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David Fincher isn’t doing terribly well in the Oscar-buzz arms race—and he isn’t doing himself any favors in interviews—but the lackluster Benjamin Button may be covering up one of Hollywood’s more interesting directors.

Not pulpy enough to draw the Tarantino crowd and too auteurish to really succeed with popcorn films, Fincher rarely gets his due. His best film, Zodiac, got lost in last year’s shuffle thanks to an early release date and one of the best film years in recent memory, but it’s already developing a following as a bureaucratic, obsessive take on Hollywood’s common law & order procedurals.

Like all Fincher movies, it’s meticulously art-directed—giving us a remarkably good recreation of the 70s style we love so dearly—but there’s a nihilism at the center that’s managed to turn off most audiences and a lot of critics. He’s easy to respect, but Fincher is definitely not easy to love—independent of the fact that calling Fight Club your favorite movie was never going to score you any points. He’s the Elvis Costello of directors: Embittered by success, drugged out, ambitious but distant, obviously talented but also kind of an asshole.

But we’d still take him over Paul Haggis any day.

—R.B.

CONTRIBUTORS

  • Russell Brandom