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Thespians, it seems, can never have enough control over their projects. The biggest stars often collaborate heavily with directors and producers during the filmmaking process and in many cases serve as a producer themselves on projects they feel strongly about. But control can only go so far in front of the camera so it should really come as no surprise that many venture behind the lens and create their own works of art. In honor of one of these types, Ben Affleck, whose second feature film The Town come out Friday, Player Affinity has the top 10 best actors who have successfully crossed that divide of all time.
10. Sylvester Stallone
You would never think it to look at the guy (or good portions of his filmography), but Sly has been involved in the technical and filmmaking side of movies for nearly as long as he has acted. Rocky (for which he was nominated for a screenwriting role and lead actor) came just one year after he broke into the mainstream and he then went on to helm all of the “Rocky” sequels (for better or for worse) as well as serving as screenwriter for dozens of other films. Like most on this list, Stallone had his share of misfires such as the Saturday Night Fever sequel Staying Alive and some of the latter “Rocky” instalments. He pulled a fast one on everyone in 2006, however, with the surprisingly heartfelt final chapter to the boxing saga with Rocky Balboa. Following that revival, he brought us a one-two action punch with Rambo and this year’s action smash The Expendables. There are already talks about a sequel to the latter as well as a possible sequel to 1993’s Cliffhanger, so don’t expect The Italian Stallion to run off anytime soon.
9. George Clooney
One of the last true “movie stars” around today, George Clooney proved he was more than a pretty face with the fascinating crime bio-pic drama, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind in 2002. A disappointing run at the box office only spurred Clooney as he crested in 2005 with the noir drama Good Night and Good Luck in which he also starred. This historical recount of Edward R. Murrow (played by David Strathairn) saw six Oscar nominations, two of which were for Clooney in the directing and screenwriting roles. Many would cite this riveting drama one of the best of the decade so it came as no surprise that he again ventured behind the camera, this time for the screwball football comedy Leatherheads. This, like “Confessions” was DOA at the box office, but unlike his debut, was maligned by critics who called it wildly uneven and a scattershot of successful jokes. But Clooney is too big a star to be kept down and is already planning his next film titled Farragut North, which boasts a stellar cast including Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Chris Pine and Clooney himself. “North” will follow a presidential candidate getting a crash course in dirty politics, so we will see if his directing career was a fluke or if he can keep his dogs down to one.
8. Kevin Costner
The first of two men, garnering shocking instances of beginners luck, Kevin Costner’s first foray into filmmaking would land him directorial Oscar gold (and another win for best picture and nomination for best leading actor) for Dances with Wolves. We won’t mention his follow-up feature Waterworld (oops, I think I just did), but we can say his sidestep into blockbuster filmmaking did not go quite as hoped. After six years absent from the camera, he would return to direct what is one of the last great westerns with Open Range. The film got no Academy recognition, but was a fine effort through and through. After that it seemed to be lights-out for Costner doing little but starring in a string of box office disappointments and critical duds. But set your calendars for 2011 (uhhh, never mind) as he will return with a WWII drama titled A Little War of Our Own, in which he will also star. Costner has seen his highs and lows as a director, but I look forward to his next effort.
7. Robert Redford
Stealing the hearts of ladies all over the world as far back as the 1960s, Redford was at the top of his game with mega-hits Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and the Best Picture winner The Sting. It would be the year 1980 when Redford would make the transition from suave leading man to filmmaker with the acclaimed drama Ordinary People. This debut would land him the best director Oscar and make him the very first actor-turned-director to win the coveted trophy (although some would argue it was Woody Allen with Annie Hall, but he has been an actor as long as he has been a filmmaker). His follow-up The Milagro Beanfield War wasn’t quite as successful but he would receive another best director Oscar nomination with Quiz Show in 1994. From then he would descend into overly sentimental fare such as The Legend of Bagger Vance and The Horse Whisperer or overly political statements with Lions for Lambs (I think I am the only person on Earth who liked that one). For a strong start but sloppy aughties,Redford lands at number seven on our list.
6. Ben Affleck
Only his second directorial effort is being released this weekend, but Ben Affleck has already made more of a name for himself as an auteur then many would hope for in a lifetime. In 2007, Affleck was all but washed up. His last hit had come in 2003 with the dreadful Daredevil and from then on it was a string of flops and bit parts for the Oscar-winning screenwriter. Yet he was soon to prove his big win alongside Matt Damon in 1997 for Good Will Hunting was no fluke and he proceeded to stun the critical community with the acclaimed Dennis Lehane adaptation Gone Baby Gone, starring his brother Casey. Like “Baby,” his Boston-set crime drama The Town is garnering rave reviews and has plenty of awards buzz for its cast and creator. It is too early to tell if Affleck will continue on this hot streak and complete a trifecta, but what remains certain is you can never count anyone down-and-out in Hollywood.
5. John Favreau
Making a name for himself alongside Vince Vaughn in the cult classic Swingers and a fairly prominent guest role on Friends, Favreau never really broke into the big time as an actor. He became a “that guy,” which many would tell you is a death sentence in the movie industry. Unappreciated acting skills aside, it would not be until 2003 that Favreau showed he had some of the right stuff with the Will Ferrell holiday comedy Elf. The lovable character would rack up $220 million in worldwide receipts and set him on a course to become one of the biggest new directors. That success certainly did not arrive with the 2005 Jumanji spin-off/sequel Zathura which tanked nice and hard, no, it would be alongside Robert Downey Jr. in the surprise smash Iron Man. Many scoffed at the choice of Favreau for the director’s seat, as did they at Downey Jr. in the lead role but again it just goes to show most people don’t know what they’re talking about. Iron Man 2 would follow, giving Favreau and company back-to-back $300 million dollar blockbusters. His next project is the high-concept sci-fi western Cowboys & Aliens which is set for a July 2011 summer release and with understandable talks of an Iron Man 3, his hot streak won’t be cooling in the near future.
4. Mel Gibson
Your personal views of the man aside, it is hard to deny the former action star has directed some influential films. His transition began in 2003 with the underrated drama The Man Without a Face (spoiler, he actually had half a face) which co-starred a young Nick Stahl. Not surprisingly this serious deviation from Gibson’s usual fare was not met with much box office love or critical acclaim. Things would change in a big big way in 1995 with the tale of a certain man named William Wallace who had a passion for freedom and mooning the enemy. Braveheart won Gibson two Oscars for directing and producing as well as a nomination for his leading role as the brash Scot. I would not have faulted you if you believed that to be the peak of Gibson’s filmmaking career, yet as fate would have it The Passion of the Christ would go New Testament on the box office and collect $600 million globally, which still remains the highest grossing R-rated movie of all time. Taking a step back from Christianity in 2006, Gibson would direct one of the most fascinatingly original and risky action films of all time with Apocalypto, the tale of a young Myan’s quest to save his wife and son. Gibson has gone silent since then, and with his personal life a mess there is no telling when he will return, but it would be welcome if for the sake of movies alone.
3. Rob Reiner
If you were to tie to word "nostalgia" to one director, who would it be? I assure you a common answer would be Mr. Rob Reiner. If The Princess Bride and Stand by Me aren’t part of your cinematic mantra I say for shame. It is hard to believe Reiner has been acting since 1959 (prominently since 1971 as “Meathead” in All in the Family) as many people in this day and age would predominantly cite him as a director over an actor. It was a marriage of his two professions in 1984 with the now-cult-favorite This is Spinal Tap that would propel him to notoriety and it was a smooth ride uphill from there. Throughout the '80s and '90s Reiner would helm the aforementioned favorites “Bride” and Stand by Me along with Misery, When Harry Met Sally and A Few Good Men (for which he earned an Oscar nomination). Sadly, Reiner has been unable to recapture his success throughout the 2000’s drifting between critical pans and limited releases. Flipped, Reiner’s nostalgic tale of childhood love is in limited release right now, so if like me, you miss seeing his name on the marquee, perhaps it is time to give him a much deserved boost.
2. Ron Howard
Our second director in a row to star in a '70s television show (that would be Happy Days if you’ve been living in a hole), Ron Howard has steadily become one of the chief prestige directors working today. He has won two Oscars to date, both for A Beautiful Mind for his directing and producing abilities both. He is also exceedingly capable of stepping between genres, from How the Grinch Stole Christmas one year to the aforementioned multiple Oscar winner the next and from summer blockbuster The DaVinci Code to Frost/Nixon, another Academy darling (and the best of Howard’s filmography if you ask me). Howard has a knack for drawing strong performances out of his leads as well as a deft eye for framing shots and action. Who would have thought 20 years down the road little Richie Cunningham would drop contact with The Fonz and become one of his generation's greatest filmmakers.
1. Clint Eastwood
Was there really anyone else you could put at the top of this list? Clint Eastwood has had such an utterly astounding career both behind and in front of the camera, it remains difficult to adequately put thought to paper. He has starred in over 50 films, Rawhide the long-running television Western, and since his directing debut in 1971 with Play Misty for Me, he has stacked up four Oscar statuettes along with another six nominations for directing, acting and producing. If he was not among the upper tier of the greatest of all time I would be forced to pass judgement. Somehow, Eastwood manages to release Oscar-grade films yearly (sometimes two per year), make them into box-office successes and often star in them as well. All this at the tender age of 80. It will be a sad day when we no longer have him to look to to brighten our movie year, but until that day we can continue to expect more from Clint Eastwood, the greatest actor-turned-director of all time.