Filmmaking is not an easy business. It takes a lot of skill and hard work to get a film right, to make a quality film that appeals to a lot of people. Humans are notoriously hard to please so if the majority agree you’ve done a good job then you must have done a fantastic one. There’s not many individuals who can do this on a consistent basis which makes the ones who can all the more special. Actors and actresses get a lot of plaudits but it’s the directors who really make a film what it is. In 2016 Fashion Industry Broadcast will be showcasing some of the best directors in history with our book series editions Immortals and Living Legends. While some of films greatest directors may have come and gone already there are a few terrific men and women still plying their trade. To set off the journey towards celebrating the greats, here are the twelve best directors, in no particular order, currently working today. These are the artists who rarely fail, and stand out with their unique styles and vision.
1. Derek Cianfrance
Cianfrance doesn’t have a lot of credits to his name but what he’s done has made a big splash. Best known for his collaborations with Ryan Gosling on Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond The Pines, he’s got an incredible knack for filming beautiful and poignant scenes. His films feel extremely authentic. The characters seem as real as you or I and the camera often feels like it’s spying on people rather than filming them. Blue Valentine was a very tender and personal film that was minutely focused on one family as they came together, and then later as they fell apart. His use of time-jumping never feels awkward or distracting which is a hard thing to achieve, many a filmmaker has found the task beyond them. The Place Beyond The Pines was just as emotionally raw and spanned even bigger periods in time, making it somewhat of an epic, and played out like a Greek tragedy. It was an extremely ambitious film that could have failed spectacularly but somehow Cianfrance pulled it off.
His next film is called The Light Bewteen Oceans, set in Australia and starring a couple of ‘it’ actors at the moment in Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander.
2. Denis Villeneuve
Villeneuve has now unmistakably become one of the best in Hollywood with three amazing films back to back. Prisoners, Enemy, and Sicario are all linked by their darkness, grittiness and realism despite being quite different films. Villeneuve is a perfectionist when it comes to authentic filmmaking, using only natural light for the entirety of Sicario. A signature note of his films is a sense of mystery and unease. The audience thinks they know what is going on but they can’t help the feeling of tension that continues to build up inside of them. He’s a master of quiet menace and has the ability to make any shot seem thrilling. He’s also famously refused to explain the meanings behind Enemy, one of the most perplexing films (and at times scary) seen in a long time.
His next project promises to be so so good, it doesn’t have a title yet but is either a sequel or reboot of Blade Runner starring Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling.
3. Wes Anderson
Anderson has possibly the most unique and recognisable style in Hollywood. His symmetrical shots and colourful aesthetics are one of a kind, and although every scene is usually very contrived he still somehow manages to make you believe in the story he is telling, even when using the same actors in a lot of his films (we’re looking at you Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and Adrian Brody). He balances quirky humour with dark, depressing emotions so perfectly it seems impossible. Most often he makes you laugh ecstatically and cry from melancholy in the same film, a rare feat. He also has impeccable taste when it comes to sound tracking and it always adds a lot to his films. As his career has gone on his signature has become more and more pronounced culminating with the brilliant The Grand Budapest Hotel. However some of his best work was also done earlier in his career with The Royal Tenenbaums.
4. Alejandro González Iñárritu
When you win best director at the Oscars one year and are highly touted to win it again the next year you must be doing something right. With Birdman in 2014 this man created something completely original, doing an introspective twist on the superhero story, which is very hard to do these days. He also made it a truly immersive experience by choosing to edit the entire film as though it was shot all in one take. It was a true piece of creative cinematic gold and deserved the accolades it received. He’s a man who demands the absolute best from his performers and pushes them to their limits. It’s been well documented how harsh the conditions were for the actors on his next project The Revenant. Leonardo DiCaprio slept in an animal carcass, if that’s not commitment I don’t know what is. You might say he goes too far but how far is too far when it’s in the name of art?
5. Nicholas Winding Refn
Here’s a man who doesn’t really care what the critics say or what the audience thinks. He makes the films he wants to make and says the things he wants to say and trusts someone out there will like them. All that matters is if he himself likes them. It takes a brave man to do that in the film industry, and Refn is a very interesting man at that. After all, you have to make a living. This is why reactions to his films have ranged from ‘masterpiece’ down to ‘unwatchable’. He’s polarising but there is no denying his vision. His films are generally arty and are always impeccably shot and scored. He put Tom Hardy right on the map with Bronson and gave Ryan Gosling his cult status with Drive. It just so happened that most of the world loved Drive and he won best director at the Cannes film festival. Drive hits the perfect middle ground between style and substance, as well as combining drama and romance with extreme action and violence. It also created one of the most intriguing characters in recent memory.
True to form his follow-up Only God Forgives was booed at Cannes. While it was a lot more abstract it was no less beautiful.
6. Quentin Tarantino
You can’t really talk about films without talking about Tarantino. No other director has the same ability to be as thoroughly entertaining as Tarantino is. Reservoir Dogs was a heist movie which involved more talking than heisting and yet you couldn’t take your eyes off the screen. The man is unsurpassable when it comes to writing dialogue and creating characters that will catch the audience. Pulp Fiction is a film that will forever be a classic. Tarantino has a perspective that is all his own, evidenced by his outrageous but pointed films Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained. He’s very particular when casting for his films, ignoring status and simply searching for who fits the role perfectly. This approach has worked wonders for some performers. He catapulted Christoph Waltz from anonymity to stardom with his character Hans Landa. He’s also quite eccentric and a stickler for detail. Apparently he lets no actor on set unless they leave their mobile phone behind. He doesn’t mind showing his true feelings in interviews either. A larger than life man.
His next film The Hateful Eight promises to be just as good.
7. Ben Affleck
Yes, Ben Affleck the actor is also one of the most promising directors going around at the moment. Every time he has made his behind the scenes he’s met with success. Probably the most traditional on this list in terms of style, he doesn’t overplay his hand. Everything is just done right, with just the right amount of emphasis. His stories are entirely original but he balances everything so well that his films have a tremendous sense of flow. They never bore you and they never seem slow. His third feature, Argo won best picture at the Oscars. It’s hard not to be impressed with that but what’s even better is that his debut Gone, Baby, Gone was almost as good.
8. David O. Russell
When it comes to watching good drama, look no further than this man. He has the genre more or less perfected. Watching his films is like having a belly full of butterflies while also being lightly tickled on the foot. Often you feel tense and engaged on the drama but all of a sudden a smile will appear on your face as he injects humour at just the right moment. That doesn’t stop his punchy scenes from hitting ever so hard though. He’s a master at capturing life and displaying it as fiction. The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook have been two recent mammoth accomplishments. He turned Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper into two of Hollywood’s most respected performers with the latter and they reunite on his next project Joy.
9. The Coen Brothers
These two come as a package and what a package it is. Funny, moving, and philosophical. They have everything one could need from a film. From Fargo to The Big Lebowski over a decade ago to No Country For Old Men they’re famous for combining eccentricity with wry humour, irony and often brutal violence they manage to snapshot life better than most. In 2013, they made Inside Llewyn Davis, showing a few days in the life of a struggling folk musician. The premise doesn’t sound overly impressive but the film was truly beautiful and interesting and also showed just what Oscar Isaac can do as an actor.
Their upcoming project Hail, Caesar! promises to be a delight.
10. Martin Scorcese
Scorcese has been at the game a long time, since the 1960’s in fact and he’s still got it. When it comes to filming Americana and the rise and fall of people in society no one does it better. His stories are often tragedies and deal with utterly compelling characters who reach high highs and low lows. What makes him so impressive is that when talking about his best films you could mention Taxi Driver from 1976, Goodfellas from 1990, or The Wolf Of Wall Street from 2013. His ability to craft great films has never wavered. He is a pure director who has been able to not just keep up with a changing industry, but continue to dominate it. He’s formed an indestructible partnership with Leonardo DiCaprio over the years and they combined for the near faultless The Departed, which makes this years Black Mass look very poor in comparison.
His next film is titled Silence, something he’s also well known for utilising.
11. David Fincher
Widely regarded as one of the best, Fincher has a remarkable body of work and doesn’t seem to get bogged down in one genre despite all his films being ‘serious’. He’s known to be very pedantic on set, refusing to move on until a scene is absolutely perfect. He’s directed psychological thrillers (Fight Club, Gone Girl), serial killer mysteries (Seven, Zodiac), cultural dramas (The Social Network) and moving fables (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) succeeding in most, if not all, of them. He’s a master of suspense and intrigue and if there was ever a film where you couldn’t afford a bathroom break, it’s one directed by David Fincher. Every minute is one where you learn something new. With someone as good as Fincher it’s hard to pick a highlight of his career so far but his most recent direction on Gone Girl is as good as any. I mean he managed to put Neil Patrick Harris in a thriller and still make it work. The man is a genius.
It’s recently been rumoured that he will direct The Girl Who Played With Fire, a sequel to 2011’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
12. Kathryn Bigelow
It’s a sad state of affairs when she is the only woman on the list (and the only one smiling) but that’s how it is in Hollywood at the moment, unfortunate though it may be. Despite a pretty long career her major film credits are few but she’s done very well when she has made a film. 1991’s Point Break is a classic and 2008’s The Hurt Locker was simply gripping and remains the best thing Jeremy Renner has ever done. She was also given the delicate job of directing the film based on the killing of Osama Bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty. That one gave Jessica Chastain a Golden Globe for best actress and a nomination at the Oscars. Bigelow hasn’t signed onto a feature film since then but when she does, we’ll be waiting.
So there we have it, the twelve (a completely arbitrary number) best directors in Hollywood. Who do you agree with and who would you add to the list? Remember to keep an eye out for our Living Legends and Immortals book series editions on directors in 2016.