5. Karyn Kusama
New York-born tough girl Karyn Kusama debuted in Hollywood with a film full of promises – 2000’s “Girlfight” was an indie darling that gave us fiery movie star Michelle Rodriguez as a young woman who trains to box against the wishes of her father.
A very mature and authentic drama, “Girlfight” got Kusama “recruited” by Hollywood bigwigs to remake the quirky MTV animated series “Aeon Flux” into a blockbuster toplined by Charlize Theron, but those same super-producers butchered Kusama’s film into a bloated and incomprehensible mess.
Her return to form would happen only 10 years later with “The Invitation,” which had her back in the graces of indie film connoisseurs, and showing off her very real, very unique talent for atmosphere and suggestion.
Among those on this list, Kusama is probably the one whose talent hasn’t completely evolved primarily because of a lack of opportunity, so her next thriller, “Destroyer,” is quite an exciting prospect. It reunites her with the writers of “The Invitation” to tell the story of an undercover detective trying to make peace with her past – Nicole Kidman, Sebastian Stan, Bradley Whitford, Tatiana Maslany and Toby Kebbell lead the cast.
4. Dee Rees
Dee Rees’ “Pariah,” her debut feature, is an extraordinarily complex and authentic film in its depiction of teenager Alike’s search for sexual expression in uniquely oppressive contexts. Clocking at 86 minutes, it’s a vivid and accomplished film like its follow-up, last year’s Netflix Oscar contender “Mudbound,” a much wider film with the same inventive and instinctive quality to its direction. Rees is the kind of filmmaker who embraces the flaws in their technique and turn them into their advantage, but can you imagine what she can do when she’s fully matured as an artist?
Maybe we’ll see that in “The Last Thing He Wanted,” her next film. Based on Joan Didion’s novel of the same name, the political thriller will follow a journalist who quits her job and becomes an arms dealer for a covert government agency. Anne Hathaway and Willem Dafoe are the stars of this unique story that will arrive in cinemas in 2019.
3. Ava DuVernay
Yes, I know she just made “A Wrinkle in Time,” but one middling movie a bad director does not make. DuVernay is still one of the most stunning talents revealed in recent years – after flying under the radar with great little dramas like “I Will Follow” and “Middle of Nowhere,” she broke through with the amazing “Selma,” a moving and vivid portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. It’s not just an “important” film (though that it is), but a stunning feat of moviemaking from a director just realizing the true potential of her vision.
Her next big projects for the foreseeable future are on TV – namely, a limited series about the Central Park Five case, and a TV movie from HBO chronicling “The Battle of Versailles,” the legendary Palace of Versailles fashion show in 1973 that pitted French designers against a younger generation of American artists. She’s also committed to the comic book adaptation of “New Gods,” but with DC/Warner’s unbelievable messy schedule, who knows when that’ll come to fruition.
2. Mike Flanagan
Mr. Flanagan is, quite simply, the best horror director in a generation full of great talents in that genre. Since his breakthrough with the underseen supernatural thriller “Oculus” in 2013, he’s made stunner after stunner – from the brilliantly conceived and executed fare such as “Hush” (2016) to unexpectedly good studio fare like “Ouija: Origin of Evil” (2016), crowning his achievements with the haunting and touching Stephen King adaptation “Gerald’s Game” (2017). Often writing and editing his own material, Flanagan is a genre master in the making, but he hasn’t delivered his masterpiece as of yet.
Maybe that’ll be “Doctor Sleep,” a return to Stephen King and a long-awaited sequel to “The Shining.” Ewan McGregor will play middle-aged Danny Torrance, now acting as “Doctor Sleep” in a small Massachusetts town who, when he meets a young girl with the same abilities he had as a child, he sees no alternative but to save her from the traumas he went through. Beyond “Doctor Sleep,” Flanagan will also adapt the horror classic “The Haunting of Hill House” into a miniseries for Netflix.
1. Jeff Nichols
Little Rock, Arkansas native Jeff Nichols has made five films since his debut in 2007’s “Shotgun Stories,” a scathing drama about the rivalry between two half-brothers after their father’s death. They are all brilliant on their own unique ways: paranoid shocker “Take Shelter” (2011) introduced his work to a larger audience, sparse drama “Mud” (2012) showcased his versatile talents, the uniquely beautiful sci-fi “Midnight Special” (2016) showed he could direct with a broader scope, and gentle true life romance “Loving” (2016) brought him to wider Academy praise. None of them are masterpieces, though – they’re just the work of a stupendously talented director on the road to discovering his voice.
As of right now, Nichols is working on what’s being flaunted by Fox as a remake of “Alien Nation,” the 1988 sci-fi buddy cop action flick starring James Caan and Mandy Patinkin. Nichols, however, says the film is “his original idea” instead of a rehash of the previous film, and that “the only thing they have in common is the title.” A mysterious project if ever there was one, Nichols’ “Alien Nation” still doesn’t have a release date or any details on its plot, but we can always hope for something great from him.