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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Five Best: Actors turned Directors

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="149" caption="Ben Affleck courtesy of"][/caption]

This Friday, The Town premieres, starring Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, and Blake Lively. The film was also directed by Affleck, which is not necessarily as bad a thing as you may think. Though his film career has been vanilla, at best, he proved himself a very capable director with 2007's Gone Baby Gone, starring his brother Casey and Amy Ryan, in an Oscar nominated role. So, what other actors have made a successful transition to the world behind the camera? Here they are and their best efforts to date.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="291" caption="Actor/Director Clint Eastwood, courtesy of"][/caption]

Clint Eastwood

Best Film So Far: Mystic River (2003)

Eastwood was first introduced to us in Sergio Leone's "The Man with No Name" trilogy, but he's come a long way from his cowboy days. He's made a number of good films, but I prefer Mystic River, partially because he isn't in it. Clint tends to fall back into his "gruff older man"  stereotype (see Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino...even Unforgiven, to a point) when he works in his own films, so it was nice to see a heartbreaking film under his direction that isn't about him. Sean Penn is electrifying in the film and Tim Robbins gives the performance of his career in a devastating look at childhood tragedy and its long term effects. Eastwood has shown his strength for setting tone and using his actors in a way that brings you into the story emotionally, whether he is in the film or not.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="274" caption="Director Ron Howard, courtesy of"][/caption]

Ron Howard

Best Film So Far: Apollo 13 (1995)

In my "Five Best: Former Child Stars" feature, I talked about Howard's triumph with this film. He began his life on screen as Opie in "The Andy Griffith Show" and grew up in front of us on "Happy Days," but his real genius has been behind the camera. He tends to have a flare for the melodramatic (see A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code), but his best work has been filed down, true emotional filmmaking. In Apollo 13, he takes a "big" movie and true story, and makes it one of the most inspirational stories on screen. It's not a perfect film and it does shift into melodrama at points, but it is his best display of true heartfelt direction, while his actors (Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, et al.) tug pretty hard on your heartstrings.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="281" caption="Director Rob Reiner, courtesy of"][/caption]

Rob Reiner

Best Film So Far: When Harry Met Sally... (1989)

Reiner gave youth (and "meatheads") a voice against the hilariously prejudice and cantankerous Archie Bunker on TV's "All in the Family," but really came into his own behind the camera. This is Spinal Tap may be his most memorable achievement, but When Harry Met Sally... is his most successful. He takes the simple romantic comedy formula and makes it something a little different - it's a love story, but almost a buddy comedy for most of the film. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan were never been better (and haven't really been since) and gave every one of us hope that, one day, that friend could one day become something more. And maybe it wouldn't take this long.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="312" caption="Actor/director Todd Field courtesy of"][/caption]

Todd Field

Best Film So Far: In the Bedroom (2001)

I'm stretching, but Todd Field was a small time actor before he began directing. He acted a lot on TV ("Roseanne" and "Gimme a Break!") and starred in a few big movies (Twister, The End of Innocence, and Eyes Wide Shut), but is really a much better director. He may have won the most praise for 2006's Little Children, but his first big triumph and most effective film was 2001's In the Bedroom, starring Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson as parents dealing with the murder of their young son. He pulls fantastic work from his already talented actors and even has the astonishing skill of making Marisa Tomei an effective character actor, as opposed to a walking cliche on screen. And he gets first crack at Cormac McCarthy's supposedly un-filmable novel Blood Meridian, currently in production. So, good luck with that, Todd.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="221" caption="Actor/Director Charles Laughton courtesy of"][/caption]

Charles Laughton

Best Film So Far: Night of the Hunter (1955)

He is better remembered for playing Captain Bligh against Clark Gable's Christian in 1935's Mutiny on the Bounty or as The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1939. But, Charles Laughton made one film as a director. And that one film is better than any of the others on this list. In 1955, Laughton directed the nearly flawless Night of the Hunter, starring Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, and the beyond haunting Robert Mitchum. A film that was well ahead of its time, Night of the Hunter is the gem of Laughton's career, as good an actor as he was. It is creepy, unsettling, and a beautifully directed film noir/thriller that should have led to more work for such a talented director.

So, actors can certainly make good directors. There are some more that could have made the list, but for one-shot efforts, these are the five best. Feel free to plug your George Clooneys and your Sofia Coppolas below, if you want.

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