50 Surprising Films From Great Directors

From crazy choices to career changes

Skyfall (2012)

The Director: Sam Mendes

The Surprise: A legendary figure in theatre and the third-youngest recipient of the Best Director Oscar, Mendes had a reputation for capital-I Important Films. He's not, it's fair to say, the obvious choice to direct a Bond movie.

Is It Really So Strange? Well, this was 007's 50th anniversary, so the occasion called for a big name; besides,t he producers had already raised the bar for directorial hires with Marc Forster. More importantly, Mendes' theatrical roots means he's used to handling a change of pace.

Pearl Harbour (2001)

The Director: Michael Bay

The Surprise: Easy to take the piss now, but there was once a time when Michael Bay felt he was ready to stop playing with action blockbusters and try his hand at a Spielberg/Lean-level war epic.

Is It Really So Strange? Miscasting and that ingrained love of blowing shit up brought this American tragedy down to Bay's level. Speaking of which, the director has since found his comfort zone with no fewer than four films of robot-on-robot action in the Transformers series.

Mission: Impossible (1996)

The Director: Brian De Palma

The Surprise: Always one of the most extreme and violent of the 1970s Brat Pack, it didn't seem likely that De Palma could helm a major summer blockbuster… or would even want to. Yet here he was, directing Tom Cruise in a spin-off of the classic 1960s spy series.

Is It Really So Strange? Strip away the brutality and the crime thriller trappings, and De Palma had already made a summer blockbuster based on a TV series: namely, The Untouchables . And the M:I format allowed the director to indulge his love of paying homage to past classics, in this case the silent-heist-on-a-wire seen in Jules Dassin's Topkapi .

How Green Was My Valley (1941)

The Director: John Ford

The Surprise: The big picture of 1941 (it beat Citizen Kane at the Oscars) was a melodrama about life in a Welsh mining town. Clearly, the guy to tackle this was action specialist John Ford, whose Westerns from The Iron Horse to Stagecoach (and many more later) marked him as the archetypal Hollywood director.

Is It Really So Strange? Ford had Celtic roots (albeit Irish rather than Welsh) and a huge sentimental streak. If those factors didn't make him a suitable choice, consider that he had already won two Best Director Oscars, the most recent for The Grapes Of Wrath , whose themes of a family living through hardship are echoed here.

Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)

The Director: Wes Anderson

The Surprise: Anderson was the darling of hipster cinephiles thanks to whimsical comedies like Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums when he 'foxed' us all by making a stop-motion adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic children's story.

Is It Really So Strange? Not at all. Stop-motion is perfect for Anderson's very formal, art-directed style, and it feels so much like one of his live-action films you barely notice it is populated with animals.

Heavenly Creatures (1994)

The Director: Peter Jackson

The Surprise: The trio of Bad Taste , Meet The Feebles and Braindead represent one of the sickest, silliest calling cards of any director, making it all the more jarring when Jackson created this brutal, serious masterpiece in which growing pains turn into homicidal urges.

Is It Really So Strange? The eruption of startling special effects into an otherwise fiercely controlled period drama provide the through-link between the "earlier, grosser" films and the prestige fantasy of his Tolkien adaptations. And don't forget The Lovely Bones ' return to the underbelly of suburbia.

The Patriot (2000)

The Director: Roland Emmerich

The Surprise: Having spent the 1990s destroying much of the United States with the help of aliens and giant lizards, the blockbuster maestro tried to show the creation of the nation with this historical epic set during the American Revolution.

Is It Really So Strange? Swap lasers for muskets, and there is probably as much stuff getting blown up here as in earlier films. And ask any historian about the veracity of the story, and they'll politely inform you that Independence Day is more realistic.

Jersey Girl (2004)

The Director: Kevin Smith

The Surprise: After five films set in the profane world of the View Askewniverse, Smith made a bid for crossover appeal with this altogether sweeter, PG-13 comedy-drama.

Is It Really So Strange? Jersey Girl 's commercial and critical failure sent Smith scurrying back to Clerks 2 , but here's a director who seems determined to break out of his self-created ghetto, whether on studio pics like Cop Out or a sideways jump into indie horror with Red State .

Arsenic And Old Lace (1944)

The Director: Frank Capra

The Surprise: Frank Capra's run of folksy comedies about social issues had made him one of the most powerful directors in Hollywood. All the more surprising, then, that he should risk his reputation on this anarchic adaptation of the dark-hearted Broadway smash about homicidal aunties.

Is It Really So Strange? Before he defined his "Capra-esque" style, the director was quite capable of making darker, more controversial films (such as 1933's The Bitter Tea Of General Yen ). And from Hollywood's viewpoint, they probably needed someone with a populist touch to make the poisonous atmosphere palatable to mainstream audiences.

Where The Wild Things Are (2009)

The Director: Spike Jonze

The Surprise: Jonze's weird, wild collaborations with writer Charlie Kaufman ( Being John Malkovich , Adaptation ) had given the director a reputation for boundary-shattering post-modern. After a seven year absence, critics clamoured to see what he'd do next… so he made a feature-film out of Maurice Sendak's slim storyboard with the help of Jim Henson's Creature Shop.

Is It Really So Strange? Jonze made his name by making Bjork dance with post boxes and a dog-faced man listen to Daft Punk. You don't seriously expect him to grow up? (See also: Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr Fox .)

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