However, after Revolutionary Road, the crowning (though mind-bogglingly Oscar-snubbed) achievement of his filmmaking career so far, Sam Mendes has arguably earned a place in the same class. Or at the very least, a shot at the title for best director of the decade.
A moviemaker with theatrical chops, fresh out of Cambridge Mendes initially led a Tony-earning career in Britain working with the likes of Dame Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, and Nicole Kidman. Apparently just as adept at making an award-winning career in the cinematic world, Mendes landed five Oscars with his breathtaking film debut, American Beauty. Poignant plastic bag ballets, bathtub fantasies bubbling over with red roses and underage vixens ...
Then Sam left the cringe-worthy, modern day tragicomedy of suburban father Lester Burnham's midlife crisis to explore the dark, divisive depths of the loyalties of a Depression-era, Irish mob hit man-turned-target and devoted dad Mike Sullivan (Tom Hanks) in Road to Perdition. He followed that with a journey into the strange psyche and surreal Saudi Arabian exploits of Camus-reading Jarhead Anthony Swofford, a Gulf War sniper battling an unfathomable enemy (and war), blazing desert heat, boredom, and too much untapped testosterone.
Then came author Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road, a riveting, heartbreaking portrait of the death of passion -- both the lifelong passions of 1950s couple Frank and April Wheeler and their passion for each other as they desperately struggle to escape the suburban nightmare that threatens to smother them. Mendes' relentless lens exposes the raw anguish of Frank and April's tormented souls -- no matter how ugly it gets. It's one of the most stunning examples of Sam's directorial talent, highlighting his ability to peel back the superficial layers to sublimely reveal "the life behind things" (to steal a quote from American Beauty).
Though a much lighter, laughter-inducing love story, Mendes' upcoming feel-good comedy Away We Go looks far from formulaic in trailers, and well in line with his penchant for artful, yet unsparingly truthful, explorations of hidden human worlds -- proof that there's no stone he won't turn or genre he won't try to get to the story beneath.
Next up for the British moviemaker: 2010's Middlemarch, a potentially epic adaptation of George Eliot's beloved 1871 novel, the multi-themed saga of Victorian England men and women caught in an intricate dance of social expectations and secret desires.
If Middlemarch makes it to the big screen, then Mendes can add period piece to his illustrious repertoire and (hopefully) another Oscar to his trophy shelf.