I came into the world of John Sayles late in the game -- the 2002 Toronto International Film Festival with Casa de los babys. I was intrigued by the story, but it wasn't until Silver City the next year that I became a fan. Danny Huston digging through the layers of a murder mystery with that wry style and nonchalance -- I was hooked. With each film that I saw, I became more impressed and more in love with Sayles' structure and aesthetic. He knows how to pull the depth out of each story, making it interesting no matter what your interests. I'm not a big fan of baseball, coal mining stories or many of the other facets of life he dips into, but you don't need to relate to the theme to enjoy and value his films.
As a pioneer of North American indie cinema, Sayles' technique is simple, and it allows strong, diverse characters to thrive. For the most part, his films play like an intricate spiderweb. You start at the outside, spinning around many points that seem disconnected. However, as you are introduced to the myriad of characters, layers of the plot are revealed and the web weaves, trailing inward until each step leads to the inevitable center and crescendo. You have to be patient and willing to take the journey, because he doesn't lay it all out in the first few blinks; you have to watch it unfold bit by bit. He comments on this in Men with Guns: "When people start into a story, they have to see the end, or they aren't happy."
Out of Sayles' 15 films (the upcoming Honeydripper will be his 16th) I've attempted to put together a chronological list that will help you explore the main branches of the writer/director/editor's work. They span themes, locales, technique and age -- and serve as a great springboard to the films that remain. Dip into the films of Sayles and see not only the worlds he skillfully brings to the screen, but the collection of strange characters he steps in front of the camera to play -- a minister, filmmaker, criminal, alien, journalist, blue collar dad and soap opera actor.