Although his name might be unfamiliar to a young generation of moviegoers, John Cassavetes was a giant in raising the profile of independent film in America. As a young man, after enrolling in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, he took on small parts in films and appeared in episodic television until he picked up a camera and exploded onto the indie film scene with his 1959 film “Shadows.” From there, he went on to write and direct “Faces” (1968), which earned three Oscar nominations and eventually to 1974’s “A Woman Under the Influence,” which starred his wife Gena Rowlands (whom he met at the American Academy) in arguably her most triumphant performance. Cassavetes is such an important figure in independent cinema that every year, the Independent Spirit Awards present the John Cassavetes Award to the year’s best film that cost less than $500,000.
While he was directing, Cassavetes continued his acting career, hitting the jackpot in the period of 1967-68 earning his first nomination for the Academy Award, as well as his first Golden Globe nomination for his performance in Robert Aldrich‘s “The Dirty Dozen,” followed by the megahit, Roman Polanski‘s “Rosemary’s Baby” in 1968. Cassavetes would be nominated for two other Oscars — for his screenplay of 1968’s “Faces” and for his direction of the 1974 film, “A Woman Under the Influence.” He would also receive Golden Globe nominations for writing the 1970 film “Husbands” and for both his screenplay and direction of “A Woman Under the Influence.”
As acclaimed as his work was on his own, his most memorable films were with his wife Rowlands. Together, they were a powerhouse team who really brought the best out in each other, a partnership that lasted right up until Cassavetes’ death in 1989. So tour our photo gallery to celebrate the 90th birthday of this actor/writer/director and independent film legend by ranking his 12 greatest films from worst to best, both in front of and behind the camera.