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Polley one of many actors-turned-directors

As an actress, Sarah Polley has scores of solid television and movie work to her credit.
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Sarah Polley's second film as director opens Friday

As an actress, Sarah Polley has scores of solid television and movie work to her credit. But it wasn't until her directorial debut, Away From Her, which won her a Genie Award for direction and an Academy Award nod for screenwriting, that the full spectrum of her talent came into view.

Her second film, Take This Waltz, which opens Friday, is already coasting on considerable buzz that followed film festival screenings last year.

Polley's union of acting and directing has thus far been a beautiful friendship. She's just one of many screen stars who have taken a chair behind the camera, 10 of whom are presented here.

1Clint Eastwood. In 1971, more than a decade and a half after his acting debut, Eastwood finally took a shot at directing. Ever since, he has been regarded as one of the finest in the business, earning best director honours twice (for Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby).

His work bears the mark of a master, one proven to get better with age, as evidenced by recent successes Gran Torino, Invictus and J. Edgar.

2 Charles Chaplin. The lovable tramp was so good that the brains behind the Academy Awards decided to strip him of all Oscar nominations in 1929, in order to present him with a special award recognizing "versatility and genius" for acting, writing, directing and producing The Circus.

Chaplin's multi-dimensional winning streak continued for decades after his Oscar sweep, and went on to include masterpieces such as Modern Times and The Great Dictator, among others.

3 Sydney Pollack. Though he's considered one of the best directors in film history, Pollack had highlevel training as an actor - well before he assumed control of a picture, in fact. His potent skill as a director, however, remains his best-known artistic attribute. Before his death (from stomach cancer) in 2008, Pollack had scooped 16 Oscars, for films ranging from big-budget (Out of Africa) to high-concept (They Shoot Horses, Don't They?). He's one of the best, hands down.

4 Ron Howard. Baby boomers know him for his roles in The Andy Griffith Show, Happy Days and American Graffiti, but these days, Howard is known simply as a director. There's a good reason for that: Since his 1977 directorial debut, Howard's films have grossed nearly $2 billion at the box office. He's primarily a popcorn-movie maestro (Backdraft, Apollo 13, Ransom), but Howard exhibited a deft touch with his biggest accomplishment, 2001's A Beautiful Mind, which earned him an Oscar for directing.

5 Woody Allen. He's not much of an actor, but with a resumé that includes appearances in more than 50 films, Allen's thespian talent deserves mention. Above all else, the four-time Oscar winner is considered a director's director, thanks to Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters and Bullets Over Broadway. His most recent efforts, Vicky Christina Barcelona and Midnight in Paris, prove he hasn't lost his touch.

6 Robert Redford. The Sundance Kid was unnecessarily slaughtered after winning a best-director Oscar for Ordinary People, simply because it was at the expense of Martin Scorsese (who was expected to win in a landslide for Raging Bull). Redford persevered, and in the years that followed, managed to balance exceptional acting work with a series of fine films as a director, including A River Runs Through It, The Horse Whisperer and Quiz Show, the latter earning him his second Oscar nomination for direction.

7 Rob Reiner. At one time, few directors could match the gift for goofiness Reiner displayed while at the helm of This Is Spinal Tap and The Princess Bride, which remain high-water marks in the comedy genre. The occasional actor (who played Meathead on All in the Family) has scored hits as a director in a multitude of genres, ranging from When Harry Met Sally to Stand By Me, Misery and A Few Good Men.

8 Mel Gibson. Strike from the record Gibson's debut as a director, the horrendous Man Without a Face, and you've got a visionary auteur whose vast personal troubles sidetracked an otherwise excellent career. Once among the biggest and most popular actors of his time, Gibson scored a knockout with 1995's Braveheart. The epic won him an Oscar as best director while taking home the honours for best picture. Two spectacular-looking, though divisive, Gibson-directed films followed in 2004 (The Passion of the Christ) and 2006 (Apocalypto), but his career has yet to fully recover.

9 Kenneth Branagh. The classically trained Branagh emerged like a shot with Henry V, a spectacular adaptation that made the Belfast native (who drew Oscar nominations for acting and directing) an instant star in 1989. He has flirted with disaster ever since, but when he's on - as he was in the role of Laurence Olivier during last year's My Week With Marilyn - flashes of past Branagh brilliance return.

10 Ben Affleck. Some film fans would assert that George Clooney should be on this list, but let's not forget that Clooney has one outright box-office bomb (Leatherheads) on his record as a director while Affleck does not. And while Clooney is the better actor of the two, Affleck is an incredibly accomplished, stylistic writer-director on the fast track to greater fame. His two at-bats as a director, 2007's Gone Baby Gone and 2009's The Town, are Boston-based behemoths that deserve the highest recommendation.

mdevlin@timescolonist.com