The 15 Best Music Videos Made by The World's Greatest Filmmakers

Paul Thomas Anderson is an Academy Award nominated filmmaker, so why did he and other directors like him decide to make music videos?

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Acclaimed filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson released the music video he shot with Radiohead last week, a few days before the band released its masterpiece of a new record, A Moon Shaped Pool. Anderson’s video for “Daydreaming” is a surreal telling of the song, but also an extension of the the cinematic aesthetic that Anderson has been exploring in films like Magnolia, There Will Be Blood and Inherent Vice*.

It’s an interesting move for an established filmmaker, whose work is routinely cited as among the best American films released in the last decade or two, to dive into the seemingly fading music video format. But it’s nothing new for popular directors to jump from features on the big screen to short videos for the small screen. Some directors, such as Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, and David Fincher, got their start in music videos before making the jump to feature films. Others, like Anderson, have jumped back and forth. Here are the best examples of established filmmakers who have pulled a PTA.

15. Sam Peckinpah — Julian Lennon’s “Valotte”

It’s a match made in WTF heaven: the semi-overlooked son of the best Beatle joins forces with the semi-overlooked bulwark of beefy masculine cinema. Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs) was hired to direct two simplistic music videos for singer — and son of John — Julian Lennon two months before the Straw Dogs and Wild Bunch director’s death, the most tolerable of which is the Beatles-esque piano ballad, “Valotte,” which garnered Lennon a 1985 MTV Video Music Awards nomination for Best New Artist. The other video is for a forgettable faux-reggae tune called “Too Late For Goodbyes.

14. Lars Von Trier - Laid Back’s “Bakerman”

Danish electronic music duo Laid Back hired Danish enfant terrible Lars Von Trier to direct the music video for their song Bakerman��������� in 1990, following his initial cinematic success with movies like The Element of Crime. It’d be a few more years until he broke all the rules with the Dogme 95 movement, and even more until he became a full fledged vulgar auteur with movies like Antichrist and Nymphomaniac.

13. Jim Jarmusch - The Raconteurs’ “Steady, As She Goes”

Jack White is a weird genius with carefully-styled hair, so it’s no surprise that he’d tap 1990s American independent cinema pioneer (and dude with the greatest hairdo) Jim Jarmusch to direct a video for the rocker’s post-White Stripes side project, The Raconteurs. The Stranger Than Paradise and Down By Law filmmaker was a member of the band The Del-Byzanteens, and currently heads the metal band SQÜRL, but he had also previously directed music videos for Tom Waits, The Talking Heads and Neil Young.

12. Rian Johnson —The Mountain Goats’ “Woke Up New”

From Mountain Goats to Star WarsRian Johnson’s come a long way. Mountain Goats mastermind John Darnell allegedly watched Johnson’s debut film Brick, only to find that the credits listed the music by someone called The Hospital Bombers,” which was a reference to his Mountain Goats song, “The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton.” Darnell then reached out to Johnson to direct the video for “Woke Up New,” and even collaborated with Johnson on The Life of the World to Come, a filmed live performance film of The Mountain Goats’ album of the same name.

11. Edgar Wright — Pharrell’s “Gust of Wind”

What do you do when you bail on your Marvel movie after nearly a decade of development because the head honchos have a problem with auteurs doing what auteurs do best? You make a really fucking weird yet awesome music video with Pharrell, that’s what.

10. Kathryn Bigelow — New Order’s “Touched by the Hand of God”

Post-Point Break, Kathryn Bigelow was big on commenting on 1980s excess, and used the video of New Order’s “Touched by the Hand of God to keep the absurdity high. Considering these guys are legendary mopers permanently outfitted in Fred Perry polos, it’s a wonder to see them strut around stage in Mötley Crüe-esque hair metal band attire.

9. Sofia Coppola — The White Stripes’ “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself

Coppola’s films are known for their soundtracks, and she’s married to Phoenix lead singer Thomas Mars, so you know she has an ear for great tunes. She can also direct the shit out of any format, including the music video. She proved that with the surprisingly simple video for the Stripes’ version of “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself,” featuring model Kate Moss dancing on a stripper pole. Coppola fans might even say the kind of tragic beauty of it anticipates the stripper scene from her 2010 film Somewhere.

8. Gasper Noe — Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “We No Who U R”

Noe is a fairly notorious director of some very provocative films like Enter the Void and Love, but his video for Nick Cave’s band is decidedly tame by comparison. The shadowy stroll through the woods is probably the most innocent thing the French director has ever done.

7. Tim Burton — The Killers’ “Bones”

The Killers were once one of the biggest bands on the planet, so it makes sense that they’d enlist someone who had that same kind of stature in the movie business. Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands director Tim Burton stepped behind the camera for two Killers videos, including the song “Here With Me.” The short for “Bones” is a perfectly macabre mix of the director’s influences.

6. Gus Van Sant — Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge”

You couldn’t tune into MTV in the early ‘90s without seeing this video playing over and over again. It made them into music stars, and the rather simplistic video, featuring frontman Anthony Kiedis strolling through LA intercut with cross-faded and neon-colored imagery of the band performing, was the masterwork of My Own Private Idaho, Drugstore Cowboy, and eventual Good Will Hunting director Gus Van Sant.

5. David Lynch — Moby’s “Shot in the Back of the Head”

Weirdo auteur David Lynch hasn’t made a full feature film since 2006’s Inland Empire, but he’s been busy with his own art and advertising work since then. He found enough time to team up with his fellow transcendental meditator Moby and the animated video for his appropriately Lynchian song “Shot in the Back of the Head.” Scribbled black and white, dreamlike, and absurd, it’s Lynch as his best.

4. Spike Lee — Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power”

This is cheating a bit, mostly because Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” was conceived for Spike Lee’s groundbreaking 1989 film Do the Right Thing. So it was only natural that Lee would take over directing duties for the music video, but the video is far more than a marketing effort for the Oscar-nominated film. The message of the song, the imagery, and the film are so intertwined that the video isn’t merely an extension of the film but an entire brilliantly executed and powerful short unto itself.

3. Steven Spielberg — Cyndi Lauper’s “The Goonies R’ Good Enough”

This is kind of a cheat as well since Spielberg didnt technically direct the two-part video for “The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough,” but Cyndi Lauper’s sorta-title-song from Richard Donner’s 1986 classic is the only music video the legendary director has ever been involved with. Spielberg even makes an appearance in a meta part of the clip, editing the very music video we’re ostensibly watching. Lauper notoriously hated the song and didn’t want to be associated with it — she wouldn’t sing it at concerts — until she included it on the 2003 compilation The Essential Cyndi Lauper.

2. Brian De Palma — Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”

Who knew the biggest Hitchcock fan in filmmaking history was also a fan of The Boss? De Palma, better known for erotic thrillers like Dressed to Kill and technical dramas like Blow Out, helped Springsteen during his Born in the USA era by directing what is likely his most iconic video. De Palma pulled together 200 extras at the St. Paul Civic Center to recreate a show. Of all the technical feats De Palma has pulled off in his directing career, none may be as impressive as getting Springsteen to dance around stage with a young Courtney Cox.

1. Martin Scorsese — Michael Jackson’s “Bad”

John Landis may have directed the epic music video for “Thriller,” but Scorsese’s directing chops for Jackson’s title track off his 1987 album is probably the best thing he did in the ‘80s after Raging Bull. It had a huge influence on the story-based music videos that followed, and is responsible for a ton of decades’ worth of people who can’t dance trying to copy Jackson’s moves.

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