20. Jennifer Lynch
While she has endured some Terry Gilliam-level of bad luck throughout her career (namely in the production debacles involving her films Boxing Helena and Hisss), Jennifer Lynch has still managed to continue making films over the years and, despite the odds, seems to just keep getting better at it. T
here was a fifteen-year gap between her troubled debut, 1993’s Boxing Helena, and her follow-up, the darkly twisted and ingeniously bent 2008 crime thriller, Surveillance (which is easily the best film of her career to date).
In that time, Lynch seemed to gain a great deal of craftsmanship and her style completely changed from emotionally influenced, slightly clumsy, and youthfully bold to something much more functional, boiled down, slightly nasty, and coldly capable.
This growth continued to show with extraordinary power in her follow-up to her 2010 film, Hisss (a butchered effort with a nightmarish production that is well-documented in the highly informative documentary Despite the Gods), 2012’s Chained.
While Chained is a flawed film with a weak ending, it also contains some of the strongest (and most emotionally brutal) work of Lynch’s career.
Since then Lynch has been directing quality television (she’s recently done episodes of The Walking Dead and Wayward Pines, amongst many others), and is presumably waiting out a slow and frustrating development for her quite long-awaited (though hopefully still alive) next film, A Fall From Grace, a mystery noir thriller set in St. Louis with a great cast headlined by Tim Roth.
19. Jeff Nichols
When commenting on his five feature film efforts (2007’s Shotgun Stories, 2011’s Take Shelter, 2013’s Mud, 2016’s Midnight Special, and the same year’s Loving) that have been (or are currently awaiting to be) released, the only thing that can easily be said about Jeff Nichols’ directorial career is that he wants to extend his personal touch and style to as many different genres and topics of humanity as possible.
Everything else, most notably intentions and outcomes, is quite open to interpretation in the best (and most intentionally beautiful) way. If he continues casting the great Michael Shannon in every one of his films (as he has done with the exception of Mud), he will most likely receive very little complaining from the universe at large.
18. Jill Soloway
For those looking for mature, adult-oriented comedic films with a female perspective, then one needs to look no further than the films of Jill Soloway. Actually, correction, that’s the one singular feature film, to date, of Jill Soloway: Afternoon Delight.
While Soloway is the only director on this list with only one current feature film under her belt (sorry, Alex Garland, but she represents you in spirit), she does have a solid amount of television credits to her name.
Although these credits are primarily in writing and producing, she has directed a number of episodes of her beloved television creation, Transparent. She currently has an Amazon film in development, titled I Love Dick, starring Kevin Bacon, Griffin Dunne, and Soloway’s Afternoon Delight lead, Kathryn Hahn.
17. Craig Johnson
Character-driven dramatic comedies that warrant theatrical releases of any kind (due to both quality and star power) are a rare find today.
Craig Johnson’s work is appearing that it might be able to help fill that void, especially after viewing his first two directorial efforts, the solid 2009 indie True Adolescents and the truly great 2014 Kristen Wiig/Bill Hader- starring dysfunctional family character study, The Skeleton Twins. His upcoming effort, the completed Daniel Clowes (Ghost World) graphic novel adaptation, Wilson, starring Woody Harrelson, will hopefully be a continuation of such work of quality and comedic intelligence.
16. Karen Moncrieff
Karen Moncrieff’s most recent directorial outings (2013’s The Trials of Kate McCall and the 2014 television adaptation of the V.C. Andrews novel Petals on the Wind), have been solid but rather watered down efforts that relied on some fairly common clichés.
Her talent and power behind the camera cannot be forgotten, however, and that is mainly due to the quality found within her first two directorial efforts, the 2002 independent teenage drama, Blue Car, and her masterfully made and horribly underrated 2006 follow-up, The Dead Girl.
Hopefully, Moncrieff will be able to bring her best qualities to genre material, as her next effort will be the Lee Pace and Carrie Coon-starring supernatural romance, The Keeping Hours.
15. Shane Black
When it comes to action-comedies, there’s really no one better in Hollywood at writing or directing them today than Shane Black.
Of course, he’s been able to keep good practice over the years, considering he started his career by writing Richard Donner’s 1987 classic comedic actioner, Lethal Weapon.
As evidenced by the two buddy action flicks he’s directed, 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and this year’s highly underappreciated The Nice Guys (not to mention his solid 2013 Marvel outing, Iron Man 3), no one delivers the comedic action blend today with as much wit, ingenuity, or audacity as Black.
Let’s hope that doesn’t get lost in his next effort, a studio-friendly and (hopefully) franchise-rebooting addition to the science fiction-action Predator series.
14. Martin McDonagh
Speaking of wit, ingenuity, and audacity, it doesn’t get much more of any of those than Martin McDonagh’s two feature film efforts to date, 2008’s In Bruges and 2012’s Seven Psychopaths.
The former playwright and current indie hipster darling’s work has a crackling combination of hyperbolic wit, graphic violence, and tonally daring, unapologetically wicked humor.
His next effort, the Frances McDormand-starring Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, sounds like it will be right on par with McDonagh’s other, greatly appreciated, efforts as a contemporary writer-director.
13. Mike Cahill
Mike Cahill’s two feature efforts as a writer-director, 2011’s Another Earth and 2014’s I Origins, are stunningly original science fiction dramas with (much-welcomed) adult themes and an almost other-worldly sense of whimsy and beauty.
The science fiction in his work is a wonderful backdrop that never pulls the main focus from the human drama or emotion in his work. Cahill is a truly original voice that, currently, hasn’t gotten the appreciation, notice, or respect it’s deserved or needed to keep more of his films coming at a steady rate.
12. Charlie Kaufman
Of course, Charlie Kaufman will always be known as the screenwriter who put John Cusack in John Malkovich’s head, put himself into his own absurdist screenplay adaptation, and who made Jim Carrey forget Kate Winslet was the dysfunctional love of his life.
His most recently-produced efforts, 2008’s Synecdoche, NY and 2015’s Anomalisa, were also projects he directed or (in the case of Anomalisa and with Duke Johnson) codirected.
If nothing else, both these films prove that no one is quite as uncompromising or adept at getting inside the absurdist/surrealist screenwriter’s head as Kaufman himself.
11. Carey Joji Fukunaga
While every feature Cary Joji Fukunaga has directed (2009’s Sin Nombre, 2011’s Jane Eyre, and, especially, 2015’s Beasts of No Nation) in his short career has been a bold, well-crafted piece of filmmaking, it is undeniably his masterful work in directing the first season of HBO’s True Detective in 2014 that has made him one of the closest things we have to a modern master filmmaker under forty years old working in Hollywood today.
With talks of helming Stanley Kubrick’s long-ago-abandoned Napolean project as a miniseries and his current attachment to directing the first two episodes of the comedy series, Maniac, it is looking most likely that Fukunaga will find his future home and voice in television.
The medium is almost irrelevant, however, as his talent will more than likely transcend whatever format his next directorial outing is produced within.