6. Christopher Nolan
Love him or hate him, Christopher Nolan has accomplished a lot over the past two decades. He’s built up his loyal Nolanite fan base by delivering in the science fiction, superhero, and crime genres. And nine films in, he’s yet to have a failure.
After the black-and-white Following garnered him attention, he made his first feature-length film, Memento. This is still considered his best film by a healthy number of critics, though The Dark Knight is easily his most popular work.
In terms of pure direction and editing, Memento takes the cake. In fact, Nolan is often criticized for some of the more technical aspects of his other films. But when it comes down to the story, and building magnificence and gravitas simultaneously within it, there’s no one better.
He won’t ever be Stanley Kubrick, but it’s hard to say Nolan’s not ambitious. Interstellar had all types of little issues, and even some bigger ones. But it’s hard to deny its overarching story, the beautifully encapsulating settings, and the reach it was trying to have.
The Prestige, Inception, and The Dark Knight Rises are more examples of flawed movies. But they all seem to be drowned out by interesting narratives and the ideas attached to them.
7. Wes Anderson
The other Anderson (no relation) on the list is Wes, an even more divisive director, but one equally as fascinating.
His whimsically artistic ways involve giving us one weird moment after another in a film and making it seem completely normal. And for some reason equally as strange, it works. Just not for everyone.
Though he has almost as many people who believe he’s overrated as he is masterful, Anderson brings a certain preciseness and flair to his sets that feel like a breath of fresh air. It’s hard to argue with at least the aesthetics of films like The Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeering Limited are probably two of his more divided performances behind the camera. But for those already hooked on the director’s work, they will still supply the masterful mix of humor and melancholia.
Anderson’s movies aren’t acquired taste. They’re whether fascinating or pointless and frustrating from the start, and that opinion will be a hard one to change. Though he’s occasionally discredited for using an overload of style in the place of substance, movies like Budapest, Rushmore, and even The Royal Tenenbaums, balance out just fine.
8. Alejandro Inarritu
No matter how overrated the general moviegoer finds The Revenant to be, winning back-to-back best director Oscars is impressive. Inarritu became only the third director to accomplish the feat (Joseph Mankiewicz and John Ford were the others), and the first in 65 years.
Birdman was one of the most polished and powerful movies of this decade, a tale so naturally told. Much of that thanks goes to Michael Keaton and the rest of the cast, but Inarritu was incredibly active with his camera work. And he created one of the most invigorating screenplays to match it.
The Revenant mixed beauty and brutality as Inarritu tested the will of himself and his talent. There were enough visuals looking up at trees and sky to fill a National Geographic documentary, but it was one captivating view after another.
Inarritu’s start came with the violent splendor of Amores Perros, and ultimately moved onto the influential 21 Grams and heady Babel. Biutiful may be the only work by the director not worthy of much recognition, as Javier Bardem elevates the material tenfold.
What he’ll do next is a mystery, but Inarritu is in the center of a group that will rule the Hollywood awards ceremonies for the coming years. He’ll have much competition from Denis Villeneuve, Damien Chazelle, and several other directors coming into their prime. But Inarritu already has the hardware to prove his worth, and he’s brought the goods time after time.
9. Hayao Miyazaki
The king of anime and considered the Japanese Walt Disney, Miyazaki is an Oscar-winner with barely any projects we can consider mediocre, much less poor.
Even to those not all that aware to the anime genre, such titles as Ponyo, Spirited Away, and Princess Mononoke probably ring a bell. That’s because they’re not only considered anime classics, but classic foreign films in general.
Spirited Away could easily be considered the best work in Japanese animation, such a masterpiece that it became the only Asian film to win best animated feature at the Oscars. Still, many think the rich and imaginative Princess Mononoke is the better movie. And Ponyo is not only a delightful children’s story, but one with constructive themes and a voice cast that includes Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, and Liam Neeson.
Miyazaki has never had a project that hasn’t established great worldbuilding and characters that defy convention. And if you’re more into judging someone on numbers, Miyazaki’s lowest directing score on Rotten Tomatoes is 87% (Howl’s Moving Castle and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind). And that’s with eleven directorial efforts to his credit.
10. Quentin Tarantino
He’s known for his stylistic decisions, ultra-violent scenes, engaging dialogue, and his usage of pop culture. It all blends together to give a rare type of experience.
There’s a bit of an asterisk beside Tarantino. He’s had eight of his own feature-length films, all of which are at least debatably enjoyable. The only places where the logic of such success may falter is if you include his first true film, My Best Friend’s Birthday.
While it shows small flashes of what was to start five years later with Reservoir Dogs, much of the film has been lost. It’s not feature-length anyway, so we’re throwing it out of consideration.
Tarantino took the 90’s by storm, starting with Reservoir Dogs. The film didn’t test his abilities behind the lens as much as the movies to follow, but it was handled in a way that made Tarantino seem like a seasoned veteran.
And along with that came one of many incredible scripts. He won best original screenplay in Pulp Fiction, a film many complain should’ve won best picture that year. In only his second film, Tarantino already had a classic that every film class professor will be using for a century to come.
Since then, Tarantino has come close to matching Fiction’s critical success, from his Kill Bill films, Inglourious Basterds, and Django Unchained. And even when he’s not on the top of his game, like in his duo with Robert Rodriguez in the Death Proof segments or with Jackie Brown, he still has a style that envelops his viewers.
And some may even tell you Jackie Brown is one of his better films, rather than a step down from them. That speaks to incredible consistency.