Owen Gleiberman
September 14, 2007 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Are there directors who earn free passes from critics?

Are there directors who have such a strong body of work that they earn a free pass from critics even on less-than-worthy projects? — Lloyd

Yes, but there’s a fine distinction to be made. How can you tell when a filmmaker has crossed the nearly invisible line between deserved acclaim and overpraise — the line between rave reviews that are justified and those that feel a little too…automatic? When, in other words, has he or she become a critics’ darling? This is, by definition, a highly subjective judgment, but to me the old quip about pornography applies: It may be hard to define, but I know it when I see it. Here, in no particular order, are a handful of directors all major artists who have been buffed, for a good portion of their careers, with a can-do-no-wrong sheen: Orson Welles, Terrence Malick, Wong Kar-Wai, Mike Leigh, Clint Eastwood, Lina Wertmüller, Richard Linklater, John Cassavetes, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Guy Maddin, and — the granddaddy of all critics’ darlings — Jean-Luc Godard.

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