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The 10 Most Exciting Directors Working in Hollywood Today

17 January 2017 | Features, People Lists | by Ryan Jamison

We may say “they don’t make ‘em like they used to!” but the state of American cinema really hasn’t diminished so much as film distribution has faltered. Plenty of contemporary directors continue to deliver high-quality films, breathing new life into a medium that has yet to stop thriving.

There will always be room for discussion of the Kubricks and the Scorseses, but this list is focusing on directors who have not peaked any earlier than the nineties, and whose best work may very well still be ahead of them. Their contributions are always fresh and exciting even when they don’t reach masterpiece status, and they each could indeed birth a future classic at any moment in the coming years – in fact, some of them already have.

 

10. Jeff Nichols

Unlike the following nine filmmakers on this list, Jeff Nichols is a director whose style is not easily identified as uniquely his own. That isn’t necessarily a negative, however, because it’s his versatility that makes him shine. While his approach to stories remains pretty restrained throughout his work, the stories themselves are so different from one another that even the genre of his next output is totally unpredictable.

Just last year, he released two films with almost nothing in common aside from a couple of returning cast members. First was Midnight Special, an almost 80s-esque sci-fi thriller with a heart. It was a refreshingly original father-son tale that flew somewhat under the radar, while his second 2016 effort, Loving, has garnered awards recognition as a performance-driven historical drama.

Despite striking no resemblance in the content of their plots, both of these films are quietly effective and surprisingly similar in the softness of their tone. His three prior films were impressive as well, with Take Shelter being his most memorable work to date.

Nichols never opts for the traditional beats one would find in these genres, whether they be enormous action set-pieces or aggrandized powerhouse emotion. Instead he focuses on character, and just good old-fashioned storytelling. That sounds like it would be common, but it really isn’t in major films these days. Plus, this guy puts Michael Shannon in every movie he makes, which is already enough to build anticipation for each of his ventures.

 

9. Damien Chazelle

damien-chazelle

Likely on his way to becoming the youngest winner of the Best Director Oscar in history, Damien Chazelle has proven in just the beginning of his filmography that he is ready for the big leagues. His work sort of mirrors his young age, with such youthful energy exuding through each vibrant sequence he creates. His writing has yet to be perfected but he more than makes up for it with symphonies of music set to fast-paced imagery, giving his films a beating pulse that reminds us of the magic of movies.

Following his jazz-themed debut, he set the scene with another film about the music he so loves, with Whiplash. Taking a story about becoming a drummer and turning it into a heart-pounding thriller (without any violence), Chazelle fused his adoration for the art of jazz with the power of film.

Then of course, he made La La Land, completing his trilogy of music-themed projects. It’s a modern musical that flies off the screen with its delicious colors and detailed choreography of not only the performers, but the camera itself. While one of these films is rivetingly suspenseful and the other is contagiously joyous, he applies to each of them the same ambitious directorial flair to provide an experience that stimulates the senses better than most films can achieve.

The filmmaker’s next effort is First Man with Ryan Gosling, which will deviate from the music genre to tell the story of Neil Armstrong and his space mission. Given the viscera scattered throughout his two prior efforts, there is no doubt that he will be able to make an audience feel as though they are walking on the moon.

 

8. Spike Jonze

Spike Jonze

With only four films under his directorial belt in an 18-year career, Spike Jonze’s pure originality is more than one could ask for in the vast majority of films. For a while there, it would have been easy to credit Charlie Kaufman with half the work for his ingeniously creative screenplays – and it would have been well-earned praise – but Jonze has since shown himself to be just as innovative with his ideas, and has yet to express them in a way that isn’t downright extraordinary.

Earning an Oscar nomination in the nineties for his feature debut, Being John Malkovich, he immediately showcased his eye for quirky worlds and magical realism, involving a portal into the mind of an actor. With Adaptation. in the 2000s, he went deeper into the psyche of an artist in a film so mind-bogglingly brilliant and meta that it would seem impossible to handle without turning into a mess, but he brought his A-game and drove its themes home with as much attention to detail as Kaufman’s script.

Best of all, though, is Her, which remains one of the cinematic highlights of the 2010s. Not only does it confirm his abilities as an innovative writer, but it further cements his talent as a director as he builds another universe of his own, balancing comedy and drama to create a melancholic atmosphere that perfectly suits its message about love and technology.

He spends more time making short videos than feature-length films, but the time gaps between each one only heightens expectations for each future project. No matter what he does, it is sure to be intelligently written, well-acted and beautifully directed. What more can you ask for?

 

7. David Fincher

david-fincher

The technical prowess of this man is undeniable. The perfectionist of his time, David Fincher’s work is without exception absolutely proficient from its editing and cinematography all the way down to its sound design. One or two pieces aside, he uses these elements to create a tone of darkness and dreariness, and he’s pretty darn effective at it.

This perfectionism is oftentimes met with meticulously structured stories, which is of course suitable to his style. But Fincher is at his best when he gets a little messy. Perhaps the most common favorite of his oeuvre is Fight Club, for which the praise is totally merited as it is a balls-to-the-wall darkly comedic explosion of mayhem, which contrasts delectably with Fincher’s precise techniques. His closest return to such a hectic meshing of tones and loose structure was with his most recent film, Gone Girl.

It is another example of his talents working most effectively with material that is slightly self-aware and – well, fun, than when he takes on stories with a more self-serious nature. That isn’t to say things like The Social Network aren’t great as well, though.

Rumored to helm the sequel to World War Z, any job Fincher takes is certain to be done better than just about any other director-for-hire can accomplish. It’s nice to know that he chooses projects he’s interested in as opposed to what will win him his (hopefully inevitable) Academy Award.

 

6. Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu

alejandro-inarritu

Speaking of Academy Awards, here’s the first director to win two consecutive Best Director Oscars since 1950. The interesting thing about Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu with respect to the others on this list, is that half of his filmography consists of foreign-language films. He’s kicking ass in Hollywood now, though, so he’s an easy inclusion. His films are thematically rich and powerfully acted on top of being so masterfully constructed by Iñárritu and his team.

Prior to his foray into American productions, his visual style was grounded in a rough sense of reality, with perhaps the most effective use of handheld camerawork in modern film. 21 Grams managed to be simultaneously gritty and emotionally impactful even without a chronological narrative structure.

Babel showcased this style to great effect with a frenetic urgency outlining humanity’s struggle to connect and communicate. All of his films up to this point were quite exceedingly depressing, which made it a surprise to see him pull off a comedy for his next piece: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

With Emmanuel Lubezki taking over the DP position to create a dreamier floating rhythm as opposed to the grittier work of Rodrigo Prieto, Iñárritu’s stamp still seeped through the film in a new kind of way, winning him three Oscars. Most recently, The Revenant mixed the new with the old as its breathtaking visuals were displayed against an exhaustively heavy journey at its center.

It’s a hard wait to see what Alejandro does next, and whom he will cast into likely career-best performances. Most exciting of all is his ambition to do whatever it takes to achieve something unlike anything that’s been done before. He’s had some excellent efforts so far but his total dedication may just lead to his best work yet in the future.

 

 

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  • Gilles Beleuze

    a little bit tired of mr. tarantino.

    • Shotgunster

      To me Tarantino is good, just good. But damn people ride his dick a lot.

    • Relf

      The most overrated director in the history of the medium

  • Hamid Razi

    “Most Exciting” ….pretty stupid title tbh
    And no Nolan? “Their contributions are always fresh and exciting even when they don’t reach masterpiece status” … Wasn’t Inception fresh and exciting? or Memento? or Prestige?

    • D Train

      Nolan sucks.

    • Kevin Niduaza

      Dark Knight Rises then Interstellar? It’s getting less and less exciting if you ask me….

      • Hamid Razi

        I agree that those are not on par with his previous works but that doesn’t make him a less “exciting” actor….anyone has ups and downs in his career

        • Kevin Niduaza

          Well, I am hopeful for ‘Dunkirk’ – bring it on!

      • Ryan Austin

        Quay (short): 100%
        The Dark Knight: 94%
        Dunkirk: 93%
        Memento: 92%
        Insomnia: 92%
        The Dark Knight Rises: 87%
        Inception: 86%
        Batman Begins: 84%
        Following: 78%
        The Prestige: 76%
        Intersteller: 71%

        • Kevin Niduaza

          Are these IMDB scores? Rotten Tomatoes? I’ll just say that I don’t really trust the aggregate sites that much…mob mentality is a real thing. Just look at all the movies that were “bad” or “flopped” in the last hundred years and what people consider of them now….Dunkirk was a good movie with some great sequences….93%, I think not.

  • Logan

    Really? 10 white guys? I thought this was 2017. Look around, there may be a little more diverse talent afoot than you are able to see.

    • Ruchit Negotia

      im sure you weren’t only talking about guys, as some woman are good also that are working today. And diversity for the sake of diversity is retarded. innaritu is fucking white???? he’s Mexican…
      however the problem with this list is its to narrowed in American filmmakers( except villineuve and innaritu) and too short. But, these are ‘some’ of the best talents in the biz, whether you think that’s fucking racist or not. are there one or two people on here that shouldn’t be? sure. But dont be a fucking ignorant idiot please. Lastly the fact that he omitted martin Scorsese completely invalidates this list so…

      • Logan

        Yes, exactly. I am simply observing that the ‘best of’ listed here are all guys, mostly white. A reflection of the industry I suppose. Of course, there are fantastic women directing, that’s part of my point, and people of colour. You are right about Inarritu being Mexican. The list speaks for itself, I don’t have to explain further. No need to be crass.

        • Why wouldn’t you take the time to list a few of those you think were slighted by being left off?

      • Kevin Niduaza

        Yea except Innnaritu sucks (except for ‘Love’s a Bitch’ which was awesome)

        • Ruchit Negotia

          yea agreed

  • Diego Rojas Bocanegra

    I’d take Iñárritu off this list, and add Christopher Nolan.

    • I seriously hope you are joking

      • Ryan Austin

        Nolan is one of the most brilliant directors today. What movie has he made that *HASN’T* been a blockbuster/game changing movie???

    • Nodar

      Please NO

  • Brandon Thompson

    This list should’ve been 10 directors who have yet to make a masterpiece but will soon.

    • sailor monsoon

      You’re younger than pulp fiction, aren’t you?

      • Brandon Thompson

        I am.

        • sailor monsoon

          There hasn’t been a movie that left the same impact on cinema since pulp fiction.
          It absolutely is a masterpiece

          • Brandon Thompson

            What I meant was that “exciting filmmakers” should be defined as directors who will take over from Tarantino, the Coens, PTA, and Fincher as the leading figures.

          • sailor monsoon

            Fair enough
            Edgar Wright is sorely missing from this list

          • Kevin Niduaza

            YES….although does he really work in the realm of “Hollywood”?

    • Ga5ton

      So the Coen Brothers, PT Anderson and Fincher haven’t made a masterpiece yet?

      • Brandon Thompson

        They’ve all made masterpieces (even in the same year) but I was talking about the content of the list, not the title.

  • Abraham Morales

    Wes Anderson should be in this list

    • Kevin Niduaza

      ditto get that guy chazelle outta here

  • David

    All male, mostly white, yeah, it sounds like Hollywood. Also, Damien Chazelle is so fucking overrated, it’s almost a joke at this point.

    • sailor monsoon

      Bullshit.
      Whiplash is one of the best films of the decade.
      Full stop

      • David

        Is not, its a clichéd, toxic and predictable script competently directed with some outstanding scenes. Also the orange-y palette and the grainy images make the cinematography really ugly looking. Not a bad movie per se, but mega overrated.

        • sailor monsoon

          Thoughts on la la land?

          • David

            A huge step up in direction by Chazelle with some amazing set pieces with a decent script that hides its many short-comings because of how talented and charming are its two leads. It’s a cute homage to Demy and classic Hollywood, also widely overrated and with some problematic cultural appropiation/diversity issues, but deserving of much more praise than Whiplash.

          • sailor monsoon

            I guess we’re polar opposites in taste.

      • Horacio Machado Flores

        Awful movie.

      • Kevin Niduaza

        dude, whiplash is cool but sorry this guy, after 3 movies (one great, two okay) does not belong on a list with the Coens and Tarantino

        • sailor monsoon

          If this list was the greatest directors working now, I’d agree.
          But chazelle is going to be the youngest director to direct the best picture winner.
          And multiple sites have whiplash on the list of the best films of the decade.
          If you think he’s overrated, that’s fine but you’re in the minority

          • Kevin Niduaza

            sir if consensus was an arbiter of quality, I would see your point but unfortunately for you, it isn’t. And if you think an Oscar is an arbiter of quality, then I really don’t trust your opinion. I’ll take a guy like Jeremy Saulnier or the Justin Benson/Aaron Moorhead duo over Damien Chazelle any day of the week.

          • sailor monsoon

            This list should be the most interesting up and coming directors.
            Because saulnier and benson/moorhead would definitely make the list.
            But so would chazelle

          • Kevin Niduaza

            those guys would be on THAT list but THIS list is about the most exciting directors in Hollywood today. I think the author wrote about that because he wanted to – why should the premise of the list be something different lol? Anyways Chazelle is a promising up and comer – if he wins an Oscar for La La Land, he will have entered the ranks of Hollywood but I’d argue then that it will be his follow up that will truly cement whether or not he is a truly interesting filmmaker. Even his best film, Whiplash, is a pretty formulaic affair, even if well done (Darren Aronofsky did it twice before he did and, some might argue, did it better). There’s no way this guy belongs on the most exciting directors in Hollywood today. Not when guys like Wes Anderson or Alfonso Cuaron have been left off.

          • sailor monsoon

            I will not argue that at all.
            There’s at least 50 directors i could think of that should be on this list instead.
            I’m just arguing that chazelle is a great director.
            And that whiplash and la la land are fantastic films

    • Harsh Parmar

      How dare those white male make great films.

  • AmazingAmy

    Add steve mcqueen, kenneth lonnergan, alexander payne, wes anderson and nolan.
    Personally, its too early to judge Damien Chezelle ( but i love la la land so much) since he only has two film so far. Inarritu bit overrated ( he robbed richard linklater and george miller last two years !! )

    Included Marty, Eastwood, malick to this list as well

    • Kevin Niduaza

      so many of these responses are ridiculous. Since when was Kenneth Lonergan “Hollywood” lol.

  • cinespective

    Good list – but the title should be: “!0 Most Exciting Hollywood Directors…”. Where’s Asghar Farhadi? Jacques Audiard? Hirokazu Koreeda? Like, the other 90% of the world?

    • Kevin Niduaza

      those dudes are great but I can’t remember the last time they worked in Hollywood….

  • Relf

    What is exciting about a guy who is a mediocre director and who’s work consists of stealing from better films and directors?

    • D Train

      You describe Chris Nolan perfectly.

      • Relf

        Nah was talking about Quentin “copy paste” Tarantino

        • D Train

          You couldn’t do 1/8 of what QT has done but go ahead being clever like you know how films get made. Maybe I’ll see you on set some time (no I won’t).

          • Relf

            Maybe I can’t, but a lot of people can. Just combine some other, better films, steal a lot, add some stupid dialogue about foot massages or cheese burgers (not too much plot or some depth, because your brain dead fans aren’t that clever), copy and combine the style from true masters and voilà : a Tarantino turd, a scrap book with no thematic depth, no emotional compelling story, just a mindless action flick

          • Kevin Niduaza

            Really? No plot or depth? I’d like to know who you would have chosen for this list.

    • Kevin Niduaza

      Because he is still the best at mixing arthouse with trash. He steals from 5 movies in one scene and makes it about subtext that is completely different than where he is cribbing from. There simply is no one like him – even if his movies have a ‘sameness’ to them (so does guys like Hitchcock and Scorsese, or even Fincher, Coens, Wes Anderson etc…take that as you will)

  • Nick Botton

    Coen brothers? Get the fuck out here, those guys are on their way out

    • shane scott-travis

      Wow. You’re clueless.

      • Nick Botton

        If Hail Caesar made you think these guys are still skilled directors then you probably just have a taste for terrible movies

        • shane scott-travis

          Tell that to Cahier du Cinema and the BFI both of which listed it amongst the best films of 2016. Just because it went over your head Nick, doesn’t mean anyone who liked it “has terrible taste”. Haha.

          • Nick Botton

            Looks like you’ve presented me with a classic argumentatum ad populum, looks like you should review the way you structure arguments in the future to ensure that they are based in sound logic. Hail Caesar was formless, and borderline incoherent. It has a superficial air of mystery, but lacks in plot, character, and message.

        • Harsh Parmar

          Thinking that they can never redeem themselves from his latest film is just stupid.Hail caesar was very good film btw.

    • Kevin Niduaza

      no

      • Nick Botton

        Yes

  • Raul F. Manfredini

    And Wes Anderson??? Where is?

    • Kevin Niduaza

      exactly

  • Cameron Olsen

    Most of these bore the hell out of me. The only great inclusion’s the Coens, and perhaps Alejandro and Damian come close.

  • louis

    “10 White Guys and Innaritu”

    A more accurate title because (1) this is a list of 11 men (Last I checked, Joel and Ethan Coen are two people), and (2) this is a list of 10 white guys and Innaritu.

    Why not Sofia Coppola, Ava DuVernay, Maya Forbes, Lynne Ramsay, Takashi Miike, Ryan Coogler, Steve McQueen, Justin Simien, or Bong Joon-ho? A small list of “exciting” and diverse directors who have all created masterpieces.

    Finally, I saw someone below wrote “diversity for diversity’s sake is retarded.” So is keeping white men in charge of everything and honoring only white men because they’re white men. That comment also assumes that the women and minorities are less deserving and capable, which in itself is racist and sexist.

    • Kevin Niduaza

      Sorry bro but I don’t ever remember Takashi Miike, Justin Simien or Bong-Joon Ho working in Hollywood. Bong and Miike are brilliant and Simien’s only film was great but no dice on the premise of this list.

      Maya Forbes made one film and it was infinitely boring as fuck.

      Lynne Ramsey is great (not as great as Andrea Arnold but thats another story), however, never seen her ass make a Hollywood movie.

      Steve Mcqueen is pretty good so no argument there (except his movies are depressing as fuck without nearly as much subtext as some of the names on the authors list).

      Ava DuVernay is overrated as fuck – Selma was fine, 13th was a shallow attempt at historical social commentary (why not choose the more worthy Gina Prince-Blythewood).

      Sofia? Again, what ‘Hollywood’ movies is she making? Nowhere? The Bling Ring? I didn’t think so.

      Cooler is a goos choice but his two films are well-done formula. That said, I could live with this guy replacing someone like Damian Chazelle.

  • Mortimer

    Todd Haynes is underrated director. He should be on the list. But I understand that his movies aren’t for everyone.
    Jonathan Glazer perhaps ?

    • Kevin Niduaza

      But isn’t this list was about “Hollywood” directors?

      • Mortimer

        You’re right. But on ToC difference between “Hollywood” and “Indie” is non-existent sometimes.

  • Still D.R.E.

    McQueen should have made the list Dude is 3/3 Affleck could have too

  • Chrisychipz

    Everyone is complaining about almost all of the entries on this list being white and male, but the title says HOLLYWOOD directors, and the fact of the matter is that almost all the directors in Hollywood are white men. As far as women go, unfortunately they are scarce, and the ones that exist are not very good, with the exception of Kathryn Bigelow who is pretty good, but imo not deserving of a spot on a ‘most exciting’ list (Sofia Coppola is wildly inconsistent). Now considering non-white Hollywood directors, there are also very very few, with one already being on this list (Steve McQueen should have definitely made it wtf). The problem is not with the people on the list, but the list itself – it is very limiting.

    • D Train

      Oh good we needed some asshole to mansplain why privileged white guys make most of the movies out of Tinseltown without once saying “privilege”.

      • Chrisychipz

        Oh fuck off. Tell me ALLLL about the plethora of female and minority Hollywood directors then? And good ones at that?

        • louis

          Both of your posts reeks of bias against women and minorities, but I’ll play.

          Ava DuVernay, Maya Forbes, Lynne Ramsay, Tina Mabry,
          Ryan Coogler, Steve McQueen, Justin Simien, Park Chan Wok, Bong Joon-ho, Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Cary Fukunaga, Spike Lee, So Yong Kim, Carl Franklin, Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo Del Toro, Mira Nair, Destin Cretton, Lee Daniels, Taika Waititi, Barry Jenkins, Ang Lee, Dee Rees, Dan Kwan.