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17 of the Best Filmmakers Over 75: From Jean-Luc Godard to Ridley Scott

17 of the Best Filmmakers Over 75: From Jean-Luc Godard to Ridley Scott

No one can compete with Woody Allen. The sheer quantity of films he writes and directs year after year would be impressive, even if his movies weren’t often equally as astounding. While we all know how long he’s been working, it’s still easy to forget the man is on the brink of 80 years old. Many people his age are long-retired, yet the funny man who loves drama hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down. He’s unparalleled, but he’s not alone. Here are 16 other directors over the age of 75 (more than a decade past the average retirement age of 62) who are still pushing out quality, thought-provoking efforts worthy of our attention — both behind the camera, in front of it, behind the scenes, or all three.

Francis Ford Coppla (75)

While the Oscar-winning auteur certainly peaked in the ’70s — how could he not, with that decade — Coppola has done great work in the 2000s. He’s served as executive producer on “Lost in Translation,” “The Good Shepard,” and “The Bling Ring” while experimenting with low budget films as a director. Granted, “Youth Without Youth” and “Twixt” don’t compare to “The Godfather” or even “The Rainmaker,” but Coppola’s significance to the auteur film movement gives him plenty of leeway to try out some new styles in his old age. Whether he’s out to prove you can teach an old dog new tricks or he’s simply telling stories he really wants to tell, Coppola remains a visionary filmmaker — and most likely will until his dying day.

Ridley Scott (76)

While he seems to be in a prolonged rough patch — “Prometheus” showcased Scott’s visual range, but you have to go back to “American Gangster” to find a gem — it is impossible to ignore the life’s work of Ridley Scott and the impact it’s had on the medium. From dreaming up the now-iconic sci-fi experiences of “Alien” and “Blade Runner,” to taking over two wildly different but equally triumphant stories like “Thelma & Louise” and “Gladiator” and turning both into modern classics, Scott’s mark on Hollywood is not going anywhere, even if we kind of wish he had stayed away from becoming a big Hollywood hack (please, let “The Counselor” mark his last filmmaking falter). The legendary producer/director has yet to win an Oscar, so we’re holding out hope he’ll get back on track for one soon. It would be a crime if he never took home a trophy.

READ MORE: Woody Allen’s “Magic in the Moonlight” is Exactly What It Looks Like

Ken Loach (77)

At 78, Ken Loach doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Enthused as ever, his most recent film, “Jimmy’s Hall,” competed for the Palme D’or at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, narrowly losing out to Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “Winter Light.” Looking back over his career is astonishing. One of the iconic faces of “British New Wave” cinema, he has directed over 25 films and numerous television series. His social realist directing, inspired by Italian filmmakers Vittorio De Sica and Gillo Pontecorvo, focuses on “ordinary people and their dilemmas” and has sensitively touched upon issues of labor rights and homelessness, receiving countless accolades in the process.

Robert Redford (77)

After some recent misfires with “The Company You Keep” and “Lions for Lambs,” it would be easy to say Redford has slipped creatively since “Ordinary People” won him his Oscar in 1980 (and turning in solid pieces with “A River Runs Though It” and “Quiz Show” shortly after). Easy, but inaccurate. The Sundance Film Festival founder has evolved considerably as an actor and producer in the last decade or so, even if his directorial efforts have been lackluster, turning in impressive performances in “All Is Lost,” “Spy Game,” and even “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” More interesting, though, are Redford’s endeavors in the field of television. He’s executive produced two compelling and crucial pieces for CNN, “Chicagoland” and “Death Row Stories” and recently signed on to EP a series version of his old film, “Brubaker,” for Showtime.

Woody Allen (78) 

Anyone who whips out a movie a year — at any age — deserves some sort of shout-out. The fact that it’s 78-year-old Woody Allen creating this amount of work is even more impressive. The director/writer, who is admittedly pretty hit-or-miss with his annual efforts, has made enough quality films to go down in history as one of the best (“Annie Hall,” “Manhattan,” “Hannah and Her Sisters,” as well as “Midnight in Paris” and “Blue Jasmine” of late). Still, he doesn’t stop, even when his personal life makes headlines. It’s easy to distinguish his best works from his worst, but it’s rare to find a director who is so consistently himself. A Woody Allen film is a Woody Allen film.

Roman Polanski (80)

It’s hard to believe only one person was the driving force behind the films “Chinatown,” “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Pianist” — to name just a few. And, at 80, Roman Polanski still has a lot to boast about. Although his personal (and criminal) life has been a controversial subject for years, the director has still managed to whip out some great films, including the underrated “The Ghost Writer” and his most recent drama, the play adaptation “Venus in Fur.” With his knack for spearheading dark material, Polanski is undeniably one of the greatest directors to ever live. Even his failures (2011’s “Carnage,” for example) aren’t completely hopeless endeavors. It’s a rare feat to see someone who, after all these years, is still at the top of his game.

Milos Forman (82)

I’d be surprised to hear of a film class that didn’t mention Miloš Forman’s work. The Czech filmmaker is a directing icon and has won numerous Golden Globes and Academy Awards for bringing European cinematic sensibilities to the American silver screen. His most iconic films are both insightful and accessible. They include respected titles such as “The Fireman’s Ball,” “One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest” and “Amadeus.” His most recent effort was the critically panned “Goya’s Ghost,” starring Natalie Portman, Javier Bardem and Stellan Skarsgard. In Indiewire’s review, Michael Rowin wrote that it was an “unremarkable film” with a “final scene that conveys true weight.” Knowing Forman’s work, he will be back with a vengeance soon.

READ MORE: Jean-Luc Godard’s Hilarious, Baffling “Goodbye to Language” in 3D Will Mess With Your Eyes – and Your Head

Monte Hellman (82)

After starting out in summer theater, Monte Hellman started working with legendary “B” movie producer Roger Corman in the late 1950s. He made his movie directorial debut with “Beast from Haunted Cave” in 1959 and directed portions of Corman’s “The Terror” in 1963. After editing several films for Roger Corman, including “The Wild Angels,” Hellman directed “Two-Lane Blacktop” starring Warren Oates, James Taylor and Denis Wilson. When he released “Road to Nowhere” in 2010 at the age of 78, it opened to positive critical acclaim and awakened everybody to the longevity of the artist, leading to career achievement awards from the Palm Springs and Venice Film Festivals. In 2012, “Two-Lane Blacktop” was included in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, proving that Hellman still deserves a place in film history.

Mike Nichols (82)

Although Mike Nichols hasn’t directed a film since his 2007 period drama “Charlie Wilson’s War,” the 82-year-old legend has still been pretty busy. He’s directed two plays and is currently working on an HBO film with frequent collaborator Meryl Streep (“Master Class”). Nichols is undoubtedly one of the best working directors, a man whose pieces are consistently great, even in the later years. From his now-classic “The Graduate” to his masterful adaptation of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America,” Nichols has always had a knack for translating some great texts onto the screen. He is also one of the few people in the world who has won all four major entertainment awards: an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.

UPDATE: Sadly, Mike Nichols passed away in late 2014 at age 83. Read his obituary here.

Jean-Luc Godard (83)

It’s difficult for any director to reinvent themselves, but it’s almost unheard of for a director to reinvent himself over a period of 50 years, as Jean-Luc Godard has. While opinion was divided over the director’s most recent work, the baffling 70-minute essay film, “Goodbye to Language 3D,” when it screened at Cannes, there’s no question the octogenarian auteur still has the capacity to provoke after all these years. Given his penchant for experimenting with reflexivity and referencing established film tropes, it’s not surprising that before earning his place among the pioneers of the French new wave, Godard was a film critic for Cahiers du cinéma. Though “Breathless,” his debut feature was his first and last mainstream success, his films over the years — including “A Woman Is a Woman,” “Contempt,” “Band of Outsiders,” “Week End” and “Alphaville” — always reflected the political, social and sexual issues of the day. Considered by some the greatest filmmaker of all time, Godard has surely influenced generations of filmmakers, including, most notably, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Altman and Wim Wenders. He’s a perfect example of a filmmaker who remains relevant at any age.

READ MORE: The Films of Roman Polanski Ranked Worst to Best

Clint Eastwood (84)

So Clint Eastwood hasn’t had much luck these days. His latest, “Jersey Boys,” was met with pretty mixed reviews, and his J. Edgar Hoover biopic was nothing to brag about either. Still, at 84, the actor-turned-director is still one of the greatest filmmakers to ever live. Eastwood has directed more than 30 films (many of them westerns) and is behind masterpieces such as “Unforgiven,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “Gran Torino” and “Mystic River.” With these crowning achievements, Eastwood would have every right to slow down, but the legend never seems to shy away from fascinating material, even if the results aren’t so great (“Hereafter”). No matter his age, he’s always someone to keep an eye on.

Jacques Rivette (86)

Along with Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol and Francois Truffaut, Jacques Rivette got his start as a film critic for Cahiers du Cinema in the 1950s. Like his peers, he transitioned to filmmaking, gaining international recognition for “Mad Love,” “Love on the Ground,” “Gang of Four,” “Celine and Julie Go Boating” and “La Belle Noiseuse,” among other films over the years. Rivette was perhaps the most experimental of the French New Wave filmmakers — even Godard admired Rivette’s unconventional career. In particular, Rivette experimented with time constraints in film – “Out One” lasts 13 hours, while “La Belle Noiseuse” ran well over three hours. Rivette has said “if cinema has a social function, it’s really to make people confront other systems of thought.” Rivette’s films certainly succeed on that level and, though he hasn’t made a film since 2009 (“36 Views from the Pic Saint Loup”), his work stands the test of time.

Agnes Varda (86)

Varda is one of most the influential female directors of all time. The Greek-French filmmaker’s visionary work and ideals helped establish the Nouvelle Vague; her realism and feminist commentary is truly profound and her enthusiasm for experimentation must be honored. “Cléo from 5 to 7,” for example, is one of the leading examples of real time technique, following a young singer waiting to hear the results of a medical test that will possibly confirm a diagnosis of cancer. This century, though, her workflow has become increasingly sporadic and low key, she still competes against the best in the business. Her documentaries “The Gleaners and I” (2000) and “The Beaches of Agnès” (2008) are undeniably beautiful and extraordinarily intimate, and certainly exemplify the work of someone who has mastered their craft.

Andrzej Wajda (88)

One of the most predominant faces to emerge out of the “Polish Film School,” Wajda developed his name as a champion for Polish development, sensitively chronicling the country’s war-torn history during World War II and its following sociopolitical development often via allegory and symbolism. In 1981, his film and sequel to “Man of Marble,” “Man of Iron,” won the Palme D’or and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the Cannes Film Festival, depicting the solidarity labor movement’s conflict with communism in documentary-like fashion. Recently. he’s directed “Katyn” (2007), “Sweet Rush” (2009) and “Walesa. Man of Hope.” In our review, Eric Hynes wrote “Katyn” is “flawed but functional” and that the world is a better place “for Wajda having lived to tell the tale.”

READ MORE: D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus Turn to Kickstarter to Raise Money for “Unlocking the Cage”

D.A. Pennebaker (89)

A pioneer of the Direct Cinema movement — particularly its application in the live music space — D.A. Pennebaker’s films captured the sociocultural and political landscape of the 1960s in such a profound, unobtrusive way such that “the counterculture,” or at least its perceived essence, remains a topic of fascination for many people today. Featuring unforgettable performances by The Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Who, Pennebaker’s “Monterey Pop” set the precedent for capturing live music performances on camera via a handheld, observational style of filmmaking. The distance Pennebaker places between the camera and its subject remains a sacred space, permitting the subject to appear unfiltered or distorted by a third-party point-of-view. In “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars,” Pennebaker limits establishing a distinct third-party point-of-view by essentially “circling” Bowie with the camera; shooting from backstage, on the floor looking up, etc.. By incorporating a diverse array of angles, the film takes on a dynamism of its own that even transcends Bowie’s star power. Even now, Pennebaker is collaborating with Chris Hegedus on a new documentary about animal rights, showing that he’s not ready to slow down anytime soon.

Jonas Mekas (91) 

Born and raised in Lithuania, Jonas Mekas emigrated to the United States in 1949 after completing his studies at the University of Mainz in Germany and began his career in film as a critic and a curator. Mekas curated screenings for various avant-garde cinema venues around New York City and in 1954, he founded the now defunct magazine “Film Culture,” which published film criticism written by the likes of Peter Bogdanovich and Andrew Sarris. At the same time, Mekas began writing a film column for The Village Voice and, as a filmmaker, began working with many of New York’s most sought after cultural disruptors, including Andy Warhol, Allen Ginsburg and Salvador Dalí. Over the years, Mekas’ work, despite its unconventional approach to narrative, reflects a particular focus upon his own psychology — the way he processes the world around him. “Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania,” which debuted at the New York Film Festival back in 1972, is probably one of Mekas’ most well-known pieces. The film is a meditative documentary that centers on a trip where Mekas returned to the village in Lithuania where he had been born. The epic “As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glances of Beauty,” follows in the footsteps of its 1972 predecessor in that it consists of footage pulled from Mekas’ home movies accompanied by narration he provides.

Manoel de Oliveira (105)

With a career that has spanned the silent, sound and now also the digital era, Manoel de Oliveira — both the man and the work he has done over the past 70 years — seems to provide an indication that cinema has a bright future ahead of itself. Despite the technological shifts that have occurred in filmmaking over the course of his career, Oliveira has still managed to produce a diverse slate of features, shorts and documentaries. Beginning in the 1980s, Oliveira began receiving regular invitations to Cannes: first for “Francisca” in 1981, then “The Satin Slipper” in 1985 and then “The Cannibals” in 1988. Oliveira continued to show films at Cannes throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, including famed Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni’s last film, 1997’s “Voyage to the Beginning of the World,” which also won that year’s FIPRESCI Prize.

[Editors Note: Paula Bernstein, Eric Eidelstein, Shipra Gupta, Brandon Latham, Oliver MacMahon and Ben Travers contributed to this article]

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