Last week amidst the frenzy of Oscar coverage, Entertainment Weekly published an article that ranks the 25 Greatest Working Directors. Their list received much criticism from online writers and tweeters for giving too much credit to 2010 directors and for appearing “xenophobic” in their refusal to acknowledge more than two foreign filmmakers. Their list also focused heavily on mainstream filmmakers whose movies are more widely seen than some independent filmmakers who often get better reviews.
The complete list published by Entertainment Weekly was: 1) David Fincher, 2) Christopher Nolan, 3) Steven Spielberg, 4) Martin Scorsese, 5) Darren Aronofsky, 6) Joel and Ethan Coen, 7) Quentin Tarantino, 8) Terrence Malick, 9) Clint Eastwood, 10) Pedro Almodovar, 11) Paul Thomas Anderson, 12) Guillermo Del Toro, 13) Roman Polanski, 14) Danny Boyle, 15) Kathryn Bigelow, 16) David O. Russell, 17) David Lynch, 18) James Cameron, 19) Peter Jackson, 20) Edgar Wright, 21) Spike Lee, 22) J.J. Abrams, 23) Brad Bird, 24) Mike Leigh, 25) Wes Anderson
Any attempt at such a list is opening the doors for criticism as any form of list-making is completely subjective and largely dependent on taste. The criteria for EW’s list is not clearly stated, but briefly alluded to with the sentence: “we’re counting down the most talented, in-demand filmmakers behind the camera today.” This would imply that Box Office performance and Awards recognition were taken into consideration when compiling the list. Even though the evidence they cite for why a filmmaker is great includes their greatest hits of the past, the list seems to be very forward looking, which would explain why Darren Aronofsky who has made one or two excellent films is higher ranked than Woody Allen who has made nearly a dozen masterpieces.
With the criteria given, the Entertainment Weekly list is reasonable, but I still feel they made a number of mistakes. Being the smug, know-it-all twenty something that I am I have decided to revamp the EW list and substitute it with my own which I will claim is superior. I’m also looking to enlist Film Misery leaders to help me create a proper list of the 25 Greatest Working Film Directors.
Criteria: I wanted to be clear and specific about how I would be creating this list so as to not create any confusion. I have decided to treat the list like a Fantasy Football team, meaning I am ranking them based on how I project their future performance will be. The order of preference will be determined by: 1) My personal preference, 2) Critical reception to their recent films, 3) Awards success of their films, 4) Box Office performance of their films.
The (Revamped) 25 Greatest Working Directors
25) Ang Lee – Despite a miss with Taking Woodstock, he is still a very well-respected director who will get Awards buzz every time he releases a new film.
24) Danny Boyle – His last two films have been nominated for Best Picture and his films from earlier in his career remain among the greatest of their respective deacades.
23) Woody Allen – For every Scoop there is a Match Point. For every You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger there is a Vicky Cristina Barcelona. He may never approach the level of brilliance from a few decades ago, but his films are always highly anticipated.
22) Werner Herzog – One of the few directors who has already proven himself a great director, yet continues to challenge the conceptions that have been established.
21) Arnaud Desplechin – The French director behind two of the most critically acclaimed films of the aughts – Kings & Queen and A Christmas Tale. I can’t wait to see the stark and realistic drama he stirs up next.
20) Edgar Wright – The Academy may never embrace his brilliance, but as long as he maintains his frenetic and perfectly timed comedic direction he should never lose his fans.
19) Sam Mendes – In my opinion one of the most underrated directors of the past decade since American Beauty rocked the Oscars. I predict it’s only a matter of time before his next Oscar nomination.
18) Paul Greengrass – As proof that the Bourne movies are not his one trick pony, check out his brilliant 2006 effort United 93, which earned him a Best Director nomination.
17) Pedro Almodovar – Like Woody Allen, Almodovar has already proven himself as a legendary director yet continues to output new films that reflect his established personal style. His films are huge hits internationally and always favorites for Best Foreign Film.
16) Wes Anderson – His original style has inspired many imitators, but nobody quite masters the quirkiness like Wes Anderson.
15) Christopher Nolan – This crowd-pleasing director is most likely to inspire me to see his films at a midnight showing. With his last several efforts he has proven that with a huge budget he can turn any story into Box Office and Awards gold.
14) Steven Soderbergh – He recently announced his retirement from directing films, but not before first directing three major upcoming productions. Face it, he’s never going to retire and the world of cinema is all the better for it.
13) Alfonso Cuaron – He has been quiet since his masterful 2006 effort Children of Men, but he has never missed and has several major projects in the works.
12) David Lynch – Who knows what is coming next from this enigmatic filmmaker, but whatever it is you can count on his legion of fans (of which I count myself) to come out in droves.
11) Peter Jackson – The Hobbit: Part 1 and The Hobbit: Part 2. Enough said.
10) David Fincher – Entertainment Weekly was on the right track with their ranking of David Fincher, but they forgot about a lot of excellent ones who didn’t have 2010 films released. Still I’ll always anticipate a Fincher film.
9) Terence Malick – Sure he only releases a film once every ten years or so, but the whole cinematic world seems to stop when he does.
8) Guillermo del Toro – Epic filmmaker whose recent work has established him as one of the most imaginative directors working.
7) Martin Scorcese – Three out of his last four films were nominated for Best Picture and all of his works have great performances, great themes, and brilliant…direction.
6) Michael Haneke – One of the greatest all-time foreign directors whose recent works include Cache, Funny Games, and The White Ribbon. You can expect his next several releases to make a splash at the Cannes Film Festival and among the art house crowd.
5) Alexander Payne – Two of my favorite films of all-time came in the last decade from Alexander Payne. He’s been out of the feature film world since 2004, but he has two films planned for the next two years.
4) Quentin Tarantino – This revolutionary modern filmmaker has never made a bad movie and shouldn’t be expected to do so anytime soon.
3) David Cronenberg – His films are smart and artistic and it is only a matter of time before one of them becomes the Oscar favorite and takes home the top prize. He’s due.
2) Paul Thomas Anderson – Whether it’s an ensemble film or an intense character study, PTA will master it. Who will be the next actor or actress he leads to Oscar and Awards attention?
1) Joel and Ethan Coen – Even if the Coen brothers mess up and release a film that is bad by Coens’ standards, chances are it is still one of the best films of its year. Two of the most original filmmakers working and decades from now will likely find their way onto lists of the top 10 directors of all-time.
Those are mine. Which working filmmakers are your favorite?