No one name is more synonymous with ‘the epic’ than British icon David Lean. Oddly enough, it wasn’t a label he wore throughout his entire career. While early efforts, usually based around the work of Charles Dickens, would only hint at his visual aplomb, it was his latter works, including Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago, and The Bridge on the River Kwai that announced who he really was. In fact, it’s safe to say that if you haven’t seen these three films on a normal theatrical screen, you’ve never seen David Lean at his best. The man oozed optical wonder.
From the very beginning, David Lynch wanted to be an artist. He envision a world where his paintings and his films could co-exist, perhaps even appear in the same frame. After a series of seminal shorts, he crafted Eraserhead, turning his waking nightmare muse into the stuff of celluloid legend. From there, he mastered surrealism, dramatics, and the fine line between incongruous images and visual perfection. With only a few films—including the amazing Blue Velvet, Mulholland Dr. , and Lost Highway—he turned the standard genre tropes on their pointed, preposterous heads. He is a true national treasure.
Now here was someone who was certifiable crazy and creative. He got his start working for the BBC, building unusual approaches to standard biographical documentaries and docudramas on famed artists. Soon, he was unleashed on movie screens around the world, his confrontational craft at all things reverent and self-righteous knocking sacred cows off their huffing hooves. For Women in Love, The Devils, and his take on the Who’s Tommy alone, his talents transcend his TV beginnings. As his mythos grew, should did his balls. Eventually, he was exiled from the artform he came to redefine, his visions too big for the basics of an ‘80s or ‘90s entertainment.
He is capable of making ‘small’ movies, especially when you consider that some of his subjects warrant such compact canvases. But as he proved with last year’s Hugo, no one understands the balance between story and spectacle better than Scorsese. He can take even the most minor aspect of a script—say the introduction of a collection of characters sitting around a bar—and turn it into a pastiche of sound and vision. As a matter of fact, Scorsese is one of the few filmmakers who understands that music can function to make things epic. There is greatness in everything he attempts.
They’ve only made five films, and three are part of one of the most popular (and polarizing) trilogies of all time. But only their debut feature, the lesbian tinged Bound, argues against their visual flair (even though it is technically brilliant from a framing and composition standpoint). No, it’s the Matrix movies which will come to define what Andy and his ‘brother’ Lana can do behind the lens, a complex collection of F/X ideas and artistic inspiration that merges to form an unforgettable cinematic experience. Sure, many consider Speed Racer to be of lesser, illegitimate quality, but the car contests literally leap off the screen.