The 100 Best And Most Exciting Directors Working Today
As you can see from the title (“Best And Most Exciting”) we’ve built in a kind of warning right up top that this is, of course, extremely subjective, and even among ourselves the sliding scale between “best” and “most exciting” caused quite a lot of comradely debate and a little bit of blue murder. And that’s the way we wanted it, really because while the “best” side of things takes into account legacy and historical track record, “most exciting” lets us argue as we cycle in much newer, and relatively untested talents, who perhaps have more noise than signal right now, but nonetheless are a big part of what gets us out of bed in the morning. And “working” means we aren’t beholden to directors who may have done stunning work in their day but have either gone substantially off the boil or have been dormant for a while. Essentially, we get to do whatever we please.
That three-way balance is really what makes this list exciting to us, and where we get to make it, for want of an adjective that’s actually a word, Playlisty. Which also means there is 100% no way you’re going to agree with it all, so feel free to bawl us out in the comments, though seeing as we’re running 25 entries per day you might want to wait till the list is complete, because maybe your fave will show up later on, and then you’ll look silly. In any case, we’ve already had our fun compiling and we have to say, we really love it, and hope that you do too, even if you do disagree.
100. Luca Guadagnino
You could make an argument that Italian cinema is the great underperformer of Europe — a filmmaking nation capable of great heights, but whose local industry has often gone through phases of failing to break out on the world stage (the 1980s and 1990s were a particularly bleak period). Since the turn of the new century, though, an exciting new wave of Italian filmmakers have arrived like Paolo Sorrentino and Matteo Garrone, but our favorite might be Luca Guadagnino. The Palermo native first turned heads with his erotic coming-of-age film “Melissa P” in 2005, followed by the utterly gorgeous Tilda Swinton vehicle “I Am Love” in 2009, a luxurious, lavish but also still fiercely intelligent piece of work that felt like seeing a great piece of European theater or opera. His follow-up, this year’s “A Bigger Splash,” was a joyously grubby B-movie in arthouse clothes (we mean that as a compliment), and an indicator that perhaps he’s just getting started.
99. Joachim Trier
With his his second film, “Oslo, August 31st” following on from his supremely assured debut “Reprise,” Norwegian director Trier established his place among the vanguard of an increasingly thriving Nordic cinema scene, and found the best expression to date of his style and voice: restrained, novelistic, richly and rewardingly human. His most recent film and first in English, “Louder Than Bombs” (once again co-written by Eskil Vogt who made his own directorial debut with the shimmery and wonderful “Blind” in 2014) played in Cannes in 2015 to far more muted reaction and though we remain among its staunchest defenders, there’s no doubt that the extraordinary tides of minutely observed feeling that ebb and flow through ‘Oslo’ are not quite as seamlessly summoned. But Trier remains a beautifully accomplished filmmaker, tirelessly investigating self-identity and memory with an unshowy intelligence that seems to enlarge in scope from one film to the next.
98. Marielle Heller
Few filmmakers on this list are as early in their careers as Marielle Heller, who has only a single movie to her name at this point. But when that one film is “Diary Of A Teenage Girl,” as assured and skillful a directorial debut as we’ve seen in a long time, attention demands to be paid. The former actress beautifully adapted Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel memoir of coming of age in 1970s San Francisco and an age-inappropriate relationship with her mother’s boyfriend, bringing authenticity, visual imagination and an obvious skill with actors (Bel Powley is great, but so were Kristen Wiigand Alexander Skarsgard) to what could have been a very familiar story. Stellar work on episodes of “Transparent” and “Casual” have shown she’s no flash in the pan, and she’s got a great line-up of projects in development: an adaptation of documentary “The Case Against 8,” true-life tale “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” starringMelissa McCarthy, and J.J. Abrams-produced supernatural romance“Kolma” with Daisy Ridley.
97. Lisa Cholodenko
With Peak TV luring many talents who don’t fit the white male profile traditionally repped by Hollywood, there are a few instances where we’ve included filmmakers who work on the small screen too. Take Lisa Cholodenko, whose case seems among the most stark in terms of sexism (it’s hard to believe a male writer/director with a critical hit of the order of 2010’s Best Picture-nominated “The Kids Are All Right” would not have had another film greenlit since) and whose work for television is part of the general blurring of boundaries between the media. So as well as director-for-hire episiodes of “Hung,” “Six Feet Under” and “The L Word,” her four-part miniseries “Olive Kitteridge,” starring Frances McDormand, was one of the best shows of 2015 and in shape and quality easily sits alongside the best of her big-screen work (which includes feature debut “High Art” and the underseen “Cavedweller,” as well as her aforementioned “blockbuster indie”).
96. Taika Waititi
We have to confess that we slept on New Zealand’s Taika Waititi for too long. His feature debut “Eagle Vs. Shark” (which came after his Oscar-nominated short “Two Cars, One Night”) was a bit twee (and yet sour) for our tastes, and as such, we never watched his follow-up, “Boy.” But the cult buzz on his vampire mockumentary “What We Do In The Shadows” a couple of years back got too much to ignore, and once we caught up with the film, we realized how wrong we’d been to ignore him. The film’s one of the most consistently funny comedies of the last few years, but done with heart and an understanding of the horror genre and some visual flair too (unusual for the mock-doc genre). This year’s “Hunt For The Wilderpeople” was even better: a rousing, utterly charming adventure that showed he could play on a big canvas. And that canvas just got a lot bigger: next up, “Thor: Ragnarok.”
95. Haifaa Al-Mansour
There are a lot of bad-news trends that we report on throughout the year, so it’s truly exciting when we get to be sunny-side-up, and the emergence of Saudi Arabia’s first female filmmaker, Haifaa Al-Mansour is one such time. Making an international splash not just because of that catchy epithet, but also because of the evocative simplicity and engaging warmth of her feature debut “Wadjda” in 2012 (also the first feature-length film to be shot entirely in her native country), Al-Mansour was already something of a controversial figure in Saudi filmmaking for her award-winning 45-min documentary “Women Without Shadows.” It would have been easy for “Wadjda” to have been a token critical hit, but gratifyingly, its strength has led to bigger things: Al-Mansour’s next movie is “A Storm in the Stars,” in which a who’s-who of rising young stars (Elle Fanning, Douglas Booth, Bel Powley, Tom Sturridge, Maisie Williams) bring the story of “Frankenstein” author Mary Shelley to life.
94. Gina Prince-Bythewood
For too long, Gina Prince-Bythewood has gone undervalued. To some extent, she’s still undervalued: it’s a straight-up fact that not enough people have seen her work so far. But we think her time’s about to come, and finally a larger audience will be waking up to how brilliant she is. Prince-Bythewood broke through with two movies in 2000: tender, well-acted HBO movie “Disappearing Acts,” and seminal, finely honed love story “Love & Basketball.” Her most recent movie, “Beyond The Lights,” was a fine reminder of her talents: detailing the romance between a Rihanna-style pop star struggling with fame (an astonishing Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and an ambitious young cop (Nate Parker), it was smart, moving and should have been a huge hit, but was mishandled by its distributor. Bigger things await, though: Prince-Bythewood is behind upcoming Fox series “Shots Fired,” about police shootings, and will reteam with Mbatha-Raw for an adaptation of Roxane Gay’s novel “An Untamed State” at Fox Searchlight.
93. Richard Linklater
Always more Austin than Hollywood even when making studio movies, a perpetual outsider was embraced by the establishment when “Boyhood” became an unlikely awards phenomenon two years ago. And that kind of recognition for Richard Linklater has been long overdue. Like many filmmakers who are prolific and unconstrained by genre, Linklater can be patchy — he had a rough patch in the mid-00s with “Bad News Bears,” “Fast Food Nation” and “Me & Orson Welles.” But he’s been on the run of his life recently with disarming curio “Bernie,” devastating trilogy closer “Before Midnight,” the epic, yet deeply intimate “Boyhood,” and winning, if minor “Dazed & Confused” follow-up “Everybody Wants Some.” They’re quite different, but united by a very particular Linklater-ishness: an easy-going charm, a deep humanity, a deceptive incisiveness. He’s pleasingly unpredictable too, as his next move, a sequel to Hal Ashby’s “The Last Detail” with Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell and Laurence Fishburne, proves once again.
92. Ana Lily Amirpour
There’s a good chance Ana Lily Amirpour would have featured in a higher position on this list had her sophomore feature “The Bad Batch” not left our Venice reviewer so wholly nonplussed. Still, although it might not have been the satisfying home-run we’d hoped for, there’s little doubt ‘Batch’ is an intriguingly uncompromised expression of Amirpour’s ineffably hip sensibility which means that even those who find it a letdown after her deliciously doomy, swoony debut “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” must be plenty interested in where she goes next. Even this early on in her career, Amirpour has a terrific eye (in collaboration with her regular DP Lyle Vincent), an ear for a sublimely off-kilter yet deeply appropriate soundtrack cue, and a finger-on-pulse coolness, which means that her magpie-like pick-and-mix approach to genre and aesthetic will always yield something idiosyncratic, however successful or unsuccessful it turns out to be.
91. Lucile Hadžihalilović
All these years, we were debating whether Gaspar Noé was a genius or an empty provocateur, and it turns out that we should really have been paying attention to his wife and sometime collaborator Lucile Hadžihalilović, whose two strange, beguiling features to date show her to be the real talent in that particular filimmaking power couple. After a series of shorts, and producing and editing Noé’s breakthrough “I Stand Alone,” Hadžihalilović made her feature debut with 2004’s “Innocence,” about a macabre boarding school. Over a decade later, she returned with “Evolution,” following children on a mysterious island tended to by a group of women. The two make perfect companion pieces to each: utterly beautiful, dreamlike not-quite-horror films influenced by Lynch and Victor Erice but still entirely their own thing, movies with little interest in following traditional narrative but nevertheless worming their way entirely into your psyche. We just hope we don’t have to wait another decade for her next film.
Over the course of the decade 2002-2012, Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas amassed his complete feature filmography to date with “Japon,” “Silent Light,” “Battle in Heaven” and “Post Tenebras Lux” — an oeuvre unlikely to ever be dubbed “a barrel of laughs.” But challenging and frustrating though Reygadas undoubtedly is, with his deeply indulgent forays into the arcane, existentialist interior lives of his dissociated, despondent characters, his films are also very often transcendent, operating less in the realm of narrative filmmaking than art installation. His most recent and most divisive, the semi-autobiographical “Post Tenebras Lux” is probably his most difficult, but potentially also his most rewarding, coupling unforgettably bizarre imagery with troubling, morose, ontological themes. It won Best Director in Cannes, quite deservedly if only because Reygadas is probably the poster boy for a director whose work can simultaneously be impossible for an outsider to decode and an an eloquently uncompromised iteration of exactly what he wants to say.89. Abdellatif Kechiche
Until a certain unprecedented treble-Palme d’Or win in 2013, it might have seemed like Tunisian-French director Abdellatif Kechiche had already made his masterpiece and it was his third film, the beautifully human (if terribly titled) “The Secret of the Grain.” Indeed, he followed it with “Black Venus,” a controversially unflinching true story of period racism, and so no one was really prepared for “Blue is the Warmest Color” to be the sublime and transcendent work of unimpeachable empathy that it is. This beautiful evocation of a love affair from first trembling beginning to slow, heart-aching end featured stunning performances from Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos, to whom Steven Spielberg‘s Cannes jury also awarded Palmes in an attempt to recognize them as co-authors of the film. Although critiqued in lesbian circles, especially for one overlong sex scene, the Kechiche’s film largely transcends sexuality, and even transcends the public rift between director and stars that sullied its success at the time.88. Amma Asante
We think the reason that Amma Asante doesn’t get more critical attention is that the kind of films that she makes are rather unfashionable. Her debut, 2004’s powerful kitchen sink drama “A Way Of Life” won her a BAFTA, but was barely seen outside of the U.K. When she came back, after a long gap, it was with “Belle,” a British period melodrama, a genre mostly dismissed as the stuff of Tom Hooperor Masterpiece Theater. But “Belle” was no ordinary costume drama — thoughtfully shot and beautifully performed, it told the story of a mixed-race aristocratic woman in 18th century Britain, at once subverting and celebrating the genre while finding truly smart and specific things to say about identity. By most accounts from TIFF, Asante’s “A United Kingdom” is a fitting follow-up, bringing the same qualities to the story of Botswana’s first democratically-elected leader and his English wife, and she’ll soon complete an unofficial trilogy of films mixing period romance with race with “Where Hands Touch,” set in WW2-era Germany.
87. Phil Lord & Chris Miller
Lord & Miller have made a career out of taking what seem like bad, cynical ideas, and turning them into joyous, fantastically made, quietly progressive comedy hits. A virtually narrative-free children’s picture book about it raining food (feature debut “Cloudy With Chance Of Meatballs”)? No problem. A hokey 80s TV show about cops going undercover in high school (“21 Jump Street” and “22 Jump Street”)? Easy, not once but twice. Danish plastic bricks (“The Lego Movie”)? Don’t sweat it. The duo, who got their start with short lived MTV animation “Clone High,” are fiercely intelligent and deeply silly, as comfortable with blending a dozen pop culture properties without even feeling like it’s corporate synergy as they are with burning down their franchise in the closing credits. Inventive, visually proficient and plain hilarious, there aren’t many people we’d trust to do a good job with a Han Solo-centric “Star Wars” prequel, but with Lord & Miller in charge, we can’t wait.
86. Andrei Zvyagintsev
One of the most precise directors on this list, clinical to the point of surgical in his incisive and excoriating investigations into contemporary Russian society, Andrei Zvyaginstev is still not as well-known a name stateside as his exceptional filmography deserves. From his debut, the chilling parable of parental abandonment “The Return” which won the Golden Lion in Venice, to brilliant Cannes2012 Special Jury Prize winer “Elena,” to near-masterpiece political allegory “Leviathan” which won him the Best Screenplay award in Cannes 2014, Zvyaginstev has been a consistently powerful voice in Russian cinema, writing and directing tales that lay bare the hypocrisies and injustices of his homeland, often disguised as much more intimate stories. 2007’s “The Banishment” has been perhaps his only stumble to date, but otherwise, a pessimistic Chabrol by way of a scathing Chekov, Zvyaginstev takes the “gloomy Russian” stereotype and raises it to a completely engrossing and thoroughly fascinating art form.
85. Rebecca Miller
After five films, Rebecca Miller remains puzzlingly underrated as a filmmaker, given the real and obvious skill she’s displayed since day one. Miller (who is, yes, the daughter of “The Crucible” playwright Arthur Miller) made her debut with the dark, religious-themed horror “Angela” in 1995, but got more attention for the 2002 triptych “Personal Velocity” and 2009’s undervalued “The Private Lives Of Pippa Lee,” both based on her novels (“The Ballad Of Jack & Rose,” which teamed her with husband Daniel Day-Lewis, was a rare misfire). But something of a mainstream breakthrough came this year with the lighter, rather delightful relationship comedy “Maggie’s Plan.” Together, they show a filmmaker with a real facility for working with performers, and rarer still for writing great roles for women. And it’s the new, more comic side of Miller shown in her last film that has us most excited for what she might come up with in the future.
84. Nuri Bilge Ceylan
We have to confess that we don’t have the patience for all the slow cinema filmmakers, but Nuri Bilge Ceylan is one that we’ll always make an exception for. The Turkish filmmaker made his debut with “Small Town” back in 1998, and swiftly came to the attention of international cinephiles when 2002’s “Uzak” took the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes. Since then, he’s not put a foot wrong, be it slow-burn relationship drama “Climates,” morality play “Three Monkeys” or his Chekhovian epic “Winter Sleep,” which won him the Palme D’Or in 2014. Our favorite of his is 2011’s “Once Upon A Time In Anatolia,” which blends the arthouse and the police procedural in a fascinating way, using Ceylan’s meticulous, careful style to bring real weight and power to its story of the unknowability of the truth. Ceylan asks you to invest a lot of time and energy, but you’ll always leave thoroughly satisfied.
83. Kim Jee-woon
South Korea should probably declare visionary genre filmmakers to be their biggest export after semiconductors, but one of this wave whose name is a little less well-known is Kim Jee-woon, though he deserves to win a wider audience with this year’s terrific spy caper “The Age of Shadows.” Prior to that title, Kim Jee-woon has been an inveterate genre-hopper and has turned in a classic in many — from the unfeasibly scary horror “A Tale of Two Sisters,” to the ultra violent gangster flick “A Bittersweet Life,” to the bizarro Korean take on the Spaghetti Western “The Good, The Bad, The Weird” to the dark, psychological serial killer-thriller “I Saw The Devil.” In fact the only hiccup in this remarkable run is his disappointingly bland English-language debut “The Last Stand,” but with ‘Shadows’ showing him back on home turf and on top form, we can see that Arnie-starrer for the aberration it was.
82. Olivier Assayas
Had we liked Olivier Assayas’ last couple of movies a bit more, we might have placed him further up this list — despite good performances (his latest muse Kristen Stewart is doing the best work of her career with him), we found both “Clouds Of Sils Maria” and “Personal Shopper” kind of tin-eared and oblique. But even with those two caveats, Assayas is undoubtedly one of the leading lights of French cinema, a filmmaker with truly great work behind him and, we’re sure, great work still to come too. As cine-literate a filmmaker as you could ask for, he can make a film as deeply human as the gorgeous “Summer Hours,” as muscular and gripping as his epic “Carlos,” as pulpy as “Boarding Gate” or as purely strange as “Demonlover,” And each one will be as stylistically and intellectually stimulating as the last. We’ll happily take a couple of recent misfires for a career like his.
81. Joanna Hogg
With a long background on television, it might have been inevitable that British director Joanna Hogg would finally make the shift to the big screen. But the surprise was just how fully-formed her personal vision and aesthetic was from the off — in her debut film “Unrelated” she revealed her trademark long static takes, and her ability to bore down into the reality of a deeply middle-class British experience so unflinchingly that at times it becomes almost surreal. “Unrelated” starred Tom Hiddleston, with whom she reteamed for her second film “Archipelago” which, like her first minutely examined fracturing family dynamics during a holiday, but to dramatically different effect. And while we weren’t so keen on “Exhibition,” Hogg’s third film which felt simply too opaque and rarefied to gain real purchase on, as an example of a dedicated, unique artist testing her limits, it makes us very much anticipate her next foray.
There are a few splashy enfant-terrible types on this list but Jeff Nichols’ quiet, sober, deeply reflective films are their own, very singular sort of thrilling. Glancing off genres rather than diving into them, Nichols has so far made a sort-of family drama (“Shotgun Stories“), a quasi-thriller (“Take Shelter“), a skewed-perspective coming-of-age story (“Mud“) and a not-really-sci-fi sci-fi (“Midnight Special“). They’re all very different, but they’re all distinctly Jeff Nichols films, caring more about character interactions and psychology than plot, each with a central theme of father- or parenthood as a spine. Not only has this impressive and thoughtful catalogue gifted us some of the finest performances from Nichols’ constant collaborator Michael Shannon, but it’s built to this year’s “Loving” in which Shannon features but which stars Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, in what ought to be a star-making turn, and is, of itself, a beautiful, hushed love story that gently remakes the tired historical biopic genre.79. Rian Johnson
Right now, Rian Johnson still feels like Hollywood’s best kept secret. He’s had commercial success — with 2012’s excellent “Looper” — but he’s far from a household name. But that’ll change in December 2017, because Johnson’s currently hard at work on the next movie in the main “Star Wars” saga, and if he holds up his usual form, it stands a good chance of being one of the best films in the franchise. So far, Johnson’s tackled three very different styles — the noir with debut “Brick,” the con-man movie with the underrated “The Brothers Bloom,” and sci-fi with “Looper” — but the all feel like they were born of a singular filmmaker, a playful genre-blender capable of melding textures and tones and reinventing familiar tropes into something fresh (witness the way the sci-fi thriller of his last film transformed into something else in its second half). We have no idea what his “Star Wars” film will look like, but we’d wager it’ll be amazing.
78. Barry Jenkins
If you’ve been ahead of the game, you’ll have known who Barry Jenkins was for a while — his wonderful debut “Medicine For Melancholy,” a sort of San Francisco-set, African-American spin on “Before Sunrise” that snuck discussion of gentrification into its charming romantic plot, was a gem back in 2008, one that had him tipped for the top by the likes of Steven Soderbergh. But sadly, virtually no one saw it, and it took Jenkins eight years to follow it up. But his second feature “Moonlight” has exploded on the festival circuit, and rightly so: a three-part drama following the coming-of-age of young Chiron, it’s an utterly gorgeous, deeply moving look at racial and sexual identity, and the way we construct veneers for ourselves. With several of the year’s best performances from Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland, Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris, and a distinctive, almost European-vibe, it’s vaulting Jenkins to the status that he should have had long ago.
77. Alejandro González Iñárritu
As it always does with the front-runner for the arbitrary award that is the Best Picture Oscar, in the lead-up to the 2014 ceremony it became vogueish to dismiss “Birdman“. But we stand by our assessment of Iñárritu’s eventual winner as a tremendously fun romp, that radically reinvented our idea of what the Mexican director was about. His filmmaking chops had never been in doubt, but all his films bar his electrifying first, “Amores Perros” — “21 Grams,” “Babel” and “Biutiful” — suffered from a self-seriousness for which “Birdman” felt like the antidote. And then came “The Revenant,” which netted Iñárrituhis second consecutive Best Director statue (meaning, as one wag pointed out, that Alejandro González Iñárritu now has more Best Director Oscars than women do) and we slightly wonder if we helped create a monster. Still, there’s no denying the director’s impeccable craft, and we’re very, very curious to see what happens next.
76. Mike Mills
Who knows how much higher Mike Mills might place on this list in a couple of weeks time after his third feature, “20th Century Women,” which stars a powerhouse trio in Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning, premieres at the New York Film Festival. But anyway, he’s here with flying colors after just two films, his debut “Thumbsucker,” which transcends the “quirky coming-of-age indie” ghetto by virtue of its witty scripting and terrific cast, and his sophomore title “Beginners.” Ostensibly another Sundance/indie movie mainstay — the offbeat relationship drama — “Beginners” is actually a charming, wise film about grief, love, and acceptance, and while both Ewan MacGregor and Melanie Laurent do lovable work, it’s Best Supporting Actor-winner Christopher Plummer as the father coming out late in life, who steals the show. Well, either him or Arthur the dog, and either way the real star is Mills whose semi-autobiographical script and whipsmart direction deliver a deeply moving, heartfelt delight.
75. Nicole Holofcener
It is the peculiar burden of writer/directors who make women their subjects that their work can be easily dismissed with the pejorative term “chick flicks.” But Nicole Holofcener’s sensitive, witty and insightful studies of women of various lifestages facing personal, professional and philosophical issues, threaten to give the “chick flick” a good name. Holofcener has supplemented her 20-year big-screen career with TV, especially on shows that also centralize the female experience – everything from “Sex and the City” and “Gilmore Girls” to “Parks and Recreation” and “Orange is the New Black.” But it’s her feature work we love most, whether the fantastic ensembles featuring the great Catherne Keener of her first four films – “Walking and Talking,” “Lovely and Amazing,” “Friends with Money” and “Please Give” or the career pinnacle that was her last title, the intimate, melancholically funny “Enough Said,” with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and a wonderful swansong performance from the late James Gandolfini.
74. Ang Lee
With Inarritu, one of the few working filmmakers to have two Best Director Oscars, Lee’s a remarkable chameleon who’s tackled all kinds of bold, big films since he came to American attention two decades ago. Not all of his big gambles have worked — Civil War drama “Ride With The Devil” is underrated but flopped, “Hulk” is interesting (especially by modern superhero standards) but doesn’t 100% work, and the less said about “Taking Woodstock” the better. But on top form — with the finely-honed comedy of manners of his Taiwanese trilogy and “Sense & Sensibility,” the incredibly rich “The Ice Storm,” the wrenching “Brokeback Mountain,” the genuinely magical “Life Of Pi” — few A-list filmmakers can compete. It’s easy to take him for granted, so unassuming and fuss-free he seems to be. But the imminent “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” might be about to remind us what an absolute asset he is the medium.
73. Guillermo Del Toro
We’re pretty sure that Guillermo Del Toro doesn’t believe in the principle of one-for-me, one-for-them. Whether he’s making a tiny Spanish-language ghost story set during the Spanish Civil War, a superhero sequel, or a film about giant robots fighting giant monsters, Del Toro treats them with the love and care that he’d treat his own child, fills them with his fetishes and fascinations, and turns them into macabre works of art. Yet his obsession with creatures, beasts, and ghouls is always deployed to tell stories about humanity, and it’s that — and his encyclopedic love for cinema in all its forms, that’s made him not just one of our best genre filmmakers, but one of our best filmmakers period. After the lavish, Powell & Pressburger-ish Gothic tale “Crimson Peak,” he’s downscaling for next year’s intriguing “The Shape Of Water,” starring Sally Hawkins and Michael Shannon.
72. Laura Poitras
One area into which female directors seem to be making the biggest inroads is non-fiction filmmaking. And on the cutting edge of that phenomenon, alongside the great Amy Berg and following the trailblazing Barbara Kopple, is the Oscar-winning director of “Citizenfour,” Laura Poitras. Poitras, also nominated for her 2006 sophomore directorial feature about the Iraq War “My Country, My Country,” has since then not only directed a further two features prior to “Citizenfour,” but has produced and directed other non-fiction film and TV work. But it is her utterly gripping, thrilling Edward Snowden film that vaulted her to general attention (Snowden contacted her initially based on her track record prior) and it, coupled with the upcoming “Risk” about Julian Assange, which played in Cannes and awaits a release date, places Poitras’ levelheaded, insanely topical, unimpeachable journalistic investigations at the very forefront of our modern Golden Age of documentary.
71. Ben Wheatley
Aside from being cinema’s foremost expert in grisly head trauma (virtually every one of his films so far has featured a bludgeoning or brain-splattering of some kind), Ben Wheatley’s one of the most exciting new voices to have emerged in the last decade. Prolific and wide-ranging in his subjects, which have ranged from Civil War-era English psychedelia to brutalist 70s concrete dystopia, but united in tone — darkly, slyly funny, always with an undercurrent of horror at the things people can do to each other — there are few filmmakers whose new efforts we look forward to more, especially because his films are always so entirely his (not that he can’t play in other’s sandboxes too — he did a good job on a couple of “Doctor Who” episodes recently). His enormously enjoyable new one “Free Fire” looks likely to introduce him to a bigger U.S. crowd, and we’re fascinated to see where he goes from there.
Even with the retirement of a master like Hayao Miyazaki, we could probably fill a list of this size entirely with animation directors — the craft, storytelling know-how and beauty, from Laika to Cartoon Saloon and beyond, might mark an all-time high for the medium right now. But Pete Docter might be at the head of the pack.s. He’s been a key part of Pixar from the beginning (he co-wrote “Toy Story”), but while the company’s had a rockier time of late, he’s been directly responsible for three of their very best films, “Monsters Inc,” “Up” and “Inside Out.” Each tell quite different stories, but none look remotely like anything else, with a level of visual imagination and storytelling complexity that’s leaps and bounds above the competition. They’re all joyous affairs, but more than even other Pixar filmmakers, Docter’s able to move you, as anyone who weeped consistently through “Up” or “Inside Out” will attest.69. Michael Mann
Famously overlooked by the Academy despite decades of consistently intelligent, sleek and unmistakably Mann-ish work (his only nomination as director came for the terrific tobacco-lobby whistleblower story “The Insider“) one of the most exciting things about Michael Mann is how willing he is to embrace new themes and technologies while retaining his exemplary, meticulous filmmaking elegance. On occasion, his experimental edge has led to misfires like “Public Enemies,” a film where the joins between his classic style and the garish aesthetic of then-new digital photography felt awkwardly apparent, but mostly it has lent a thrillingly inventive edge to his work, from his classic, muscular crime films like “Thief,” “Heat” and “Collateral” to swooning romance “Last of the Mohicans” to last year’s unfairly maligned (and January-dumped) “Blackhat.” That box office failure will hopefully not keep Mann from our screens for too long: his gestating Enzo Ferrari biopic may have recently lost attached star Christian Bale, but is apparently still in the pipeline.68. George Miller
Initially it seemed surprising that the most effortlessly progressive blockbuster of recent years should come from a male sexagenarian director whose only other directorial credits this millennium were two animated movies about tap dancing penguins (“Happy Feet” and “Happy Feet 2“). But “Mad Max: Fury Road” reminded us all of the subversion that George Miller had packed into his original ‘Mad Max’ series (especially ‘The Road Warrior‘) and even into “Babe: Pig in the City” his bizarrely fetish-oriented dark follow-up to sunny, smart-pig-becomes-a-sheepdog movie “Babe.” His is not the most prolific of careers, and he has fewer bona fide classics to his name than some of the other big-hitters here. And yet any list drawn up in 2016 that has “exciting” as one of its metrics simply must include him, not least because in addition to every other trend he bucked with ‘Fury Road’ at an age when most filmmakers are slowing down and mellowing Miller turned in his edgiest, most ferocious, and outright best ever film.
67. Darren Aronofsky
If you’d told us nineteen years or so ago, after seeing Darren Aronofsky’s twitchy, deeply strange directorial debut “Pi,” a paranoid thriller about maths and kabbalah, that he’d one day be an Oscar nominee whose last two films made nearly $700 million between them, we’d have called you crazy. But that Aronofsky has been embraced by the mainstream without ever compromising his work is something to be deeply thankful for. Whether it’s his bleak, stylistically extraordinary addiction drama “Requiem For A Dream,” his flawed/spectacular time-spanning tragedy “The Fountain,” the stripped-down drama of “The Wrestler,” the Bergman-goes-giallo thrills of “Black Swan” or Biblical blockbuster “Noah” (a film that will one day be given the reconsideration it deserves), he has an enormous ambition to his work, paired with an almost unfashionable sincerity that gives his work a big beating heart of emotion . Next up is a top-secret thriller with Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem.
66. Dardennes Brothers
The wildly influential, deeply respected two-time Cannes-winning Belgian brothers are among that select group of filmmakers whose name has almost become a genre unto itself, and whose unflinching social engagement and instantly recognisable handheld, street-level aesthetic has spawned many imitators but few equals. But the very reverence with which their canon is treated can sometimes do a disservice to its diversirty and to the fearlessless the Dardennes display in tackling new issues, often concerning marginalized young people — whether it’s the immigrant experience, homelessness, unemployment, or the pressures of parenthood on disenfranchised people who are themselves little more than kids. And it also underestimates the brothers’ willingness to stretch and challenge their talents, with their two most recent films “Two Days One Night” and this year’s Cannes title “The Unknown Girl” (which has reportedly improved thanks to a re-edit after a lukewarm reaction on the Croisette) working quasi-genre elements into their unsentimentally naturalist style to yield a subtly new spin on their winning, absorbing and often very moving formula.
65. Kelly Reichardt
If women are supposed to make “women’s movies,” and by that we’re meant to understand fluffy rom-coms, family sagas and relationship dramas, apparently Kelly Reichardt never got the memo. A distinctive, singular sensibility right from her debut “River Of Grass,” she trades in atmosphere and uncanny sustain as much as in action, plot or melodrama. Reichardt is also a tremendous director of actors, particularly her female leads, and particularly Michelle Williams with whom she has collaborated on three of her five films to date — the down-at-heel, melancholic “Wendy and Lucy,” revisionist western “Meek’s Cutoff” and this year’s yet-to-be-released “Certain Women.” It’s rare that we’ve loved almost everything a director has done equally (offbeat eco-thriller “Night Moves” with Dakota Fanning and Jesse Eisenberg completes the quintet to date) but Reichardt is one of the rarest, and most valuable of filmmakers, whose vision never seems in the slightest compromised.
64. Cristian Mungiu
The Romanian New Wave is one of the most exciting filmmaking movements of recent times, the former Communist nation exploding with enormously talented filmmakers like Christi Puiu, Corneliu Poromboiu and Catalin Mitulescu. At the forefront of this revolution, we’d argue, has been Cristian Mungiu, perhaps the country’s best known filmmaker thanks to his Palme D’Or Winning “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.” A harrowing look at a young woman trying to procure an abortion in the last days of Ceausescu’s regime, it marked him as the one of the most talented social realist filmmakers around, with an absolute command of his camera and an obvious facility Oscars. And whether in his earlier (“Occident”) or later work (gruelling rural exorcism drama “Beyond The Hills,”this year’s state-of-the-nation epic “Graduation”), those things have held true, but he’s also consistently evolved and grown as a filmmaker, and we imagine that’ll continue to be the case for a long time.
63. Apichatpong Weerasethakul
There are filmmakers who give you another outlook on the world, and there is Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul who actually gives you new worlds. Turning in a series of utterly mesmerizing, completely uncategorisable films that play more like uncanny dreams where spirits walk with the living and the supernatural sits alongside the banal, Joe, as he’s nicknamed by those intimidated by polysyllabic South East Asian monikers has perhaps the most peculiar and inimitable catalogue in world cinema. From his Un Certain Regard-winning 2002 title “Blissfully Yours” (which caused controversy at home for its full frontal male nudity) to his major breakthrough two years later with “Tropical Malady” which won the Cannes Jury Prize, to his Palme d’Or winning “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” and right up to last year’s gorgeous “Cemetery of Splendour” he simply seems to operate on a more wondrous plane of filmmaking that is simultaneously alien and human.
62. Joshua Oppenheimer
There can have been few more devastating, astounding debuts this century than Joshua Oppenheimer’s seismic documentary “The Act of Killing.” A film that not only revealed details of the underreported Indonesian genocide to a largely ignorant Western public, it even forced a national conversation around the legacy of those inhuman crimes, what’s maybe most amazing about it, is how intimate it feels and how it operates on a deeply visceral, personal level as much as a political one. With ‘Act’ and his equally impressive, if quieter and more reflective follow-up “The Look of Silence” both revealing little less than a national soul in agony over the repression and selective amnesia surrounding that era, and painting vivid and unforgettable portraits of the people involved on both sides, Oppenheimer used performativity, fictions-within-fictions, and not least several years of his own life to put together this extraordinary diptych. And he changed the face of documentary filmmaking, and the conception of what it could achieve, in the process.
61. Miguel Gomes
Sadly, last year saw the passing of Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal’s greatest living filmmaker and a man who was still shooting films at the grand old age of 105 before he died. But Portugal’s filmmaking scene is still in rude health, in large part thanks to Miguel Gomes. Savvy cinephiles already knew his name thanks to his early films “The Face You Deserve” and “Our Beloved Month of August,” but he really came to worldwide attention thanks to 2012’s gorgeous “Tabu,” a lushly romantic post-colonial romance that homaged F.W. Murnau with a playfulness and a seriousness of purpose that few else could manage. His epic follow-up “Arabian Nights,” a six-hour trilogy of films about modern-day Portugal but inspired loosely by “1001 Nights” might have been ever better — sprawling, inventive, sometimes maddening, often heartbreaking, even occasionally pleasingly puerile, and one of the best days at the movies you’ll ever have.
We’re including ourselves in this when we say that Western cinephiles on the whole, remain rather blind to the cinema of African nations: the filmmakers of the continent in general haven’t yet been reocgnized at major festivals in the way that’s happened to almost every other region of the world. The happy exception to this, however, is Abderrahmane Sissako, the French-based Mauritian filmmaker whose last film wowed critics in competition at Cannes, and rightly so. Beginning with 1998’s “La Vie Sur Terre,” Sissako’s reputation has grown and grown internationally, with both 2006’s heady docudrama “Bamako” and the remarkable, Oscar-nominated “Timbuktu,” about the rise of Islamic extremists in Mali, won raves. And rightly so: the latter in particular was an immensely powerful, visually stunning story shot through with humanity and beauty. Two moments in particular — a murder in a river shot at a distance, and an invisible game of football — are among the most indelible images of recent years.59. Jafar Panahi
The thing about Jafar Panahi is that it’s such a miracle he manages to make films at all (he has been branded a dissident and alternately banned from filmmaking, imprisoned and placed under house arrest in his native Iran) that there’s a danger the results are being celebrated simply as worthy tokens of an indomitable filmmaking spirit. And well, they are, but they’re also exceptionally inventive, enjoyable films, that overcome whatever creative limitations the state places on him with self-aware humor, sly wit and and deep irreverence. This was particularly in evidence in his last film, Berlin Golden Bear-winning “Taxi,” but also marks out prior titles “Closed Curtain” and “This is Not a Film” both of which are direct responses to his circumstances, and while his earlier work, such as debut “The White Balloon” is extremely accomplished also, it feels like his later career has been the most fruitful, proving in exceptional fashion that adage about art flourishing in adversity.58. Andrea Arnold
This week will see probably more American film fans become introduced to the work of Andrea Arnold, thanks to the release of her beautiful coming-of-age tale “American Honey,” her first U.S-set movie, and arguably her starriest thanks to the presence of Shia LaBoeuf and Riley Keough. But those in the know won’t be new to Arnold’s work, after three striking, beautifully shot films in the last decade (plus an Oscar for her short “Wasp”). The former actress broke through with the gripping, Lars Von Trier-associated psychological thriller “Red Road,” before her even better “Fish Tank,” about a teenage girl’s relationship with her mother’s older boyfriend. Third film “Wuthering Heights” was unfairly dismissed, but “American Honey” has her back in the critics’ good books again (and got her a third Jury Prize at Cannes). And about time: few filmmakers are as sensual, invisive with character, or as great with detail. Go see her latest this weekend.57. Spike Lee
In our ongoing debate about legacy versus recency, Spike Lee is one of the battleground directors. If we rank him based on his importance as a guiding light — make that a tractor beam — for black cinema, and for the heights he’s achieved historically he’d be a lot higher, but with the best will in the world we can’t ignore that since his last really great fiction feature (probably his atypically Hollywood-friendly “Inside Man” in 2006) he’s turned in subpar work, ranging right down to the outright terrible (his desperately ill-conceived “Oldboy” remake, for example). His most recent feature, “Chi-Raq” was a small step back in the right direction so perhaps we’re seeing the beginning of a Lee resurgence? Whatever the case, with “Do The Right Thing,” “The 25th Hour,” “Malcolm X,” “4 Little Girls” and even less well-regarded work like “Clockers” and “Mo’ Better Blues” numbering among the most formative films of our lives, we’ll always get in line for a new Spike Lee joint.
56. Quentin Tarantino
Twenty years ago — ten, even — Quentin Tarantino might have sat atop this list. And he remains one of the few filmmakers who’s work will always be an event, someone that we’ll always turn up for, and whose work always provides something rewarding, be it an indelible scene or an unforgettable performance. Of late, his work’s been characterized by indulgence, peaking (we hope) in “The Hateful Eight,” an over-extended, fairly tone-deaf attempt to look at race in America, gorgeous to look at but ultimately bloated and empty. After the similarly swollen “Django Unchained,” it began to suggest that the filmmaker doesn’t have much new to say, but the good bits are so good — and his earlier films so unforgettable, that we’ll still be keenly anticipating whatever he does next. The film’s financial failure likely means he’ll face some more constraints next time out, but that may turn out to be the best thing ever to happen to him.
55. Charlie Kaufman
One of the best arguments for the writer as at least co-“author” of any given film, Charlie Kaufman’s utterly distinctive sensibility shone through in his screenplays for Spike Jonze‘s “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation,” and Michel Gondry‘s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” But where those offbeat, metatextual and extraordinarily clever scripts were mediated through the filters of two very distinctive filmmakers in their own right, when Kaufman made his own directorial debut, we got the magnified hall-of-mirrors version. “Synecdoche New York” simply proved too sprawlingly meta, too involved, too self aware, too clever-clever, too everything for many but we absolutely dug it — it’s an enormous folly that knows it’s an enormous folly and finds a crazy nobility in that knowledge. Its wilful uncommerciality means it’s hardly surprising that it took Kaufman so long to mount a follow-up, but when that film finally came, it was last year’s heartbreakingly wise adult animation “Anomalisa,” co-directed with Duke Johnson, and it made us genuflect once again before the tortured mad genius of Charlie Kaufman.
54. Jim Jarmusch
The supercool uncle of the American independent scene now, Jim Jarmusch remains a true original (you rarely describe a new filmmaker as Jarmusch-ian, and there’s a reason for that: his work is basically unreplicatable). And, while we worried with 2009’s ‘The Limits Of Control” that Jarmusch was shifting into a sort of inaccessible obliqueness, he responded with three of the best films of his career in the last few years. The “Down By Law,” “Mystery Train” and “Dead Man” director went genre for the first time with “Only Lovers Left Alive,” a sultry vampire movie with Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton that took the best qualities of the director’s work and gave it a Gothic romantic twist. And this year, he made the Adam Driver-starring “Paterson,” arguably his sweetest, smallest and loveliest film (not to mention his hugely enjoyable Iggy Pop doc “Gimme Danger” too. Over thirty years into his career, Jarmusch can still surprise and satisfy us like few others.
53. Kenneth Lonergan
With now just three films to his name, spread out across 16 years, Kenneth Lonergan is not going to be winning any prizes for productivity, but when your three films are the kind of toweringly humanist, occasionally messy but massively heartfelt movies that he makes, they’re worth waiting for. As are the performances he gets (his theatrical background shows itself there perhaps) — his debut, “You Can Count on Me” still features perhaps the defining Laura Linney performance as well as the Mark Ruffalo role that really put his indie star in the ascent; the tortuous, storied post-production woes on his sophomore film “Margaret” finally yielded a quite incredible Anna Paquin performance, several years after she’d shot it; and by all accounts the cast (especially Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams) of his upcoming drama “Manchester By The Sea,” which has had sustained awards buzzsince becoming a Sundance hit, is similarly outstanding.
52. Werner Herzog
He’s as much meme as man these days (since his last theatrically-released fiction feature, he’s played the bad guy in a Tom Cruise movie, and guest-starred on “Parks & Recreation” and “Rick & Morty”), but only a fool would dismiss Werner Herzog, even after a misfire as large as “Queen Of The Desert,” which remains unreleased in the U.S. “Rescue Dawn” and “Bad Lieutenant,” which were made not all that long ago, were among his best fiction films since his 70s heyday, and from the beautiful “Cave Of Forgotten Dreams” to his recent internet investigation “Lo And Behold,” his documentary work puts him among the very best in the world in the non-fiction field. He might be easy to parody, but he’s also endlessly inquisitive, utterly singular, wryly funny and completely intellectually stimulating, whether tackling jungle-bound madmen or volcanos as his subject, and long may all of that continue.
51. Nicolas Winding Refn
One of the fascinating things about compiling a list like this is that it feels like such a specific snapshot of the state of our cinephilia at exactly this moment. Take Refn, for example. Had we been compiling this feature four years ago, he’d have been top ten, probably — after we’d all fallen in slick neon-noir love with Cannes winner “Drive,” which had come on the foot of such stylish and uncompromising titles as “Valhalla Rising,” “Bronson” and the “Pusher” trilogy. Then again, if we’d done it a couple of years ago, after the disappointment of “Only God Forgives” which suggested that Refn was simply recycling his “Drive” mojo with added hyperstylized violence, he’d probably have been lower. But this is 2016 and we’ve had “The Neon Demon” which is neither as good as his best work, nor as bad as his worst, and at least has the decency to make a virtue of its shallowness, so he’s bang in the middle. We’re sure he’d be horrified.
It’s hard to believe that Xavier Dolan is still only 27. He’s been around for long enough that you can no longer call him a wunderkind or a rising star: He’s simply a major filmmaker who’s long since demonstrated that he’s more than a flash in the pan. His earliest films were often imperfect, but always showcased immense promise, and he took a big step forward with his gripping thriller “Tom At The Farm,” then another giant leap with his Cannes Jury Prize-winning “Mommy,” a film positively giddy with the possibilities of the medium, and with a heart so big and raw that it burst out of its proverbial chest and lay there throbbing on the floor. We didn’t love his most recent film, starry, shouty melodrama “It’s Only The End Of The World” (and he didn’t love that we didn’t love it…), but we’re still psyched to see his next, English-language debut “The Death And Life Of John F. Donovan” with Kit Harington and Jessica Chastain.49. Terrence Malick
Terrence Malick is one of the greatest filmmakers in the world. There’s no disputing that. But we’d be lying if we said that the arrival of a new Malick picture — once a cinephile’s Holy Grail, now virtually an annual event — doesn’t quite fill us with the joy and anticipation that it once did. He is still, obviously, the man behind indisputable masterpieces like “Badlands” and “Days Of Heaven” and “The Thin Red Line,” and as such will always have our ticket money. But there’s been a slight sense of diminishing returns of late, with “To The Wonder,” “Knight Of Cups” and “Voyage Of Time” feeling to greater or lesser extents like collections of B-sides left over from the masterpiece album rather than independent works that suggest a progression or even variation. Even those B-sides have images with more beauty and soul than 95% of what you’ll see, but we’d love to see him take his talent into different territory. If it doesn’t arrive with the long-in-the-can “Weightless,” we hope it comes withhis WWII-set “Radegund,” which is filming now.
48. Céline Sciamma
Had we cracked the code for precisely how some foreign-born filmmakers ‘break’ America, we would not be the penniless bloggers we are. But it does seem like a cosmic oversight that French director Céline Sciamma is not more widely known, although with her profile on the rise as both writer/director and screenwriter (she had writing credits on two well-received 2016 Cannes titles, “Being 17” and the animated “My Life As A Courgette“), we trust that will change. All three of her directorial films to date (which form a loose thematic trilogy) have been minutely observed coming-of-age tales — no, wait! Come back! They’re really good! — that demonstrate exquisite visual style and a non-condescending sensitivity toward emerging sexual identity. “Water Lilies,” “Tomboy” and “Girlhood,” however, also represent a progression in confidence, culminating in the extraordinary, life-filled, lyrical realism of the most recent picture. Now that her coming-of-age period has, erm, come of age, we can’t wait to see where she goes next.
47. Andrew Haigh
Topping several of our individual Best of 2015 lists with the sublime subtle ache of “45 Years,” UK director Andrew Haigh was already well known to us, not just for his lovely prior feature “Weekend” (which was his second after LA Outfest winner “Greek Pete“) but for his work as co-creator of cancelled-too-soon HBO series “Looking.” That show did at least get the grace note of a finale film that aired earlier this year, one that once again proved Haigh’s exceptional facility with life-stage-related wistfulness which he manages to communicate almost entirely through visuals and performance. The acclaim for “45 Years,” especially Charlotte Rampling‘s Oscar nomination, has meant Haigh is in demand now, with an Alexander McQueen biopic slated to roll after “Lean on Pete,” an adaptation described as his “passion project.” And, well, loving “45 Years” as much as we did, we breathlessly wait to see what Haigh does when his heart’s really in it…
46. James Gray
Two decades and five films into his career, and James Gray’s still awaiting the kind of mainstream acceptance and wide critical adulation he gets in Europe, where he’s long been a favorite. He’s a man out of step with his times, who makes steely Lumet-ish crime thrillers (“We Own The Night”), resolutely grown-up relationship dramas (“Two Lovers”) and sweeping Old Hollywood melodramas (“The Immigrant”), films that don’t even remotely pander or cater to modern audiences. And we love him for it. Gray’s such a controlled and subtle filmmaker that his films can sometimes seem chilly from a distance, but there’s such a rich vein of emotion under the surface for an adventurous viewer willing to meet him halfway, and cinephiles will be discovering him for generations to come. And hopefully sooner: Perhaps his latest, adventure “The Lost City Of Z,” soon to premiere at NYFF, will be the one that sees him finally connect with the wider audience he’s long deserved.
45. Damien Chazelle
Fairly soon, Chazelle will be inescapable as the awards buzz for his utterly delightful, dizzily inventive, joyful and bittersweet “La La Land” builds (our dazzled review from Venice is here), but even the prospect of all those For Your Consideration ads can’t dampen our enthusiasm for this relative neophyte. Only his third feature after his “mumblecore musical” debut “Guy And Madeline On A Park Bench” and the eyecatching”Whiplash,” from film to film Chazelle seems not so much to have been on a learning curve as basically mastering a vertical learning ascent as a director (when he’s not racking up writing credits on films such as “10 Cloverfield Lane” and “Grand Piano“). Because as much as we admired “Whiplash,” especially as a long-overdue vehicle for Oscar recognition for the great J.K. Simmons, “La La Land” is exponentially more ambitious in scope and more sweepingly emotive in effect. It’s gorgeous, and Chazelle deserves all the good stuff coming his way.
44. Maren Ade
Yes, summer 2016 found our multiplexes a grim place, but as anyone lucky enough to have the season bounded by Cannes on the one side and Venice on the other knows, that really was no reason to declare the death of cinema (again). And German director Maren Ade’s third film, after unsettling film-school graduation piece “The Forest For The Trees” and precision-tooled relationship-in-decay story “Everyone Else,” is basically a definitive one-film argument for the rude health of cinema. “Toni Erdmann” is a highly peculiar father/daughter story, both tightly wound and loose-limbed, rather like its two unforgettable central characters. But it’s also hilarious and heartfelt and completely singular, with moments of truth so piercing they feel surreal, and moments of surreality played so deadpan they feel like truth. The injustice of Ade winning nothing in Cannes cannot detract from the fact that she will long be remembered as the outstanding Cannes breakout, in an outstanding year.
43. Sarah Polley
Given the sheer number of actors who eventually turn their hand to directing, it’s surprising, statistically speaking, that there aren’t more of them on this list. But then, few have taken to it with the commitment, skill and sheer talent of Sarah Polley. These days, Polley seems to have moved entirely into directing, and you can see why: As enormously talented an actor as she was, her three features to date have been something truly special. Aged just 37, she won Julie Christie an Oscar nomination for her performance in Polley’s directorial debut “Away From Her,” while follow-up “Take This Waltz” took the same kind of finely wrought relationship drama and transplanted it to thirtysomethings and the question of whether we can be truly monogamous. Her most recent film, deeply personal documentary “Stories We Tell,” was her best to date, taking her own experiences and using it to investigate the nature of truth and art. The sooner she makes another film, the better.
42. Ryan Coogler
With a definite bias on this list toward emerging filmmakers and those we’re confident will make a splash in the very near future, Coogler, whose trajectory over just two completed directorial features and one announced blockbuster has not seen him put a foot wrong, was always going to figure. His debut, true story “Fruitvale Station,” managed to find a balance between shocking topicality, righteous anger and human tragedy and also broke out star Michael B. Jordan. Coogler and Jordan then reunited for the lighter-hearted, more generic but no less skillfully made “Rocky” sequel “Creed” — probably the most purely enjoyable boxing movie in a period lousy with them. That Coogler’s skill, not least in staging thrilling set pieces (the subway station fracas in ‘Fruitvale’; the fight scenes in “Creed”) led to him snagging Marvel’s “Black Panther” gig, which he’s also co-writing, is one of the most satisfying good-news stories that blockbusterdom has given us recently.
41. Spike Jonze
Maybe because he was visible prior as a director of some of the most memorable music videos of the 1990s (like Weezer‘s “Buddy Holly,“ Beastie Boys‘ “Sabotage,“ Bjork‘s “It’s Oh So Quiet“ and Fatboy Slim‘s “Praise You“), one can forget that Spike Jonze only has four features to his name. Or maybe it’s just that taken together, they have the impact of a much bigger filmography. Starting with the peerless one-two of his Charlie Kaufman-scripted diptych “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation,” Jonze became associated with a certain type of hip, self-aware, metatextual playfulness, and a charmingly lo-fi aesthetic. It was seven years, however — during which he produced the “Jackass” movies, “Synecdoche, New York” and “The Fall,” among others — before he turned in his lovely adaptation of Maurice Sendak‘s “Where the Wild Things Are,” and then another four before we got the brilliant, bittersweet “Her,” which netted him a screenplay Oscar. Don’t leave it so long next time, please.
It’s a compromise no. 40, but no one had Verhoeven on their lists initially, except for the one person who has seen “Elle” and put him in the top 10. The former is a mark of how long he’s been away — aside from the multi-platform TV project “Tricked,” he hasn’t directed since his excellent 2006 WWII movie “Black Book.” And it’s also a mark of just how good “Elle” is — recently named France’s Foreign Language Oscar pick (a ballsy choice), it stars a career-best Isabelle Huppert and tackles its highly problematic rape storyline with something like glee. But then, subverting even the most sacred of cows has always been Verhoeven’s superpower, and if it’s made him largely unbackable in timid Hollywood of late, which prefers to remake his genre classics like “RoboCop” and “Total Recall” into much blander packages, here’s hoping “Elle” signals the beginning of a new phase of productivity for this most mischievously smart of filmmakers.39. David Lynch
No other director on this list has been as inactive recently as David Lynch. Well, inactive is the wrong word: He’s been doing art shows and pop albums and probably released a fragrance or something, but the maestro of the unsettlingly strange hasn’t actually shot a properly released film since “Inland Empire” nearly a decade ago. But that changes next year with the return of “Twin Peaks” to TV, with Lynch helming every episode, and a year that brings a dozen or so hours of new Lynch filmmaking brings reason to celebrate. The word Lynchian gets thrown about a lot, but the pale imitations so often miss the point so much that it just makes you appreciate the original more: the terrifyingly beautiful nature of his images, the ominous rhythms, the way that the strangeness is always built on a bed of humanity. “Inland Empire” tested some viewers’ patience, but after 10 years away, we couldn’t be happier to have Lynch back.38. Sofia Coppola
Nepotism is a real thing, which is why (currently) five members of the immediate Coppola family have got to direct feature films. But without talent, you’re not going to direct more than one, and good lord did Sofia Coppola prove she was talented long ago. Beginning with dreamy coming-of-age tale “The Virgin Suicides,” Coppola’s films have always carved out a very distinct groove, a million miles away from that of her “Godfather”-directing pops: insular, intimate films telling (predominately) the stories of women, their pulsing beauty and swoony soundtracks masking a filmmaker who’s deceptively incisive about getting inside the head of her characters. By the end of the trilogy she’s been telling over the last decade about lives of privilege, it started to feel like she needed a change of subject, but that’s exactly what she’s got coming up: Next year, her remake of Don Siegel’s Western “The Beguiled,” with Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman and Elle Fanning, will arrive, and that should be a welcome change of pace.37. Edgar Wright
Film comedies rarely get the kind of respect that dramas do. In part that’s because what a person finds funny varies so wildly, but in part it’s because even some of the best mainstream comedies look flat and uninteresting on screen. Thank God, then, for Edgar Wright, a man who understands more than anyone working right now that comedy shouldn’t just be funny people saying funny things, but that you can make the camera and the editing and the sound design work to maximize the satisfaction for everyone involved. Whether with his impeccable Cornetto trilogy (which got stranger and richer as they went along) or the giddy pop-art of “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World,” Wright pens intricate, gag-packed scripts, and then brings them to bursting cinematic life. And if next year’s “Baby Driver” lives up to even a fraction of our Busby Berkeley/Buster Keaton/Walter Hill/Mad Max hopes for it, it’ll be one of the films of the year.
36. Wes Anderson
There are few directors who create such immediately recognizable worlds and distinctive characters as Wes Anderson. Sometimes, that can be a drawback: Around the time of “The Darjeeling Limited,” he threatened to ossify, and he’s been the subject of hundreds of lazy, symmetrical, Kinks-scored parodies. But his last three films have all tweaked the formula to hugely satisfying effect: “Fantastic Mr. Fox” was an autumnal visual joy that both paid tribute to Roald Dahl’s original book while remaining utterly Wes-esque; “Moonrise Kingdom” had a pleasing Truffaut-esque looseness and liveliness that was new to his work without abandoning the storybook qualities; and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” double-downed on the more precious chocolate-box elements of his work, and yet still packed an emotional punch (and went on to be his biggest hit to date). As easy as he can be to mock, his work still remains utterly rewarding, and more so with each viewing, and we can’t wait for his next, a Japan-set stop-motion animation about dogs.
35. Park Chan-wook
One of two Korean filmmakers (Kim Jee-woon being the other, see above) to come roaring back to form in 2016 after a disappointing English-language debut, Park Chan-wook is probably one of the better known of his country’s current crop of peerless genre filmmakers, based on the popularity of his sick, slick, violent “Vengeance Trilogy.” But those films — “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance,” “Oldboy” and “Lady Vengeance” — are only half the story, and his filmography also boasts hugely popular Korean history epic “JSA” and the ornately perverse vampire movie “Thirst” among other striking, hyperstylish titles. But after the good-looking but oddly hollow “Stoker” saw him stumble in English, Park is back with a bang (actually several literal bangs) with “The Handmaiden,” a cross-cultural and cross-historical adaptation of Sarah Waters‘ bestseller “Fingersmith.” He is a visual stylist without compare, and “The Handmaiden” gives him exactly the kind of heavily erotic, fetishizably twisty storyline to justify such sinfully delicious craft.
34. Jacques Audiard
It’s strange to make a film that wins the Palme d’Or and yet still feels undervalued. Jacques Audiard’s “Dheepan” won the top Cannes prize from the Coen Brothers’ jury in 2015 and yet remains rather underseen, but in our opinion it fits beautifully into one of the most impressive bodies of work in world cinema right now. He’s been acclaimed in France since the early 1990s, but it was his 2005 crime film “The Beat That My Heart Skipped,” a remake of James Toback’s “Fingers,” that brought him to a new level of awareness, swiftly followed by prison-set gangster classic “A Prophet” and bruising melodrama “Rust & Bone.” His work is muscular, tender, gripping and visually striking, and he’s brought new energy to the crime film in particular which will likely continue to influence filmmakers for years. For his next trick, he’s coming to America for his first English-language film “The Sisters Brothers,” a Western starring John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix.
33. Jill Soloway
The TV refuseniks may be horrified to see someone who has only a sole feature, and one that divided critics at that, so high on this list. But what is “Transparent,” which Jill Soloway created and has directed more than half of at this point, if not one of the most consistently gorgeous, finely honed and moving independent films of recent years (while still, crucially, functioning as a TV series, unlike some of its one-long-movie rivals). Soloway’s roots are in TV, with credits including “Six Feet Under” and “United States of Tara,” but she stood out with Sundance pic “Afternoon Delight.” But it was “Transparent” that took the virtues of that film — a scabrous wit; a willingness to tackle selfish, sometimes unlikable people with compassion; a singular voice; Kathryn Hahn being awesome — and perfected the formula. No wonder that Amazon have made her their figurehead — aside from a second upcoming show, “I Love Dick,” she’s also got a couple of movies in development with the streaming giant.
32. Leos Carax
After an eyecatching debut feature in “Boy Meets Girl” in 1983, Leos Carax‘s two subsequent, Denis Lavant-starring features were the ones that cemented his contradictory persona: Early masterpiece “Mauvais Sang” made him the voice of a French arthouse generation; and then the troubled, overbudget production of “The Lovers On The Bridge” made him almost the caricature of the temperamental, self-aggrandizing, perfectionist auteur. “Pola X” followed, to muted reception, and after it came 13 years without a feature film at all until 2012’s “Holy Motors.” Even then, we’d have felt justified in excluding him from this list on the grounds of lack of recent titles alone, except “Holy Motors,” which also stars Lavant in an astonishingly chimeric performance, is just so much film — such a blazingly brilliant and weird assortment of grotesque, surreal and inexpressibly moving moments that it will probably take us at least another decade to fully recover from.
31. Cary Fukunaga
Another filmmaker who began in features but has truly excited people thanks to his TV work, Cary Fukunaga was already a fast-rising star before then. His debut “Sin Nombre,” about the hard journey of a young Honduran girl attempting to make it to the U.S. border, was a grippy, heady thriller with a level of execution and ambition that totally belied its status as a first feature. Follow-up “Jane Eyre” took a left turn, but was equally good, bringing the sexuality and spookiness back to the classic Gothic romance. “True Detective” came next, and if the misfire of a Fukunaga-free second season proved anything, it’s that the director was the glue that held the show together, the almost mystical feel he brought to proceedings, and his facility with actors, elevating it above simple genre fare. His tremendous last feature “Beasts Of No Nation” didn’t get the audience it deserved despite, or perhaps because of, its much-vaunted Netflix bow, but it only cemented Fukunaga as one of the most exciting talents of his generation.
There are those who consider Andrew Dominik’s elegiac anti-western, “The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford” the best film of the new century, and those who are wrong about movies. Ok, fine, just kidding but also not really — after a muted initial reception, it is only recently getting the recognition it always merited. It didn’t quite come out of nowhere: Dominik’s much-less-polished 2000 debut “Chopper” displayed a lot of promise and a career-making turn from Eric Bana; while his third feature, “Killing Them Softly,” didn’t quite attain the heights of his second. But in case we were losing faith, along comes this year’s “One More Time With Feeling,” which may be a music documentary (covering the recording of the new Nick Cave album “Skeleton Tree“) but is also one of the most profoundly moving films of the year, and an immensely inventive and beautiful 3D filmmaking showcase to boot.29. Lucrecia Martel
Great though 2016 has been for festival programming, it has been a year of serial disappointment in terms of one particular title: Lucrecia Martel’s “Zama.” Now due to bow in 2017, we hope it’s the film that will see the Argentinian director become known to audiences outside the critical circles she’s already conquered, starting with debut “La Ciénaga” back in 2002, building through “The Holy Girl” in 2004, up to 2008’s Cannes title “The Headless Woman.” The last of those really bowled us over (we placed it at 6 on our Best Foreign Language Films of the Century list). An ambiguous, mysterious, yet crisply composed portrait of gradual mental disintegration, that also works as pointed commentary on the class divisions in Argentinian society and the challenges facing women of a certain age, it’s a masterclass in directorial control and deep subjectivity which seems a thrilling counterpoint to the sprawling canvas of the long-gestating adaptation “Zama.”28. Michael Haneke
The two-time Cannes-winning Austrian master may never have made an out-and-out horror film (indeed, he’s in general disdainfully removed from the very idea of genre), but that doesn’t mean Michael Haneke doesn’t absolutely terrify us. And on occasion, his chilly, austere intellectualism, while never less than diamond-cut in its brilliance, can verge on the scornful as with the deeply didactic “Funny Games,” which often feels less like a lesson than a punishment for the viewer. But most of the time his hardness, his unflinchingly steely edge, his subzero lack of sentimentality simply means his films cut deeper than almost anyone else’s, whether it’s the eerie parable of “The White Ribbon;” the twisted psychosexual drama of “The Piano Teacher;” or the utterly genius, deeply troubling “Hidden,” which lives on long after it ends as a kind of unscratchable itch in the mind. His next film “Happy End” (100% guaranteed to be an ironic title) is due in 2017, which gives us a little time to mentally regroup after having been shredded by his last, the Oscar-winning “Amour.”27. Lynne Ramsay
For a minute, we were worried that Lynne Ramsay might never make a film again. Three years ago, the director of “Ratcatcher,” “Morvern Callar” and “We Need To Talk About Kevin” quit Western “Jane Got A Gun” on the eve of production, with producers putting blame for the blow-up squarely on her shoulders. It’s the kind of incident that could have ended a career, but with the film finally arriving in utterly defanged form, it felt like a vindication for Ramsay, and it feels only appropriate that she started shooting a new film this summer. A sort of social/magic realist, Ramsay is a master of sound and vision, weaving a beguiling style whether she’s tackling gritty kitchen-sink coming-of-age as with her debut, an utterly singular travelogue/character study with ‘Callar,’ or a wrenching study of parenting with ‘Kevin.’ Next, she’s going genre, adapting Jonathan Ames’ neo-noir novella “You Were Never Really Here” with Joaquin Phoenix in the lead.
26. Shane Carruth
A century into the medium, it’s rare for a director to produce something that’s truly and completely original in film. So far, Shane Carruth’s done it twice, with two films, very different from each other, but each equally dazzling. Debut “Primer” was made on a shoestring, but was one of the most intellectually stimulating puzzle-boxes ever made, looping its time-travel conceit in on itself over and over and over again and posing some fascinating existential questions along the way. Follow-up “Upstream Color,” nearly a decade later, was similarly distinctive, but was led by the heart rather than the head, a bizarre, poetic, almost abstracted sort of horror-movie/romance hybrid that made you respond on an almost instinctive level. They were so different from each other that you wouldn’t have necessarily thought they came from the same filmmaker, except that they were each so different from everything else out there. Word’s been quiet for a while on his next movie, all-star, big-budget high-seas adventure “The Modern Ocean,” but there’s no project we want to see more.
25. Steven Spielberg
It’s weird to find Steven Spielberg, still the most famous filmmaker in the world, in the position of being underrated. And yet that’s where we are: The director’s most recent films, whether awards-y pics like “War Horse” or “Bridge Of Spies,” or more escapist fare like “The Adventures Of Tintin” or “The BFG,” have had mildly underwhelming responses from audiences and cinephiles alike. It’s likely that we’re so used to the man behind “Jaws,” “Raiders Of The Lost Ark,” “Schindler’s List” et. al., being so good, and making it so effortless, that the novelty has worn off, but take any of the movies he made in this decade and you’ll find shots, sequences or performances that no one else could have pulled off, and wholes that are rather more interesting than they might appear. Yeah, we’re not thrilled he’s doing “Ready Player One” next, but we’re sure even that will once again remind us that he’s the master, and the old dog continues to pull off all kinds of new tricks.
24. Christopher Nolan
If Spielberg’s no longer Mr. Bulletproof in the way he once was, Christopher Nolan might be the man who’s inherited that mantle — for the last decade, everything he’s touched turned to gold, and he’s just about the only person who could turn a World War II movie starring mostly unknowns into one of the major movie events of 2017 (with his next film, “Dunkirk”). To some, he’s a chilly filmmaker who uses blunt blockbuster instruments, but to us, he’s someone always capable of surprising, be it the morality play of “The Dark Knight;” building a James Bond film on a well of deep sorrow with “Inception;” giving the superhero movie a David Lean sweep with “The Dark Knight Rises;” or making his most personal and strangest film as a space opera with the flawed, totally fascinating “Interstellar.” The canvases might have gotten bigger, but Nolan’s still the same man who made “Following” and “Memento,” without having changed a single thing about his work.
23. Lars Von Trier
His rather played-out bad-boy rep can sometimes obscure the much simpler and more important fact of Lars Von Trier’s exceptional filmmaking talent. Whether operating within the self-imposed austerity of Dogme 95 with “Breaking The Waves;” experimenting with Brechtian staging in “Dogville;” or playing and provoking in equal measure in his more recent, more florid and atmospheric “Depression Trilogy” (“Antichrist,” “Melancholia,” “Nymphomaniac“), what makes Von Trier so significant a figure is not his tendency to rather self-defeatingly rattle cages but the way he seems to put everything — his very soul — into every single film he makes. The results are unpredictable and often confounding (his Cannes-winning “Dancer In The Dark,” for example) but never less than pure: sincere depictions of the landscape of Von Trier’s mind at the time, that vast place, full of wit and grief and questions lurking in dark places. His next, serial-killer story “The House That Jack Built” is due in 2018.
22. Wong Kar-Wai
In 2000, Wong Kar-wai made quite possibly the single most beautiful film of all time (“In The MoodFor Love,” which came in at no. 5 on our Best Foreign Films of the Century list) and it’s tempting to regard his filmography as leading up to and away from that point. But though it is a thrilling entry point (featuring sublime photography from regular collaborator Christopher Doyle and starring talismanic presence Tony Leung), Wong’s 10-feature catalogue shows many different phases of growth and experimentation. The intoxicating textures of ‘Mood’ (and lesser follow-up “2046“) came after his episodic gay romance “Happy Together,” which occupies a brasher register, while “ChungkingExpress” feels like the apotheosis of his more freewheeling, spontaneous impulses. More recent work has perhaps not quite reached those heights — English-language debut “My Blueberry Nights” was a misfire — but with his next project being an 18-part online series, it seems Wong is back experimenting again and we cannot wait.
21. Hou Hsiao-Hsien
Good things come to those who wait. That’s what Hou Hsiao-Hsien proved with “The Assassin,” a film that had been in the works for decades, and actively in production for several years before its release last year. Since the 1980s, the Taiwanese director has been one of Asia’s most acclaimed directors, his meticulous, slow-burn, almost pastoral filmmaking shining through with masterpieces like “City Of Sadness,” “Millennium Mambo” and “Three Times,” as well as his French-language debut “Flight Of The Red Balloon.” But if anyone had forgotten his talents in the eight years while he was away, they were swiftly reminded thanks to his last film, which took his very particular style and put it in the context of the martial-arts film. Those looking purely for action might have come away frustrated, but everyone else found an exquisitely beautiful film where virtually every frame could take your breath away. There’s no news yet on his next project, but hopefully it’ll come together faster, because we need more Hou in our lives.
We would make a crack about Steven Soderbergh being the comeback kid, given his supposed retirement back in 2013, but really, he never went away. Since going out with an extraordinary triple bill of “Magic Mike,” a skewering of the American Dream disguised as bachelorette-party entertainment; “Side Effects,” a sly, subversive take on the ’80s erotic thriller; and most amazingly of all, a biopic that was actually good with “Behind The Candelabra,” Soderbergh shot 10 movies’ worth of material across two seasons of “The Knick,” and did the best work of his career in the process. And now, American cinema’s most restless, experimental, and knowledgeable filmmaker is going back to the feature-length form, both with mysterious HBO project “Mosaic,” and with heist comedy “Logan Lucky” with Adam Driver, Channing Tatum and Daniel Craig. And though, as we said, it never felt like he was ever really retiring, God, it’s good to have him back.19. Bong Joon-Ho
If Korea has the most exciting cinema in the world right now (and between the aformentioned Park Chan-Wook and Kim Jee-woon, plus very different filmmakers like Kim Ki-Duk and Hong Sang-Soo, it might well), Bong Joon-Ho is its most exciting director. Since breaking out with the extraordinary epic police procedural “Memories Of Murder,” he’s tackled genres including the monster movie, the Hitchcockian thriller and the dystopian sci-fi with “The Host,” “Mother” and “Snowpiercer,” and each time turned out masterpieces that no other filmmaker could have pulled off. Each film takes the familiar template and adds subversive humor, indelible characters, unexpected texture and a dash of social realism, resulting in something that ends up feeling entirely fresh. English-language debut “Snowpiercer” had its release botched and never got the audience it deserved, but we hope that’ll change with his latest, “Okja” starring Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal, which Netflix will debut.
18. Steve McQueen
There’s still a long way to go, but in future years Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” winning Best Picture will likely seem a watershed moment not just for its obvious token appeal within an industry noted for its lack of diversity, but because of the type of film it is. Brutal, austere and made with singleminded artistic vision, “Driving Miss Daisy” it is not. But of course, we should have expected as much: McQueen’s previous two films, “Hunger” and “Shame,” which gave career-defining roles to Michael Fassbender, were similarly excoriating, unsentimentalized portraits of men trapped in prisons literal and figurative. The news that his HBO series “Codes of Conduct,” which we were greatly anticipating, will not be airing after all is disappointing, but at least he’ll soon be back on the big screen with “Widows,” a female-fronted heist thriller starring Viola Davis, and it will be fascinating to see how McQueen approaches such a high concept.
17. Ava DuVernay
Actors have become great filmmakers; cinematographer and editors have become great filmmakers; screenwriters have become great filmmakers; even, god help us, critics have become great filmmakers. But Ava DuVernay may be the first great filmmaker to emerge from PR, and if she’s any indication, maybe we should encourage a lot more publicity folk to change careers. DuVernay’s first feature after making the switch, microbudget drama “I Will Follow,” won her a fan in Roger Ebert, but it was follow-up “Middle Of Nowhere” that broke her out wider, winning her Best Director at Sundance. And then came “Selma,” one of the best political films of recent years, a film that looked at Martin Luther King not just as an icon, but as a man and as a politician. She’s already one of the great chroniclers of the African-American experience, something only cemented by her TV show “Queen Sugar,”maybe the best new drama of the fall, and by her imminent documentary “The 13th.” But she won’t be pigeonholed either: Next, she’ll adapt beloved YA sci-fi fantasy “A Wrinkle In Time” for Disney.
16. David Fincher
Somehow, in the aftermath of one of his greatest successes with “Gone Girl,” David Fincher ended up having what’s likely one of the most difficult periods of his career since “Alien3,” with HBO pulling the plug on not just one but two of his projects there. But Fincher’s come back from worse before, and he remains mainstream film’s most subversive and challenging talent when he’s on top form. Not every one of his projects completely lands — we maintain that “Benjamin Button” was underrated by cinephiles, but will acknowledge that “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” was bloated and a little hollow. But when he’s on form, and he usually is — proving the perfect partner and counterpoint to Aaron Sorkin with “The Social Network,” sneaking a pitch-black comedy of marriage into the clothes of a pulp thriller with “Gone Girl,” making an undisputed masterpiece with “Zodiac” — he’s one of the best. He’ll be back next year with new Netflix series “Mindhunter,” and it can’t come soon enough.
15. Pedro Almodóvar
It’s hard to do justice in brief to all the life and drama and color and emotion that comprises the work of Spain’s most consistently inventive and distinctive auteur, but seeing as we can’t just describe his filmography in a string of fire emojis, let’s describe it in microcosm. In one of his masterpieces “Volver” (which ranks alongside “Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown,” “All About My Mother” and “Talk to Her” as his greatest work, though everything he’s ever done bar misfire “I’m So Excited” is [fire emoji]), there’s a single shot that encapsulates his peculiar genius, and it is a simple overhead shot of Penélope Cruz chopping tomatoes. The rambunctious joie de vivre on display in this moment combines food and sex and a powerful femininity into one delectable, emblematic image. Almodóvar’s films are intricate celebrations of complex womanhood as an elemental force, and though they can verge on the grotesque, they are never less than wholly, magnificently human.
14. Jane Campion
The first woman to win the Palme d’Or, and the second to pick up a Best Director nomination, Jane Campion is undoubtedly a pioneer for female filmmakers, but to describe her as only that would be to do her an enormous disservice. A regular at Cannes even before her first feature, “Sweetie,” debuted, the New Zealander’s gone on to be a filmmaker of enormous emotional sensitivity and acute detail, be it in homegrown drama “An Angel At My Table;” the unexpected Oscar hit “The Piano;” or more recent period drama “Bright Star,” a completely gorgeous, utterly devastating film that never quite got the attention it deserved. And “Top Of The Lake” (soon to get a second season), her TV series, showcased some of the best work of her career. She tells stories that would be overlooked by male filmmakers, which makes her one of the most vital voices out there, but you suspect she could tackle virtually any material and make it utterly compelling.
13. Asghar Farhadi
Cinema in general, and Iranian film in particular, suffered a huge loss with the recent death of master Abbas Kiarostami, but if part of the measure of any legend is the filmmaking he inspires and lays groundwork for, Kiarostami’s legacy is assured because, in large part, of Asghar Farhadi. He came to major prominence after the international breakthrough of his engrossing humanist masterpiece “A Separation,” but Farhadi’s prior titles, especially “Fireworks Wednesday” and “About Elly,” prove just how assured a filmmaker he was long before his Best Foreign Film Oscar. Creating vastly absorbing and deeply relatable human dramas that are both culturally specific and utterly universal, his subsequent films “The Past” and this year’s Cannes title “The Salesman” do not quite attain the dizzying heights of his very best work, and yet they’re both still extraordinary. That tells you all you need to know about the brilliance of Farhadi, perhaps our era’s greatest, most incandescently empathetic chronicler of human relationships.
12. Alfonso Cuarón
The Playlist has had a collective crush on Alfonso Cuarón since ’round about the time when, tacking against the current and having already made two Hollywood films, “A Little Princess” and “Great Expectations” (both solid but hardly spectacular), he went back home to Mexico and made the brilliant “Y Tu Mamá También.” But our crush blossomed into full-on obsession after he followed up best-in-series Harry Potter movie ‘Prisoner of Azkaban‘ with his peerless, brilliantly shot sci-fi masterpiece “Children Of Men.” It took seven years and a little space doodle called “Gravity” before the rest of the world, or at least the Academy, caught up to us, but since then, the news that he is not channeling his Best Director success into one of the big-budget tentpoles he was offered in the aftermath, but again going back to Mexico to shoot a smaller-scale Spanish-language drama, only makes us love him more. Alfonso Cuarón, will you marry us?
11. Yorgos Lanthimos
This list bristles with filmmakers who have delivered influential classics that create entire mini-movements. But amid this august crowd of visionary auteurs, Greek Weird Wave pioneer Yorgos Lanthimos stands apart, with a voice and a vision that defies imitation. “Dogtooth” was surely one of the most distinctive films of all time, and if follow-up “Alps” didn’t quite connect in the same way, he made good with last year’s epic yet intimate, bifurcated, alternate-universe mindfuck “The Lobster.” A loopy, scabrous yet oddly moving investigation into the social pressures of relationships, it featured a career-best Colin Farrell heading up an eclectic ensemble. His next film, “TheKilling Of A Sacred Deer” will reteam them and add Nicole Kidman and Alicia Silverstone to the mix for what is sure to be another defiantly uncategorizable, twistedly smart slice of dream logic. You do you, Yorgos Lanthimos, because God knows, nobody else would even know where to begin.
For so long the exception that proved the female-filmmaker rule, French director Claire Denis has quietly, but to widespread cinephile adoration, amassed an amazing career of 11, soon to be 12 peerlessly intelligent, uncompromising titles. Her debut “Chocolat,” like many of her films, is about colonialism (Denis’ perspective on class and racial divisions in French society is informed by her own upbringing in a white French family in various African countries), and is a shimmeringly ambiguous yet clear-sighted and accessible entry point into her fascinating filmography. “Beau Travail,” starring Denis Lavant, might well be her first real masterpiece, though, with “White Material,” “35 Shots ofRum” and the much-misunderstood “Trouble Every Day” not far behind. In fact, while we may not have liked 2013’s “Bastards” as much, really Denis has never made an uninteresting film, and her next project, Robert Pattinson-starring sci-fi “High Life” is one of our most anticipated titles of next year.9. Mia Hansen-Løve
Still only 35 but with five films behind her, Mia Hansen-Løve has grown in both skill and stature with every subsequent film, which is impressive given that she started with some pretty remarkable work. An actor in her teenage years, then a Cahiers Du Cinéma critic, Hansen-Løve broke through with the impressive “All Is Forgiven,” followed swiftly by the devastatingly, remarkably mature “The Father Of My Children” and melancholy romance “Goodbye First Love.” Her last couple of films have truly confirmed her as one of the best we have right now: first with “Eden,” an epic, decades-spanning look at the French house music scene and arrested development; then this year’s “Things To Come,” a sublime, deceptively funny, intimate character study which might be the best-edited movie we’ve seen in years, among its many virtues. Each of her films has been so compassionate, so finely written and perfectly directed, that it’s frankly a little terrifying to think of how good she might be in another few years.8. Jonathan Glazer
It’s a lazy byword for greatness, but sometimes it’s difficult to avoid invoking Stanley Kubrick as a laudatory comparison. And there is something in the meticulous craft and minute, hold-your-breath attention to detail that Jonathan Glazer can achieve that calls Kubrick to mind — never more so than during his third and greatest film to date, “Under The Skin.” Creating an uncanny, otherworldly atmosphere, and showcasing an astonishing turn from Scarlett Johansson, where his previous titles, the highly enjoyable sunshine gangster film “Sexy Beast” and the criminally underrated reincarnation mystery “Birth,” impressed us deeply, it was “Under The Skin” nine years after the latter that made us full converts. With a clutch of the most iconic music videos in recent memory to his name, and a venerable career in commercials (here are his 10 best), Glazer’s been working more consistently than his three-feature filmography suggests, but we have to hope it won’t be another decade before we see his next big-screen outing.7. Denis Villeneuve
There’s a certain kind of movie that some claim aren’t being made, or that just aren’t successful, that have shifted entirely to television: smart, grown-up, star-driven thrillers, artfully made and rarely if ever insulting the intelligence. Those who claim that they’ve vanished haven’t been paying attention to Denis Villeneuve. The French-Canadian director won acclaim at home with films like “Maelstrom” and “Polytechnique” before gripping drama “Incendies” became a worldwide hit and an Oscar nominee. English-language debut “Prisoners” was pulp executed at the highest level, and he’s only grown from there: The much smaller “Enemy” was a vice-tight, bizarre thriller that went to much stranger places than you might have expected; while “Sicario” brought a haunting abstraction to the war-on-drugs actioner. His latest, “Arrival,” might be his best film yet, playing the heartstrings as well as the nervous system like a fiddle. We never thought we’d be optimistic about a “Blade Runner” sequel (especially one with Jared Leto in it…), but in Villeneuve’s hands, we can’t wait.
6. Pablo Larraín
Our Oli Lyttelton said it best when he tweeted “Internet: Movies are dead; Pablo Larraín: Here’s my third awesome film in 18 months.” Chilean director Larraín, whose first three films “Tony Manero,” “Post-Mortem” and “No” would themselves have been the crowning achievements of a lesser filmmaker’s oeuvre, has doubled his filmography in under two years, with each new film a progression in terms of confidence. After the Oscar-nominated “No,” he delivered eviscerating disgraced-priest parable “The Club;” playful, frenetic, deconstructed biopic “Neruda;” and his English-language debut, hotly tipped as an Oscar player in 2017, “Jackie.” But what’s most exciting is that while his lively intelligence remains, Larraín challenges himself with new aesthetics and approaches each time, whether it’s the VHS fuzziness of “No,” the crepuscular low-contrast palette of “The Club” or the bright, steady, full-face close-ups of Natalie Portman in “Jackie.” Of all the future greats to emerge in the last five years, none energizes us like Larraín.
5. Martin Scorsese
You may have heard of this guy. But when we reworked this list to favor “exciting,” and many of his similarly famous contemporaries took a tumble down the rankings as a result, Scorsese stayed more or less where he was. Not only is he essentially the patron saint of independent cinema, and a tireless evangelist for film appreciation; not only is his name synonymous with an entire style of vibrant, violent, irresistibly exuberant filmmaking; not only has he roughly 10 undeniable classics under his belt (here’s our retrospective), but at 73 he’s managed to retain his relevance. There have been lulls, like the solid but worthy “Hugo,” and recent TV misfire “Vinyl,” but with the ferociously funny “The Wolf of Wall Street” seeing him back on snarling form, and upcoming passion project “Silence” bowing in December, not to mention all the documentaries, producing and preservation projects he’s involved in, Scorsese remains American cinema’s most precious natural resource.
4. Todd Haynes
A career that starts with a virtually banned art project about Karen Carpenter told with Barbie dolls, went through some seminal works of New Queer Cinema, and has gone on to take in some of the most acclaimed films of the last 25 years is an unlikely one, but you suspect Todd Haynes wouldn’t have done it any other way. He’s never been fully embraced by the establishment — “Carol” was one of the best films of last year, but ultimately failed to pick up a Best Picture nomination. But whether he’s paying homage to glam rock with “Velvet Goldmine,” updating Sirk with “Far From Heaven,” making one of the most unconventional and fascinating biopics ever with Bob Dylan pic “I’m Not There,” or digging deep into a melodrama classic with his HBO miniseries re-do of “Mildred Pierce,” Haynes is consistently surprising and utterly in love with cinema. We’ve become sadly used to long gaps between his films — he only has three features this century — but he’s already wrappedhis “Carol” follow-up “Wonderstruck,” and that’s the best news we’ve heard in a while.
3. The Coen Brothers
Were it not for that unpleasant mid-’00s blip of “Intolerable Cruelty” and “The Ladykillers” (and the former is better than some suggest), we’d probably think of the Coens as having one of the most flawless filmographies in the history of the medium. Over 30 years, they’ve built up a catalogue of work of near-unfathomable cleverness, ranging from broad, Preston Sturges-esque screwball (“O Brother, Where Art Thou?”) to bleak neo-Westerns (“No Country For Old Men”), and yet every one of their films could only have come from them (just watch almost anything described as Coen-esque and watch how hard it fails for further proof of this), and feel utterly of a piece with each other. They’re capable of inducing such delight and such darkness, of building even a character with one scene into a memorable person, of wrangling language into something utterly quotable, and of using the unlikeliest premises — with their last two films, a folk-music road movie and a Hollywood mystery — to tackle the biggest questions of existence. For all the film-is-dead panicking of late, it’s never going away as long as the Coens are here.
2. Kathryn Bigelow
While it is astounding and galling that she is still the only woman ever to have won a Best Director Oscar, it’s not at all surprising that the honor went to Kathryn Bigelow. Having graduated from the grungy nihilism of her first features, “The Loveless” and vampire flick “Near Dark,” to slicker genre titles “Blue Steel” and “Point Break,” in 1995 she turned in sorely undervalued sci-fi “Strange Days.” The ’00s were patchy, featuring largely forgotten misfires “The Weight Of Water” and “K-19: The Widowmaker” before Bigelow exploded back onto the scene, quite literally, with the taut, topical “The Hurt Locker.” That film’s Oscar triumph opened doors, but Bigelow stuck to her newfound guns for “Zero Dark Thirty” — possibly her best film to date — ambiguous, muscular and morally murky. Her terse, politically charged sensibility seem perfect for her 2017 Detroit riots picture: If there is anyone who can do justice to such a controversial incident 50 years on, it’s the committed, fiercely uncompromising Bigelow.
1. Paul Thomas Anderson
So here we are, four days and 99 filmmakers (plus probably three times as many that were under consideration at some point in the process) later, and while endless arguments ensued over much of the list placement, Paul Thomas Anderson always felt like the obvious choice for the number one slot. There are few filmmakers left for whom a new movie feels like a real event, but ever since his career began (at the terrifyingly prodigious age of 26 with “Hard Eight”), Anderson’s movies have felt major even when they’ve been minor-key (as with “Punch-Drunk Love”). “Boogie Nights” and then “Magnolia” confirmed him as a filmmaker of uncommon skill, but he’s somehow got even more promising as he’s gotten older, stepping away from his major influences — Scorsese, Altman, etc. — and, with “The Master,” “Inherent Vice” and “Junun” into territory that’s entirely his own, with rhythms that are entirely his own. Next year, he’ll reunite with Daniel Day-Lewis for a ’50s-set fashion-world movie we’re affectionately calling “Paul Thomas Anderson’s Next Top Model,” and it can’t get here soon enough.
As you might imagine, the process to get this list even down to 100 was a fraught one, and we could have filled a list of 500 filmmakers quite happily. We won’t list them all here, but there are plenty of directors that came close to making the cut that deserve attention. Among the ones most likely to get you lighting torches and clutching pitchforks are some veteran filmmakers who have storied careers behind them, who either haven’t been on great form of late, or don’t show much sign of still being active. Their numbers include Jean-Luc Godard, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma, John Carpenter, Agnès Varda, William Friedkin, Bernardo Bertolucci, Roman Polanski and Woody Allen(plus those who’ve fully retired like Hayao Miyazaki, Stanley Donen or Alan Parker). Their lack of placement on a silly list like this is no comment on the greatness of their past works.
In terms of fresher faces, relatively speaking, there were some other heartbreaking exclusions. Among them were Bennett Miller, Paul Greengrass, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Fatih Akin, Arnaud Deplechin, Patricio Guzmán, Amy Berg, Danny Boyle, Brad Bird, Tomas Alfredson, Christian Petzold, David Mackenzie, David Cronenberg, Alex Ross Perry, Pawel Pawlikowski, Roy Andersson, Ira Sachs, Sion Sono, Cate Shortland, David Michôd, Corneliu Porumboiu, Lee Chang-Dong and Whit Stillman.
And there were more, like László Nemes, Steve James, J.A. Bayona, Peter Jackson, John Boorman, Terence Davies, Tsai Ming-Liang, The Wachowskis, Takashi Miike, Hong Sang-Soo, Gareth Edwards, Ridley Scott, Ken Loach, Joe Wright, Lenny Abrahamson, Warren Beatty, Peter Weir, Jennifer Kent, Jessica Hausner, Jonathan Demme, Sean Durkin, Paolo Sorrentino, Terry Gilliam, Noah Baumbach, Ruben Östlund, Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Peter Strickland, Thomas Vinterberg, Damián Szifrón, J.C. Chandor, Tobias Lindholm, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Dee Rees, Lynn Shelton, Catherine Breillat, Mira Nair, Harmony Korine, David Gordon Green, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Shane Meadows, Clint Eastwood, Tom McCarthy, Benh Zeitlin, J.J. Abrams, Joe Cornish, Alex Garland, Michel Gondry, Andrew Stanton, Dan Gilroy, Matt Reeves and many, many, many more. Who said film was dead?
And finally, a word for a filmmaker who, when we started putting the list together, was firmly placed inside the top 10, but sadly passed away not long after: Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami. Here and elsewhere, he’s very sadly missed.