The state of feature filmmaking really seems to be imploding little by little year after year and it truly breaks my heart. There are great films that seem to come out every year but very rarely are they doing what I want them to do. To break new ground, to reinvent, to innovate, to overpower, to punch us in the face multiple times over.
I feel audiences are not sure if they even like films anymore. Superhero movies have practically destroyed Hollywood for better or for worse. Obviously not financially, but creatively. The last time I saw one of these gigantic superhero movies that actually had a tone that felt like it didn’t belong inside that universe was 2014’s Captain America: Winter Soldier which for my money is the greatest Marvel / Superhero movie ever made. Not including Logan because I don’t consider that to be in the same ballpark. Much more a deconstruction of these kinds of movies than anything else.
I just feel like year after year we’re going around and around in circles and everyone seems to be okay with that. No one seems to want more than just the standard slightly above average fare and that’s really sad. Thankfully we still have some incredible visionaries working today who hopefully can continue preserving what’s great about the cinematic experience.
Directors who make movies you demand to see in the theatres. Directors who make films in which when you catch them late at night on cable, you almost feel bad about yourself for changing the channel. These are the kind of directors I respond to the most. The ones who embrace everything that works in cinema. Firing on all cylinders. There’s just too many directors out there who focus WAY too much on the generic mechanics of the plot. That they forget what ultimately matters in the grand scheme of things. THE CINEMATIC EXPERIENCE.
Anyway, with that all being said below are what I believe are the ten best directors working today who I feel are continuing to work against the norm and tell bold exciting stories with very strong bulletproof visions that cannot and will not be ignored.
This guy is a genius. Pure and simple. He’s easily our generation’s Stanley Kubrick and I’ve believed that ever since 2007’s There Will Be Blood. His point of view on the world is just riveting and I love how he makes absolutely no apologies for it. His male lead characters are self-destructive, extremely flawed, abrasive, and have very unforgiving qualities about them. He’s certainly been my favorite director for quite a time now as he’s just everything I love about film. He’s a director who I don’t walk but run to the theatre to see his films.
When I heard The Master was finally coming out, it had been a three-year wait for me. When I first saw the film (on digital), it was a bit puzzling to me. I felt that I had super high expectations that were not met. Then I let it settle for a few days. Went to go see it again (this time on 70MM), and it was a beautiful experience. I stopped judging it for what I thought it was going to be and accepted it for what it was. A wonderful character study that basically has no resolution. The same exact thing happened with 2017’s Phantom Thread. Saw it when it came out in theatres. Didn’t care for it. Then one year later I watched it again and I totally understood it. I’ve now seen it several times since. Some have criticized this very element feeling like his films require a second viewing lately to really “get them.” But didn’t Kubrick’s films need that too? Most films that truly penetrate you emotionally and last for quite some time require second or even third viewings.
I think this man’s a force to be reckoned with and in my opinion, he’s yet to make a bad film (Inherent Vice has some great moments). I love how he doesn’t just direct movies just to direct them. He really only makes a film if he has a burning sensation inside his soul to tell that particular story and that’s why his voice has been so strong over the years. The guy’s a badass and a true idol of mine. LONG LIVE PTA.
I’ve never seen extended takes exhausted on screen quite like this man. He understands how to extract the nuances of humanity unlike most directors working today and that’s incredibly admirable. Especially since he’s executing it within what are basically “high concept” stories.
Even though the man has been directing feature films dating all the way back to 1998, he didn’t start getting true recognition until 2009’s Polytechnique which centered on a misogynist who committed a shooting against several female engineers in Montreal. It was an incredibly bleak black and white towering achievement however it wasn’t until 2010 in which his film Incendies came out that wider audiences really started to take notice of his voice. Nominating that film for Best Foreign Language Film.
When Warner Brothers called up and finally gave him a chance to jump into the American mainstream with 2013’s Prisoners, Denis seemed to leap at the chance. As Paul Verhoeven showed audiences… there’s nothing more exciting than when an intense experimental foreign director infiltrates the American multiplex. And infiltrate Denis sure did.
Ever since the emotionally exhausting masterpiece Prisoners, Denis has been on fire. Churning out bold yet commercial enough fare like Sicario, Arrival, and the visually riveting Blade Runner 2049. However, it was 2014’s little-seen snuck under the radar Kubrick-Esque gem Enemy with Jake Gyllenhaal which truly blew me away. It to this day is my favorite film of Denis’. As well as my favorite performance of Jake. The film was a brisk 90-minute acid trip in the best possible way and the fact that he was able to showcase Toronto (FOR TORONTO AND NOT NEW YORK CITY) as some sort of dread filled unnerving landscape was a wonderful accomplishment. I love the film from beginning to end and if you haven’t watched it yet, DO IT NOW.
I understand this director has received some criticisms for the scripts in which his films have. That some of them have thin storylines or not emotional enough with the character development or have plot holes (i.e. Prisoners). That sort of thing never really bothers me because his films are just so overtly cinematic on every level that I’m willing to get past script issues. He’s a true auteur and quite possibly the most exciting director making multiplex movies right now. To say I’m excited for his reboot of Dune is an understatement.
I always find it fascinating when a director who comes from an experimental art house short films and museum exhibits ends up transitioning into the “mainstream” cinema. No one has done it as effortlessly in the last ten years quite like Steve McQueen. I remember vividly watching Hunger for the first time back in 2008 and was blown away by its boldness and weight he brought to the table. Not to mention truly presenting audiences Michael Fassbender and letting everyone know this actor is the real deal. Not surprising to me that McQueen ended up using him in his next two films Shame and 12 Years a Slave.
After I saw Hunger, I knew the guy obviously had a very strong and vivid voice but wasn’t quite sure where he was going to go from there. Then when I saw Shame in 2011, I was riveted from beginning to end. It was exactly what I wanted it to be and then some. The film ended up being in my top five of that year. Then when 12 Years a Slave came out in 2013 and (rightfully so) won Best Picture, McQueen truly cemented himself in current cinema as one of the great auteurs of our time. He’s a true filmmaking artist who never hesitates to push the envelope on what’s acceptable with his characters. I’m praising all of this about him and I have yet to even see Widows.
A few months after I had first seen 12 Years a Slave, I went to see the second screening of it at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica moderated by John Singleton. Singleton asked him how he shot the film and got the performances he got. McQueen simply and bluntly said… “36 days with one camera.” That’s when I realized this guy is all about the craft. All about the performances. He doesn’t get caught up in what kind of flashy multi-camera tricks he can pull off, or what’s the hottest new camera he can use. He’s very old fashioned with a modernized edge. Something that a lot of directors these days can enormously learn from.
I have a strong feeling that McQueen will live on as being one of the great cinematic storytellers of the last twenty years. He’s pretty much already there. Now I got to get my ass in gear and go watch Widows.
This one perhaps might be a slight stretch for some audience members to get down with. Especially since the massively polarizing response his 2017 Star Wars installment received. I for one was on the fence with The Last Jedi. Granted I only watched it once and during that time I was simply looking for typical Rian Johnson aesthetics inside a Star Wars universe so perhaps I wasn’t fully invested in the actual film itself. I have been meaning to go back and revisit it soon to truly give it an accurate assessment. However, what I DO know is that his episodes of Breaking Bad (specifically “The Fly” and “Ozymandias”), as well as Looper and Brick, are some of my favorites cinematic experiences I’ve ever had.
The man just understands how to entertain an audience through also having some sort of unique statements underneath it all to make it rise above the surface in which he’s sometimes criticized for. In that, he only deals with style and surface which people have accused him of doing. Those people have no fucking clue what they’re talking about and should just jump off a bridge after first being lit on fire.
I feel like Rian Johnson is one of the few directors out there who truly understand the power of camera movement and using the camera and visuals to enhance the story. To drive the narrative. Even though he’s a graduate of USC which has birthed recently some of the most irritating people in the industry known to mankind, he’s still the real deal in my opinion.
The fact that he’s gone from a $450K film like 2005’s Brick to a neanderthal monster like 2017’s The Last Jedi without even having many directing credits in between is quite an achievement. The man might not have many credits under his name but the ones he does have are incredibly special. He’s clearly quality over quantity man which is very admirable and something A LOT of directors can learn from.
I’m counting down the days until Knives Out. Have you seen the cast list thus far? It’s more than a little astonishing.
BABY DRIVER. SCOTT PILGRIM. SHAUN OF THE DEAD. That’s really all you need to say about this man to sum him up. However, for the sake of the article, I’ll say a bit more.
Edgar Wright’s energy on-screen has continued to wow me over the years dating even further back than 2004’s cult classic Shaun of the Dead. I was absolutely head over heels in love with his UK TV show Spaced. Just the hilarity of it and the slapstick humor played incredibly straight by its two leads (Jessica Hynes and an early Simon Pegg). It was hilarious from start to finish however it, unfortunately, didn’t really last very long (1999–2001). Though I feel sometimes a lot of excellent UK comedy sitcoms last a perfect amount. They never overstay their welcome and quit while they’re ahead which I admire. They’re not like typical American sitcoms who milk their annoying characters for over a decade sometimes. UK comedy plays their cards well and smart.
Edgar Wright just understands how to entertain. When you watch his films you know that is always his number one goal. TO ENTERTAIN. He’s not trying to reinvent the wheel, he’s not trying to change the face of the world as we know it. He’s just trying to make really awesomely entertaining roller coaster comedies with an edge and for my money, he succeeds 9/10 of the time. The World’s End in my opinion is the only film of his with which I wasn’t 100 percent on board with. I certainly enjoyed the hell out of it for a good 60 minutes but felt when the plot started to unravel the steam started to lose itself. Then sadly when that film came out in 2013, he got stuck in development hell with 2015’s Ant-Man which he never actually got to be behind the camera on. So there was a large gap where we just weren’t hearing from him on the big screen.
Though when Baby Driver blasted into multiplexes in the summer of 2017. HOLY SHIT. It instantly became my favorite film of that year (and that was a very competitive year by the way). I just love it so much. Some people had problems buying the relationship between Ansel Elgort and Lily James but that didn’t bother me at all. It’s a bummer that because Kevin Spacey has a big role in it people tend to not talk about the film as much as they should but I truly believe that in 5–10 years time, that film is going to be reborn. I don’t think audiences really understood what made that film so exciting. I just loved the fact that it wasn’t really a comedy. It was promoted like a comedy, it was lit like a comedy. But it was an action caper musical with SOME humor scattered throughout. Jamie Foxx played a genuinely intense villain in one of his best performances to date and the tension was pretty unrelenting from beginning to end. The man is untouchable in what he does and is one of the few studio directors out there who is making films on HIS terms not the other way around.
Anyway, to wrap things up, Edgar Wright is brilliant, and if you haven’t seen his unfortunate box office flop Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World… HOW CAN YOU LIVE WITH YOURSELF? However, if you haven’t seen his 1995 debut no-budget western parody feature A Fistful of Fingers… you can go on living with yourself just fine.
I remember vividly the second time I visited Park City, Utah to watch some premieres at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and experiencing the emotional gut-punch that was Blue Valentine.
I had never heard of the writer/director Derek Cianfrance. All I knew about him up to that point was that he had directed a micro-budget feature debut that premiered at Sundance in 1998 called Brother Tied that apparently no one has seen… And that he looks a lot like Ryan Gosling’s older brother. THAT WAS IT.
When the film started, I was riveted. I had never seen acting that raw displayed so truthfully in quite some time. It was bold, it was abrasive, it was moving, it was unsettling, it was disturbing. I couldn’t stop thinking about the director’s vision. He clearly cared about the performances more than anything when it came to his film. Something more directors should set their sights on more often. It’s not all about the lighting people.
A couple of years went by and I ended up watching his highly anticipated follow-up The Place Beyond the Pines from 2013. OH MY GOD. Not only did it become my favorite film of that year but also one of my favorite films of the last ten years. It’s truly an intimate epic in the vein of something like The Deer Hunter which is not easy to do. I study this film. I’ve watched it multiple times with the commentary, without the commentary. It’s a master class in storytelling and should be shown at all film schools to analyze. A lot of people criticized the film for never living up to its first 30–40 minutes with Ryan Gosling’s motorcycle robbery story however those people should boil their whole arm in a steaming pot of hot water. Sure Ryan Gosling’s story might be the most flashy and dense but for me, it was always Bradley Cooper’s Serpico-Esque storyline that made the film for me. Maybe it’s because I have some weird celebrity man-crush on the guy or maybe it’s because I appreciated the simplistic, humble approach with all of it. There’s a specific reason in there somewhere but all I know is that the middle is what makes the film for me. Even though the closing five minutes is my favorite part of the entire piece.
Cianfrance understands performance, cares deeply for his actors, and never lets his ego with aesthetics get in the way of the people on-screen driving the story forward. His follow up to Pines, The Light Between the Oceans might not have set the world on fire… but rest assured, it had all the ingredients of a great film just perhaps was slightly out of his comfort zone. However, I have no doubt that this man will once again knock our socks off in due time. He’s too special not to. Bring on Empire of the Summer Moon.
Now I’m pretty sure this woman above can pretty much drink all the male directors on this list under the table without thinking twice.
When Bigelow exploded onto the big screen with films like Near Dark, Point Break, and Strange Days the argument ignorant studio executives and financiers had during that time criticizing female directors were pretty much sledgehammered in the face by Bigelow’s strength as a fierce woman behind the camera.
However, it seems that ever since 2009’s The Hurt Locker her talent has been sort of taken for granted. Zero Dark Thirty had the difficult job of being a somewhat similar follow-up to The Hurt Locker (which won Best Picture as well) which immediately caused a polarizing reaction when it came out. I for one absolutely loved Zero Dark Thirty so much that I saw it twice. I watched a SAG screener a friend loaned me on my television and I knew I wasn’t getting the full experience. So I went to the multiplex and saw how it was meant to be seen and holy shit did it make a difference. The sound design alone in that film is astonishing.
It’s just nice to see a director with a go for the throat no bull shit point of view on the world. Her films hit and they hit hard. Unfortunately not sure if Detroit was her finest hour however that second act at the Algier’s Motel is not something to neglect for one second.
As much as I like Bigelow’s new foray into more “important” true story political fare over the last 10–15 years, I still will forever be obsessed with her early genre fare. Point Break, Blue Steel and Near Dark are just such great exciting thrillers of their time and that time was owned by this woman.
Yorgos is a man who has been impressing me little by little over the years and after seeing The Favourite recently he has fast become one of my favorite (pun intended) directors working today.
I remember vividly seeing Dogtooth for the first time years ago and felt underwhelmed by it. There were certainly arresting things about it and fine performances but it left me wanting more. Maybe I was too immature when I saw it and couldn’t quite grab ahold of it emotionally or what. Was never sure. Then in 2015 when The Lobster came out, it was certainly a sleeper hit for me. A story that just should NOT work in every way and for some reason it did beautifully.
However, it wasn’t until 2017 when The Killing of a Sacred Deer came out (currently my personal favorite of his) that my entire perception on this man changed. It was definitely more my speed than his previous films. I just loved the bold coldness of the material, the unrelenting tension, the unusual speech patterns with the performances. All of it hypnotized me. Also that first trailer with the Ellie Goulding minor EDM pop hit “Burn?” I must have watched that trailer 50 or 60 times. It was mesmerizing, to say the least. The film thankfully still delivered on what I wanted in my head. These days it’s very hard for me to watch a trailer and not design the entire film inside my head as to what it’s going to feel like so when the film delivered on what the trailer promised, I was very satisfied.
Recently over the Christmas break, I got to see his latest film The Favourite. With the exception of a couple of costume dramas (2013’s The Invisible Woman being one of them), I find myself quite allergic to them. Also for some reason, I’ve just never been a big fan of Emma Stone. I simply see THROUGH her acting. So needless to say the only thing motivating me to see The Favourite in theatres was its cinematic genius behind the camera. This film did not disappoint. It was exactly what it should be. A film playing up the satirical nature of its period but also not fucking around at the same time. Those whip pan dollies push in-camera tricks he does seem to be his new signature. I had seen the film with my father and my stepmother who are not at all keen on this director’s work nor these kinds of films so watching it with them was quite a hilarious experience. As soon as the film finished on its wonderfully trippy closing shot, I looked over to my father who seemed paralyzed in his seat as if he had just seen A Clockwork Orange for the first time. I turned over to him and said, “Welcome to Yorgos.”
In conclusion, this man might simply be the next Kubrick (we still love you PTA). He understands how to get inside your guts with the worlds he builds cinematically. He understands cinema literature in ways most directors only dream of. Also, did I mention he’s Greek? Come on America. WE HAVE TO STEP IT UP.
This is a true indie director who pretty much seems to find himself on everyone’s list of most exciting directors of the last 10–20 years and rightfully so. A mix between our generation’s Hal Ashby and our generation’s Robert Altman.
I wish we had more auteurs like Linklater. However, it’s a struggle sometimes to simply call him an auteur as he seems to juggle different styles and genres all throughout his prolific career. Going from a quasi-documentary like Slacker to an ensemble truthful coming of age story like Dazed and Confused to something as whacked and bizarrely polarizing like Waking Life or A Scanner Darkly. Then don’t get me started on 2003’s The School of Rock which for my money is an example of the perfect PG-13 mainstream movie.
I remember vividly seeing Everybody Wants Some!! back in 2016 and it was a film that recharged my love for the director once again. He’s someone who just keeps upping his game and makes no apologies for it. Someone who’s been successful through and through on his own terms. Not someone else’s. Even when he tackles something like The Newton Boys (which seemed like a typical director for hire studio piece), his signature thematics and honest human nuances still remain all over that film.
I feel like Linklater is a true poster child for the Joe Swanbergs and Mark Duplasses of our time. A storyteller who began creating pure homemade films then eventually carrying that point of view over into bigger budget mainstream fare but always holding onto what makes his films unique. He’s someone who never forgot where he came from and that’s not a very easy thing to do given how long he’s been in this business.
He might not hit a home run every time he makes a film but when he does it’s truly something special. I mean for someone to commit to a 12-year groundbreaking coming of age story like 2014’s Boyhood dating all the way back to 2002… That’s the kind of tenacious artist we just don’t get anymore. This is a man who even though he’s made some incredibly delightful films in the past… oddly I still feel like he has great work ahead of him. We’ll just have to wait and see.
This is just one of those vibrant energetic directors who you can tell has just never lost the passion for telling stories. He’s also someone I myself have never lost interest in as he just keeps impressing me more and more. Reminding audiences worldwide why we love movies in the first place. Those are always my favorite kind of directors. Directors who love everything about telling cinematic stories. The music, the image, the acting, the story, the sound, the editing. Boyle loves all of it and it shows every time. I mean Steve Jobs was in my top five for 2015 and that was just a few years ago.
I understand The Beach is not one of his best according to generic inside the box cinephiles of his work however that to this day is my personal favorite of his filmography. I remember seeing that film in the theatres in 2000 with my cousin and her friend and was just riveted by it. Especially the tense structure of the whole piece. It’s all fun and games until the party ends and the real terror begins. The two halves' structure of the film is a type of structure I find myself fascinated by. The devil coming back to collect from these people who’ve been taken advantage of this island and not worrying about the consequences. It’s a bold underrated work of his and needs to be analyzed all over again as it’s still to this day a very relevant type of story. I mean just recently an Asian-American college student was killed by a tribe who inhabited an island on which he was trespassing.
I just love how Boyle deals with essentially high concepts tackling all sorts of genres however he’s always slipping some kind of bold statement underneath. 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Trance… He’s someone who just loved telling stories and not just on-screen by the way. He’s also an accomplished London theatre director as well. Has done a lot of work for The National Theatre. Since I find theatre the purest art form out there considering all you have to drive the narrative along are simply your actors and the written word… I feel that film directors who start out in grounded theatre are always the most fascinating ones and something a lot of directors can learn from. It’s a wonderful foundation for story and performance and nothing else. No over the top camera tricks to distract you from what’s really important at its core.
Danny Boyle is an auteur who is just so playful with his films, loves his audience, and knows how to make sure they went to the MOVIES THAT NIGHT. I have yet to see his 2017 sequel Trainspotting 2 but I’m sure I’ll love it. Though if I don’t, it doesn’t matter. Cause I know this man will deliver tenfold on the next one. He’s just that kind of artist. Never self-satisfied.
In closing, I really hope we start getting more and more auteurs to emerge over the next few years because I just realized pretty much all these directors have been in the game for at least 10–20 (some 30) years. However, I don’t feel like you can truly be a great director until you’ve been at it for a while. Too many “Flavor of the Week” directors these days. Too many overpraising audiences. Too many “Not Terrible” movies. Can we take that window and please break that glass? Cause I’m sick of all this noise.