Being a truly cool filmmaker requires a lot of guts and intransigence in the process of transferring a vision onto the cinema screen. The sense of style is also essential, as it strongly describes their movies and causes, which the audience feels to commune with a real and original art, not just a heartless product.
Some of the directors from this list created trends that are visible in cinema to present day, some of them sourced from other bodies of work, transforming the particular elements in their own way and creating unforgettable pictures.
Many of the movies mentioned below are made for a simply enjoyable and violent ride, and some of them require enabling one’s intellect, but all of them are surely cool. Here’s the list of 10 directors who made the coolest films:
10. Nicolas Winding Refn
Nicolas Winding Refn, one of the many cinematic national treasures of Denmark, was raised in a family of moviemakers. His father, Anders Refn was not only a director, but also an editor (well known from his cooperation with Lars von Trier), and his mother, Vibeke Winding is a cinematographer. With these genes, Refn had to grow up on a talented filmmaker.
The gritty “Pusher Trilogy,” directed in his motherland, is a story about the underworld of drug dealers, which gave the director world fame, but it was “Bronson” (2008), directed in the UK, that made Refn one of the icons of modern cult cinema. This based on a factual story about a brutal prisoner; Michael Gordon Peterson (nickname: Charles Bronson), is soaked in neon colors, graphic violence and synth music, which was just a forerunner of his distinctive style and aesthetics.
The neo-noir crime thriller “Drive” (2011) is his most recognizable movie for mainstream audiences and also Refn’s biggest box-office hit. It’s heavily inspired by the pop cultural pieces of work such as “Le Samourai” (1967) and “The Driver” (1978), and is also one of the coolest contemporary movies as a result of Refn’s unique directing, and a silent character, the eponymous protagonist Driver, played by the charismatic Ryan Gosling.
Both artists had a chance to work together again on the very underrated, filled with gore violence “Only God Forgives” (2013). His latest movie, the colorful and thrilling “The Neon Demon” (2016), is a real treat for every giallo movie fan.
9. John Carpenter
Movie lovers breathed a sigh of relief as news on Rotten Tomatoes about John Carpenter’s death turned out to be a mistake. Unfortunately, the director has been in retirement for many years and it doesn’t seem he will ever come back.
Despite the fact that he’s got a huge mass of cult followers now and his influence on the mainstream is invaluable, Carpenter’s filmography is filled mostly with box office flops and movies that were not praised by critics. Fortunately, the perception of his movies has changed over the years.
With a career stretching for over 30 years, the director’s career began in 1974 with the sci-fi comedy “Dark Star.” The 70s and 80s were the time that Carpenter was at the absolute top of his game. He created cult classics such as the slasher “Halloween” (1978); the siege-thriller “Assault on Precinct 13” (1976) inspired by “Rio Bravo”; the dystopian action film “Escape from New York” (1981); the body horror sci-fi “The Thing”; the action adventure “Big Trouble in Little China” (1987); and of course, “They Live” (1987), which combines conspiracy theory paranoia with an action buddy-movie sensibility. Slavoj Žižek has famously analyzed the philosophical levels of that movie in “The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology” (2012).
The 90s wasn’t that kind to Carpenter. The only movie worth mentioning is the horror “In the Mouth of Madness” (1995), which was heavily inspired by the literary works of Lovecraft. A title for the worst movie made by him belongs to “Ghosts of Mars” (2001), a movie so lazy and amateur that it’s impossible to imagine that was directed by such a master of craft as Carpenter.
After a nine year break, he made the forgettable psychological thriller “The Ward” (2010), which closes his filmography (at least for now). In the last few years, the name of Carpenter appeared in the context of two released music albums – “Lost Themes” (2015) and “Lost Themes II” (2016), which are highly recommended for every synthwave lover and fan of soundtracks from his movies, which are made mostly by Carpenter himself.
8. Michael Mann
Michael Mann is a master of thinking-men action movies and neo-noir. His movies are characterized by perfectionism and precision in every little detail of directing, a slowly burning plot and also… the most realistic shootouts a viewer could ever imagine.
Audiences will never hear more realistic and louder noises of gun shots than in Mann’s films. His movies are fulfilled with the archetypical males – professionals following the honor code, loyalty and rules of functioning in a world full of violence, where only the strongest will succeed.
The elements of his style seem to be already fully developed in his glorious neo-noir/heist cinematic debut “Thief” (1981). In the 80s he managed to create the memorable and aesthetic thriller “Manhunter,” where Hannibal Lecter (here played by Brian Cox) appeared in cinema history for the first time, and was a very flawed film because of a troubled production and movie studio interference, but also the atmospheric World War II horror movie “The Keep” (1983).
However, the 90s was the decade when he created his undisputed magnum opus, which is of course “Heat” (1995). This multi-layered story of cops and robbers is a masterpiece of crime cinema and one of the best movies made in the 90s, containing a famous shootout scene that’s considered to be the most thrilling sequence that Mann ever filmed. What’s more, this film inspired the look and feel of Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” (2008).
None of his future movies ever surpassed or even kept up with the level of “Heat” or his earlier productions, but it doesn’t mean these movies are bad. Because of Mann’s directing and storytelling craft, all of his films, even the latest, half-baked and critically bashed “Blackheat” (2015) is a really great cinematic experience.
7. Sam Peckinpah
They don’t make directors like this anymore – a rebel, drug addict, alcoholic, true American cinematic artist. Films by Sam Peckinpah emit a characteristic scent of whiskey, tobacco, blood, sweat and gunpowder. His movies, full of nihilism and bloody violence that reaches both men and women, were and still are a matter of a big controversy. Many critics described his works as fascist, glorifying violence, and simply misogynistic
. You can agree with them or not, but those movies serve a brutal but also moralistic deception of a world gone mad, and they’re made with intelligence and vision. His trademarks are revolutionary slow-motion shootouts, often set at the end of the movies, and made for a real catharsis, not a pyrotechnical show-off.
Peckinpah is known by audiences for his revisionist anti-westerns such as “Major Dundee” (1965); “The Wild Bunch” (1967); “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” (1973) (where the music was composed by Bob Dylan himself and the song from this movie, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” became a real hit); the war movie “Cross of Iron” (1977); the home invasion thriller and very controversial because of the infamous rape scene “Straw Dogs” (1971); the neo-noir “The Getaway” (1972), the bleakest action movie man could ever imagine, “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia” (1974); and the escapist, funny car chase movie “Convoy” (1978). It’s better to stay away from watching the cheesy “The Killer Elite” (1975) and his last film, the incredibly messy and sloppy “The Osterman Weekend” (1983).
6. Martin Scorsese
The New Hollywood Movement was a director-author period that happened in 60s and 70s. During this era, some of the most iconic and best American movies were made. Directors like Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, William Friedkin, George Lucas and Brian De Palma are identified with New Hollywood, but only one from that era still manages to electrify the contemporary audience and who never lost his characteristic touch in the modern reality of cinema world.
That name is Martin Scorsese and during his career that has lasted for more than 50 years, he directed 25 movies and effectively attempted very different movie genres and subjects, but nobody makes such cool American gangster films as him.
“Mean Streets” (1973), the first gangster movie by Scorsese and the third in his filmography, was his first big artistic success. It tells the gritty and bleak story of a Catholic guilt-ridden (a constant motif with Scorsese) beginning gangster, Charlie (Harvey Keitel), and his irresponsible, hot-headed and gambling friend, Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro). This movie not only started a long-term cooperation between De Niro and Scorsese, but also created his trademarks, like using the pop songs mixed with street violence.
In 1990 Scorsese came back to the gangster subject with the famous “Goodfellas,” which is one of the coolest films ever made. It is also one of these that changed the way cinema presented the Italian Mafia. It takes out the mythologization and glorification known from “The Godfather” and shows the Mafia as greedy, foul-mouthed and bloodthirsty yahoos.
Based on the true story of the rise and fall of mobster Henry Hill, “Goodfellas” is a very energetic spectacle because of the dynamic editing, citable dialogs, ruthless violence and the use of rock music (De Niro slo-mo smoking a cigarette to “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream, how cool is that?).
The formula of “Goodfellas” was successfully repeated in Scorsese’s next gangster classics: “Casino” (1995), about the mafia activity in Las Vegas; “The Departed” (2006), which is a remake of the Hong Kong movie “Infernal Affairs”; and the “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013) tells a story about a different kind of gangster – stockbrokers.