David Gordon Green has one of the most varied and diverse filmographies of any director, jumping from genre to genre. His catalog of movies has earned critical and audience praise since his feature debut George Washington in 2000. Gordon Green continues to make films that explore a variety of tones and subject matter. However, the films in which he focuses on small town, rural middle America are the ones that shine the most. In an interview with TIFF Originals, Gordon Green expresses how his love of cinema helped shaped his genre choices:
“As a moviegoer, I just love seeing all types of movies. So why wouldn’t I wanna get my hands dirty and try different genres, different approaches, different techniques? You know, I’m inspired by so many people. So why not try to apply, you know, different ways to look at films? I mean, that’s the fun part is just exploring something uncertain, and always maintain that vulnerability, and that appetite of love I have for cinema.”
Gordon Green has directed nearly 20 feature films over the course of the last two decades. He continues to push the boundaries of what he can do as a filmmaker while the scale of his films continue to expand. From working with unnamed actors in his first film, to working with the biggest stars in Hollywood, Gordon Green continues to establish his presence as one of the most interesting American directors today. These are the best films that prove his commitment to story and style.
The 2018 remake and sequel to John Carpenter’s 1978 original classic, Halloween saw Gordon Green’s surprising jump into the horror genre. While there are elements of this film that seem a bit outlandish and jarring, it shows the directors’ love of the franchise. Certain sequences look as if they are taken right from Carpenter’s original vision, which give the film a bit more credibility as far as rewriting the franchise. The film was massively successful at the box office, and spawned two sequels. Halloween Kills in 2021 saw a decline in critical admiration, but the final installation to the franchise, Halloween Endsis set to release later this year and is highly anticipated.
Gordon Green is also set to helm the new trilogy in theExorcist franchise in 2023, which brings Ellen Burstyn back to the role of Chris MacNeil. The films are rumored to have a similar sequel/reboot structure as the Gordon Green Halloween trilogy.
Undertow is the third film under Gordon Green’s feature length directorial catalog. Taking place in rural Georgia, Gordon Green brings the working class of America to the spotlight. This film explores familial dramas and feuds, but with a much darker and slower tone than the filmmaker’s other works. He takes his time establishing familial bonds and relationships, something highlighted by the great performances from stars Jamie Bell, Josh Lucas, and Dermot Murloney.
7 All the Real Girls
All the Real Girls is Gordon Green’s second feature length film and probably his most tender and warmest. In addition to most of his films, it takes place in a small town and contains heartwarming thematic elements. This romantic drama features the talents of Zooey Deschanel, Paul Schneider, and Patricia Clarkson; Clarkson won an award at Sundance for the film, which also won the Special Jury Award, though the film was a box office bomb.
Friend of Gordon Green, Danny McBride, also appears prominently in All the Real Girls. McBride and Gordon Green will become frequent collaborators on projects throughout their careers, with Green directing half of McBride’s legendary series Eastbound & Down and the second season of his underrated show Vice Principals.
6 Snow Angels
Snow Angels is Gordon Green’s fourth feature film and once again features larger star-studded names. Kate Beckinsale and a heartbreaking Sam Rockwell star as a separated and troubled couple in one of Gordon Green’s more emotionally difficult to watch films, a painful domestic drama with some serious suspense, amazing cinematography, and beautiful music. In an interview with Tribute.ca, Kate Beckinsale talks about the weight that her dramatic and emotional performance has in regard to her own life experiences with her children:
“You don’t want to think about that, ever. We definitely had days on the set, all of us thinking, some people just go to work, why are we in this horrendous, devastated emotional state? You know, this is so difficult. It was really amazing, and because of that it’s very personal, I guess when you become extremely emotional and very vulnerable when your character is in a position like that.”
5 Prince Avalanche
Prince Avalanche is a very small, quiet film set in Texas that focuses mainly on two road maintenance workers who find ways to cope with loneliness whilst away from their city lives. With an enormous focus and appreciation for the setting (desolate, charred woodlands), Gordon Green gives stars Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch moments to let comedy clash with melancholy.
The movie is based on the European movie either way,which released in 2011. Gordon Green tells Variety in an interview during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival that he wanted to make his own version but also honor the original:
“There’s a way to be very respectful to the original movie and not necessarily have to follow, step-by-step, what they did. You know, I think that director made his own very personal project and in a way that probably spoke to him and spoke to the audience he was trying to reach out to. So I wanted to take that, process that, digest that and spit out my own weird version of it.”
While this film is mainly centered on a rural reality and on real human emotions, Gordon Green brings in elements of the supernatural in a magical realist way, as well. The mysterious woman in the woods, who no one aside from the main characters seems to witness, is the enigma of Prince Avalanche. Gordon Green allows room for interpretation for his movies, with added mysterious elements that could have a variety of meanings.
Joe is one of the films that marked Nicolas Cage’s resurgence onto the big screen. While not as comedic and witty as Prince Avalanche, it uses a similar setting (the woods) to tell a darker story about the search for purpose. The film uses sacrifice as a heavy theme to show how far one will go to provide for their family. The lumber workers are seen breaking their backs for their jobs, and Tye Sheridan’s character Gary is a young boy eager to get his hands dirty to escape his abusive father. While there are many heavy and layered themes in this film, Gordon Green still maintains a positive outlook in the end.
3 Pineapple Express
Coming off of the dramatic Snow Angels, Gordon Green made a complete 180 to bring perhaps one of the greatest stoner buddy comedies of all time. Pineapple Express showed Gordon Green’s ability to tackle the outlandish and hilarious. With the help of college friend Danny McBride, Gordon Green was given the chance to work with the huge stars Seth Rogen and James Franco in this out of control adventure. Rogen was one of the creative forces behind the film, co-writing the screenplay with Judd Apatow and Evan Goldberg. Gordon Green mixes action and comedy in this explosive 2008 classic which paved the way for the director’s working relationship with many funny people.
Based on the book by Jeff Bauman, Stronger tells the inspirational true story of how the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing impacted Bauman and the world. Bauman is brilliantly portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal who captures the physicality and emotional state Bauman’s character must convey. Gordon Green was dedicated to historical accuracy when he set out to tell this story on the screen. An article from Bustle explains Bauman’s reaction to seeing the film:
“When I saw Stronger the first time I was scared. It was a tough experience,” Bauman wrote on Facebook in advance of the film’s Toronto International Film Festival premiere. “You know why? It was so accurate. They got everything right.”
1 George Washington
David Gordon Green’s first feature length movie, George Washington, is possibly his greatest. Focusing on a small town in North Carolina, the film follows a group of children (and a handful of tangential older characters) as they navigate trauma, love, and loss in an attempt to embrace their youthful innocence and naivety. The result is a poetic masterpiece, a sad but beautiful and genuine exemplar of the American independent film movement. From the beginning Gordon Green knew he wanted to do things differently, even if, as he tells IndieWire, he was far from ignorant to the studio filmmaking process:
“I didn’t approach it naively, because I knew pretty well the independent scene; I worked in LA awhile and knew how the business went down. But in a way, I didn’t care. I said, let’s make this movie and make it by our rules, while we have the means to do it and when we can make the choices we want to make and aren’t answering to anybody but ourselves. And get a team of people we trust creatively and just try to have a great time over the summer and spend a lot of money. And if people like it, that’d be awesome, because we might be able to do it bigger next time, and maybe we could get paid next time. We were running from the guts from day one on this movie. Obviously, if we were smart market analysts, we wouldn’t make a movie about 11-year-old Black kids in the south that has no plot. I wasn’t looking to make “Mrs. Doubtfire” and I don’t think anyone particularly involved would even chuckle at the idea of Robin Williams in a dress.”
The film is now part of the Criterion Collection and has since garnered numerous awards. The most impactful part of this film is its truth and realistic presentation. The young actors used weren’t professionals, and they could be seen stumbling on lines during the most realistic conversations. Whether this was intentional or not, it sells the idea of youthful ignorance.
David Gordon Green continues to prove he is an adaptable and passionate filmmaker able to tackle any genre. He is committed to each film’s truth and spends his time fleshing out characters and exploring their settings. His films are deeply emotional and have relatable elements that strike many cords with audiences. With many directorial projects in development for Gordon Green, his pedigree only shows the ambitiousness and eagerness that keeps his career moving in full force.