If you don’t want to bother with the entire meme but still want to play, it is highly encouraged to list some of your own favorites for today’s category in the comments.
This category is actually going to be directors/producers, because two is the max I could come up with even combining them. The creative mind behind a movie or TV show isn’t something I ever noticed much until fairly recently, because there are so many people involved and the ones on the surface are the easiest to remember. But my choice here was simplified because the two that came to mind are two that I really, really like.
What is there to say about Joss Whedon. No seriously, I’ve spent the last eight years of my life talking about Joss Whedon, I’m not sure there’s anything left to say. It’s interesting that he brought so many of us together, and now since we’re all aware that we like Whedon TV shows, it’s easier to spark a conversation by talking about all the ways he’s disappointed us or how we like his work less than we used to. His new creations aren’t as good as the old ones, the old ones aren’t as good as we thought they were back when we discovered them.
But let’s take a look at the lineup, in roughly chronological order, and try to be objective. There’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy is a masterpiece and I see no reason to downplay that. The iffy beginning, sagging end, and poorly conceived episodes, arcs, and elements stand out precisely because the rest of it is such a masterpiece. It’s dramatic, funny, revolutionary, emotional, exciting, and at times, deep enough to affect you in parts of yourself that aren’t normally concerned with TV. It’s everything a show should be, and it’s a sound basis for the rest of Whedon’s success.
There’s Angel, which is all of the adjectives I just listed for Buffy, except perhaps ‘revolutionary’. Is it a masterpiece? Probably, though I hope I’ll be forgiven for assuming it required less creative genius from Joss: not only was he not fully in charge, but the show had the benefit of being a spin-off, so a lot of the genius already existed. Anyway, it’s a feather.
There’s Firefly, which is known mostly for what could have been, and that’s fair. It’s hard not to think about all of the unused potential, but whether you’re a diehard Browncoat or a standard fan wishing everyone would shut up about this one show being cancelled prematurely, this is one of the most watchable seasons of television out there.
There’s Dollhouse, that sad little low-rated experiment. I liked it. I liked how different it was from the three listed above, and I liked watching it wobble and ultimately stand up. For this one it’s the masterpiece moments that stand out, but the takeaway is that there are masterpiece moments.
Oh hey! There’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog! Maybe I can use the word ‘revolutionary’ again! Whatever - it was funny and cute and I loved the music.
This is about where we come to the movies. Personally, I think that, considering the pieces that were already in place, both Avengers movies could not have come out any better than they did. If you didn’t like them, you probably either don’t like superheroes, or you like superheroes so much that no adaptation will ever satisfy you. I’m comfortably in the middle leaning toward the second option, and I found these movies exceptionally well-crafted and exciting. I also think he left at the right time, which is a skill unto itself.
Cabin in the Woods and Much Ado About Nothing were both released during the slow decline of my Whedon obsession, and neither horror nor Shakespeare is really up my alley. I loved them both anyway. It’s entirely possible that I loved them both because any appearance from any member of the Whedonverse cast makes me giddy, but shouldn’t he get some credit for that anyway? The man knows how to pick his actors.
One thing that always comes up when you talk about his work is the snappy dialogue. I adore the snappy dialogue. I always tell people I don’t like comedy and they think I don’t like humor, but actually I just prefer it when it’s mixed into another genre. All else remaining the same I would still probably lose all interest in everything on this list if Joss didn’t keep making me laugh.
More than that, though - and more than the plot twists, worldbuilding, genuine thrills, and unique concepts - what we’ll always remember him for is his characters. Buffy Summers, Angel, River Tam, and Dr. Horrible aren’t just populating their respective settings; they’re the engines of their stories, the reason we care. They’re surrounded by varied personalities who interact with them in complicated relationships. It feels like our own world made new, speculative impossibilities made familiar. In the end, people are the only part of life that really matters.
Anime might have an undeserved reputation for being juvenile, mass-produced, and fetishistic. Another way of looking at is that the reputation is entirely deserved. Either way, all it takes to see the medium used as an art form is any film from Studio Ghibli - hell, any one frame from any film from Studio Ghibli.
Miyazaki’s trademarks go beyond quality in every aspect of each work, and even beyond his artistic style. In his stories there’s always a source of hope, even when things go very, very wrong, and a chance to adapt to an unknown world or a serious loss. The natural world is invaluable and threatened, and human life is sacred and fleeting. To love someone is to learn from them.
At the heart of (almost) every movie is a girl or young woman with a difficult task ahead of her. She’s brave and competent and there isn’t really anything else you can say about her, because Miyazaki does not ever use the same character twice. He doesn’t have a “brave competent central heroine” mold; each girl is herself and no one else, and she’s going to accomplish her task in her own way.
Princess Mononoke was the first one I saw, and has always remained my favorite. It’s also a good representation of Miyazaki’s work as a whole, since all the essential elements I mentioned above are there, and the setting (mythologized historical Japan) encompasses all of his most impressive visual subjects: sprawling natural landscapes, pre-industrial machinery and vehicles, mythical animals, real animals, people with varied body types and dark, inquisitive eyes. Every time I rewatch it I feel incredulous when I notice that the animation is still as good as anything being produced today, and when a line of dialogue reveals something I never realized before, and when the plot unfolds and I remember how intricately it’s constructed.
Maybe the best feeling when discovering something new is when you have an experience like that the first time, and then the next time is even better, and like I said, Mononoke is still my favorite so I didn’t get to take that route into Studio Ghibli. But you know what makes it okay? I’ve never been disappointed by any of the movies I’ve seen since then. Not for a second! Not even “this is good but I wish it were better”. If I had to choose a least favorite, I’d probably go with Ponyo, and that’s really just because I get so fed up with the mother character’s irresponsible driving. Ponyo is an awesome movie, with prehistoric fish.
Full disclosure, of course, demands I also note that I haven’t seen everything, and that some of those I have seen have left me with only fuzzy memories of general enjoyment rather than a lasting impact. The former category is mostly the newer ones (I’m regrettably past the stage where I have to see this the second it comes out) - The Wind Rises, The Secret World of Arietty. The latter includes The Cat Returns, Porco Rosso, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Winds, and Castle in the Sky. I’m always up for rewatching any of these if you ever want to (and if I can easily obtain it).
The second one I saw was Spirited Away, which uses the timeless “Wonderland” structure and involves an Eastern dragon. My second favorite is My Neighbor Totoro, which is so relaxing and uplifting that to watch it feels like being healed. The last one I saw in theaters was Howl’s Moving Castle, which makes me think of turnips and hair like starlight. The most universally appealing one is Kiki’s Delivery Service, which is worth watching subbed just for Jiji’s Japanese voice actor. The silliest and also the most spit-take inducing is Pom Poko, and at the other extreme is Grave of the Fireflies, which is not for children and hurts deeply. They’re both amazing films, but my recommendation for either one will come with a caution to brace yourself.
While I often find myself shrugging off bits of Joss Whedon’s work that I don’t like or which simply fall short, I’m hard pressed to think of any weakness in anything that Hayao Miyazaki has ever done. Maybe I haven’t found it yet or maybe I just haven’t noticed it. But if so, I can only chalk that up to the overwhelming amount of artistry, wisdom, and dedication that he brings to his work. I regret human mortality, knowing that there won’t be anyone like him again.