I’ve been working on this list for years. Over a decade now and it was revised during the very posting to my website, social media, and I’m still contemplating my final choices. As art is subject to change so are opinions, which this is my top ten favorite directors. I’m not stating a fact but rather a preference. What I’d really like you to understand is that I am also disappointed that there are no female directors on my top ten list and that it is constructed of mainly white men. I believe the injustice in the film industry towards women and minorities has begun to be extracted from the core. If you reference my honorable mentions section you’ll see quite a few names of very talented individuals, who just haven’t had as much time to impress me.
This list will be updated every year.
In no order:
Damien Chazzelle - ‘Whiplash’
Barry Jenkins - ‘Moonlight’
Sofia Coppola - ‘Lost in Translation’
Franis Ford Coppola - ‘The Godfather’
Alejandro González Iñárritu - ‘Birdman’
Lynne Ramsay - ‘You Were Never Really Here’
Darren Aronofsky - ‘Black Swan’
Greta Gerwig - ‘Ladybird’
Luca Guadagnino - ‘Call Me By Your Name’
Ridley Scott - ‘Alien’
10. Paul Thomas Anderson
The first time I watched 'There Will Be Blood,' I started sweating. The atmosphere of that film is dumb thick with tension. There are only a few moments in the whole film where you don't feel the need to hold your breath. PTA’s staple is not tension but the ability to welcome the audience into the world on screen. 'There Will Be Blood' is a perfect example, but his other work; 'Boogie Nights', 'Magnolia', even 'Inherent Vice' all have visceral atmospheres that act almost as characters. Theres a lot to be said about his style and I am fascinated with the way he moves the camera. One of my favorite scenes in a movie is the opening shot of Boogie Nights. In one single three minute shot the 1970's porn scene is introduced, we meet the main characters, the important hierarchies, and even get some foreshadowing on the protagonist and antagonist. Complete immersion within three minutes. I wouldn’t consider PTA a perfect filmmaker like I'd consider Kubrick. A couple of his films have a few downfalls. Yet, I do think he's earned a spot amongst the best directors in Hollywood.
MUST WATCH FILM - 'There Will Be Blood'
MY FAVORITE - 'Boogie Nights'
LATEST RELEASE - 'Phantom Thread'
9. Steven Spielberg
The first draft of my top 10 favorite directors included Steven Spielberg as an honorable mention. When I first considered his work I thought of Saving Private Ryan and Jaws. Two great films that both pushed film boundaries during there time. It wasn't until I talked over my choices with a close friend though that I realized my error. Spielberg has the most universal filmography ever. He's been creating crafty films for the masses since the 70's and even still today. Not only can he bring in incredible box office numbers but he's proven that he can play the Oscars as well with titles like Lincoln and Schindler's List. It's honestly pretty bizarre to look at his filmography. He's the definition of a renaissance director. The jack of all trades, who has managed to stay relevant and on top for four decades. Though I don't love all of his films I could not deny him a spot on my list. His work has been able to connect generations through timeless pictures and I believe if that was his goal- he's succeeded multiple times.
MUST WATCH FILM - 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind'
MY FAVORITE - 'Saving Private Ryan'
UPCOMING - 'West Side Story'
8. Christopher Nolan
Since Memento's release in 2000, receiving critical acclaim for it's exceptional use of time as a plot device, Christopher Nolan has been a powerful force in cinema. He's written and directed seven films since 2000 and each one has been fresh. Three of those films are comprised of what I believe to be the best comic-book inspired films ever made- 'The Dark Knight Trilogy.' Nolan's talent and ability has continued to grow and the scale of his work has a heavy presence in cinema. When a trailer for a Nolan airs, it's a big deal. Typically releasing to a very limited audience. I'll never forget the anticipation leading up to 'Interstellar' and the teaser trailer with McConaughey driving away from his home crying. That kept me on the edge of my seat for an entire year. When the film released it couldn't possibly meet everyone's expectations, but I consider it his best film. It's both emotionally rewarding and completely stunning both visually and audibly. Nolan was an easy choice for me when making this list. The only reason he's not higher on the list is because he hasn't expanded his pallet in genres. For instance, Kubrick's films are all very much his movies but they contain a wide variety of tones and characters. Nolan definitely has his style, which I hope to see expand. Dunkirk was a great change in pace for his filmography.
MUST WATCH - 'The Dark Knight'
MY FAVORITE - 'Interstellar'
UPCOMING - 'Tenet'
7. Wes Anderson
“That sounds like poetry. Poems don’t always have to rhyme, you know. They’re just supposed to be creative.”
Wes Anderson was one of the first directors who's filmography I explored completely. When Moonrise Kingdom released in 2012 I was well underway my journey of watching the greatest films, but I hadn't yet come across Anderson's work. Moonrise turned out to be an endearing film gem and I became instantly obsessed with his movies. I set out over the next year watching all of his films. Looking back he was one of the first directors I studied so quickly. Right after Scorsese, Kubrick, Fincher, it was Wes Anderson. I say this because I feel like sometimes he's not given the credit he deserves. His movies are quirky and not always appealing to wide audiences. I compare him to Mr. Rogers. Anderson's movies often seem like children material but underneath the color and quirk is a heartfelt message. His cinematic perspective is one of the most unique today and I don't think anyone does stop motion better than him. My personal favorite 'Grand Budapest Hotel' is a great place to start for those new to his films. Its witty, hilarious, and packs an emotional. Featuring Ralph Fiennes, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, and an awesomely hilarious William Dafoe as the bad guy (as his name predicts). Go watch it. Anderson is one of the best directors around.
MUST WATCH FILM - 'Moonrise Kingdom'
MY FAVORITE - 'Grand Budapest Hotel'
UPCOMING - 'The French Dispatch'
6. David Fincher
Next to Kubrick, Fincher is the most meticulous and gloriously cinematic director in history. Next time you watch one of his movies try to pay attention to how the camera moves. Often, his camera movement will exactly match the velocity and direction of the moving character on screen. This effect requires tedious work from both Fincher and his actors. Bizarrely, this effect is occurring all the time. Eventually you're bound to stop noticing as his trick succeeds and becomes apart of the characters mimicking their body movement and ticks. Making you feel how they feel. For instance Brad Pitt's character in 'Seven,' David Mills, is an anxious and often jumpy character. When he's the focal point of a scene the camera is often moving quickly with him. This makes the tense moments of the movie, where David is still, nerve-racking. This tool is what makes Fincher a master of building suspense. Even in simple conversational scenes he's taking advantage of every cut and close-up to tell a story, which are often dark and uncertain. His filmography is excellent but currently too short. Fight Club is one of my all-time favorites. The Social Network, Zodiac, Gone Girl... All must watch films. Take some time to study Fincher. You will not be disappointed.
MUST WATCH FILM - 'Seven'
MY FAVORITE - 'Fight Club'
UPCOMING - 'Mank'
5. Denis Villeneuve
Denis Villeneuve is currently the master of science fiction cinema. His last two movies; Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival were both masterful films with completely different plots and universes. His next project is a reimagining of 'Dune,' scheduled for 2020 and is the first film Villeneuve has written since 'Incendies' in 2010. The anticipation is already killing me. What makes his sci-fi movies so great is the way he introduces us to his characters and his worlds. Previous to 'Arrival' Villeneuve was making gritty down-to-earth thrillers. The skills he uses and strengthens in 'Prisoners' and 'Arrival,' such as his use of color and shadows to create suspense, are essential to building the mysteries that make 'Blade' and 'Arrival' incredible. Science fiction isn't necessarily scary but the anticipation of the unknown makes Villeneuve so fascinating and suspenseful. I also adore his use of sound. 'Blade Runner 2049' is an example of how sound design and score can elevate an experience to new places. It was the first movie I choose to watch after installing my surround sound system. Invest some time in his filmography. It is absolutely insane.
MUST WATCH FILM - 'Blade Runner 2049'
MY FAVORITE - 'Prisoners'
UPCOMING - 'Dune'
4. Werner Herzog
I recently released a video about my fascination with three of Herzog's films; 'Aguirre the Wrath of God', 'Fitzcarraldo', and 'Nosferatu'. All very foreign yet visceral and exciting experiences that I enjoyed much more than first expected. His films and my video are what inspired me to work on this list. The first thing that Herzog does right is setting the tone of his films. All three of his films I previously mentioned start with long, dark, and ambiguous shots occupied by a frightening score. Herzog wants his audience to be on guard. The plots of each film differ immensely but a mysterious tone is present and I never knew what to expect. I thought each movie was perfect. His filmography is quite long and including documentaries it's one of the longest. I'll admit I haven't seen everything by him. The reason he's number four though, is because it's vividly evident how far he's willing to push to create his vision. In 'Fitzcarraldo', he filmed a tribe manually pulling a steamboat over a mountain. In 'Nosferatu', he transformed Klaus Kinski into Dracula. His craftsmanship is relentless and his ability to create cinema in unconventional ways- masterful.
MUST WATCH FILM - 'Fitzcarraldo'
MY FAVORITE - 'Nosferatu'
UPCOMING - 'Family Romance'
3. Stanley Kubrick
Kubrick is a mad genius. The first film by him I'd seen was 'The Shining.' A haunting film about isolation caused by a snow storm and perhaps something supernatural. Based on Steven King's novel of the same name but adapted in a new way for film, without much regard for the source material. The experience is both haunting and exhilarating. A major achievement for the horror genre. There are several documentaries about 'The Shining.' All speculating the hidden stories being told in the background; a story about American greed and the massacre of the natives or more notoriously Kubrick's confession of faking the moon landing footage for the U.S government. The latter theory being tied into Kubrick's earlier work '2001: A Space Odyssey', which is a spectacular landmark in the science fiction genre. He's also made a movie about the Vietnam war as well as a dark sexual fantasy starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, while the two were married. All of his films share an unmatchable level of detail and commitment to perfection. There's a reason the 'The Shining' has been studied for almost three decades. It's Kubrick's relentless pursuit of brilliance through cinema. If it weren't for personal preference, he'd be ranked #1.
MUST WATCH FILM - '2001: A Space Odyssey'
MY FAVORITE - 'The Shining'
2. Quentin Tarantino
This is the critically acclaimed, cult favorite, karate master Quentin Tarantino. I mean, this is the guy who created Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained, and Kill Bill. Each of his nine films are incredible. Successfully creating movies that are both box office hits and Oscar-worthy masterpieces. His talent isn’t the only thing he has going for him. He’s infamous for his attitude. Go watch a video of Tarantino crushing the soul of an unhappy film reporter. It’s incredible. His fiery spirit is also very evident in his films. You can always expect a blood-soaked climax in any film with his name on it. Tarantino writes some of the best scripts in Hollywood. He won the Oscar for best screenplay- twice. He wrote a story about 90s pop culture following different characters all unknowingly connected, which is called Pulp Fiction. It was nominated for seven Oscars and won best screenplay. He also wrote a story set in the 1800s following a man on a quest for redemption and revenge, which is called Django Unchained. It also won an Oscar for best screenplay. Tarantino is a huge nerd who loves cinema and loves creating quality cinema for us to enjoy. He was an easy choice for runner-up.
MUST WATCH FILM - 'Pulp Fiction'
MY FAVORITE - 'The Hateful Eight'
LATEST RELEASE- 'Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood'