2. James Cameron – The Terminator (1984)
In 1982, James Cameron directed the sequel to Joe Dante’s cult classic Piranha. He didn’t get along with the crew, pissed everyone off and was reportedly fired with about a quarter of the film still to be shot. How on earth did this (allegedly) temperamental young Canadian manage to secure a 6 million dollar budget, with a world champion bodybuilder as the main bad guy and then have it go on to make 6 times its budget in North America alone? Balls, brains, and a je ne sais quoi attitude. Cameron is one of the most brilliant director’s to ever grace Hollywood and The Terminator is the film that got him noticed. This is the stuff of legend.
1. Steven Spielberg – Jaws (1975)
Sugarland Express is a nice movie. JAWS is as good as they come! For those of you who have read some of my other pieces, you will know of my love for JAWS. It is the best film ever made in my opinion. I don’t want to repeat myself too much when it comes to JAWS, but just know this. Spielberg had to make things up on the fly. The script was written, at times, 5 minutes before they were going to shoot the scene. He had to invent ways to create suspense because the main prop wasn’t working. He had a drunk and a playboy as two of his main leads. And yet when the camera rolled, the green, 26-year-old filmmaker managed to make magic. There is no finer film. To borrow a line from wrestling legend Bret Hart – It’s the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.
What do you think of these “second” films? What films would appear in your top 10?
Discover More from Dan Grant: Top 10 Bill Paxton Films | Top 10 Dumbest Friday The 13th Moments | Top 10 Scariest Films Ever Made | 50 Films Better Than “The Dark Knight Rises” in 2012
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