Thursday, July 8, 2010

M. Night Shyamalan and the Career Arc of a Director

No, I haven't seen The Last Airbender yet.

And I'm not gonna.

Know why?  Two words - The Happening.

I loved Sixth Sense - liked Unbreakable - loved Signs - tried to like The Village - was totally unimpressed with Lady in the Water.

I figured I'd give M. Night one more chance with The Happening.  But do you know what happened at The Happening?...  He took my 10 bucks and spit in my face.


That movie is an affront to filmmaking - either one of the worst, most tone-deaf movies made in the last 30 years, or the most brilliant satiric self-immolation ever put to film.  I seriously thought he was trying to purposefully trash his career so he could get out of his current contract by making the worst movie ever.

Then he made The Last Airbender... and it's getting even worse reviews.  I don't need to see it.

How can this be possible?  How can the same guy who made Sixth Sense and Signs, two of my favorite movies of the last decade, slide steadily into absolute dreck? Has he totally lost his mind?  Does he not care anymore?  Did someone else write and direct his first three movies for him?

I wanted to see just how bad it really was, so I did what I always do...

I made a chart:

This chart shows the ratings (per Rotten Tomatoes) for every M. Night directed movie.  As you can see, it looks like a big ol' slide to wretchedness.

That got me thinking... What do other director's charts look like?

Let's say, one of my favorite directors - Martin Scorsese:

Wow - now that's more like it.  Some ups and downs, but consistently above 80 and a solid body of work.  The Aviator and The Departed propped him back up after losing some steam there for a while.

What about the Cohen Brothers?

Hmm - very similar.  Not surprising really, considering they are always in the Oscar hunt.

What about my all-time favorite - Stanley Kubrick?

Wow - an unbelievably consistent and brilliant performance.

What about some relative newcomers like Quentin Tarantino:

...or David Fincher:

Nice - both of them very solid.  Looks like either could have a Scorsese type career ahead of them.

Here are two that are similar shaped - starting out high, then a slight overall downward trend:

Also notice the alternating series of successful and not-so successful movies to the right of the charts.  Looks like after they made their masterpieces, they have struggled a bit to find good material.  And note Coppola's string of four in a row (The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather Part 2, Apocalypse Now), perhaps the finest run of cinema ever produced - although Ridley's back-to-back of Alien and Blade Runner is pretty impressive.

Now here's one that just makes me scratch my head:

I mean really, how can the same guy that made The French Connection and The Exorcist spend the rest of his career making such inconsistent movies?  Not just unsuccessful movies, but horrible movies.  It's as if he has no filter for taking on bad projects - he just takes whatever comes his way.  Sometimes he gets lucky - and sometimes he is stuck with garbage. Compare this to how surgically focused Kubrick was in choosing his material.

Now this leads me back to M. Night - has he lost the ability to direct, or the ability to discern a good story from a shitty one?  If someone else picked the material and he just directed, would it be any better?

Any finally, one more chart:
Yep - another couple of guys who were heralded when they first came out but have created worse and worse movies as their career has progressed.  Did they, like George Lucas essentially have one good idea for their entire career?  Do they even care about telling interesting stories anymore?  Was The Matrix just a lucky guess?


  1. I think you meant for Matchstick Men to go on Ridley Scott's chart. Kubrick had much better taste. :)

  2. Nice charts :) I did something like this a while back, before Last Airbender was a colossal FUBAR. You did a lot more than me, but I've got a couple you don't -- Oliver Stone, Ang Lee, and Michael Moore, for instance!

    Benefit of the Doubt: Credibility Against Time

  3. I actually stood at the end of "The Village" and booed the screen. I watched half of "Lady in the Water" on DVD and shut it off. Wild horses couldn't drag me to another Shyamalan movie. I'd rather see a Uwe Boll movie - at least they're so bad, they're funny.

  4. Jesse - very cool chart!

    Interesting that we both managed to pick the Cohen Bro.s and M. Night.

  5. Interesting charts. It always makes me wonder how the same director can make brilliant films, and such horrible disasters.
    Nice blog, keep writing!

  6. While I'm not an avid movie buff and tend to look at critic ratings like a young child looks at anything vegetable in nature, I coulda told you that M. Night's films were mostly garbage and he only made three sorta-okay ones.

    The real problem with M. Night isn't his fail after the fact it is that his films aren't up to repeat viewings due to his "twists" so he needs... something he can poo out that will actually be worth watching multiple times.

    I mean, the average movie watcher isn't interested in art direction and the reason most movies are popular is cause they were "really cool" or something similar to that effect.

    M. Night is just a bad story teller and got lucky the first bit of his career, now everyone's done with his add-hock bull.

    That's just me, maybe?

    Also: How did Matrix Revolutions get such a bad score? o.O I mean, it wasn't the GREATEST film but... wow, really? Speed Racer I get, but it was campy and fun/stupid. XD

  7. I hated "Unbreakable" (and I was an extra in it!), but really liked the underplayed performances in "Signs." Then he had to ruin everything with "The Village." I actually stood up and booed the screen at the end of that stupidity... I refuse to spend another dime on this idiot's movies.

  8. I'm new to this blog, but I love it so far.

    You can't drag down poor Fincher's curve with that Aliens 3 monstrosity. He was never allowed to really direct it, and to this day curses and disowns it.

  9. I love this article. And hate how Shyamalan keeps being given good material. The Last Airbender had so much potential and it sounds like it's been ruined. I loved Unbreakable and the Sixth Sense, didn't watch Signs but every film after that has been utter garbage. You should try to get it added to a dictionary.

    The Shyamalan Effect- doing a couple of good things and then going downhill very quickly.