Tarantino, Scorsese, Payne and the Art of Direction

When it comes to movies, I consider myself quite the fanatic. While I have several actors I enjoy watching on the screen, it’s the great directors who often get me excited to see a movie. A great director will take the audience with the characters on a journey, keeping them interested the entire way.

Here is a closer look at three of my favorite directors:

Alexander Payne

Truth be told, I picked Payne because he’s from the Omaha, Nebraska area and has filmed several of his films here … as well as my neighboring hometown. If hard pressed, I’d likely choose Wes Anderson (“Bottle Rocket,” “Rushmore,”) or Francis Ford Coppola (“Godfather,” “Apocalypse Now”) as my third-favorite director, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like Payne’s work as well.

His film “Citizen Ruth” was not only filmed in my hometown, but my friend’s sister and brother-in-law both got brief screen time in the picture, ass did a guy I worked with for a short while and a woman my grandmother used to babysit.

“Election” was filmed in the town I was a sports editor in for some time. Though I didn’t work in the town when it was filmed, I did work there before it came out on video. “About Schmidt” also had much of the movie set in the Omaha area.

While I enjoy all three of these movies, the added “I know where that is” or “I’ve been there” factor adds to the enjoyment. That being said, his next film, “Sideways,” was probably my favorite of his to date. And “Sideways” was filmed and set in California.

What I enjoy from all of Payne’s films is his way of taking the audience with him on the journey and his ability to tell this story of the often-flawed characters.

Martin Scorsese

Scorsese has a long history of directing great films, a list that includes some of my all-time favorites. With movies like “Taxi Driver” and “Mean Streets,” released in the 1970s, “Raging Bull” in the 1980s and “Gangs of New York,” “Aviator,” and “The Departed,” in the last decade, Scorsese is a director who has withstood the changes in the movie-going society over time.

My two favorite films of his are “Goodfellas” and “Casino.” Both based on true story adaptation of books by Nicholas Pileggi, Scorsese brings these characters’ world to the screen in a way only he can. In “Goodfellas,” he provides us with one of the best scenes ever put on film. The main character Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta, takes his date to a night at the Copacabana, but there’s a line outside. No worry for Hill, who takes his date in the back door, through the kitchen and to their seat right up front to see Henny Youngman. All done in one shot with a steady cam.

In “Casino,” Scorsese’s best shot comes in the middle of the desert. As Robert DeNiro waits for Joe Pesci to arrive, he proclaims his chances of surviving the meeting are “Fifty-fifty.” Then a car races through the desert, reflected on the sunglasses worn by DeNiro.

Quentin Tarantino

Where to begin?

Tarantino is a rare director who has built both a strong cult following and is a box office draw for the masses. The former video store clerk takes his knowledge of film, music, television and pop culture and interweaves it with his stories to bring out some of the best dialogue ever seen on the big screen. Whether it’s the commode story, discussing the true meaning of Madonna’s Like a Virgin , debating when to tip in “Reservoir Dogs,” or the Superman speech in “Kill Bill: Volume 2,” Tarantino has a way of having his characters have conversations that don’t feel forced and depth to the story and characters.

He also mixes in a great soundtrack, sometimes of forgotten gems from the past, into his films. From Little Green Bag in Reservoir Dogs, Down in Mexico in “Death Proof” or Never Can Tell in Pulp Fiction, Tarantino has a way of picking a classic song and mixing it with an unforgettable moment. Then there’s what he did with the Steelers Wheel song Stuck in the Middle with You, which I’ll likely never be able to get out of my head due to its ultra-violent imagery.

As for the filming itself, Tarantino has made famous the trunk angle shot, as well as the so-called Mexican-standoff. My two favorite scenes are the opening to “Reservoir Dogs,” a slow motion introduction to the characters, and the House of Blue Leaves single shot steady cam in “Kill Bill: Volume 1,” and the trailer fight in “Kill Bill: Volume 2.”


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