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Let’s Plug Our Favorite Filmmakers into Unexpected Genres

Last weekend, a “secret screening” at Los Angeles’ AFI Fest marked the first public outing for Haywire, Steven Soderbergh’s new… mixed-martial-arts based action/spy thriller. Come again? Yes, according to Movieline’s report from the post-screening Q&A, Soderbergh cooked up the project while on the rebound after losing Moneyball, stumbling across one of MMA star Gina Carano’s fights and deciding to build a movie around her. While Soderbergh’s filmography has been fairly esoteric, genre-wise (he’s skipped from experimental dramas to big-budget heist movies to dark comedies to coming-of-age tales to sci-fi), we certainly didn’t expect him to get all hyped up about making a film that he would compare to the early pictures of Steven Seagal.

But maybe there’s a lesson to be learned here: too often, filmmakers become defined by a certain type of movie, locked into a specific genre or style. Some break out occasionally (see Scorsese’s upcoming Hugo), and a few have made a career of genre-jumping (think Danny Boyle). But back in the “studio era,” directors-for-hire like Howard Hawks and John Ford were given assignments, and had to adapt themselves into journeymen who could make any kind of film with style and skill. After the jump, we’ve compiled a short list of a few filmmakers who we’d like to see class up some B-movies.

DIRECTOR: Werner Herzog
GENRE: Horror

Herzog has made occasional forays into scary-ish movies before — most notably his 1979 remake of the early vampire classic Nosferatu. But it’s been a long time since 1979, and if you haven’t noticed, the craftsmanship of today’s horror films is, for the most part, less than overwhelming. The ultra-prolific filmmaker could certainly find time between his brilliant documentaries and oddball dramas to slide in a movie whose primary purpose is to creep us out (though there’s always at least a tinge of that in his pictures); frankly, his voice-over narration could turn just about any innocent story into a scary one.

DIRECTOR: Sofia Coppola
GENRE: Slapstick comedy

We were big fans of Ms. Coppola’s first two films, the mournful Virgin Suicides and bittersweet Lost in Translation. But her next two pictures misfired badly; Marie Antoinette was a bit of a mess, and Somewhere was like watching paint that’s already dried. If anything, the latter film was in dire need of a shot of humor; the filmmaker took her lead character’s Hollywood ennui altogether too seriously. Not only would we like to see her reteam with Translation star Bill Murray, but how’s about Murray in Kingpin/Caddyshack mode?

DIRECTOR: Woody Allen
GENRE: Action

Allen, the gifted and prolific creator of sophisticated, urbane romantic comedies, had longed since the 1970s to prove his skill as a “serious” filmmaker, and though his early attempts at faux-Bergman drama (Interiors, September, Another Woman) were uneven at best, he managed to fuse his comic edge with more serious matters in the brilliant 1989 hybrid Crimes and Misdemeanors, and went all-the-way dark with his later movies Match Point and Cassandra’s Dream. He can do comedy, he can do drama, he can do suspense; based on Midnight in Paris, he can even do whimsy (and that ain’t easy). So how’s about he takes a shot at action? Who wouldn’t like to hear a pair of mismatched buddy cops trading Woody Allen wisecracks? Or better yet — we know they’re trying to figure out a way to reboot the “Bourne” series; maybe it’s time for the neurotic, hypochondriac Jason Bourne we’ve all been waiting for?

DIRECTOR: Spike Lee
GENRE: Western

Lee’s 2008 attempt at a war movie, Miracle at St. Anna’s, fared so poorly with critics and audiences that it led to an unintended sabbatical for the filmmaker, who is now finally back at work on his next project, an American remake of Chan-wook Park’s South Korean action masterpiece Oldboy. If Lee’s cover is anything like the original, it’ll be a far rougher film than any of his previous work, indicating that he’s still stretching and trying new styles. That being the case, we’d like to humbly suggest he take a shot at a good old-fashioned oater. He’s got the stylistic chops to electrify the genre, and the last film to take on the mostly-untold story of black cowboys was, um, Posse. (Full disclosure: I enjoyed that film quite a bit when I saw it at 16, but am reasonably sure, from clips I’ve seen since, that it doesn’t hold up.)

DIRECTOR: David Fincher
GENRE: Musical

As we’ve mentioned a time or twelve, we’re really excited about Fincher’s upcoming take on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Our only hesitation about the film — and it is a minor one — is that it seems to put the filmmaker back on track as Hollywood’s resident “prince of darkness”; this is, after all, the guy who gave us Gwyneth’s head in a box and Project Mayhem. It was kind of nice, in The Social Network, to get so many laughs out of a Fincher flick; the guy’s talented as hell, but for his own mental health, he should probably lighten up more often. Thus, we suggest that the world might just be ready for a David Fincher musical. No, seriously. And look, it doesn’t have to be an all-out, Mickey-and-Judy, finger-snapping smile-fest; he could still go dark. In fact, he seems to be cultivating a pretty healthy collaborative relationship with one Trent Reznor…

Your turn — which filmmakers would you like to see take on an unexpected genre?

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