Superstar directors make their comebacks

Ben Raymond

By Ben Raymond

Staff Reporter

Everyone loves a comeback story. There is a certain excitement – a potent sense of drama to the reemergence of past idols. In theaters this autumn, past and present collide as some of film’s most celebrated directors make their triumphant return. After a lengthy hiatus, four of cinema’s all-time greats step behind the camera once again to lens some of the most anticipated films of the year.

In recent years, the mention of classic names like Allen, Lumet and Coppola have invoked only a bittersweet nostalgia. Their latest efforts, ill-received and forgettable, have tarnished their legacies, pushing many to believe that they are well past their prime.

It seems, however, that the disappointment and frustration is at an end. From Venice to Toronto, Cannes to Berlin, their latest films have wowed critics the world-over and piqued the anticipation of cinephiles everywhere.

Woody Allen

Woody Allen is arguably one of the film industry’s most treasured figures. The genius behind beloved comedies like “Sleeper” and “Manhattan,” Allen has earned three Oscars including best original screenplay and best director in 1977 for “Annie Hall” (one of the 10 best films ever made).

Original, riotously funny and steeped in narcissism, Allen’s movies are sardonic odes to the futility of life and love. A raging atheist and admitted self-loathing pessimist, he manages, despite his depressed view of the world, to make films of slight, subtle beauty.

Unfortunately, his latest films have been almost universal failures. Not since 1989 with “Crimes and Misdemeanors” has Allen found success. Titles like “Husbands and Wives,” “Everyone Says I Love You” and “Anything Else” have fallen into anonymity, pulling pieces of Allen’s legacy down with them. “Deconstructing Harry” in 1997 and “Match Point” in 2005 were his only remotely worthwhile efforts. His last film, “Scoop,” was just plain silly. Many thought he would never return to form.

But this November Allen seems poised once more for the spotlight with “Cassandra’s Dream.” His first film in three years without new muse Scarlett Johansson, “Cassandra’s Dream” is a crime drama (a different move for Allen) starring Colin Farrell, Ewan McGregor and Tom Wilkinson that tells the story of a pair of brothers down on their luck and in search of a financial upturn at any cost. The few screenings it has had to this point have been met with much praise. One can only hope the trend continues. Is a 22nd Oscar nomination in Allen’s future?

Frank Darabont

If you don’t know this man by name, you surely know his work. Frank Darabont is the genius (both writer and director) behind classics like “The Green Mile” and “The Shawshank Redemption,” which has become one of cinema’s most revered classics.

This November Darabont breaks away from his comfort zone (redemption-themed prison dramas based on Stephen King short stories) and tries something new. Well, sort of; this time the film is based on a King novel that isn’t set in the slammer. “The Mist,” Darabont’s first crack at the horror genre, is an ethereal terror flick about a freak storm that unleashes a band of bloodthirsty creatures on a small town.

Although it won’t be named at any awards ceremonies anytime soon, Darabont’s return and the nearly complete lack of decently-crafted horror films these days has captured the attention and excitement of many.

Sidney Lumet

Sidney Lumet is among the greatest minds in filmmaking. Director of some of the craft’s most timeless films and author of quintessential book on the art of direction (“Making Movies”), Lumet’s legacy is one of paramount admiration and respect He is incompararable to his peers.

In 1957 Lumet directed the classic courtroom drama “12 Angry Men.” In 1975, Al Pacino screamed “Attica! Attica! Attica!” in wild protest outside a Brooklyn bank in Lumet’s “Dog Day Afternoon.” He directed “Network” in 1976 and “The Verdict” starring Paul Newman in the best performance of his illustrious career in 1982.

But times have changed. The last time Lumet made a great film Reagan was in office, the Berlin Wall stood tall and Michael Jackson was still a black male. His descent into mediocrity has been sad to say the least; his last film, “Find Me Guilty,” starred Vin Diesel for heaven’s sake! Vin Diesel! The chair I’m sitting on is more talented than that schmuck.

It’s time for Lumet to be restored to greatness. “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney and Marisa Tomei, has received boisterous praise from critics lucky enough to be invited to the few advanced screenings. Hailed as a spellbinding modern drama, “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” is on the shortlist of early Oscar contenders.

Francis Ford Coppola

“The Godfather” is the most violent film ever to win the Oscar for best picture. “The Godfather: Part II” is the only sequel ever to win the honor. “Apocalypse Now” was the first and only Vietnam War picture ever to be shot in Vietnam itself – less than two years after the fall of Saigon. The revolutionary filmmaker behind these classics is Francis Ford Coppola.

Since “Apocalypse Now” premiered in 1979, Coppola has made only a handful of films, none of which were up to standard. Coppola is famous for being a meticulous, exacting director. But this gift quickly turned into a curse while filming “Apocalypse Now” when Coppola was nearly driven to suicide under the unbearable stress of completing such a monumentally difficult picture Thank heavens it was an instant classic.

In our lifetime, it has been his daughter, Sofia, that has taken over as the family’s resident visionary filmmaker with “The Virgin Suicides” and “Lost in Translation,” which earned her an Oscar for best original screenplay. But Francis is back this December with “Youth Without Youth” starring Tim Roth (“Pulp Fiction”).

“Youth Without Youth” will be the centerpiece of the upcoming Rome Film Festival. Early word from Coppola’s production team has been nothing but positive. Coppola returning to the director’s chair after a decade-long absence is “an offer I can’t refuse.”

Allen, Darabont, Lumet and Coppola all return to theaters this fall, making the close of this year the perfect time to be a moviegoer.