Before 1970: Robert Aldrich. Considering three of his films are in my top ten films of all time, this is a no-brainer. I can't say that for any other director. Several of his other films I'd also rate very highly. Since I've talked about The Dirty Dozen before, I'll go with my second favorite film directed by Aldrich - The Flight of the Phoenix (1965).
"Is that meters or yards, Mr. Dorfmann?"
I should devote a whole post to this movie, but for now, I'll just say that the outstanding ensemble cast and the well-written dialogue just awe me every time. I particularly love Hardy Kruger's Dorfmann and Richard Attenborough's Lew Moran. The scene where Moran goes from laughing hysterically to sobbing is just bloody brilliant. Ian Bannen is another favorite. I love watching Dorfmann butting heads with Frank Towns (Jimmy Stewart). And yet they still get the job done, all tempers and egos, cold practicality and emotions, clashing magnificently, right through to the very end. I always did prefer Jimmy Stewart when he played cranky loner characters to cheerful ones, and in this movie he's saddled with a load of guilt on top of it. I love the moment when he admits to himself in his log that the cause of the accident was "Pilot error."
The movie also has my favorite deVol score, and I'll take his sweeping desert theme over Jarre's Lawrence of Arabia main theme any day.
Post 1970: James Cameron. Also a no-brainer. He's the only modern director that has given me quite a few of my favorite modern films, Aliens, Terminator, Titanic, and, of course, the new one, and my favorite film by Cameron to date: Avatar. Appropriate to be writing this now, as the movie is currently back in theaters for a short two-week re-release. My sister and I went and saw it twice this past weekend, and hopefully we'll get to see it again this coming weekend before it leaves the theater. This is one of those films that must be seen on the big screen, and I love the 3D. We drove the extra distance to see it on an IMAX screen, since I refuse to sit through the Real3D version again. I've talked about how much I love this movie previously, so I won't repeat, but, if anything, I loved the movie even more seeing it again this weekend. Avatar is a particularly immersive, emotional experience (something watching it at home on DVD simply cannot deliver). I always get teary at two parts. Happy parts, actually, not sad ones. Reminds me of the Lord of the Rings movies... I bawl at all sorts of non-sad parts in that one, like the lighting of the beacons in ROtK. Usually those moments are tied up in the music as well, which is the same with Avatar. I'm weird, I know, but that's how I react to overwhelmingly, beautiful things.