Diverse Directors: Ang Lee vs. Danny Boyle

ang-lee1-copy.jpg

Who knows if I’ll make this some sort of new feature where I pit two people head to head based on…something, but I’m going to try it out.

I was recently thinking about people like Michael Bay and Wes Anderson (yes, I just put them together) and how they make essentially the same movie over and over and get away with it because well, it works. But I stopped mid –rant and decided to think about the opposite. Who are the directors who are truly diverse in their filmmaking? Who try a bunch of different genres and styles and still come up roses almost every time.

Well maybe you can think of better ones, but I thought of two. Ang Lee and Danny Boyle. Both have produced some true genre classics, and both have been rewarded with Oscars at some point. But which one is more diverse? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

The battle begins below!

Ang Lee

ang-ee.jpg

The Asian sensation.

Sense and Sensibility (1995)

sense-and-sensibility.jpg

We’ll start here with his American film debut. The movie was a brilliant period piece that won over critics and audiences alike. His translation of the Jane Austen novel was almost flawless, and you thought it would be an indicator of his future work.

The Ice Storm (1997)

the-ice-storm.jpeg

We’re not going too crazy yet. Though The Ice Storm has little in common with Sense and Sensibility, it did focus heavily on drama and personal relationships, though it was a much darker story without a happy ending. Audiences didn’t much take to it, but the film became a cult study in suburban gothic moviemaking and preceded such classics as American Beauty.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

crouching-tiger.jpg

Seeing as the man is from Asia, a martial arts epic doesn’t seem that out of the question, but compared to his last few films it was a radical departure. The fly-by-wire action was like nothing audiences had seen before, and even though they didn’t speak the language, the film was a hit in America and worldwide.

Hulk (2003)

ang-lee.jpg

Here’s where things start to go off the deep end. I bet you never thought we’d get here from Sense and Sensibility. A superhero movie? Full of CGI? And it’s terrible? I’ve no idea what on earth led Ang Lee to this movie, it frankly it’s one of the reasons I put him in this diversity head to head. It was a valiant effort, but ultimately a failure, and it became a what NOT to do lesson of the superhero genre.

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

brokeback.jpg

But it was just a warm up for Lee’s greatest picture to date. Brokeback Mountain won the love of critics and the scorn of red states, and despite a completely WTF concept (Gay cowboys in Wyoming? OK) almost won an Oscar. It didn’t (Crash? Please) but Lee got his first statue as best director, the only asian man to ever do so.

Taking Woodstock (2009)

takingwoodstock.jpg

Now Lee is continuing to bounce of the directional walls with his latest film, Taking Woodstock. It stars untested actor Demetri Martin of all people and chronicles how Woodstock came to be the biggest concert in the history of time.

Common thread – If there is one, I’d say it has to the love story. Each of these films features pretty prominent romanic subplots (or in Sense and Sensibility’s case, entire plots) but that’s a pretty loose thread to say that it ties all of them together. His catalog is about as diverse you can get.
And now the challenger:

Danny Boyle

danny-boyle.jpg

The British brawler.

Trainspotting (1996)

trainspotting.jpg

When I first saw Trainspotting, I was utterly convinced it was a Guy Ritchie movie, with all the fast cuts and tweaked out British guys. It could have set the tone for Boyle as a Ritchie clone, but as time proved, he ultimately became much more than Ritchie ever could be.

The Beach (2000)

the-beach.jpg

From drug addled twenty something to a murderous tribe of island dwellers, The Beach is a mix of emotions for me. Despite good directing and a solid performance from DiCaprio, the movie simply isn’t that good, though it is an important piece of the diversity puzzle.

28 Days Later (2002)

28-days-later.jpg

While The Beach was chilling at times, here we’re diving into pure horror. But not content with just another zombie movie, 28 Days Later redefined the entire genre, and its “fast zombies” were among the most terrifying movie monsters of all time.

Millions (2004)

millions.jpg

Deciding he needed a break from the insane, Boyle then made millions, which you would think would be brought to you “from the guys who made Love Actually and About a Boy.” It’s the touching story of a kid who finds a bag of money, then gives it all away. How nice!

Sunshine (2007)

sunshine.jpg

But another abrupt genre shift sent Boyle in yet another direction. Sunshine is a new era sci-fi classic, and without a doubt, one of the most beautiful movies ever shot. For his first swing at the genre, Boyle hit a homerun just like he did when he dabbled in horror. Is there anything the man can’t do?

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

slumdog.jpg

Well, he can win Oscars. Slumdog practically swept the academy awards, as well as being completely different than anything Boyle had done before. Bollywood? Sure, not a problem for Mr. Diversity. Though he is talking about making a sequel, which would throw off his track record. He should be making like a anime now to keep things fresh.

Common thread – This is damn near impossible to find, but it’s running. Yes, running. Running from maniacs and cops in Trainspotting. Running from murderous killers in The Beach. Running from brain-eating zombies in 28 Days Later. Running from burglers in Millions. Running across the core of a spaceship in Sunshine. Running through the train station in Slumdog. There.

The winner – I have to go with Boyle here. Look at those films. He’s done crime drama, thriller, horror, feel-good, sci-fi and Oscar winning, and he’s done them all well. Though Lee is certainly diverse as well, his films feel a lot more the same, while Boyle’s often seem like they’re from completely different world.


  • IcemanD

    I have to agree with you on The Beach. That is my brother’s absolute favorite movie and I have never been able to figure out why. It really was not very good.

    Trainspotting on the other hand is awesome.

  • Madison

    Both of these guys are uber-talented, but I’d also give the edge to Boyle. It seems as though he can pull off ANY genre.

  • Nick

    I think you found but missed the common thread in boyles films, “while Boyle’s often seem like they’re from completely different world.” Every one of them examines humanity, through the filter of a different world, from Mumbai to outer space, they all revolve around the different characters in these places/situations. I definitely agree with you on the choice of Danny Boyle over Ang Lee, I have never been a big fan, his movies are interesting and good just not that great(except sense and sensibilty). Although I will admit I have seen many more Boyle films than Ang lee films.

  • Madison

    @ Nick

    That’s a great observation, and I agree. His films tell stories of real people set in the context of fantastic worlds.

  • xtheenderx

    Very interesting post. I would love to read more if you ever decide to do more directors perhaps even actors.

  • Madison

    BTW, speaking of diverse directors…Kubrick, anyone? He’s done war, comedy, science fiction, and horror, and done them all brilliantly…

  • layne25348

    Ice Storm is by far Lee’s best work, but he made the Hulk boring as hell. Boyle wins this one. Thought it was a forehead contest at first.

  • I have to go with Boyle on this one as well, and I do think his first feature Shallow Grave deserved a mention here as well, it’s kind of like a noirish thriller and once again nothing like all his other works!

  • Orleanas

    My choice is totally biased because I’m largely basing my decision on that he directed one of my favorite films ever–Brokeback Mountain (which sadly, I first saw last year. It’s the only film so far in my 29 years of living I’m disappointed to not have jumped on the bandwagon at its height), AND because he’s crossed borders, in a manner of speaking, by successfully moving from directing solely to “Asian/Foreign films” to directing “western” films. I had also previously enjoyed watching The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman when I first saw them. So, my vote goes to Lee.

  • Madison

    @ Orleanas

    That’s a real good point that Lee has made such a successful transition, but couldn’t the same be said for Boyle? Slumdog was hardly a “Western” movie.

  • Renald

    As diverse filmmakers go, my favourite has to be Darren Aronofsky. From Pi, to Requiem For a Dream, then The Fountain and The Wrestler. All amazing films, all completely different.

  • anonymous

    Steven Spielberg is diverse. He’s done ET,Catch Me if You Can, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Schindlers List, Saving Private Ryan. Most directors could not pull off all of those films.

    Another diverse director was Howard Hawks. He did war movies, westerns, musicals, romantic comedies, crime and film noir.

  • anonymous

    Another common thread in Ang Lee’s films is the pacing. The Ang Lee movies I have seen tend to have relatively slow pacing.