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The 25 Best Movie Directors of the 21st Century

08 March 2017 | Features, People Lists | by Andre Watkins

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

stoker-mia-wasikowska-park-chan-wook

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

best-bela-tarr-films

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

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

Steve McQueen & Michael Fassbender

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

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

director_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.

 

 

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  • Furk

    Gasper Noe? Paolo Sorrentino? Richard Linklater? Jim Jarmusch? Jane Campion? Yorgos Lanthimos?

    • AmazingAmy

      Those name who you mentioned alongside honorable mention deserved to be this list over Eastwood or Villeneuve
      Where is Spielberg ????

      • Pica Lima

        no one is over Villeneuve rigth now…

      • Mäts Verschueren

        Spielberg hasn’t made anything notable in the 21st century, his days are looong gone mate 🙂

        • Franco Gonzalez

          Yeah sure, watch Lincoln for crist sake! Bridge of Spies too.. He has even become a more subtle filmmaker

  • Hank

    Without Linklater this list is a joke

  • Pingback: The 25 Best Movie Directors of the 21st Century | Roberto Cimatti()

  • AmazingAmy

    Villeneuve don’t deserve to be ranked top 10… Most People who ranked below him much better than him. He is type filmmaker who the films are elevated by great script and performance. His direction is lacking compared to someone like Nolan, Cuaron, Spielberg even Ridley Scott.

    I will rank Park Chan Wook, Lonnergan, Bigelow, Todd Haynes, Miller, McQueen, Fincher top ten over him. Esp Park Chan Wook and McQueen who consistently delivered fantastic film since their debut.

    Overrated Innaritu ranked top three ? Better than Coen Brothers, Tarantino, Scorsese, Nolan, Fincher even Linklater ?????!!!

  • Fincher at 15??? You must be Joking.

    • Hanz Offman.

      I thought so too, but sadly not.

  • Relf

    Wahahahaahaha This list is worth 0. Tarantino and Nolan are higher than Tarr, Malick, Lynch, Wong….? Whahaha Never do these hacks come even remotely close to these artits. Hahaha!

  • shane scott-travis

    Ridiculous. This list is a boy’s club. Weak.

    • D Train

      Totally agree. This list blows.

    • Onibabapapa

      I mean, if he thinks these are the best directors, he thinks these are the best directors. He shouldn’t just add a woman or two just so it looks better

      • D Train

        The title suggests “The 25 Best Movie Directors of the 21st Century” and doesn’t mince words. The misogyny, intentional or not, is there.

        • Nelsonoca Galvis

          Girls, how crazy are you like to thing this stupid list is misogyny, you even know the meaning of the word?

          • shane scott-travis

            The exclusion of any women creatives in a list that claims to detail the “best directors of the 21st century” but avoids mentioning ANY women (where the shit is Agnes Varda, for instance?), certainly suggests institutional misogyny as well as chauvinism, as does your aggressive and hostile rejoinder there, Nelsonica. And calling an adult a “girl”, a term suggesting childishness and immaturity points to your own misogyny and ignorance. So “thanks” for mansplaining your bityet

          • shane scott-travis

            Any list that purports to detail the “best directors of the 21st century” but fails to acknowledge a single woman—where the fudge is Agnes Varda, for instance—matter-of-factly DOES suggest institutionalized misogyny and chauvinism.
            While we’re here, your aggrandized response, which includes calling an adult a “girl”—this dismisses legitimate concerns as childish, juvenile, and I’ll-considered—is also suggesting not just a gender bias but also your own misogyny, arrogance and ignorance.
            So “thanks” for mansplaining your fragile facade. It sucks to be you.

          • shane scott-travis

            Any list that purports to detail the “best directors of the 21st century” but fails to acknowledge a single woman—where the fudge is Agnes Varda, for instance—matter-of-factly DOES suggest institutionalized misogyny and chauvinism.
            While we’re here, your aggrandized response, which includes calling an adult a “girl”—this dismisses legitimate concerns as childish, juvenile, and I’ll-considered—is also suggesting not just a gender bias but also your own misogyny, arrogance and ignorance.
            So “thanks” for mansplaining your fragile facade. It sucks to be you. 🙂

          • Nelsonoca Galvis

            Wow, you read your own text before send? because you are full of Misandry, you find misogyny in any detail, but i don´t know why, maybe your life like women has been hard; I recommend to you go to the psychologist you need it.

      • Completely agree.

  • D Train

    No women directors? And publishing this list on International Women’s Day to boot? Shitty thing to do. 🙁

    • Hanz Offman.

      better lift their game then, hadn’t they?

      • shane scott-travis

        Really? This list’s author obviously has a biased. Any of the following should top the list: Marne Ade, Andrea Arnold, Anna Biller, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola, Ana Lily Amirpour, Ava DuVernay, Marielle Heller, Patty Jenkins, Alison Lowe, Sarah Polley, Ann Hui, Kelly Reichardt, Jen and Sylvia Soska, Tian-yi Yan, Agnès Varda, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg…

      • D Train

        Hanz, is your maleness privilege in jeopardy? Maybe you need to watch more films? Loser.

        • Hanz Offman.

          Ha, I’m more woman than you’ll ever be, sister.

          • shane scott-travis

            I did write a list with many of those fine directors on it.
            bit.ly/2gm2wBM ♀

          • Sarita CL

            calling 911, we have a burn victim….

  • Hanz Offman.

    Great list. Now please let me take it as a personal insult when I disagree with your choices, instead of viewing the list as your opinion, or as the starting point for a discussion here.

  • Franco Gonzalez

    Im not a fan, but i think Nicolas Winding Refn should be here, at least in honorable mention. The guy is divisive, but he has a strong personal style and that’s something that separates good directors from great ones.

  • Nelsonoca Galvis

    Quentin Tarantino n°5? you don´t know what means direct

    • sailor monsoon

      You don’t know what means English

      • Nelsonoca Galvis

        Si bueno, eso puede ser cierto, pero Tarantino sigue siendo un director del monton

  • Tiago Couto

    The lack of maturity on comment sections with lists like this is always the same but it is still astonishing.
    This list is a person´s opinion and this person actually tries to justify why instead of shitting out some typical bullshit internet nomenclature like ”omg he is so overrated” ”what a joke of list”…if you disagree expose your opinion respectfully and introduce reasons why you do to solify your argumentation do not act like a fucking prick.
    You,random person on the internet you DON´T OWN the truth especially when it regards subjective matters like art,in this case cinema.

  • colonelkurtz

    I find it refreshing to not see purely American/British directors on this list. Surprised by some of the names (Eastwood, Tarantino, and Nolen I consider good directors at best, the latter two overcome by their own pompousness), but enjoyed seeing the Spanish and Korean influences here.

  • Logan

    The author is trolling, right? International Women’s Day, and not one – not one – woman on the list, out of 25 ‘best of’. You know better, everyone knows better at this point.

  • I thought this was a pretty damn good list. Very difficult to narrow it down. There’s definitely some choices I strongly disagree with, but overall very good job.
    Very glad you included the Korean powerhouses. It’s just incredible some of the quality of films coming out of there past 12-15 years.

  • Abhishek

    Why is Linklater in the Honorable mentions. He could easily replace some of the directors you have kept in the 25. Even if I have enjoyed Spielberg’s movies from before 21st century he still could be included because of AI, Minority Report, Lincoln, Catch me if you can, Bridge of Spies.

  • The Dardenne brothers and Xavier Dolan

  • Chrisychipz

    Andrea Arnold really should’ve been here. Fish Tank and American Honey??? Come on. But touché on Haneke at #1.