10 Images

Auteurist adjectives

By Deborah Netburn and Patrick Day, Times Staff Writers


Definition: A film made or inspired by Wes Anderson. Characterized by an obsessive and precious attention to detail, an inflexible manner and a subtle sense of humor. Often, but not always, featuring Bill Murray. A body of films that get worse as time passes.

Examples: Bill Murray jumping -- morosely and fully clothed -- into the swimming pool in “Rushmore.” The stop-motion animated sea life of “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.”

Could Describe: “The Baxter,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “I Heart Huckabees.” (Philippe Antonello / Touchstone Pictures)

Definition: A Shyamalian film is made of two distinct but interlocking elements: (1) an overall atmosphere of mystery, uncertainty and unseen danger; (2) a shamelessly prearranged final twist. Shyamalian filmmaking typically features a cameo by the director. Director M. Night Shyamalan always makes a Shyamalian film, but a Shyamalian film does not require the participation of said director.

Examples: Bruce Willis in “The Sixth Sense”? Turns out he’s dead. Mel Gibson’s daughter’s unexplained attachment to half-drunk glasses of water is revealed to be the family’s savior from alien massacre in “Signs.”

Could Describe: J.J. Abrams’ “Lost” and his monster movie currently known as “Cloverfield.” (Ron Phillips / Spyglass Entertainment Group)
Cameron Crowe

Definition: A film with impeccable structure, an emotive story line and a general feeling that the viewer has just been manipulated into caring about certain characters and situations much more than she wished she had.

Examples: John Cusack serenading Ione Skye with a boombox playing Peter Gabriel in “Say Anything.” The starry-eyed, semiautobiographical look at a 1970s rock band in “Almost Famous.”

Could Describe: “Garden State.” (Neal Preston / DreamWorks Pictures)
Woody Allen

Definition: A film in which the writer-director also typically stars. Allenian films are best known for featuring neurotic and affluent New Yorkers spending lots of time walking around and talking. They are also known for unattractive men getting to be with women most would consider to be out of their league.

Examples: Debating Marshall McLuhan’s writing with Marshall McLuhan in “Annie Hall.” Woody dating Mariel Hemingway in “Manhattan.”

Could Describe: Charles Herman-Wurmfeld’s “Kissing Jessica Stein,” Zach Braff’s “Garden State.” (United Artists Corp.)
David Lynch

Definition: Essentially a cinematic synonym for the more familiar words “weird” and “nonsensical.” A Lynchian film (usually directed and written by David Lynch) makes no sense to anyone. Lynchian fans take pleasure in the lack of understanding. Detractors, however, are more likely to writhe in frustration at what sometimes appear to be strange images with no purpose other than being strange.

Examples: The severed ear in the field in “Blue Velvet.” Bill Pullman transforming into Balthazar Getty midway through “Lost Highway.”

Could Describe: Richard Kelly’s “Donnie Darko,” David Milch’s “John From Cincinnati.” (Warner Home Video)

Definition: Though they are themselves cobbled together from the spare parts of myriad other films, the works of Quentin Tarantino are distinctive in their nonlinear story lines; extreme, often stylized violence; and obsessive referencing to 1970s pop culture. Often, discussion of feet or foot massages will be present.

Examples: The five jewel thieves walking abreast down an alley in “Reservoir Dogs.” The Jack Rabbit Slims Twist Contest in “Pulp Fiction.”

Could Describe: Gary Fleder’s “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead,” Joe Carnahan’s “Smokin’ Aces.” (Lionsgate)
Martin Scorsese

Definition: Fluid camera work cut to eclectic soundtracks marks the directorial work of Martin Scorsese, whose films often deal with themes of Catholic guilt, the Italian American identity and pervasive violence. Films usually set in the American Northeast, with a heavy emphasis on organized crime or society’s underbelly. Except when they’re about the Dalai Lama.

Examples: Mobsters grab a kitchen knife to stab the guy in their car trunk to death, then get waylaid by one’s mother, who insists they eat some Italian home cooking in “GoodFellas.” Robert De Niro shaves his head into a mohawk in “Taxi Driver.”

Could Describe: David Chase’s “The Sopranos,” every film in the Tarantinoidal category (although most unwittingly). (Columbia TriStar Home Video)

Definition: Films directed by Michael Bay that sell explosions as if they’re the latest suburban must-have. Often reality is distorted in these films so that every sunset is amber, every handgun sounds like a cannon shot and every oil rigger looks like Bruce Willis or Ben Affleck. These images are cut together at a machine gun pace and frequently feature cultural stereotypes.

Examples: Lantern boats in a Tokyo harbor in “Armageddon.” Martin Lawrence’s inexplicable upgrade from a suburban house to a waterfront mansion in “Bad Boys II.”

Could Describe: Zack Snyder’s “300.” (Frank Masi / Touchstone Pictures)

Definition: A Spielbergian film – one directed, produced or even thought about by Steven Spielberg – often features ethereal light shooting out of normally mundane objects or locations (i.e., suburban houses, heating ducts, chimneys); a child’s sense of wonder at the world; and mostly unseen threats (aliens, sharks, dinosaurs).

Examples: The kid flying across the moon on his bicycle in “E.T.” Everybody staring up into the sky in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

Could Describe: Robert Zemeckis’ “Forrest Gump,” Chris Columbus’ “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” (Universal Studios)

Definition: Films that have gone radically overbudget and cause Teamsters to weep when they are mentioned are Cameronal. Written, directed, produced and sometimes edited by James Cameron, these films feature tough action with strong female characters, a lingering fear of nuclear annihilation and Bill Paxton.

Examples: Sigourney Weaver fighting the Alien Queen in hand-to-mechanical-hand combat in “Aliens.” Bill Paxton shooting aliens, fighting Arnold Schwarzenegger and diving to the Titanic.

Could Describe: The Wachowski brothers’ “The Matrix.” (Twentieth Century Fox)