The 10 Most Underrated American Directors Working Today

5. Ava DuVernayAva DuVernay is a director, screenwriter, film distributor and film marketer born on August 24, 1972 in Long Beach, California. Directing amazing films in the last few years like “Middle of Nowhere” (2012), “Selma” (2014) and “13th” (2016), and being the first African-American female filmmaker to win the Best Director Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and the first black female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award, DuVernay is definitely among the best filmmakers working in the United States today.

Deeply exploring the characters and social questions in her films, DuVernay has an unique way of telling a story while approaching social and political themes in her narratives. With movies like “Selma” that follow Martin Luther King’s campaign for equal voting rights, and “Middle of Nowhere”, a film that follows a woman who drops out of medical school to secure the wellbeing of her husband when he is sentenced to eight years of jail, take the time needed to approach the lives of the characters in a very particular and sensitive way, without forgetting to be explicit when necessary.

DuVernay is without a doubt a great American filmmaker and a remarkable auteur whose work should definitely be followed by any cinephile.

Movies you should watch:

– Middle of Nowhere (2012)
– Selma (2014)
– 13th (2016)


4. J.C. Chandor

Born in Morristown, New Jersey on November 24, 1973, J.C. Chandor directed three great feature films in his career, even though none of them got the recognition they deserved.

Debuting with “Margin Call”, a rough approach on the 2008 financial crisis starring Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto and Demi Moore, in this very film Chandor showed he was able to explore somber tones in his story without forgetting to leave time for contemplation and, especially, to move the story forward.

Following with “All Is Lost”, a movie starring Robert Redford that features almost no dialogue, it is incredible to see how Chandor is able to conduct a narrative solely with visual elements, and with a great performance by Redford where a sailor faces his mortality after a collision at sea.

In his latest film, “A Most Violent Year”, starring Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain and David Oyelowo, he tells the story of an ambitious man in New York City who tries to protect his family and business during the most violent year in history. His way of showing the somber side of his characters with light and sound is definitely something remarkable, particularly when allied with the compelling dialogue.

With precise rhythm in the conversations allied with slow-paced moments to explore the relations between the characters and the environment they’re in, Chandor is not even close to receiving the recognition he deserves for being one of the most interesting filmmakers working in the US today, and with a masterful visual approach on his narratives.

Movies you should watch:

– Margin Call (2011)
– All Is Lost (2013)
– A Most Violent Year (2014)


3. Jeff Nichols

Jeff Nichols is a director and screenwriter born on December 7, 1978 in Little Rock, Arkansas. Starting his career in feature films with “Shotgun Stories”, starring Michael Shannon, Nichols, up to now, has directed four more feature movies including the critically acclaimed “Loving”, which competed for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Approaching family relationships and violence in a very particular way, Nichols uses location as a very important character in his films. Landscapes, weather and time are all explored as very relevant aspects in the way that he conducts his narratives.

With greatly written characters and powerful dialogue and relationships in his films, Nichols is surely among the best creative voices of his generation of filmmakers and is a director whose work you should definitely check out.

Movies you should watch:

– Shotgun Stories (2007)
– Take Shelter (2011)
– Mud (2012)
– Loving (2016)


2. Bennett Miller

Bennett Miller is a filmmaker born on December 30, 1966 in New York City. Beginning his career with the documentary “The Cruise”, released in 1998, the film – as Wheeler Winston Dixon, an American filmmaker and scholar, described – documents the “tough life of a tour guide on a NYC bus.” The movie became a hit and was very important for Miller’s career.

His next film, “Capote”, was definitely his breakthrough. The movie explores the writing of the acclaimed novel “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote, and the film was nominated for five Oscars including Best Director and Best Picture. Philip Seymour Hoffman won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his amazing performance as Truman Capote on the film.

On 2011, Miller released the critically acclaimed “Moneyball”, starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman in this sports drama with amazing performances by the three actors. His next film, “Foxcatcher”, although not winning any Oscars, won the Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival and is one of the best directed films of that year.

With unique slow-paced stories that carry a strong dramatic charge, his powerful control of the mise en scène is something very remarkable and not very common to be seen in film nowadays. Miller is a great underrated auteur whose work should without a doubt be followed by any cinephile.

Movies you should watch:

– Capote (2005)
– Moneyball (2011)
– Foxcatcher (2014)


1. James Gray

James Gray is one of the greatest American writers/directors working today. Born on April 14, 1969 in New York City, Gray started his career in feature films directing “Little Odessa”, a great drama that won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1994.

Since then, Gray has directed five more films and none of them are even close to being a bad movie. With great dialogue in his films allied with his characters’ psyches that are always deeply explored, Gray is without a doubt one of the finest filmmakers of his generation.

One of the most distinct traces in Gray’s stories are their endings. He seems to drive his plots to dark edges and for awhile they only seem to get darker, but his endings usually have sort of an uncertainty where the audience is not really able to notice if this is a happy or tragically sad ending, something that makes his storylines and character arcs even more complex and poetic. That makes him number one on our list.

With six good movies in his career, his next film will be a sci-fi starring Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga and Donald Sutherland called “Ad Astra”, written by Ethan Gross. “Ad Astra” is currently filming as this article is being written.

Movies you should watch:

– Little Odessa (1994)
– We Own the Night (2007)
– Two Lovers (2008)
– The Lost City of Z (2016)

Author bio: Vítor Guima is a filmmaker, writer and musician from São Paulo, Brazil. Every day he watches a movie, reads a few pages from a book, listens to an album and freaks out with the feeling of not having enough time to see everything. You can follow him on Instagram on @ovitorguima.