100 Years, 100 Creators – Part 8 (Final)

Over a few posts, I’ve been choosing different creators or creative teams–novelist, composer, scriptwriter, comic book artist, etc–who have influenced or inspired me, and in most cases brought me a lot of enjoyment.

Day of the Doctor

For each year from 1919-2018, I’ve chosen someone who produced something significant or recognizable from that year–based on what year it was published or released (with comic books being considered to have been released on the cover date, although I know that’s not usually true). And of course, lifetime accomplishments beyond that year will play a big role in who is chosen and who is not. Because certain years were tricky, I’ve also allowed myself to pick people who were born or even died in certain years.

This is the end of that list, representing the last 12 creators and the last 12 years.

Read More:  1994 – 2006

2007 – Taika Waititi

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Taika Waititi is a New Zealand-born film director, writer and actor who of course is best known for his role as Tom Kalmaku in the 2011 movie Green Lantern.  Just kidding!  He did do that, but Waititi has made a huge name for himself as a film director, able to handle both small, independent productions and major cinematic blockbusters with the same blend of human drama and off-beat comic timing.  I first encountered him with an odd-ball romantic comedy called Eagle vs. Shark which came out in 2007, which caught my attention when I was flipping through channels one night.  He later got good reviews for Boy, which I only watched recently.  It’s a more overtly sad film about a young boy becoming inevitably disillusioned when his long absent father returns into his life.  He also did a short film called Two Cars, One Night which is available to view online and serves as a bit of a warm-up for Boy.  More recently, Taika Waititi re-invigorated Thor as a Marvel Cinematic Universe character with Thor: Ragnorak, which accomplished the impressive feat of turning one of Marvel’s least interesting leading heroes and turning him into one of the best.  I know some have not appreciated the amount of quirky jokes and silliness that that movie is filled with, but I feel like it was the exact shot in the arm the franchise needed.  However, for my money, Waititi’s masterpiece (so far) is The Hunt for the Wilder-People, the tale of a foster child and his guardian, connected more or less by accident, who become fugitives together, hiding in New Zealand bush from the law.  It’s a fantastic piece of filmmaking full of lots of surprising, funny and human moments which I have been able to go back to repeatedly without getting tired.

2008 – Christopher Nolan

Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan is of course one of the most celebrated American filmmakers working today.  It was the puzzle box of a movie Memento that first put him on the map for many people, but though I thought that film was interesting enough, it was his take on Batman in 2005’s Batman Begins that made him a guy I wanted to pay attention to.  It’d had been eight years at that point since Batman had been on the big screen, but after the childish hyper-lunacy of Batman & Robin it’s hard to express how much of a revolution Nolan’s immersive and grounded take on the material was.  When it was over, I remember thinking, “This is the Batman movie I’ve been waiting all these years to see.” Nolan has continued to show himself over and over again at the master of taking outrageous and fantastic material and making it compelling, visceral, and immediate.  As a result, even when I’m not a particular fan of one of his films–say with Inception or Interstellar–they are still gripping to watch.  His movies regularly deal with interesting philosophical ideas and unconventional narrative structures, which add another layer of interest.  In addition to Batman Begins, I particular love Dunkirk (2017), which I think captures everything Nolan is good at.  It’s also hard to find much to fault about his Batman sequel, The Dark Knight from 2008, which still stands as one of the best superhero movies ever made.  And even when his films are more obviously flawed, like with The Dark Knight Rises, they are still pretty good.

2009 – Landry Q. Walker

Supergirl Cosmic Adventures

Landry Walker is a comic book writer who has been involved with some of the best all-ages comics I have come across.  Along with artist Eric Jones, he did a six-issue miniseries called Supergirl:  Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade which finished its run in 2009 that I really can’t recommend highly enough.  It was laugh-out-loud funny, utterly non-exploitative in its depiction of female characters, completely appropriate for fans of every generation, and full of imaginative and far-out ideas.  It also has the best iteration of Streaky the Super-Cat that I have ever read.  Walker also wrote or co-wrote nearly all of Boom Studio’s The Incredibles comic, which tied into the Pixar movie before its sequel became a thing.  Originally working with Mark Waid (see 1993), Walker’s comic was great fun–a solid read that had all the fun and narrative interest you’d want from the adventures of the Parr family (which is something the sequel could not really boast).  It was cancelled abruptly it seems in 2011, which is a shame.  I haven’t read anything else by Landry Walker but I’d like to–his is definitely a name that would draw me to a project.

2010 – Paul Levitz

Legion of Super-Heroes 94

Writers of the Legion of Super-Heroes have shown up a lot on this countdown–just see Jerry Siegel (1938), Otto Binder (1958), Edmond Hamilton (1965), Jim Shooter (1969), Mark Waid (1993), and Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning (2001)–but my favorite Legion creator has got to be writer Paul Levitz.  I was already a fan of the series before he came back to the title in 1982, but it was thanks to his work (actually his second stint as  writer) that the book was really cemented as forever my favorite superhero series.  Under Levitz’ guidance, which continued with a fairly unbroken run on the franchise until about 1989, the Legion become a sprawling science fiction space opera as much as it was a superhero story, full of strong character work and overlapping storylines that were punctuated by multi-issue epics every year or so.  He did his most celebrated work with artist and co-plotter Keith Giffen (who could have easily had a spot on this countdown, but just didn’t), including the much-lauded “Great Darkness Saga”.  Levitz continued as the main writer of the series for years after Giffen left.  During that time, he continued to excel at both plot and characterization, with strong stories like Who is Sensor Girl?” and “The Universo Project”.  If Levitz had a weak spot, it was in actually creating new menaces for the Legion to fight–but that was okay because his strengths included writing some of the best stories versions of villains that were created by others, such as the Legion of Super-Villains, Universo, the Emerald Empress, and Computo…not to mention Darkseid himself.  Paul Levitz had a long career in the executive offices of DC Comics as well, so he probably shaped the comics I loved in way more than I know.  After he stepped down from that role, he returned for another stint at writing the Legion, which started out pretty strongly in 2010, but sadly petered out in the end.  But he’ll always be known to me for his stellar run in the 1980’s, which made the Legion into one of DC’s most popular books.

2011 – Kurt Busiek

AstroCity_Crackerjack_1

Kurt Busiek is an award winning comic book writer whose work (similar to Mark Waid–see 1993) often contains a joyful reflection of comic books of old.  He first came to major prominence in 1993 with Marvels, created with Alex Ross, a mini-series which retold the history of Marvel comics from the point of view of the man in the street.  Marvels became one of the most celebrated works in the medium, and was also wildly influential, helping to set the stage for other major works like Kingdom Come.  Shortly after Marvels, Busiek created Astro City, a series which re-imagined the entire history of American superhero comic books in one series.  It took the sort of shared superhero worlds that Marvel and DC made popular and then asked the question, “What else is going on?”  In so doing, Busiek (along with artist Brent Anderson and cover artist / designer Alex Ross) generated dozens of memorable stories which revealed previously unseen sides of the sorts of heroes, villains, aliens, monsters and especially the supporting characters that we’d been reading about all these years.  One of the best stories came in a half issue which was released in 1996, entitled “The Nearness of You,” about an ordinary person dealing with his wife’s disappearance from history in a cosmic reality-shaking crisis.  It’s one of the most emotional stories that I’ve read, telling a moving and memorable tale of loss and memory in only 16 pages. In 1996, two of Astro City‘s collected editions (which is how I normally read it) were released–Shining Stars and The Dark Age Volume 2–both were very good.  Busiek also wrote a whole bunch of other good stuff, including a mini-series called Superman: Secret Identity, another Superman story called Up, Up & Away (co-written by Geoff Johns), the epic crossover JLA / Avengers, and a lengthy run on the Avengers itself.

2012 – Daniel Baxter

Daniel Baxter - HISHE.jpg

Daniel Baxter is the front-man for How It Should Have Ended, an American flash-animation web series that has been parodying movies and TV shows since 2007.  I first discovered them with their short “How Superman Should Have Ended” and was delighted by the nit-picky film observations coupled with the obvious appreciation of super-heroes and other aspects of pop-culture.  Since then, I’ve discovered Honest Trailers and Pitch Meetings, but How It Should Have Ended was my introduction to this sort of movie-commentary web programming.  They’ve produced a lot episodes since then–some great, some average–but I always look forward to viewing the new one when it drops.  One of the funniest bits of that initial episode that I viewed is an extended coda featuring Superman and Batman sitting in a coffee shop at the end, debriefing the movie’s story.  It’s become of their most popular features, to the degree that in 2012 they started producing occasional “Super-Hero Cafe” and “Villain Pub” segments.  Their Batman characterization is especially memorable, with his gravelly voice, intense demeanor, supreme confidence in his abilities, and elevated sense of importance.  Baxter and his cohorts didn’t invent any of this–it was all part of the popular impression of the character–but they distilled all down so clearly that it’s actually hard to imagine the Lego version of Batman, for example, being a thing if there hadn’t been How It Should Have Ended first.  Daniel Baxter’s age is the only one on this whole countdown that seems to not be public, but it’s likely that he’s the youngest person on this list.

2013 –  Steven Moffat

Doctor Who Matt Smith 1

Steven Moffat is the British television writer and producer who first came to my awareness by writing some of the best episodes of the revival series of Doctor Who.  He started with The Empty Child two-parter, creating in one story some of the creepiest images as well as the most uplifting character moments.  He went on to do The Girl in the Fireplace and Blink, taking the show deeper into the mechanics and implications of time travel than it had ever gone before.  Then he did The Silence in the Library and its follow-up, which set the stage for Moffat’s years as the series’ showrunner with the introduction of River Song.  During his years in charge, he developed the 11th and 12th Doctors, he introduced the idea of the War Doctor, he cast two new versions of the 1st Doctor, he reset the number of regenerations the Doctor has available to him, he introduced a narrative justification of the series’ title, he undid the outcome of the Time War, he brought Gallifrey & the Time Lords back into the series, and retconned into the Doctor’s childhood a new motivation for his adventures.  And because of that, there are a lot of fans who are not fans of him, but that’s not me.  Moffat’s handling of the series as lead writer had highs and lows, but overall with its witty dialogue, clever plotting and crazy ideas, was more satisfying to this viewer than what came before or after.  In 2013, he wrote and produced The Day of the Doctor, the 50th anniversary of the series, which wasn’t the greatest story but was a good one, and was just about the best anniversary for the show that one can imagine (except maybe if Christopher Eccleston had been involved).  In addition to Doctor Who, Steven Moffat also co-created, produced and wrote a bunch of Sherlock, which also wasn’t perfect but was still awfully good.  Fun fact, Steven Moffat also wrote a Doctor Who short story a long time ago which included some of the ideas that made their way onto the show, including a giant library, and also wrote the 1999 comedic episode Doctor Who and the Curse of the Fatal Death starring Rowan Atkinson.

2014 – The Russo Brothers

Avengers Endgame Iron Man

Brothers Anthony and Joe are the second pair of filmmaking siblings on this list (see the Coen Brothers in 2000), and are best known for directing four strong movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  They came into the world of Marvel with Captain America: The Winter Soldier in 2014, which still stands as one of the best installments of that franchise, crafting a very effective action espionage thriller.  They established themselves there as masters of the action fight scene, with numerous sequences that were very strong.  They also demonstrated a great ability to give multiple characters strong treatment, as the movie included Captain America, Bucky, Black Widow, Falcon, Nick Fury, Crossbones, and even Batroc the Leaper and to utilize them all well.  That was nothing compared to their follow-up effort in Captain America: Civil War, which featured no less than twelve Marvel heroes fighting it out in a German airport.  The sequence should have been a chaotic mess, but the Russos were able to turn it a clear and thrilling viewing experience and an unquestionable highlight of the movie.  Of course, after that, the Russos directed both Infinity War and Endgame, which proved their talent again on a whole ‘nother level–these two films aspired to operate on a narrative scale that has never been done before in the movies, superheroes or otherwise, and on the whole succeeded.  There are a lot of other directors who have done good work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but nobody has done more–both in terms of the number of movies helmed or their overall quality–in telling the big picture story, or in establishing the “epic action mixed with engaging character and snappy humor” tone, that the MCU has come to be known for.  The Russo Brothers also directed a bunch of episodes of Community (see Dan Harmon, 2011).

2015 – J.J. Abrams

TheForceAwakens_dls_wpw_rey

Like with Steven Moffat (2013), there seem to be a lot of people who don’t like J.J. Abrams…but I do.  He made Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (which came out in 2015) into a nigh-completely derivative effort, but it was still gripping, fun and watchable in a way that the prequel trilogy by George Lucas (1977) never were, and more cohesive by a long-shot than The Last Jedi ended up being .  He made a couple of Star Trek reboot movies that had big lapses of logic and looked a bit more like Star Wars than anything J.J. Abrams had come up with, but they were still more entertaining than any of the Next Generation movies (including First Contact, a highly overrated movie).  But he also did Mission: Impossible III which still stands as my favorite film from that series, with the best character work, the most threatening villain, and the most grounded emotional stakes (though the  Fallout comes close).  And he did Super 8 which is another flawed film but offered a lot of fun with that whole childhood nostalgia thing that Stranger Things has been tapping into lately.  There have been five released movies directed by J.J. Abrams so far (Star Wars Episode IX is still on its way), and strangely, I have actually seen all of them.  He’s also done a lot of television work, notably Alias (which was stupid by fun) and Lost, which he helped to develop before leaving halfway through the first season.  Through all the ups and down of his output, I have always found Abrams someone who could deliver the goods in terms of stylish action and thrills, and just fun in general.

2016 – Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood - Invictus

Unlike J.J. Abrams, there is lots and lots of Clint Eastwood’s career as a director that I have never seen.  For a long time, it was hard to look past Eastwood as an actor, as which for so long he was such a “tough-guy” symbol on camera that it was hard to realize he was the same guy behind the camera of the films he directs, where he often brings quite a sensitive touch to serious subject matter.  Unforgiven wasn’t the first film Eastwood directed (it was actually like his 16th), but it was where I really became aware of him.  I didn’t completely “get it” when it was in its Oscar-winning release back in 1992, but still I could tell there was something interesting going on as it both embodied and deconstructed many classic Western tropes.  Later, he did A Perfect World, a lesser film to which I had a similar response–something really interesting was happening here which didn’t completely work for me.  Later still, there was Mystic River, a highly unpleasant but undeniably powerful film about a haunting pallor of violence, tragedy and revenge which hangs over three boyhood friends when they grow up.  But the movie of his that I really loved came along in 2009, and that was Invictus, an emotional but unsentimental depiction of Nelson Mandela and the South African rugby team.  Eastwood’s skills at steady, unhurried storytelling and giving space for actors to deliver highly immersive performances are on display here, and the movie manages to give you a triumphant sports-related climax while also avoiding the cliched feelings that such stories often have.  There are so many other Eastwood films out there, including many I have not seen.  The ones I have caught include Bird (a biopic about Charlie Parker from 1988),  Space Cowboys (a light-hearted adventure film about aging astronauts, from 2000), American Sniper (a biopic about Iraq War veteran Chris Kyle, from 2014), and from 2016, Sully, featuring Tom Hanks as Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot who successfully landed a malfunctioning airplane in the Hudson River, with no lives lost.  Sully is quite a good effort of a movie, managing to keep me fully engaged as a feature film which focused mostly on events which only took place over just a few minutes.

2017 – Joel Hodgson

MST3K - Theatre

Joel Hodgson is the American writer and actor who created Mystery Science Theatre 3000 back in 1988.  It was a show which started as a local offering on a station in Minnesota, before eventually gaining national appeal.  The premise was that some mad scientists imprisoned a guy in a satellite to perform psychological experiments on him by making him watch bad movies. Hodgson played everyman Joel Robinson for over 100 episodes during its first 5 (or 6, depending on how you count) seasons.  The show combined his loves of stand-up comedy and puppetry, and featured a mixture of dry wit, snark, and sentimentality.  It introduced the world to the idea of professional “movie riffing” and ironically has increased the popularity of many of the movies it has targeted.  Years after the original program left the air (and spawned many imitators), Hodgson launched an extremely successful crowd-funding campaign that led to Mystery Science Theatre 3000 being revived in 2017 and finding a new home on Netflix.  Hodgson himself mostly now works behind the camera, though he makes nearly unrecognizable appearances in every episode as an assistant to the new mad scientists in a hazmat suit.

2018 – Damien Chazelle

Neil Armstrong

Born in 1985, Damien Chazelle is the youngest person to win both the Academy Award and the Golden Globe award for Directing.  He has only directed four movies all together, with one of them starting life as his undergraduate thesis for Harvard University, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench.  It’s the only one I haven’t seen.  He came onto a broader scene with the critically acclaimed Whiplash, a movie I only recently caught up with.  It’s a raw, emotionally intense story of a driven high school drummer and his relationship with a brilliant but abusive music teacher, and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever seen.  But it was 2016, when he did La La Land–the movie he won the above accolades for–that I became aware of him.  La La Land is an incredible feat, managing to mix high-production value musical numbers in with moments of stark emotional realism to create a scenario that is both idealized and completely believable.  More recently, he made First Man, a biopic about Neil Armstrong and his life leading up to his historic trip to the moon.  All three of these movies are full of fascinating subtext and relational undercurrents, adding depth and interest to plots, images and editing that are already skilled and effective.  In some ways, Chazelle is still too young of a film maker to know what he is fully capable of, but to say early results are promising is clearly an understatement.

Tom Servo

And that is it!  100 years, 100 creators, and hundreds and hundreds of creative works.  Really, the world is full of so much amazing stuff, made by a creative God and the people he made.  As I compiled this list, there are so many others that occurred to me along the way, so many who had their spots bumped in favor of someone else…and so many that I know I just haven’t had the experience of to appreciate.  And that doesn’t even get into the creative people that I know (I decided to not consider them at all as I made this list, as that would add another level of complexity I didn’t want to deal with).

Anyone want to comment…who should be on there but wasn’t?

Read More:  1994 – 2006

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