The filmmaking process is chaotic, and the director acts as a guiding hand in this process. His or her vision should be clearly translated onto the screen, from pre-production to post-production.
This list explores the best achievements in direction from last year; a varied list of directors from around the world and from disparate genres. The list will no doubt be divisive and not cater to everyone’s opinions (Oscar nominees like Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele are not on here, nor is Christopher Nolan). That said, here we go…
10. Andrey Zvyagintsev – Loveless
Zvyagintsev is known for his grim social realist dramas, often critiquing the power structure and institutions of modern day Russia. That’s exactly what we got with his latest film Loveless, which is also an intimate tale about the end of a marriage.
Influenced by the style of Bergman and Tarkovsky, the film moves slowly, exploring the damaged psyche of its main characters: Zhenya and Boris, the central married couple in question. They are composed for most of the film, until at one point, they just explode.
The erosion of Russian society seeps into every man, woman and children. It’s a portrait of a grand civilisation in struggle. Inner turmoil becomes barriers for the characters, unable to truly live happily. Loveless is a depressing, dark masterpiece.
9. Julia Ducournau – Raw
Raw is a story about a teenage girl’s sexual awakening. It’s also about the strong bond of sisterhood. And the traits we inherit from our family. It’s also a Cronenbergian tale of body horror and cannibalism. First time director Julia Ducournau stated that she wanted to “humanize cannibals”, as cannibals actually exist in the world – unlike vampires, werewolves and zombies.
The film is at the same time shocking and tender, drawing parallels between the loss of innocence and Justine (Garance Marillier)’s hunger for human flesh. It’s visually striking and emotionally involving. By the end, you feel that you completely in Justine’s shoes, even with the flesh-eating and deviant sexual behaviour. It’s what the critics like to call a ‘directorial tour de force’.
8. Darren Aronofsky – mother!
What Arren Aronofsky achieves in mother! can be compared to the best works of Pier Paolo Pasolini, and is exactly the sort of provocation Lars von Trier wishes he could, but never would be able to, produce. The film summarises the vices and follies of human existence in just two hours, by way of a Biblical allegory. As things go from bad to worse to absolutely insane, you can practically feel Aronofsky’s rage at humanity’s treatment of Mother Nature.
Known for pushing actors to their extremes, he makes Jennifer Lawrence command the screen with such a vulnerable and empathetic performance. It’s the best of her career.
7. Sean Baker – The Florida Project
In all his films, Sean Baker has given voice to the voiceless. Take Out depicts one day in the life of an illegal Chinese immigrant, Prince of Broadway is about a New York City hustler, Starlet features porn stars in the San Fernando Valley and Tangerine follows a transsexual sex worker through the suburbs of L.A. His technical innovation is noteworthy as well, having shot Tangerine (and the ending of The Florida Project) on an iPhone.
The Florida Project works on two levels; as a social realist drama about poverty in the United States, as well as a heart-warming coming-of-age story about how children are the kings and queens of their own kingdom. It’s his most moving film, as well as his most well-rounded film to date, and cements Baker’s status as a new American master.
6. Luca Guadagnino – Call Me By Your Name
Guadagnino has shown with I Am Love and A Bigger Splash that he is sensuous filmmaker, able to create an immersive atmosphere that the audience can see, hear, feel, and even taste and smell. He brings his delicate touch to the story of Elio and Oliver, a summer romance in 1983 Italy.
The film moves slowly, drawing you into the lives of the protagonists through the exquisite cinematography which transports the wondrous sights or northern Italy to the screen. As Elio gradually discovers his feelings, we fall into the trance with him, experiencing life through their adventures. The greatest feat that Guadagnino pulls off is not only showing us the sensuous wonders, but also exploring a gay relationship with honesty.