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Top 15 Film Directors Working Today

Similar to my best actors and actresses lists I made last year, I’ve decided to do the same and honor some of the best filmmakers working today. Obviously, there are many different filmmakers working out there. Some are just starting out, and others have been working for decades. Keep in mind that this list will not be my 15 “favorite” directors. Filmmakers like Shane Black, John Carney, and Ryan Coogler are directors who I love, but did not fit my criteria. The only possible way I can narrow down all the directors into just 15 is to come up with a criteria that I believe makes a great director. So, what I have decided is for each one of these 15 directors to first of all be extremely talented. This one is obvious. Not only do they release fantastic films, but you can really tell that they put the time and effort into each one of their films. Also they should be unique and have their own style, should be extremely consistent with their properties, and be popular enough to where people get excited the moment they see their name listed as the one who is gonna lead a specific film. And finally, they should have released at least three films in total. Filmmakers like Barry Jenkins, Alex Garland, Dan Gilroy, Jennifer Kent, and Dan Trachtenberg who have released less than three films didn’t fit the criteria, but I’m really looking forward to what they have in store. They are all really talented and have bright futures ahead of them.
If I were to do this list based on a filmmakers entire career, than names like Steven Spielberg, Danny Boyle, Woody Allen, Spike Lee, Ang Lee, and Ridley Scott would probably be on this list. If I were to do this list based solely on originality than filmmakers like Lars von Trier, David Lynch, Terrence Malick, and Charlie Kaufman might find a spot on this list. (David Lynch is easily one of the best in the business, but he hasn’t made a film in a while, and there has been nothing yet announced from him for the future).There are some great independent filmmakers out there who I had a hard time leaving off this list like Jim Jarmusch, Jeff Nichols, Sofia Coppola, and Noah Baumbach. The fifteen that I seeked out were filmmakers who had bigger-budget films and more Academy Award recognition. Speaking of big-budget films, there are plenty of big names who have released some really good blockbuster films of recent memory. People like Matthew Vaughn, J.J. Abrams,  James Cameron, Jon Favreau, and Joss Whedon are all talented, big names who have given us some of the most popular films of recent memory. However, they couldn’t quite crack my top fifteen. There are also some really talented animated directors that I would like to mention like Andrew Stanton and Pete Doctor. With that being said, my fifteen filmmakers are directors who have made mostly live-action films. And finally, there are a lot of really talented foreign directors who I would like to consider like Pedro Almodóvar, Jonathan Glazer, Michael Haneke, and Bong Joon-Ho. However, I’m focusing on filmmakers who have mainly created American films. So, with all that being said, here are my fifteen best film directors working today (with a handful of honorable mentions).

Honorable Mentions: Damien Chazelle, David O. Russell, Nicolas Winding Refn, Alexander Payne, Steven Soderbergh, Darren Aronofsky, Guillermo del Toro, Derek Cianfrance, Phil Lord/Chris Miller

(They are ranked alphabetically.
It’s just too hard to rank one over another.
They are all great in their own way.)

1. Paul Thomas Anderson

“It’s a gamble you take, the risk of alienating an audience. But there’s a theory – sometimes it’s better to confuse them for five minutes than let them get ahead of you for 10 seconds.

Why? – He’s my favorite filmmaker working today, and the director that first taught me that film can be more than just entertainment. He began his career making films that were heavily influenced by his idols like Scorsese and Altman, but has certainly matured as a director over the years and in return has created some of the best films of our generation.

Notable films – Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood

What’s next? – Mr. Anderson is currently shooting a film with Daniel Day-Lewis! It doesn’t have a title yet, but should be released either at the end of this year, or sometime in 2018. It’s supposedly set in the fashion era of 1950’s London.

2. Wes Anderson

“That’s the kind of movie that I like to make, where there is an invented reality and the audience is going to go someplace where hopefully they’ve never been before. The details, that’s what the world is made of.

Why? One can certainly make a case that the other Anderson is the best filmmaker working today. With a combination of quirky characters, a sophisticated script, and precisely centered, straight-on camera shots, Wes Anderson has created his own distinct style for film. When you watch a Wes Anderson film, you immediately know who’s behind the camera.

Notable films: Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Grand Budapest Hotel

What’s next? He’s currently working on an animated film called Isle of Dogs. It will be his second animated feature and star Scarlett Johansson, Bryan Cranston, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, and of course Bill Murray, among many others.

3. Kathryn Bigelow

“You cast not for marquee value but for performance and talent. The right actor for the part. Anything else is a compromise.”

Why? Bigelow is at the height of her powers as a director, and has successfully created films that are emotionally relevant to what is going on in the world today. Her audacious style of filmmaking has become a staple and has cemented her as one of the best filmmakers working today.

Notable films: Point Break, The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty

What’s next? An untitled project due for release either this year or the next. It’s about the 1967 Detroit riots, resulting in one of the largest citizen uprisings in US history. Should be fantastic.

4. Joel & Ethan Coen

“Frequently we are writing characters and we are thinking, “Wouldn’t it be interesting to see such and such play this kind of person?”, and the character starts to grow out of that as you are writing it. It’s a combination of things that you are making up and what you know about the actor.” 

Why? They have consistently been making great films since the mid-80s. Very few filmmakers are as broad and diverse as this pair. The fact that they are the same people who made The Big Lebowski and No Country for Old Men is pretty incredible.

Notable films: Fargo, The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men, Inside Llewyn Davis

What’s next? No movie has been announced where they will direct, but the brothers have writing credits for George Clooney’s new film titled Suburbicon. It should be released sometime this year, if not than next year.

5. Alfonso Cuarón

I guess I have a short attention span. I’m interested in new worlds, new universes, new challenges.

Why? He’s the guy who directed Children of Men !

Notable films: Y Tu Mamá También, Children of Men, Gravity

What’s next? Currently filming a Mexican drama titled Roma. It’s a story that chronicles a year in the life of a middle-class family in Mexico City in the early 1970s. The release date is unknown.

6. David Fincher

“My idea of professionalism is probably a lot of people’s idea of obsessive.

Why? Has been one of the most consistent and prolific filmmakers working for the past couple decades. Very few put in as much time and effort into every shot like his man, and it shows. The word “average” should never be used to describe one of his films.

Notable films: Se7en, Fight Club, The Social Network, Gone Girl

What’s next? I have no idea, and I’ve been dying to find out!

7. Alejandro G. Iñárritu

“My cinema is an extension of myself. A sort of life-testimony of my vital experience, with my few virtues and my numerous limitations.

Why? Very few filmmakers have been as successful as this man in this current decade. He has been awarded “Best Director” twice and a total of four Academy Awards just in the past two years.

Notable films: Babel, Birdman, The Revenant

What’s next? Nothing scheduled for directing yet. After his last two films, he deserves to take a breather for a little while.

8. Spike Jonze

I feel like everything I make is personal to me.”

Why? Because his films are beautiful, thought-provoking, and charming. He’s great at finding the beauty in the obscure and unnoticed. Also, unlike J.J. Abrams, his lens flares actually have meaning!

Notable films: Being John Malkovich, Where the Wild Things Are, Her

What’s next? I don’t know…probably some more music videos…

9. Richard Linklater

“The most unique property of cinema is how it lets you mold time, whether it’s over a long or a very brief period.

Why? Because he continues to do things no one else has ever done.

Notable films: Dazed and Confused, Before Trilogy, Boyhood

What’s next? A film starring Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell, and Laurence Fishburne! Should come out sometime this year.

10. Steve McQueen

“I’m essentially quite happy, but, for some reason, I have done a lot of stuff that is dark. I don’t know why that is and I don’t question it. I don’t really think you have a choice where you go as an artist.

Why? Not to be confused with the famous actor, this modern filmmaker is easily one of the most intelligent and daring directors working today. He understands the affect that film can have on people, and how if it is done right, it can be poetry.

Notable films: Hunger, Shame, 12 Years a Slave

What’s next? An original crime thriller starring Viola Davis. Just take my money Steve!

11. Christopher Nolan

One of the things you do as a writer and as a filmmaker is grasp for resonant symbols and imagery without necessarily fully understanding it yourself.”

Why? No one has been able to combine smart, sophisticated dialogue and filmmaking into the modern, pop-culture society that we live in as well as Nolan. When he releases a film, it is almost your duty to see it on the big screen. It’s more than just a theater-going experience, it’s an event!

Notable films: Memento, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception

What’s next? His WWII epic entitled Dunkirk which is set to release July 21st of this year.

12. Martin Scorsese

Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out.

Why? Because even at the age of 74, he continues to make films with the level of diligence and passion that a 24-year-old would have.

Notable films: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, The Departed, The Wolf of Wall Street

What’s next? A crime drama called The Irishman starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel…Oh boy!!!

13. Quentin Tarantino

When people ask me if I went to film school I tell them, ‘no, I went to films.'”

Why? I can’t give any other filmmaker more credit for my love of film than Mr. Tarantino. His films and distinct style have shaped who I am as a film goer and film lover. You can even see it in his movies how much of a film nut he is as well. Another one of those filmmakers who has never made a bad film. Please don’t retire QT!!

Notable films: Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Django Unchained

What’s next? Nothing has been announced, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was another western.

14. Denis Villeneuve

I think cinema is a tool to explore our shadows.

Why? He has been on a bit of a hot-streak over the past few years. He released his most acclaimed film last year in Arrival, and will release his biggest film this year in Blade Runner 2049. 

Notable films: Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, Arrival

What’s next? Besides that little Star Wars film, probably the most anticipated movie of the year!

15. Edgar Wright

Everything that I’ve done so far has had a bigger budget than the last, but I’ve never ever felt the benefit of the bigger budget because the ideas always exceed the budget.

Why? Because he’s a bona-fide film nerd. Just check out his 1000 favorite films of all time! He also has this unique, fast-paced style of filmmaking that can’t be matched. Probably the best comedic director working today.

Notable films: Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

What’s next? His new film called Baby Driver which will debut at the South by Southwest film festival this year. It’s one of my most anticipated films of 2017!

4 Comments

  1. Keith

    Fine fine list. You cover most of my favorites. I would probably include Jeff Nichols for me. I know he has only made five films but I think all are fantastic and offer up a very unique cinematic voice. And while you addressed foreign directors in your opening, I just adore the films of Haneke and Farhadi.

    Reply
    1. Brendan Bellavia (Post author)

      Yes, Jeff Nichols is another director I love as well! I thought Mud was such a great film. I can see in a decade or so him going down as one of the best filmmakers of our time. He has such great potential…Amour and A Separation are both masterpieces, so Haneke & Fardahi absolutely deserve to be acknowledged!

      Reply
  2. dbmoviesblog

    Excellent list! I like that you include Kathryn Bigelow and Edgar Wright in your list. I would probably also include Sam Mendes. I just love his films. Hehe, and I also enjoy not seeing Aronofsky in your list. I really have a big issue with that director every time he touches a big budget production.

    Reply
    1. Brendan Bellavia (Post author)

      Yes, I am a big fan of Sam Mendes as well. I’m looking forward to see him do something besides a James Bond film. And Aronofsky last directing Noah was a big reason why I didn’t include him on here. It was such a disappointing film from such a big talent. He has a film coming out this year with Jennifer Lawrence that might bring him back on track. We shall see. Thanks for reading!

      Reply

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