5. Bong Joon-Ho
Park Chan-wook in many ways is still the fan favorite when it comes to South Korean directors. But Bong Joon-Ho, a younger director with a spotless resume spanning over this century, has gradually approached the throne.
And he’s done so with comedies, crime films, satirical horror, and dystopian sci-fi. He can do a jackknife of genres, and now he’s going in the action-adventure route with Okja. It debuted at Cannes at the beginning of the week and received positive feedback for its levels of energy and heart. Be on the lookout for its release on June 28th in the States.
American audiences were introduced to Joon-Ho through the cult-hit Snowpiercer. It still only made a little over $4M of its $82M take in the U.S., but its unique mixture of wacky sci-fi elements and unrelenting movement caught on later with DVD releases. And it seems the director is six-for-six after following up Snowpiercer with a film much lighter but with—according to critics—nearly equal impact.
Joon-Ho isn’t waiting long to get back behind the camera. He has another film, Parasite, set to be released next year, and by the title, it sounds like he’ll be shifting genre focus once again. He’s certainly one of the best at it.
4. Yorgos Lanthimos
The reviews are rolling in from Cannes, and Yorgos Lanthimos has another crowd-pleaser in The Killing of the Sacred Deer.
Lanthimos is earning admiration as the next great surrealist filmmaker, and the movie itself is being considered perfectly unsettling. This is his follow-up to the Oscar-nominated The Lobster, the dark comedy that explores society’s tension placed on individuals to find soulmates.
For as abstract as some themes are around the madcap plot of The Lobster, Lanthimos never loses control of a forward-moving narrative. He manages to more than get his points across too in this depressing world, but doesn’t become the least bit sentimental toward his characters in doing so.
The director has grown a lot over this young century, and while Dogtooth is in many ways his best picture, The Lobster was what projected him to a larger audience. That’s partly in thanks to the vastly underrated Colin Farrell, who also stars in Sacred Deer. With a November release, look for Lanthimos’ newest to make a firm Oscars push.
He’s a shade or two away from Charlie Kaufman and David Cronenberg and seems to be a long-lost relative of David Lynch. He’s unlike anyone else on this list in the weirdest and best of ways. That won’t suite all moviegoers, but it doesn’t have to. In this day-and-age, he’s the change of pace and vision that cinema needs with Lynch (hopefully not for good) out of the game.
3. Steve McQueen
He spent years toying with short films, but when Steve McQueen finally made Hunger, it’s an understatement to say it came out of nowhere.
His experience writing was even less defined, yet the engaging dialogue he helped put together for the film is a large reason why it succeeded. And his opener is absolutely fearless in every bit of brutality and struggle. Very rarely does a director open a career with a depiction this ambitious, but McQueen never shies from the harsh ways of the past.
That much was also exhibited in 12 Years a Slave, a film worth the watch even if it isn’t something easily digested. With an amazing cast to support his vision, McQueen’s raw and straightforward approach worked wonders. Though there were a wide array of films to choose for best picture that year, not just period dramas and biopics, this was a year where a film in those categories deserved the award.
We’ll have to wait a little longer than we desire for his next film, though with his uncut and ruthless style, the wait is more than worth it. He’ll be dipping into the crime genre next with Widows, a story of spouses who take the responsibilities of a robbery after their significant others are killed.
The director is working alongside Gone Girl writer Gillian Flynn for the screenplay. With the legend Robert Duvall, disparate powerhouses Colin Ferrell and Viola Davis, and rising stars Daniel Kluuya and Elizabeth Debicki, expect this November 2018 release to catch the eyes of academy voters.
2. Denis Villeneuve
There are plenty of directors these days who deliver one solid indie film and automatically thrust themselves into big-budget franchises. We saw it with Gareth Edwards, Colin Trevorrow, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, Josh Trank, and so on. And they obviously found mixed results.
But Denis Villeneuve’s trajectory has bided its time over the last two decades. From his first appearance at Cannes in 1998 (August 32nd On Earth) to his Oscar-nominated Arrival, Villeneuve has never made an insincere or pretentious work. And after slowly building up to bigger and bigger productions, he’s finally set to take his career to the next phase.
Blade Runner 2049, Villeneuve’s latest, is the most expensive R-rated movie in history, with a $200M budget. There’s certainly some reason to worry that the follow-up to the 1982 classic Blade Runner will pander to general moviegoers with that kind of budget. But if there’s anyone who can please the devoted fans of the original and quell the uncertainties of Fox executives, it’s Villeneuve.
Though it could easily be a box office bomb, 2049 could also be the launchpad Villeneuve needs to officially become the king of sci-fi blockbusters. James Cameron’s next film is still far off and Christopher Nolan has moved on to another genre (for now), so why not? And after 2049, Villeneuve will be taking on Dune, another sci-fi cornerstone.
It’s an ambitious goal wanting to wrestle both projects. But he’s made his mark in the genre already, and mixing his attention to detail with such multifaceted works could earn him praise few in his generation will ever obtain.
1. Paul Thomas Anderson
Putting P.T. on this list is a little bit of a cheat, considering you’d be out of your mind to not consider him one of the best over the last 10 years. But there’s no reason to say history won’t repeat itself.
A little over two decades ago, Anderson made Hard Eight, where its force of character keeps you invested no matter how much the story slows down. Boogie Nights was next, and it would become a cinematic catapult for the director’s career.
Anderson has gone to all corners of the map in terms of setting. He’s done a movie revolving around the porn industry, one about a Navy veteran in a cult, and another taking place on the California frontier over a century ago. And he’s a chameleon, no matter where he decides to go.
And among such varied backgrounds are sincere, if always conflicted, protagonists to latch onto. Even in Inherent Vice, a movie that can become a tad incoherent to some, there’s a sprinkling of smart humor and the charming Joaquin Phoenix to deliver it. Actors like Phoenix, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Julianne Moore—the last two Oscar winners—have done or will be doing multiple projects with him. Though top-of-the-line talent does help out, actors flock to directors just as much as the other way around.
And since Anderson’s next film, Phantom Thread, involves another pairing with Day-Lewis, don’t be expecting a step back from P.T. anytime soon.