There are plenty of cures for loneliness – drinking, coke snorting,
violently inducing sleep, playing some kind of obsessive MMORPG, buying more
cats, actually getting out of the house to meet new people – but I find the easiest
antidote to be curling up in a ball on the couch and listening to an audio
commentary track. Some, scratch, most commentary tracks are garbage, filled
with long pauses, sportscaster like descriptions of onscreen action, and an eternal
sense of apathy. As one who often has to review not only the film part of a
DVD, but the extras, which often include a commentary track, I’ve really
learned to appreciate a good one. Here’s a few of my favorite ways to pretend
I’m not watching movies alone.

I’ll start with a list of directors (and one actor) that
will rarely let you down. Guys who hit it out of the park time and time again. Most
of these are no-brainers. I can’t speak for tracks I haven’t heard yet.


Ridley Scott

As Heard On: Gladiator (with DP John Mathieson and Editor
Pietro Scalia), Black Hawk Down (with Jerry Bruckheimer), Alien: Director’s Cut
(with Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett, Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica
Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton and John Hurt), Hannibal.

The Must Listen: Blade Runner: Final Cut.

I Still Need to Hear: American Gangster, The Duelists,
Kingdom of Heaven Director’s Cut (why the hell wasn’t this on the Blu-ray?), Legend:
Director’s Cut.

Defining Characteristics: Scott is usually a bit on the
grumpy side when he records commentary tracks which leads to some good stories about
how things went wrong. For the most part his tracks are even tempered, and his
vocal patterns remain consistent, but he’s very good t inserting a few jabs
here and there. Gruff and inviting at the same time.

 

Guillermo del Toro

As Heard On: Blade II (with producer Peter Frankfurt),
Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth.

The Must Listen: Hellboy: Extended Cut

I Can’t Wait to Hear: Hellboy 2: The Golden Army

Defining Characteristics: Del Toro is one of the warmest and
most inviting commentators in the world. His tracks are never
silent, and never dull. He comes to the track prepared, and is good
about riffing off topic without being forced to interrupt himself when a
specific point comes up on screen. His vocabulary is also impeccable
for an ESL fellow.

 

Terry Gilliam

As Heard On: 12 Monkeys (with producer Charles Roven), The
Adventures of Baron Munchausen (with co-writer/actor Charles McKeown),
Fear and Loathing in Las
Vegas
.

The Must Listen: Brazil
(Criterion Collection).

I Still Need to Hear: Time Bandits, Brothers Grimm,
Jabberwocky (with actor Michael Palin), Monty Python and the Holy Grail (with
Terry Jones), The Life of Brian (with Eric Idle and Terry Jones),
Meaning of Life (with Terry Jones), Tideland (with screenwriter Tony
Grisoni).

Defining Characteristics: Gilliam’s films are often plagued with conflict and technical issues during filming,
so he has lots of famous tales to tell. He also has a very good sense
of humor about the worst moments of his life.

 

George Romero:

As Heard On: Night of the Living Dead (with co-writer John
Russo, and actors/producers Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman), Day of
the Dead (with special make-up effects artist Tom Savini, actress
Lori Cardille and production designer Cletus Anderson), The Crazies (with
Bill Lustig), Creepshow (with Tom Savani, UK release
only), Land of the Dead (with co-producer Peter Grunwald, and editor Michael
Doherty), Martin (with producer/actor Richard P Rubinstein, special
make-up effects artist/actor Tom Savini, DP Michael Gornick and
composer Donald Rubinstein).

The Must Listen: Dawn of the Dead (with special make-up effects
artist Tom Savini, assistant director Christine Romero, and moderator
Perry Martin)

I Still Need to Hear: Bruiser, Diary of the Dead (with DP
Adam Swica and editor Michael Doherty), Knightriders (with actors Tom
Savini, John Amplas, and Christine Romero).

Defining Characteristics: Romero basically comes off as the
world’s coolest grandpa. He’s still quick witted, and remembers a
whole lot about his films, but he works better on group tracks. His joy is impossible to resist.


David Cronenberg

As Heard On: Naked Lunch (with actor Peter Weller), The Fly,
A History of Violence.

The Must Listen: Videodrome (with DP Mark Irwin).

I Still Need to Hear: Rabid, Dead Ringers (stupid OOP
Criterion disc), eXistenZ (Canada
and UK
discs only), Fast Company, Spider.

Defining Characteristics: Cronenberg is an incurable intellectual, yet he never talks down to his listening audience. His tracks are
stimulating, and often make one appreciate the given film on a higher level.
Cronenberg also bares a very calming voice, and should really look into a
side career reading books on tape.


Bruce Campbell:

As Heard On: Evil Dead II (with Sam Raimi, Scott Spiegel and
Greg Nicotero), Army of Darkness (with Sam and Ivan Raimi), The
Man with the Screaming Brain (with Producer David M. Goodman).

The Must Listen: Evil Dead

Defining Characteristics: Campbell is likely the most successful B-actor in the world, in terms of fan-base, and has made a living from knowing how to speak to his audience. He also happens to be a fantastic comedian. Campbell works better with others, but his solo Evil Dead track is still
his best commentary work. Campbell brings out the best in Sam Raimi,
who’s about as exciting as Chlamydia on the Spider-Man tracks.


John Carpenter:

As Heard On: Assault on Precinct 13, Big Trouble in Little China (with Kurt Russell), Halloween (with writer/producer Debra Hill
and actress Jamie Lee Curtis), Masters of Horror: Cigarette Burns,
Masters of Horror: Pro-Life (with writers Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan)

The Must Listen: The Thing (with Kurt Russell)

I Still Need to Hear: Christine (with actor Keith Gordon),
Escape From New York
(with Kurt Russell), They Live (with Roddy Piper, R2 only),The Fog (with producer/co-writer Debra Hill), Prince
of Darkness (with actor Peter Jason), In the Mouth of Madness (with DP
Gary B. Kibbe), Star Man (with Jeff Bridges).

Defining Characteristics: I’ve got a lot of Carpenter to
catch up on, but the tracks I’ve heard, even the most blasé ones (he
actually leaves the booth for a smoke break during the group Pro-Life
track), are always entertaining. Carpenter is full of anecdotes,
doesn’t takehimself or his films too seriously, and isn’t afraid to veer
way off course.



Martin Scorsese

As Heard On: Gangs of New
York
, Goodfellas (sort of, it’s abridged and includes non-screen specifics), Mean Streets (with actress Amy
Robinson), The Last Waltz (with Robbie Robinson).

The Must Listen: Raging Bull (with editor Thelma Schoonmaker).

I Still Need to Hear: After Hours (with actor Griffin Dunne,
producer Amy Robinson, editor Thelma Schoonmaker and DP Michael
Ballhaus), Alice
Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (with Ellen Burstyn and Kris Kristofferson), Last Temptation of Christ (with Willem
Dafoe, Paul Schrader and film critic Jay Cocks), New York, New York
(with critic Carrie Ricky).

Defining Characteristics: Martin Scorsese likely has the
most recognizable voice of any film director living today. Though
the tone, accent, rhythm and speed all stand out, Marty’s voice isn’t
harsh or obnoxious. His excitement and love is palpable, and like Del
Toro, you almost get the feeling he’s lecturing you from within your
living room.

 

Paul Verhoeven

As Heard On: The 4th Man, Black Book, Turkish Delight,
Robocop (Criterion, with co-writer Edward Neumeier, executive
producer Jon Davison and RoboCop Expert Paul M. Sammon), Starship
Troopers (with writer Edward Neumeier).

The Must Listen: Total Recall (with Arnold Schwarzenegger).

I Still Need to Hear: Basic Instinct (with DP Jon de Bont),
Hollow Man (with Kevin Bacon and Andrew Marlowe, perhaps it comes with
an apology?), Soldier of Orange.

Defining Characteristics: Verhoeven is very loud, very
excitable, and very Dutch. His Hollywood
tracks are among the most bombastic you’ll ever hear, but rather than causing annoyance, Verhoeven’s Netherlands drawl is likely to get you jumping up and down on your couch.
His shared track with Schwarzenegger is a virtual buffet of thick accents, and dueling personalities.


Well, that’s enough about that for now. More later, including the worst directors for commentary, and the best expert and group commentators.