Critics' Notes20 film and TV directors to consider for the Steven Spielberg/Stanley Kubrick 'Napoleon' miniseries
By Kristopher Tapley, Guy Lodge, Daniel Fienberg and Gregory Ellwood, HitFix.com
- Mar. 15, 2013
A bit of a bombshell on the cineaste set recently when Steven Spielberg announced plans to transform Stanley Kubrick's massive, unfilmed Napoleon biopic into a television miniseries. Last week, Hollywood Reporter film critic Todd McCarthy humbly suggested seven filmmakers to take up the reins on the project, should Spielberg opt out of directing it himself.
The names McCarthy suggested weren't in and of themselves bad ideas: David Fincher, Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorsese, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan and Peter Weir. No one is going to argue that each and every one of them is talented and up to the challenge. But there was an overly wish-listy quality to the list, not all that reasonable, really.
Not only that, those are some disparate voices that probably wouldn't work in a single boat. A miniseries like this, if farmed out to other talent and not placed on one filmmaker's shoulders, would obviously need to find an organic rhythm across a spectrum of voices.
Of the list, I thought only Weir seemed plausible and, really, suitable. No one wants to end up mimicking Kubrick here but it would be nice if the filmmaker's sensibilities were reflected. Nolan and Anderson have had sometimes dubious parallels drawn to the filmmaker, but on the whole, this A-list just feels like something we'd LIKE to see, but surely won't.
But it's a great jumping off point, so I reached out to HitFix's Greg Ellwood and Guy Lodge to help cook up an alternative list. Additionally, given that we're exploring a project set for TV, I asked our own Dan Fienberg for his suggestions on that front as well, and the result is a collective of 20 names that we'd like to humbly submit for consideration, again, if indeed Kubrick would prefer to produce while handing the directorial duties off to others.
Some names that didn't make the list but were mulled over include Darren Aronofsky, Susanne Bier, Sofia Coppola, Walter Hill and James Marsh. I'd personally stump for Weir and MAYBE Anderson from McCarthy's list, but there's also one other filmmaker he mentioned "whose work is just as exacting and chilly as Kubrick's and who is probably his intellectual equal: Michael Haneke." I'd be on board for that, too.
Anyway, click through the gallery below to see which film and television directors we'd like to see considered. And feel free to offer up your own suggestions in the comments section as well!Michael Apted
The mastermind of the "Up" series checks all of the requisite boxes. From "Coal Miner's Daughter" to "Gorillas in the Mist," he has displayed confidence with the biopic format and honoring real people without hagiography. From his days on British TV through his work on HBO's "Rome," he's had no trouble working in the medium and delivering scale and performance nuance on a TV budget and production schedule. Plus, on the assumption that action set pieces are required, let's not forget that Apted has James Bond and Narnia movies under his belt.- Dan FienbergOlivier Assayas
Well, it's their history, so it seems only fair that we get at least one Frenchman involved. Regardless of nationality, however, Assayas was the first name that popped into my head when this list came up. 2010's epic “Carlos,” released both in theaters and as a TV miniseries, was a riveting portrait of a controversial, charismatic figure of more recent history, earning the auteur a Golden Globe award and an Emmy nomination. There's no reason to think Assayas couldn't capture the period vitality and rebellious force of personality that drove that project in a very different historical context – he already delved back beyond the 20th century in his film “Les destinées sentimentales.”- Guy LodgeJane Campion
Campion may strike some as an implausibly artsy choice, but the Oscar-winning New Zealander has form in TV, both from her pre-“Piano” days and, most recently, in the slow-burning mystery of her atmospheric HBO miniseries “Top of the Lake.” As she demonstrated in “An Angel at My Table” and “Bright Star,” meanwhile, Campion has a knack for bringing intimate, idiosyncratic perspective to biographical material. The bigger question is whether the liberally gender-conscious filmmaker, whose films all have a strongly female point of view, would have any interest in Napoleon at all. The Empress Josephine, however...- Guy LodgeFrancis Ford Coppola
Let's start from the wish list, fan perspective: How great would it be to finally see a collaboration between Coppola and Spielberg after all these years? Lately the legendary director has reverted to his film school roots with exploratory curios "Youth Without Youth," "Tetro" and "Twixt," but he had a flare for the epic out of the gate. He's certainly never shied from period work and indeed has always found exciting thematic texture in rise and fall depictions. One need not look much farther than his "Godfather" trilogy for evidence of that.- Kristopher TapleyMilos Forman
For some reason, to me, Forman sits at the top of the list of filmmakers I'd like to see tackle Napoleon. From Mozart to Larry Flint to Andy Kaufman, he's always had a unique way with biopic studies and 1989's "Valmont" took him to France once upon a time (albeit Baroque France). He's never scaled down for the small screen but a heavy-hitting project like this could lure him out, and really, the line between cinema and television has become more blurred than ever.- Kristopher TapleyTodd Haynes
Another arthouse major who recently crossed over to the small screen with his elegant, multi-award-winning reinterpretation of “Mildred Pierce,” Haynes seems a slight stretch of the imagination for this project: his interest in history (on film, at least) has skewed more towards pop than politics, and his biopics have either been enacted with Barbie dolls instead of actors (“Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story”) or splintered their subject into multiple personae (the aptly named “I'm Not There”), neither of which I suspect is an approach Spielberg has in mind. Still, there's a first time for everything, and it would be fascinating to see Haynes cross centuries by positioning Napoleon as a kind of historical rock star, while his queer sensibility could add interesting textures to the Emperor's personal life.- Guy LodgeWerner Herzog
Herzog has always had a knack for capturing obsessive souls in his work, particularly in his collaborations with actor Klaus Kinski. Of course, it takes one to know one, and in Napoleon I can't help but imagine the always unpredictable filmmaker would find a goldmine. He's malleable to the medium and could even prove an unexpectedly complementary marriage of sensibilities with Kubrick's.- Kristopher TapleyAgnieszka Holland
Polish director Holland's trio of Oscar-nominated WWII dramas (“Angry Harvest,” “Europa Europa” and last year's “In Darkness”) proved her vivid sense of both the political fog and personal consequences of war, which would lend gut immediacy to a depiction of Napoleon's conquests. She's been on less sure footing with period biopic material – artist studies “Total Eclipse” and particularly “Copying Beethoven” were bad misfires – but this particular subject might play more to her strengths. She's also recently excelled as a TV director, scoring an Emmy nod for “Treme,” with episodes of “The Wire” and “The Killing” also under her belt.- Guy LodgeTom Hooper
Don't laugh. Hooper is suffering a bum rap from "The Social Network" obsessives and "Les Misérables" detractors as of late, but his work on the post-French Revolution musical already dabbled in these waters somewhat so perhaps he'd be up to staying with it. Then again, maybe he's ready to move on. The point is, there's a bit of cross-over here and he could handle it. If there are still nay-sayers, I haven't even gotten to Hooper's proven adeptness in the world of television: "John Adams" sure worked out.- Kristopher TapleyAng Lee
Who better to bring the epic nature of Napoleon's life to the screen than Ang Lee? The two-time Oscar winner has shown a masterful touch of jumping from one genre to another (including European period with "Sense and Sensibility") while bringing his own unique vision to each film. "Napoleon" would give him the chance to tackle one of the few things missing form his impressive resume, a massive war scene. Ang Lee's take on the Battle of Waterloo? Who could say no to that?*
*Intriguingly, the "Life of Pi" director has agreed to helm his first pilot for FX, "Tyrant," this spring. A quick tryout before tackling a miniseries?
- Gregory EllwoodBennett Miller
This one reads as a bit of a stretch but there's something there, to me. Miller's handful of projects have largely been about getting inside male individuals and learning what makes them tick. He has a gift in that regard, and it's one that could be wonderfully exploited by a Napoleon project. He has a certain sensibility that feels like it would blend at least somewhat with Kubrick's, insomuch as both filmmakers show an interest in obsession with their work, and I would just like to see a guy like Miller involved with such a project. Who knows if he'd even be interested, though...- Kristopher TapleyDavid Nutter
Perhaps because of his reputation as the most proficient pilot director in TV history, Nutter's non-pilot work has become undervalued over the years. His work on "Shameless" has had a sterling grasp on that show's particularly dazzling balance of tones, while he has smoothly integrated himself into the all-star roster of directors on "Game of Thrones." Perhaps most notable is his work on HBO's "Band of Brothers," for which he shared an Emmy with the full directing team, and "The Pacific," where he worked on two of the miniseries' strongest installments. He knows history and he knows how to bring the hell of war to the small screen. Granted that Nutter's only long-form credit is the Katie Holmes dud "Disturbing Behavior," but that was 15 years ago. He's ready for another shot.- Dan FienbergBrian Percival
An Emmy winner for the "Downton Abbey" series premiere, Percival also earned a nomination for the second season's finale/Christmas episode. He knows how to handle big casts in a period setting and how to make potentially intimidating material feel accessible, even to American audiences. Percival didn't get much attention for his feature debut "A Boy Called Dad," but his WWII-set "The Book Thief" should be a good test for his ability to add a little more scale to his repertoire.- Dan FienbergRoman Polanski
Like Forman, Polanski strikes me as a filmmaker who would be a perfect fit for this material. He's navigated period waters with unique aplomb throughout his career and there's a shared residue between his work and Kubrick's that would make the exploration all the more intriguing. Spielberg would surely love to bring him on board: he added his name to a petition trying to help the director avoid extradition to face a possible jail sentence for his 1979 rape conviction a few years ago and even tried to get Polanski to helm "Schindler's List" once upon a time.- Kristopher TapleyKevin Reynolds
After the blockbuster success of "Hatfields & McCoys," for which he earned an Emmy nod, Reynolds will be at the top of any list of directing prospects for a longform TV project requiring multi-year scope and star-driven performance. The "Waterwold" director has also displayed confidence with period action in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" and "The Count of Monte Cristo" (which, fun fact, featured a Napoleon cameo, you'll recall), with his History project presumably steadying any nervousness about past history with budget or scheduling overruns. Realistically, Reynolds will probably be considered more of a journeyman and less the aesthetic auteur a project like this might require, or might be aiming for.- Dan FienbergAlan Taylor
His work as one of the most acclaimed directors on "Game of Thrones" landed him a well-earned feature shot with "Thor: The Dark World," but even before he became the master of Westeros, Taylor's resume included some of the finest episodes of "Mad Men," "The Sopranos," "Homicide" and "Deadwood." Cable TV directors don't get much better than this and if the early rushes from the Marvel sequel are good, Taylor will be in demand for all manner of productions. The prestige of a "Napoleon" project might be enough to lure him.- Dan FienbergTim Van Patten
Back in the day, they used to call Tim Van Patten "Salami" on the TV classic "The White Shadow," but the former actor has become one of cable's most acclaimed writer-directors. His resume includes episodes of "The Wire," "Deadwood," "Rome," "The Sopranos" and "Boardwalk Empire," for which he won an Emmy last year. He was the man entrusted with re-directing/re-vamping the original "Game of Thrones" pilot and he did multiple installments of "The Pacific." Van Patten is yet another of those cable-trained directors who knows how to get bang-for-your-buck, work with TV-scale effects and set pieces and yet never lets performances lapse. Like most of the TV veterans on this list, he's a journeyman, but if the "Napoleon" project is going to feature Spielberg and Kubrick as its true creative forces, you need somebody capable to execute that vision.- Dan FienbergJoe Wright
A modern master of period films after his big screen adaptations of "Atonement," "Pride and Prejudice" and "Anna Karenina," Joe Wright has the eye and dramatic skill to make a "Napoleon" miniseries something truly special. He's also no stranger to the long tracking shot (a Kubrick signature) or working in television. Wright has a pair of BAFTA nominations for TV work and one directing win for 2003's "The Last King" (again, another period piece) to his credit. The only concern is that Wright's one movie at Spielberg's DreamWorks studio, "The Soloist," wasn't well received and it's unclear what the relationship is between the two filmmakers. But if Wright is free and interested he has to be near the top of the list for consideration.- Gregory EllwoodDavid Yates
Like fellow Brit Joe Wright, David Yates had a tremendous amount of success in British television (and American TV for that matter) before making the jump to the "Harry Potter" movies. He won a BAFTA TV Award for helming the now classic series "State of Play" and earned an Emmy nod for directing the HBO movie "The Girl in the Cafe." Oh, and he just happened to bring the "Harry Potter" series to an end with tremendous critical kudos as he fulfilled the massive expectations of millions (billions?) of fans across the globe. Most importantly, Yates knows the strengths of the medium and how to balance both spectacle and intimate drama. That could seal the deal.- Gregory EllwoodZhang Yimou
From “Raise the Red Lantern” to “Hero,” many of Zhang's best films have married politics and period spectacle to dazzling effect, but he's gone off the boil recently – and while he's recently shown crossover inclinations, remaking the Coen Brothers (“Blood Simple”) and collaborating with Christian Bale (“The Flowers of War”) didn't exactly relight the flame. Perhaps an even more drastic change of scene is called for: the director has never worked outside of an Eastern context (nor has he ever scaled down his vision for the small screen), but it's not too hard to imagine how the Napoleon story would play to his strengths as a bold painter of crowded historical landscapes. The battle scenes alone would be worth the risk.- Guy Lodgehttp://www.hitfix.com/in-contention/20-film-and-tv-directors-to-consider-for-the-steven-spielberg-stanley-kubrick-napoleon-miniseries