“You’re only as good as your last picture” is an adage familiar to Hollywood, but it didn’t necessarily apply when Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut” premiered on July 16, 1999. Arriving four months after his death, the controversial film eluded audiences, divided critics and challenged movie historians to rank it among the director’s greatest work. On the 15th anniversary of its release, here’s a look at the final films of 12 celebrated auteurs.
“A Prairie Home Companion”
Robert Altman (1925-2006)
Released months before his death, this sweetly satirical adaptation of Garrison Keillor’s radio program showcases Altman’s most recognizable gifts. From its ensemble cast to its improvisational humor, the director’s singular vision is apparent in every frame. A fitting coda for a distinguished artist.
“8 Million Ways to Die”
Hal Ashby (1929-1988)
Based on a detective novel by Lawrence Block, with a screenplay by Oliver Stone and Robert Towne (using a pseudonym), this violent thriller from the iconoclastic Ashby found the director struggling in a genre for which he wasn’t well suited. Fired by the producers on the last day of principal photography, he never directed another feature.
John Cassavetes (1929-1989)
Had he not replaced director Andrew Bergman at the last minute on this aptly titled disaster, Cassavetes’ final film would have been the uncompromising “Love Streams,” a work far more illustrative of his independent spirit. Sadly, this infamously troubled production was his swan song.
Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980)
After directing many of the greatest thrillers ever made, Hitchcock’s last movie was this lighthearted comic mystery, a cheeky change of pace on the heels of “Frenzy.” Though he’d begun work on a proposed spy picture to follow “Family Plot,” declining health forced him to abandon the project before filming began.
John Huston (1906-1987)
Released soon after his death, John Huston’s “The Dead” is both a hauntingly-crafted literary adaptation, as well as a profoundly personal meditation on mortality. Starring daughter Anjelica and written for the screen by his son Tony, it’s an elegiac capstone to a legendary career.
“Once Upon a Time in America”
Sergio Leone (1929-1989)
A wildly ambitious crime drama spanning four decades, Leone’s final epic was drastically recut by distributors for the American market. The shortened version was savaged by critics at the time of its release, while the original cut is hailed by many as the director’s finest achievement.
“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”
Sidney Lumet (1924-2011)
Versatile and hugely prolific, Lumet is perhaps best known for the gritty New York crime dramas that bore his signature. His final work, shot on location in Queens, N.Y., was a dark morality tale about a heist gone awry, and features the nuanced performances he was famous for eliciting.
“The Osterman Weekend”
Sam Peckinpah (1925-1984)
Peckinpah was in poor health by the time he helmed this claustrophobic, convoluted Robert Ludlum adaptation. Though his signature style was occasionally on display, the film sank with little trace. Before his death the following year, he’d begun preparation to direct an original script by Stephen King.
Sydney Pollack (1934-2008)
Directing again after a six year absence, Pollack was on familiar ground with a political thriller that bore similarities to his hit “Three Days of the Condor.” A polished work, the first to be shot inside the United Nations Headquarters, it suggested a return to form, cut short by his death three years later.
Harold Ramis (1944-2014)
Ramis stumbled badly with an ill-conceived biblical comedy that’s closer in spirit to Ringo Starr’s execrable “Caveman” than it was to his own classic “Groundhog Day.” Produced by Judd Apatow, the film was Ramis’ last as director, writer and actor before his death earlier this year.
Tony Scott (1944-2012)
This adrenaline-fueled story of a runaway train contained all the elements that made Scott an A-list action director. His fifth film with Denzel Washington, Scott planned to follow it with a sequel to “Top Gun.” Four months after his suicide, Paramount announced that the project was officially cancelled.
“F For Fake”
Orson Welles (1915-1985)
Notorious for abandoning projects midway through, Welles’ last finished film was this playful documentary, a witty exploration of art and authenticity. Poorly received when it was eventually released three years after completion, its stature has risen steadily over the years.