Here’s my annual stab at listing and ranking the best directors on the planet. Usually I look at the last 10 years’ worth of work with a heavy emphasis on even more recent work in
- Nolan (1)– Roma and Cuaron was the only thing in 2018 with enough power to possibly knock off Nolan for the #1 slot and I just can’t do it. I have Roma over Dunkirk slightly but only slightly and the combined efforts of Inception, Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar trump Gravity pretty handedly. I ran the numbers on the list of directors with multiple films in the top 100 of the 2010’s—Nolan is the only one with four.
- Cuarón (8)- Roma arrived after Cuaron’s typical long gestation period (5 years between this and Gravity after 7 between Gravity and Children of Men). It sure feels like the second Cuaron film destined to be on the top 100 films of all-time and that says it all.
- Iñárritu (2)- After dropping absolute stone-cold masterpieces in 2014 and 2015 we’ve got nothing in 16-18’ and I’m getting nervous.
- P.T. Anderson (4)– Nothing in 2018 of course but he’s the greatest all-time auteur on this list and both Wes Anderson and Chazelle had weak entries in 2018 so he stands pat even with Cuaron soaring past him.
- Pawlikowski (not on list)- Pawlikowski was the major revelation in 2018 as far as modern auteurs go. Not only does Cold War appear to be an all-timer but I had my second pass at Ida and first at The Woman in the Fifth and he’s simply one of the best five auteurs working today. He makes bold, beautiful aesthetic choices and I may take Ida and Cold War over any other auteur’s recent 1-2.
- Steve McQueen (not on list)- Widows is my #4 of 2018 and perhaps the most underrated film to come out all year. McQueen’s debut in 2008 (amongst in the 21st century) launch a career that, thus far, has given us Must-see film (top 5 of the year quality), Masterpiece, Must-see, Must-see. Few auteurs in history have had a decade run like that with no blemish.
- Chazelle (3)- First Man is not a bad film, it’s a very good film, but this is not a list of very good directors. It’s an undeniable step backwards for the young talented auteur- hopefully a lesson learned a return to form with his project. Whether he ever can match La La Land is another question- I just hope the next one is more ambitious artistically.
- Yorgos Lanthimos (not on the list)- The Favourite is a stunner and the crowning achievement (thus far) for the burgeoning auteur who now has three films (Dogtooth, The Lobster) that would make any year’s top 10 list)
- Wes Anderson (5)– Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel were spectacular but with Isle of Dogs falling short of the top 10 of 2018 Wes has now gone since 2014 since having a top 10 of the year-level film—longer ago than any of the other names on this list.
- Denis Villeneuve (7)- Villeneuve has done nothing wrong to fall here. Top 10 entries in 2015, 2016 and 2017 and I’m pumped for Dune in 2020. Lanthimos passed him in 2018 with a film better than Villeneuve has ever made— ditto with Pawlikowski. With McQueen (the third auteur to pass him) it’s more about the accumulative work. They aren’t all recent but I’m taking McQueen’s trio of Shame, 12 Years, and Widows over DV’s trio of Sicario, Arrival and Blade Runner:2049.
- Linklater- Poor Linklater, his resume is so incredibly strong but he’s just not the visual master these other auteurs are. Another demerit for him is his appearing as a regular on my top 10 is largely based on his prolific nature and he’s had nothing to show for us in the archives in 2017 or 2018
- Jenkins- If Beale Street Could Talk may not quite be Moonlight (only saw it once and look forward to revisiting soon) but it proves Moonlight was no fluke and I don’t see it falling out of my top 10 of 2018—tone poems, lush colors, and fantastic close-ups—WKW meets Jonathan Demme
- Ramsay- Ramsay works so infrequently that she’s hard to place on a list like this. She’s made four films in 20 years but if you were to watch all four (including her most recent- the brilliant You Were Never Really Here) in a row, and then take about a week to just let them sink in, you’d be hard pressed to find more than a handful of directors you’d take over her on the planet. They’re uncompromisingly similar, visually stunning and clearly a major part of her brilliance is in the editing room.
- Coogler– In just a few short years Coogler has taken a Rocky-movie and a Marvel film and jammed them into the top 10 of their respective years (and probably has made the best one of each series/franchise). He’s simply one of the 15 directors I would be most excited to see what they do next
- Refn- Refn is one of six auteurs with three (or more—Nolan) top 100 films of the decade, in this decade. That’s remarkable and the others (McQueen, Linklater, Pawlikowski, Villeneuve) are all ahead of him on this list. Drive may seem like a long time ago now but Only God Forgives and Neon Demon are amongst the most underrated films of the last five years.