People talk about the Dardennes, or some of these new "slow" filmmakers like Apichapong, but I don't see anything new there, just an intellectual idea executed with precision. Personally, I don't need that in a film so much.
Haha, you're going to get me going on the Dardennes, aren't you?
I had a conversation with a friend about the Dardennes last night. You're right, there is nothing technically new to their style or even their aesthetic ideal. The greatest of filmmakers have experimented with the Dardennes style in trying to film a story so close to the characters and action that it becomes the replication of a personal experience for the viewer. When Michelangelo Antonioni made La Notte right after L'Avventura, he specifically made a film devoid of standard story and detailed composition and instead layered the film with close proximity events. He did it because he wanted the audience to experience Jeanne Moreau's indecisiveness about her marriage with her. The random events she has with her husband (and more importantly by herself) leaves her feeling more confused and adrift about things. It is exactly what the audience is supposed to experience because they have no prior bias of the relationship. Films always try to juxtapose the audience to feel certain ways, but the content of La Notte comes from the disconnect Moreau feels to each new situation.
That film was a huge break through for the personal experience film, but the Dardennes take it to such greater heights than Antonioni or any other filmmaker has. Too many times the film going public applauses the first instance at the crack of a new style, but usually it is never the best. Antonioni was limited with La Notte because he had camera equipment that had to remain stationery when handheld can do almost anything today. The Dardennes also layer their films with stories that dig at our intrinsic emotions. The Son recollected Bible parables and The Child deals with one of the harshest subjects in child exploitation.
People compliment films like Gummo for gritty realities of tough subjects, but I'm not impressed with those films. These filmmakers take similar routes with using the same camera equipment, but Gummo and others try to insist upon their gritty reality by making every image of the film as uncomfortable for the viewer as possible. There are scenes in Gummo that are revolting to watch, but what I like about the Dardennes is that their tough reality is still focused on the philosophical idea at hand. Film is so connected to reality that it is easy to imply a disgusting and terrible lifestyle just by showing it, but the Dardennes mix grittiness with the idea of terribleness. Because for as bad as Gummo makes life out to be, the crime that the protagonist in the Child commit still becomes a more terrible and unthinkable crime. The Dardennes illustrate this without being overly graphic at all.
I will always argue that Oliver Stone is the most complete filmmaker I've ever seen. I don't take that comment lightly and can talk at great length to why, but the Dardennes are the best filmmakers going today. That statement only represents here and now because every generation has its own issues and concerns, but they are the best for me. I could still go into further detail, but who cares?
As far as Martin Scorsese is concerned, I don't know if he was the first filmmaker to really do what he does. He is certainly the first modern American filmmaker to do it, but a lot of his style draws from filmmakers like Max Ophuls. But I do believe he advanced his style past Ophuls' accomplishments. That is a compliment to him.
The reason why I don't care too much for Scorsese is because his identity is just based on a style. He has shown an ability to mix and mesh it with any type of story possible. Oliver Stone's style requires a certain narrative and so it could never (for him at least) be in a standard action or drama. His style requires stories that are denser and don't have easy answers for the characters. This leads to the development of themes in his films. Even simpleton style filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick realized the importance of themes in an artists oeuvre, but Scorsese takes on films as a handy man would. I still think he is an artist, but I never see him as the complete one.
(Department of Corrections: I originally listed Julien Donkey Boy in place of Gummo. The intention was always Gummo. Sometimes films are confused.)