I’ve been doing a “best directors on the planet” list for years now but this is my first attempt at doing a directors of a decade list. Here we go:
- Christopher Nolan – I don’t think there’s another answer here. He has two of the ten best films (tied with Iñárritu for the most), four of the top 100 (nobody else had four) and didn’t make a film this decade that wasn’t one of the best 100 of the year. Over the 2010’s he’s proven himself capable of making truly beautiful cinematic images (not always the case in the 2000’s for Nolan) and has become one of cinema’s all-time greatest editors with his peerless parallel editing sequences. I believe the editing in Dunkirk will be taught in film classes 50 years from now.
- Pawel Pawlikowski – The Woman in the Fifth has visual filmmaking that is half-Antonioni and half-Polanski but it is Ida in 2013 where one of the decade’s great cinematic artists really finds his voice: hauntingly beautiful black and white photography and painstakingly arranged mise-en-scene . Ida blew me away and Cold War confirmed the style.
- Steve McQueen – McQueen may not have a 1-2 film combination to compare with a few others on this list but I’m not sure anyone has a 1-3 that can match Shame, 12 Years a Slave, and Widows – that’s 3 films in the top 50 of the 2010’s decade and no other director can match that. When you consider his debut, 2008’s Hunger, was only a few years prior in 2008 and it landed in my top 500 of all-time already—this is truly one of the great (first four films) starts to a career an auteur has ever had.
- Alejandro González Iñárritu – Birdman and The Revenant both land solidly in the top 10 of the decade—that happened twice this decade with Nolan as well in the 2010’s but historically this doesn’t happen often at all. PTA was the only one in the 2000’s and the 1990’s actually (which is a holy $*** realization) but it didn’t happen in the 80’s, Coppola did it with 3 films in the top 10 in the 70’s- wow– and Fellini did it in the 60’s, Kurosawa in the 50’s, Welles in the 40’s, etc… Needless to say this is rarified air. Biutiful came out in 2010 and is a minor blemish—not a strong effort– but that is easily forgiven with the stylistic bravado Iñárritu put on display in back to back masterpieces gave us in 2014 and 2015.
- Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity was well worth the seven year wait after Children of Men and Roma, with another viewing and more time, may very well go down as Cuaron’s greatest work—and that is saying something because I have Children of Men as the #37 film of all-time.
- Wes Anderson – It was a quiet back-half of the decade for Wes Anderson (2018’s Isle of Dogs didn’t crack my top 10 of 2018 and that was after a four year wait) but the 1-2 punch of Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel during the first half of the decade can’t be argued with. If we’re doing a 2010-2014 best director of the first 5 years of the decade list it may be Wes who walks away #1 on this list.
- Damien Chazelle – Chazelle’s resume includes a top 5 film of the decade (La La Land) and another film in the top 41 (Whiplash). Chazelle is also the youngest of the 10 directors here by a wide margin… Nolan is the next youngest actually (he’s 14 years older than Chazelle) and essentially PTA, Wes and McQueen are all the same as Nolan—within a year or so). I’m excited to see what Chazelle does next (that’s a given with everyone on this list) but you could have a legendary career going forward and never top La La Land.
- Paul Thomas Anderson – I didn’t do this list in 2000 or 2010 but if I had those top 10’s would feature PTA as well (read my blurb on Iñárritu above– unbelievable). I don’t think you say that about the other nine directors here. The Master from 2012 I think stands toe to toe with the best of PTA’s work (that includes four films currently in my top 100 of all-time) and Phantom Thread gives his decade balance and depth.
- David Fincher – Fincher has been quiet since 2014’s Gone Girl and it can be tempting to have a recency biasbut The Social Network is strong enough to have him hold on to a top 10 slot here.
- Terrence Malick – I see both sides of the argument on Malick. On one hand it seems foolish to leave off (or even put way down at #10) the director of the best film of the decade— but on the other hand, To the Wonder, Knight of Cups and Song to Song is a string of 3 consecutive films this decade that didn’t land in my top 100 of the decade. I’ve only seen each film once and look forward to a rewatch of each but the late-career switch to become a prolific filmmaker (he made a total of 5 films from 1973 to 2011) doesn’t seem to suit Malick. He did return to the top 100 of the decade with A Hidden Life in 2019—a strong entry.
Honorable Mention (alphabetical)
- Ari Aster – I had no idea who Ari Aster was at this point in 2018—that’s crazy. Hereditary and Midsommar both landed in my top 50 of the decade though. What a shock wave start to a career- and he’s two years younger than even Chazelle!
- Yorgos Lanthimos – To clarify– Dogtooth is from 2009 (though I didn’t see it until 2010) so it isn’t a part of his 2010’s decade resume for this list or the Greek auteur would definitely be in the top 10. The Lobster confirmed that Dogtooth was no fluke and The Favourite feels like the crowning achievement of an all-time great auteur’s career.
- Richard Linklater – Poor Linklater seems to be always the bridesmaid on my lists and never the bride but after the 1-2 duo of Before Midnight and Boyhood in 2013 and 2014 he’s had a rough stretch here (he’s had these before—so don’t be too concerned about his 2020’s) and it is hard to put him in the top 10 when his last two films (Where’d You Go, Bernadette and Last Flag Flying)leave me a little less than ravenous for his next film.
- Quentin Tarantino – With Django and Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood Tarantino continues to climb higher and higher on my all-time auteur list– please give us one more decade of work!
- Denis Villeneuve – Villeneuve actually gave us six archiveable films in the 2010’s which is more than any of the other 14 names on this page—so prolific (and he’s been quiet for a couple years now building up to Dune in 2020). Of those six, three landed in the top 100 of the decade (Blade Runner 2049, Sicario, Arrival)—so impressive!
***********others that I gave pause and serious consideration to include on this list were James Gray, Noah Baumbach, Martin Scorsese, Lynne Ramsay, The Safdie Brothers, Barry Jenkins, and Nicolas Winding Refn