Sure, Hollywood is fixated on the young, chasing teenage dollars, looking for the next fresh hotties, and sending stars over 25 to
the glue factory get botoxed. And yet, this summer, some of the most eagerly anticipated movies are coming from directors old enough to collect Social Security. There's Ridley Scott, behind this year's most anticipated sci-fi epic, "Prometheus;" there's Woody Allen, with another comedy/travelogue, "To Rome With Love"; and there's Oliver Stone, with all-star crime thriller "Savages." Not bad for directors who are 74, 76, and 65, respectively.
In an industry that places such a premium on youth, directing seems to be one of the few jobs where age is considered an asset, not a liability. Many of today's top directors are men (and, in a handful of cases, women) who've been at it for decades. When it comes to managing hundreds of people on an eight- or nine-figure production, experience counts, as does level-headedness, maturity, authority, reliability, and other qualities that grow more pronounced with age.
But most of these senior filmmakers aren't directors for hire. They're making the films they want to make, with only occasional regard to commercial or youth appeal. Sure, it helps that directors like Ridley Scott and his brother Tony (who's 67) specialize in genre movies, or that Allen and Nora Ephron (age 70) like to make romantic comedies, but pleasing focus groups and studio suits isn't their primary concern. Ultimately, what keeps these directors relevant is their seasoned, sure-handed storytelling skills.
But what keeps them working? Maybe it's pure cussedness. Stone is famously ornery. Ridley Scott has said he has a strong competitive streak. Allen has said he has a drawer full of movie ideas he'd like to make while he's still able.
Perhaps the work itself keeps them young. Directors like these are following in the footsteps of such classic filmmakers as John Huston, Robert Altman, and Sidney Lumet, all of whom worked into their 80s and never retired. (They still have a ways to go, however, to match the record of Manoel de Oliveira, the Portuguese director, who's still making movies at 103.)
They also provide an example for today's younger directors. It's easy to imagine that the filmmakers whose love of their craft is apparent in their work --such as J.J. Abrams (45), Paul Thomas Anderson (42), Wes Anderson (43), Darren Aronofsky (43), Sofia Coppola (40), David Fincher (49), Christopher Nolan (41), Robert Rodriguez (43), and Quentin Tarantino (49) -- will be in it for the long haul.
Below is a list of the directors they hope to emulate, the still-strong seniors who'll be calling, "Action!" as long as they can draw breath.
Besides being an iconic action hero, Eastwood's been directing movies for 40 years, (though critics didn't take notice until "Unforgiven," his bitter farewell to westerns, 20 years ago). He's excelled in a variety of genres and made some of the most acclaimed films of the last decade or so, including "Mystic River" and "Million Dollar Baby." He works fast, under budget, ahead of schedule, and under the radar, and he delivers movies that are reliable Oscar-bait nearly every autumn. Due later this year is "Trouble With the Curve," in which Eastwood will also star, as an aging baseball scout.
Nichols is known for directing literate, witty, often satirical films, going back to such groundbreaking 1960s classics as "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and "The Graduate." More recently, he's done more overtly political movies like "Primary Colors," "Charlie Wilson's War," and the made-for HBO "Angels in America." His movies tend to be big-budget affairs, usually because they draw top A-list actors. He hasn't made a film in five years, but he's busy directing on Broadway, overseeing the current revival of "Death of a Salesman."
Polanski's legendary career includes such '60s and '70s classics as "Rosemary's Baby" and "Chinatown," as well as such acclaimed recent dramas as "The Pianist" and "The Ghost Writer." His exile from America hasn't stopped him from working with top Hollywood stars, including Jodie Foster in last year's "Carnage."
Marshall's been around long enough to have two major showbiz careers, first shepherding classic sitcoms like "The Odd Couple" and "Happy Days." and then, for the last 30 years, as a director of successful romantic dramedies. He has an eye for young talent, having effectively launched the film careers of Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman" and Anne Hathaway in "The Princess Diaries." His most recent film was last year's all-star ensemble romance "New Year's Eve."
The most prolific of directors, Allen has released about one film a year since he began directing in 1969. Critics felt his work fell off after such '70s and '80s classics as "Annie Hall," "Manhattan," "Hannah and Her Sisters," and "Crimes and Misdemeanors," but the last few years have seen him revitalized by venturing out of his Manhattan comfort zone to make movies in sophisticated European cities, including London ("Match Point"), Barcelona ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona"), and Paris ("Midnight in Paris.") Last year's "Midnight" was the top-grossing movie of his career (in 2011 dollars, at least). This summer, Allen's European tour continues with "To Rome With Love," a comedy that marks his first appearance in five years in one of his own movies.
In the midst of his long career as a matinee idol, Redford transitioned easily into directing in 1980 with "Ordinary People," and he's been doing thoughtful, intense dramas ever since. He's best known these days as the eminence behind the Sundance Film Festival and the mentor to a couple generations of indie filmmakers. His most recent movie was last year's historical drama "The Conspirator." Due at the end of the year is "The Company You Keep," a thriller about an aging political fugitive, in which Redford will also star.
Scott is known for meticulously designed visual spectacle, whether in sci-fi sagas ("Alien," "Blade Runner"), period epics ("Gladiator," "Robin Hood"), or crime dramas ("Thelma & Louise," "American Gangster"). He helped make Russell Crowe a star in 2000 with "Gladiator" and has featured him in four movies since. For "Prometheus," he returns (sort of) to the still-popular "Alien" franchise he launched 33 years ago, enthusiastically adding 3D filmmaking to his visual palette.
Coppola's place in cinema history is secure with such iconic '70s films as the first two "Godfather" movies and "Apocalypse Now." Recent efforts have included such little-seen art-house movies as "Youth Without Youth" and last year's "Twixt," but he's also the producer of the upcoming -- and long-awaited -- adaptation of Jack Kerouack's "On the Road."
Like Garry Marshall, Brooks started in sitcoms (from "Mary Tyler Moore" to "The Simpsons") and branched out into dramedy films, including such beloved movies as "Terms of Endearment" and "As Good as It Gets." He's still fond of romantic comedy, though his last one, 2010's "How Do You Know," didn't live up to his usual critical or commercial standards.
De Palma was known early on for groundbreaking horror films ("Carrie") and Hitchcockian thrillers ("Dressed to Kill," "Blow Out"). Over the past 30 years, he's tried a variety of genres, but despite his visual mastery and probing camera work, he's been hit or miss except with his memorable remakes ("Scarface," "The Untouchables," "Mission: Impossible"). He's been absent from the screen for five years (since the anti-Iraq War diatribe "Redacted"), but next year, he's releasing "Passion," a crime thriller with Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace.
Apted has succeeded in practically every genre, from the music biopic ("Coal Miner's Daughter") to the Bond movie ("The World Is Not Enough") to the children's fantasy epic (his last theatrical feature, 2010's "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader"). His next film is the documentary "56 Up," the latest every-seven-years installment of his life-long project that began with "Seven Up" in 1964.
The former Monty Python animator is known for his visually lavish fantasy epics, from "Brazil" and "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" to "The Fisher King." He's also known for spectacularly bad luck, from his never-finished "Don Quixote" adaptation to having Heath Ledger die during production of "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus" (2009), Gilliam's last completed movie to date.
Ephron was already well known as a journalist, essayist, and muse before embarking on a successful career as a screenwriter ("Silkwood," "When Harry Met Sally") in her 40s. At 50, she turned to directing and created such huge smashes as "Sleepless in Seattle" and "You've Got Mail." She specializes in well-observed romantic comedy, though she's also good with stories about women who become high achievers in unexpected ways ("This Is My Life," or 2009's "Julie & Julia," her most recent film). Due next year is "Lost in Austen," adapted from the British TV series that adds a time-travel twist to "Pride and Prejudice."
Levinson was a successful screenwriter before taking the director's chair for the first time 30 years ago with "Diner." Known for nostalgic dramedies about his native Baltimore, as well as mainstream dramas about tricky subjects (autism in "Rain Man," sexual harassment in "Disclosure"), Levinson has struggled of late to recapture his former glory. A project that might do it is his upcoming all-star gangster biopic "Gotti: In the Shadow of My Father."
Often cited by critics and other fanboys as the greatest living director, Scorsese used to be known for dramas exploring masculinity and violence (from "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull" to "Goodfellas" and "The Departed"). In recent years, he's rejuvenated himself, first by trading in his eight-time leading man Robert De Niro for a younger model (Leonardo DiCaprio), and then by embracing digital filmmaking and 3D photography for last year's "Hugo," his first ever kid-friendly movie. The famously motormouthed director shows no signs of slowing down; currently, he has as many as 10 projects in various stages of development.
Mann brought his TV-bred flair for visually stylish crime dramas ("Miami Vice") to the big screen with such hits as "Heat" and "Collateral." He was one of the first A-list directors to embrace digital filmmaking. His most recent movie was period crime drama "Public Enemies" (2009). After his ill-fated return to TV this year with HBO's short-lived series "Luck," he's reportedly planning to head back to filmmaking with "Go Like Hell," a period drama about auto racing.
Malick is famous for his dreamy, poetic visuals (focusing largely on the world of unspoiled nature), for his ability to attract A-list stars to movies whose narratives are often unfathomable, and for the 20-year hiatus he took between his second and third movies. The director of last year's much-debated "Tree of Life" is making up for lost time with four new projects in the works over the next couple of years.
Like big brother Ridley, Tony came from the world of TV commercials, but he's known less for art than for high-octane pulp, from "Top Gun" to 2010's "Unstoppable," his most recent film. He likes working with Denzel Washington; they've made five action thrillers together. Up next, supposedly: a sequel to "Top Gun."
Hackford has excelled at all kinds of dramas, from the military romance "An Officer and a Gentleman" to the gothic Stephen King tale "Dolores Claiborne" to the musical biopic "Ray." His last film, 2010's "Love Ranch" (starring his wife, Helen Mirren), didn't make much of an impact, but his next one should. Due in 2013, "Parker" is a crime thriller based on a Donald E. Westlake novel and starring Jason Statham.
The Artist Formerly Known As "Meathead" transitioned easily from "All In the Family" co-star to acclaimed director of such diverse movies as "This Is Spinal Tap," "The Princess Bride," "When Harry Met Sally," "Misery," and "A Few Good Men." His recent career has been rocky, though he had a modest hit with 2007's "The Bucket List" and earned praise for 2010's "Flipped," a little-seen puppy-love romance that brought him back to territory he'd explored in "Stand By Me." Due in July is "The Magic of Belle Isle," an uplifting tale of redemption featuring "Bucket List" star Morgan Freeman.
Stone had a blistering early run -- 10 movies in 9 years -- that included his Oscar-winning "Platoon," his iconic "Wall Street," two more movies about Vietnam, biopics of Jim Morrison and Richard Nixon, and the conspiracy-theory epic "JFK." He couldn't keep up that feverish pace, and he's channeled his firebrand tendencies into little-seen documentaries about Latin American politics, while offering more sober, reflective fare in his mainstream dramas, including his last film, 2009's sequel "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps." He may regain his mojo with "Savages," a crime drama due in July that features an all-star cast and that fuses his skill with traditional movie narratives to his fervor over turmoil in Latin America.
Spielberg has stayed in tune with youthful taste by famously refusing to let go of his inner Peter Pan, even while the last 20 years has seen him take on dark adult dramas ("Schindler's List," "Saving Private Ryan," "Munich") with the same aplomb he displays in telling family-oriented stories (from the Indiana Jones movies and "E.T." to "The Adventures of Tintin") or in scaring the daylights out of you ("Jaws," "Jurassic Park," "War of the Worlds"). He works quickly (sometimes completing two movies in the space of a year) and is happy to learn new tricks; like Scorsese and RIdley Scott, he's embraced digital and 3D filmmaking (especially using motion-capture animation, as in last year's "Tintin.") The film industry's most reliable hitmaker for nearly 40 years, he has the power to make whatever movie he wants, whether based on reality or fantasy, as is apparent from his next two movies, December's biopic "Lincoln," starring Daniel Day-Lewis, and 2013's sci-fi epic "Robopocalypse."