15. Billy Wilder (1906 – 2002)
It could be considered ironic that Hollywood’s most beloved writer-director was actually born in Austria, never speaking the English language until he came to America in the 1930s. But perhaps it was his outsider perspective that made him such a keen observer of American behavior. With a slate of films, covering all genres, Wilder set his wit loose on America, and we have yet to recover. Few have managed to match his success in the business, nor his dedication to the occupation. Up until his recent passing, Wilder continued to go to his office each day and work on new ideas.
Says MM Editor at Large Phillip Williams: “In film after film—Lost Weekend, Stalag 17, Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, The Apartment—Billy Wilder got audiences to fall in love with characters that, on a good day, might be considered loveable losers. The Wilder leading man—whether fallen drunk, cynical opportunist, kept writer or lovesick accountant—was always digging himself out of some self-generated pit. [His characters were] fully human and fully realized”. They were also wholly American.