Over two decades, much thanks to the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, New Zealand has become a buzzing hive of filmmaking activity. This relatively small and out of the way film industry might boast only a few internationally known A-list directors, but these have made a massive impact on film culture far beyond their island chain. Jane Campion, Peter Jackson, Andrew Niccol and of course Taika Waititi immediately spring to mind as the most influential and iconic filmmakers of the bunch, and it is the latter’s films that will be ranked in this list.
After making his start in comedy and theatre as a performer, Waititi first stepped behind the camera directing short films (including the Oscar-nominated Two Cars, One Night and a trial run of What We Do in the Shadows) before HBO musical sitcom ‘Flight of the Conchords’ came along, friend and co-lead Jemaine Clement enlisting him to direct 4 episodes. As a writer-director he quickly became known for his distinctive, deadpan Kiwi comic chops, wacky characters and making a feature of the absurdity found in mundane situations, particularly those found in strained family settings.
With six features to his name and many more varied films and TV series in his immediate future, not to mention acting in most of his own films and memorably appearing in the projects of his closest collaborators, Waititi has been one of busiest men and hardest workers in film anywhere in the world for over a decade now. In this edition of Ranked, we here at The Film Magazine are judging each of Taika Waititi’s feature directorial efforts from worst to best, based on critical consensus, connection with audiences, and uniqueness of voice.
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6. Boy (2010)
Taika Waititi’s award-winning, Maori community-based breakthrough second feature sees the titular kid (James Rollerston) lost in a world of imagination and a love of Michael Jackson music (“Hey, Chardonnay! Wanna see some Michael Jackson dance moves?”) until one day his deadbeat dad (Waititi), who has been absent since Boy was small, comes back under the pretence of reconnecting with his son, hanging around just long enough for him to become attached again.
Last-minute cast lead James Rollerston astonishes, anchoring the film around Boy’s perspective, earnestly and energetically talking to camera about his world and really selling the more heartbreaking scenes as it becomes clear he has buried much deep inside, chiefly the grief he is still processing for his mum. Waititi takes a very matter-of-fact, bittersweet angle on tough subjects throughout his filmography, and here is a story with grief at its core, but cheer and irreverence usually disguising it.
That Boy is at the bottom of this list is not a slight against the film, which won multiple awards around the world and is often funny and always heartfelt, if a little leisurely, but it is more an indication of the sheer quality of the rest of Taika Waititi’s feature films.
5. Eagle vs Shark (2007)
At a glance, Waititi’s feature film debut would appear to be just another quirky romcom, but its charm is infectious, especially if you’re particularly fond of unconventional meet-cutes and endearingly awkward characters spending time with each other. Don’t think you’ve got Eagle vs Shark pegged from the start though, because as the layers of quirk are peeled back it soon becomes clear that this film is actually a very sensitive insight into depression.
Weirdos Lily (Loren Taylor) and Jarrod (Jemaine Clement) meet at the grubby fast food joint Lily works at and then well-and-truly fall for each other at an animal themed costume party. Before long they are travelling together to Jarrod’s childhood home, partly to see his family but mostly for him to get revenge on a hated bully from school.
The oddball tone of the film won’t be for everyone, but it’s much more mature and profound than it looks at first glance, acknowledging the roadblocks so many experience in communicating effectively with one another and maintaining their own mental health. If you’re going to have a little cry watching a film with inter-cut stop-motion animation sequences involving an anthropomorphic apple core, let it be this one.
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