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Film Comment’s Trivial Top 20®: Best acting performances by directors (in films directed by others)

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No cutesy cameos or preexisting careers–these directors got chops

Rules of the Game (or how we came up with this list):
Criteria for eligibility were as follows: only directors not previously well established as actors would be eligible, so out went Welles, Cassavetes, and Sjöström. Cameo and walk-on appearances were also excluded—so no Don Siegel in Play Misty for Me or Dario Argento in Innocent Blood. Lists ranked in order of preference were cajoled from a dozen game Film Comment contributors and esteemed colleagues: Gavin Smith, Kent Jones, Dave Kehr, Amy Taubin, Nathan Lee, Chuck Stephens, and Michael Chaiken in the U.S.; Geoff Andrew, Jonathan Romney, and David Thompson in London; Alexander Horwath in Vienna; and Nicolas Saada in Paris. Points for each mention were allotted in the time-honored manner: 20 points for a number one choice, 19 for number two, etc.


1. Fritz Lang, Contempt
2. Erich von Stroheim, Grand Illusion
3. Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taipei Story
4. Erich von Stroheim, Sunset Boulevard
5. John Huston, Chinatown
6. David Cronenberg, To Die For
7. Sydney Pollack, Husbands and Wives
8. Jerzy Skolimowski, Eastern Promises
9. Roger Corman, The Godfather Part II
10. François Truffaut, Close Encounters of the Third Kind
11. Nicholas Ray, The American Friend
12. Mark Rydell, The Long Goodbye
13. Spike Jonze, Three Kings
14. Garry Marshall, Lost in America
15. R.W. Fassbinder, The Bridegroom, the Comedienne and the Pimp
16. James L. Brooks, Modern Romance
17. Raoul Walsh, Birth of a Nation
18. Otto Preminger, Stalag 17
19. Roman Polanski, A Pure Formality
20. Sam Fuller, Return to Salem’s Lot
21. Sydney Pollack, Eyes Wide Shut
22. Maurice Pialat, Que la bête meure aka Killer!
23. Martin Scorsese, Guilty by Suspicion
24. Ken Russell, The Russia House
25. Martin Scorsese, Quiz Show
26. Caveh Zahedi, Waking Life
27. Jean-Luc Godard, We’re Still Here
28. Preston Sturges, Paris Holiday
29. Nanni Moretti, The Second Time
30. Boris Barnet, The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks
31. Benjamin Christensen, Michael (1924, Carl Theodor Dreyer)
32. Maurice Pialat, Mes petites amoureuses
33. Jerzy Skolimowski, White Nights
34. George Kuchar, Thundercrack!
35. Patrice Chéreau, The Last of the Mohicans
36. Sharunas Bartas, Pola X
37. Claude Berri, Va savoir
38. Kenneth Anger, A Midsummer’s Night Dream*
39. Tian Zhungzhung, South of the Clouds
40. Woody Allen, The Front
41. Larry Fessenden, River of Grass
42. John Cromwell, A Wedding
43. Richard C. Sarafian, Songwriter
44. Werner Schroeter, Beware of a Holy Whore
45. Barbet Schroeder, The Darjeeling Limited
46. Elia Kazan, City for Conquest
47. William (Wilhelm) Dieterle, Faust
48. Peter Bogdanovich, Mr. Jealousy
49. Robert Downey Sr., To Live and Die in L.A.
50. Sydney Pollack, Death Becomes Her

*Although the maker of such avant-garde milestones as Scorpio Rising and Fireworks once claimed he played the child prince in William Dieterle and Max Reinhardt’s 1935 film (at age 7), Warner Bros.’ production reports and casting sheets conclusively document that a little girl, child actress Sheila Brown, actually played the role. Nevertheless, three participants voted for him.

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