6. Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan occupies a place in Hollywood that many filmmakers envy; a big studio giving him millions of dollars to make whatever his heart desires. However, he isn’t in this position because of the goodwill of others. He’s a modern filmmaker with an old school method of working whose films make money at the box office.
Before “The Dark Knight” came out, no one ever considered a superhero film to be Oscar worthy. Whereas Steven Spielberg goes back and forth between fun blockbuster films and serious dramas, Nolan tries to mix the two. Often criticized for his over-expositional scripts and the cold soulless tones of his pictures, Nolan’s films are, if anything, well constructed.
Did “Memento” deserve the Best Picture and Best Director nomination? Maybe so. “The Prestige” and “The Dark Knight” showed his skill for high concept ideas that work. “Inception” saw the director getting snubbed while the film got Best Picture and other technical awards.
“Interstellar” looked like the film to get him his first directing nomination. Aside from its polarizing reception, it seemed to fit perfectly into the type of films the Academy loves. But alas, it was another Nolan film that got nominated in most categories except for Nolan’s directing.
“Dunkirk,” on the other hand, may be the film that changes all of that. From editing, cinematography and sound design, a betting man would assume it’s a shoo-in at next year’s awards, in the same way that “Mad Max: Fury Road” was a few years earlier.
This also means that Nolan will undoubtedly score his first Best Director nomination. And now that he’s completed his superhero films and seems to be focusing more on high concept original stories, expect more nominations for Nolan as he career moves forward.
7. David Cronenberg
The creator/innovator of body horror has directed some Academy-nominated performances but has yet to get any for his directing. With more than 40 years in the industry and a versatile body of work, not all of David Cronenberg’s films are gross-out weird.
“The Fly” is not only one of the best remakes ever made, but one of Cronenberg’s best. It still has his trademark body horror, yet still achieved the mainstream success his other weirder films could only dream of. It’s a superbly crafted and heartbreaking film with the performances and effects to boot. Slowly and quietly building until it reaches a devastating climax.
As great as it would’ve been to see a film like “Videodrome” at the Oscars, there’s no chance that would ever happen. “Crash” and “A History of Violence,” on the other hand, are a different story. While “Crash” has a bonkers premise that borders on the pornographic with an alternative sexual fetish, Cronenberg’s clinical directing and visuals made what seemed crazy on paper work on screen.
“A History of Violence” is the biggest snub the director ever received from the Oscars. Viggo Mortensen called it one of, if not the best films he’s ever been in. Taking a slow build and exploring violence and that age-old saying about the past always catching up with you, Cronenberg racked up accolades for his work but was left out of the Oscars in a year where his name could’ve been included with some questionable nominees.
8. David Lynch
It’s been more than 10 years since David Lynch graced us with a feature film but at least we’ve gotten some of his trademark surrealism in the awesome “Twin Peaks” revival this year. Whether we get another film from Lynch is anybody’s guess, but he can sleep easy knowing he’s left behind an impeccable body of work.
True, most of Lynch’s films are too weird to make an impact at the Oscars, although his versatility has earned him three Best Director nominations. It’s the influences of classic films that he incorporates into his own that gives him Academy potential.
Lynch’s second feature “The Elephant Man” is the closest he’s ever come to making an “awards film” aside from “The Straight Story” which doesn’t include his trademark weirdness. Nominated for eight Oscars, “The Elephant Man” started the Best Hair and Makeup category the following year and got Lynch his first nod for directing.
With “Blue Velvet,” critics were at first unsure what to make of the film; some loved it, some hated it, and it was controversially discussed for its violence and misogyny. Of course, it got its full due and is hailed as a classic today. What can’t be denied is Lynch’s directing, which pulls you into the suburban nightmare and doesn’t let up until its climax.
“Mulholland Drive” was perhaps the film for which many thought Lynch would win. Ron Howard ended up winning for the terribly aged “A Beautiful Mind” when Lynch made the better film. “Mulholland Drive” pulled the curtain on Hollywood showbiz for one confusing but fun journey. Multiple scenes stand as some of Lynch’s best work and cemented his position as one of the last remaining legendary filmmakers of a bygone era.
9. Steve McQueen
Aside from sharing his name with a legendary actor, English director Steve McQueen has carved out his own path as an exciting director. With only a sparse body of work that includes three films to date, McQueen has already made a name for himself for his honest, challenging and visually arresting films.
You could classify McQueen’s films as art films but they are made with such grace that you never feel the pretentiousness you would with other art films. Long before “12 Years a Slave” turned him into a household name, McQueen made some of the most must-see films with difficult subject matter.
“Hunger” is a haunting film that started his winning collaboration with Michael Fassbender; a true-life story that could’ve been told in a manipulative way, yet takes the simple and effective way. One of the great debuts in recent times that takes a philosophical route into martyrdom.
While “Shame” cemented Fassbender as one of the best actors working in the game today, its dark subject matter kept it away from mainstream success. “Shame” was undoubtedly one of the best pictures of its year, providing an unflinching view on addiction that deserved countless nominations aside from Best Director.
Alfonso Cuarón ended up winning Best Director for “Gravity” with “12 Years a Slave” winning Best Picture, making McQueen the first black person to accomplish that feat, which in itself is a huge accomplishment. Five years later, we’re yet to get another McQueen picture, but based on his already impressive body of work, it would be a shame if he never takes home the directing award.
10. Denis Villeneuve
Over the last couple of years, Denis Villeneuve has risen to become one of the most exciting filmmakers working today and everyone’s favorite new director. He makes intelligent films that are flawless works of art.
It may have taken time for the world to take note of Villeneuve’s presence with “Prisoners,” establishing him to the English speaking world as a director to watch. “Enemy” proved that “Prisoners” was no fluke with its mindfuck storytelling and imagery that sits high on everyone’s recommendation list.
When “Sicario” arrived a year later, there was no denying that Villeneuve was a major talent. His gripping and compelling storytelling made “Sicario” a must-see modern classic. “Arrival” started turning the tide, receiving numerous nominations including Villeneuve’s first directing nod. In a year that saw Damien Chazelle take home the trophy for the overrated “La La Land,” Villeneuve’s true competition was Barry Jenkins for “Moonlight” and Kenneth Lonergan for “Manchester by the Sea.”
It’s shocking on how many levels “Arrival” works. Standing as one of the best directed films of 2016, no one would’ve objected if Villeneuve took the Oscar for Best Director.
Now that “Blade Runner 2049” has established Villeneuve as the new science fiction king, it’ll be interesting to see if his work will earn him his second nomination in what’s one of the best directed films of the years so far.
There’s no question that Villeneuve’s consistent filmography keeps getting more impressive with each new film he makes, and he’s on his way to becoming a legendary filmmaker who makes challenging films with a wide variety of intelligent topics.