The 25 Best Movie Directors of the 21st Century
The 21st century has provided some of the greatest films in cinema history created by master directors around the world. The following is a listing of directors that have made some of the most memorable and acclaimed films of the century thus far.
25. Chan-wook Park
21st Century notable films include: Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), Oldboy (2003), Lady Vengeance (2005), Thirst (2009), Stoker (2013), The Handmaiden (2016)
A former film critic, South Korean director Chan-wook Park gained international prominence during the 21st Century with his “Vengeance Trilogy” consisting of 2002’s Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, 2003’s Oldboy, and 2005’s Lady Vengeance. Park’s films are known for their extreme violence, immaculate visuals, and unexpected plot twists.
Park’s most acclaimed film Oldboy won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival and was also nominated for the Palme d’Or. 2016’s The Handmaiden was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes as well, and won multiple critic’s association awards throughout the year.
24. Joon-ho Bong
21st Century notable films include: Memories of Murder (2003), The Host (2006), Mother (2009), Snowpiercer (2013)
South Korean director Joon-ho Bong has proven to be one of the most interesting directors in 21st century film. His films often take refreshing takes on various genres, using dark humor alongside serious subject matter. Memories of Murder, perhaps Bong’s most acclaimed film to date, is loosely based on the true story of South Korea’s first serial killer case.
The film focuses on two detectives, one from the local rural area, and one from the city who work together to solve the murders. Similar to other Bong films, Memories of Murder uses a unique mixture of suspense and humor to tell its story, along with social commentary on Korean politics and society.
In 2013 director Quentin Tarantino cited Bong’s Memories of Murder and The Host among his top 20 films of the past 20 years saying, “Of all the filmmakers out there in the last 20 years, he has something that 1970s Spielberg has. There is this level of entertainment and comedy in his films. The Host and Memories of Murder are both masterpieces, great in their own way.”
23. Bela Tarr
21st Century notable films include: Werckmeister Harmonies (2000), The Turin Horse (2011)
Known for his slow paced extended tracking shots, desolate backgrounds, and black and white cinematography, Bela Tarr is a challenging director whose films are reminiscent of the legendary director Andrei Tarkovsky. Tarr’s 2000 film Werckmeister Harmonies consists of only 39 shots over a 2 ½ hour period.
Set in a small town in Hungary during the Soviet era, Werckmeister Harmonies tells the story of a small village disturbed by the arrival of a circus and its main attraction, a giant whale. Tarr’s 2011 film The Turin Horse consists of only 30 shots over a 2 ½ hour period, showing the repetitive daily lives of a rural farmer, his daughter, and their horse.
Tarr would describe his premise as, “We just wanted to see how difficult and terrible it is when every day you have to go to the well and bring the water, in summer, in winter… all the time. The daily repetition of the same routine makes it possible to show that something is wrong with their world. It’s very simple and pure.”
Tarr announced his retirement from directing film in 2011, however his body of work remains as a haunting and beautiful portrayal of society.
22. Jonathan Glazer
21st Century notable films include: Sexy Beast (2000), Birth (2004), Under the Skin (2013)
Jonathan Glazer began his career directing television commercials and music videos, including Jamiroquai’s popular 1996 video ‘Virtual Insanity’. Heavily influenced by Stanley Kubrick, Glazer’s films are reminiscent of the great director in both style and visual. Glazer is patient with his pace of work, having only made 3 films in 17 years.
His 2013 film Under the Skin would take 9 years to complete, as Glazer strived to make the film under his own terms with no compromise. Under the Skin was hailed as a masterpiece by many critics, and voted the best film of 2014 in several year-end rankings including the website rogerebert.com.
21. Steve McQueen
21st Century notable films include: Hunger (2008), Shame (2011), 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Steve McQueen burst onto the film scene during the past decade, creating 3 unique and memorable films. His first feature film Hunger (2008) was based on the 1981 Irish hunger strike against the British government. Shame (2011), told the story of an executive struggling with sex addiction. 12 Years a Slave (2013) was an adaptation of the memoir of Solomon Northup, a black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery.
McQueen collaborated with actor Michael Fassbender in all three of these films, and Fassbender was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar in 12 Years a Slave. 12 Years a Slave would go on to win Best Picture at the 2014 Academy Awards making McQueen the first black director to win a best picture Oscar. TIME magazine listed McQueen as one of the 100 most Influential people in the world in 2014.
20. Wes Anderson
21st Century notable films include: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), The
Darjeeling Limited (2007), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), Moonrise Kingdom (2012), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Wes Anderson’s films have a highly distinctive quality which sets him apart from other directors of the 21st century. The characters in his films are quirky, eccentric, and quick witted, and his directorial style is colorful with distinct visuals.
Anderson has a history of critical acclaim with his films. The Royal Tenenbaums was nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar, Fantastic Mr. Fox was nominated for a Best Animated Film Oscar, and Moonrise Kingdom was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and a Best Screenplay Oscar.
Anderson’s most acclaimed film to date The Grand Budapest Hotel was nominated for Best Picture and Best Screenplay at the 2015 Academy Awards, and Anderson received his first Oscar nomination for Best Director. Three of Anderson’s films (The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Grand Budapest Hotel) were included in the BBC’s 2016 poll of the 100 greatest films of the 21st century.
19. Clint Eastwood
21st Century notable films include: Space Cowboys (2000), Blood Work (2002), Mystic River (2003), Million Dollar Baby (2004), Flags of Our Fathers (2006), Letter from Iwo Jima (2006), Changeling (2008), Gran Torino (2008), Invictus (2009), Hereafter (2010), J. Edgar (2011), American Sniper (2014), Sully (2016)
Clint Eastwood may best be remembered for his 20th century work including films like Unforgiven and The Outlaw Josey Wales, however Eastwood’s directing filmography in the 21st century is among the most impressive with multiple Best Picture nominations and actors in award-winning performances.
Eastwood’s 21st century films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar include Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Letters from Iwo Jima, and American Sniper. Million Dollar Baby won the Best Picture Oscar in 2005 along with Eastwood winning Best Director, Hilary Swank winning Best Actress, and Morgan Freeman winning Best Supporting Actor.
Sean Penn won a Best Actor Oscar for his role in Mystic River along with a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Tim Robbins. American Sniper set box office records for the largest January release ever and was also the largest opening ever for an Eastwood film.
18. Jacques Audiard
21st Century notable films include: Read My Lips (2001), The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2005), A Prophet (2009), Rust and Bone (2012), Dheepan (2015)
If you are aware of the work of any contemporary French director, it is probably Jacques Audiard. Audiard has made films that keep their arthouse identity while also connecting with a more mainstream international audience. Audiard has also contributed to making French films more diverse in cast and plot; 2015’s Dheepan, a story of a Sri Lankan immigrant in the outskirts of Paris is an example of this.
Audiard has said, “I like to think that the whole point of cinema is to show you the world as it is. And we’re only getting a faint impression of that. When I open my front door and step out into the street, I’m not seeing French cinema walk by. It’s all about representing different faces, languages, idioms, pronunciations, the lot.”
Audiard has won both the Cesar Award for Best Film and the BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Language Film twice. Audiard’s A Prophet was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, and won the Grand Jury Prize and was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. Rust and Bone was also nominated for the Palme d’Or in 2012, and Dheepan won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2015.