UPDATE: And now we can add Michelangelo Antonioni to the list. The pantheon is summoning some legends. Revered by film students everywhere, Antonioni had a huge influence on directors perhaps more popular among modern arthouse crowds, e.g. Wong Kar Wai or Sofia Coppola. Blow Up and L'Avventura are his most famous movies and well worth seeing, though I lean at this moment towards La Notte as my favorite of his scripts. The Passenger has one of the most brilliant and famous ending shots in cinema.
I met Laszlo Kovacs a few weeks ago at Cinegear. He and Vilmos Zsigmond were honored for their distinguished cinematography careers. He signed a poster for me and chatted for a few moments. He wasn't content just to hear abotu who I was but wanted to pass on advice about being a cinematographer. Friendly to the end. In hindsight, the timing of the tribute for Kovacs seemed scripted. His work as a DP (Director of Photography) is vast and wide-ranging, everything from Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces to Ghostbusters and Say Anything. When I think of Kovacs, I don't think of a particular look but of shooting out in the open air.
For a film student I still have a great deal of Bergman's oeuvre to cover (though he likely occupies more positions in my Netflix queue than any other director). But the movies of his that I have seen have all gotten under my skin. How many modern movies have you leaving the theater thinking you know who made it? You wouldn't ever ask that of a Bergman film. If you're looking for one movie as an introduction, Scenes From a Marriage is where I'd start. Years from now you'll be able to walk on set and say you want a Bergman-Nykvist-like aesthetic and a knowledgeable film crew will know what you mean.
Many people say that they like to just shut off their minds when they go to the movies, and a Bergman movie is not for that person. But I question the idea that you go to the movies to sit there as a brain-dead receptacle. I suspect that people actually want more mental stimulation but have been fed so much empty formula that they've started to lower their expectations prior to walking into the theater so that the actual experience is less disappointing. The idea that you want your brain to work less only makes sense if there is some limit to the amount of mental processing power in a given day, and I've yet to see any biological proof for that idea. I suspect physical fatigue is the limiting factor and is confused by most for mental fatigue.
I always seek more, rather than less, for my brain to chew on. Far from tiring me out, intellectual stimulation wakes my brain up, brings it to life! I add the caveat that I'm the type of person who ends up bored after a minute of sitting on the beach on the first day of a vacation and has to get a book in hand or frisbee to toss. Still, the idea that a movie can't be intellectually bracing and entertaining is a false dichotomy. Avoid that trap and demand more for your $10.50.
*Look at the number of Google News obits for Bergman and Kovacs and you'll get a useful proxy for the popularity of directors versus that of cinematographers to the public at large. Don't feel sorry for the DP's. They're happy to stay in the shadows. Also, the DP is less likely to be a egomaniac than the director.