The 100 Best And Most Exciting Directors Working Today

It is, how shall we put this, not a huge week for new releases, and the movie news cycle seems to be taking a little bit of a breather in between TIFF and the New York Film Festival. So we thought we’d take this opportunity to attempt a more ambitious, wide-ranging week-long feature, and one that we’ve been batting around internally for a while now — our official and definitive and unimpeachably correct (!!) ranking of the 100 currently working filmmakers we’re most excited about.

As you can see from the title (“Best And Most Exciting”) we’ve built in a kind of warning right up top that this is, of course, extremely subjective, and even among ourselves the sliding scale between “best” and “most exciting” caused quite a lot of comradely debate and a little bit of blue murder. And that’s the way we wanted it, really because while the “best” side of things takes into account legacy and historical track record, “most exciting” lets us argue as we cycle in much newer, and relatively untested talents, who perhaps have more noise than signal right now, but nonetheless are a big part of what gets us out of bed in the morning. And “working” means we aren’t beholden to directors who may have done stunning work in their day but have either gone substantially off the boil or have been dormant for a while. Essentially, we get to do whatever we please.

That three-way balance is really what makes this list exciting to us, and where we get to make it, for want of an adjective that’s actually a word, Playlisty. Which also means there is 100% no way you’re going to agree with it all, so feel free to bawl us out in the comments, though seeing as we’re running 25 entries per day you might want to wait till the list is complete, because maybe your fave will show up later on, and then you’ll look silly. In any case, we’ve already had our fun compiling and we have to say, we really love it, and hope that you do too, even if you do disagree.

A Bigger Splash 5

100. Luca Guadagnino
You could make an argument that Italian cinema is the great underperformer of Europe — a filmmaking nation capable of great heights, but whose local industry has often gone through phases of failing to break out on the world stage (the 1980s and 1990s were a particularly bleak period). Since the turn of the new century, though, an exciting new wave of Italian filmmakers have arrived like Paolo Sorrentino and Matteo Garrone, but our favorite might be Luca Guadagnino. The Palermo native first turned heads with his erotic coming-of-age film “Melissa P” in 2005, followed by the utterly gorgeous Tilda Swinton vehicle “I Am Love” in 2009, a luxurious, lavish but also still fiercely intelligent piece of work that felt like seeing a great piece of European theater or opera. His follow-up, this year’s “A Bigger Splash,” was a joyously grubby B-movie in arthouse clothes (we mean that as a compliment), and an indicator that perhaps he’s just getting started.

Joachim Trier99. Joachim Trier
With his his second film, “Oslo, August 31st” following on from his supremely assured debut “Reprise,” Norwegian director Trier established his place among the vanguard of an increasingly thriving Nordic cinema scene, and found the best expression to date of his style and voice: restrained, novelistic, richly and rewardingly human. His most recent film and first in English, “Louder Than Bombs” (once again co-written by Eskil Vogt who made his own directorial debut with the shimmery and wonderful “Blind” in 2014) played in Cannes in 2015 to far more muted reaction and though we remain among its staunchest defenders, there’s no doubt that the extraordinary tides of minutely observed feeling that ebb and flow through ‘Oslo’ are not quite as seamlessly summoned. But Trier remains a beautifully accomplished filmmaker, tirelessly investigating self-identity and memory with an unshowy intelligence that seems to enlarge in scope from one film to the next.

marielle-heller98. Marielle Heller
Few filmmakers on this list are as early in their careers as Marielle Heller, who has only a single movie to her name at this point. But when that one film is “Diary Of A Teenage Girl,” as assured and skillful a directorial debut as we’ve seen in a long time, attention demands to be paid. The former actress beautifully adapted Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel memoir of coming of age in 1970s San Francisco and an age-inappropriate relationship with her mother’s boyfriend, bringing authenticity, visual imagination and an obvious skill with actors (Bel Powley is great, but so were Kristen Wiig and Alexander Skarsgard) to what could have been a very familiar story. Stellar work on episodes of “Transparent” and “Casual” have shown she’s no flash in the pan, and she’s got a great line-up of projects in development: an adaptation of documentaryThe Case Against 8,” true-life tale “Can You Ever Forgive Me? starring Melissa McCarthy, and J.J. Abrams-produced supernatural romanceKolma” with Daisy Ridley.

laurel-canyon-kate-beckinsale-lisa-cholodenko-christian-bale97. Lisa Cholodenko
With Peak TV luring many talents who don’t fit the white male profile traditionally repped by Hollywood, there are a few instances where we’ve included filmmakers who work on the small screen too. Take Lisa Cholodenko, whose case seems among the most stark in terms of sexism (it’s hard to believe a male writer/director with a critical hit of the order of 2010’s Best Picture-nominated “The Kids Are All Right” would not have had another film greenlit since) and whose work for television is part of the general blurring of boundaries between the media. So as well as director-for-hire episiodes of “Hung,” Six Feet Under” and “The L Word,” her four-part miniseries “Olive Kitteridge,” starring Frances McDormand, was one of the best shows of 2015 and in shape and quality easily sits alongside the best of her big-screen work (which includes feature debut “High Art” and the underseen “Cavedweller,” as well as her aforementioned “blockbuster indie”).

taika-waititi96. Taika Waititi
We have to confess that we slept on New Zealand’s Taika Waititi for too long. His feature debut “Eagle Vs. Shark” (which came after his Oscar-nominated short “Two Cars, One Night”) was a bit twee (and yet sour) for our tastes, and as such, we never watched his follow-up, “Boy.” But the cult buzz on his vampire mockumentary “What We Do In The Shadows” a couple of years back got too much to ignore, and once we caught up with the film, we realized how wrong we’d been to ignore him. The film’s one of the most consistently funny comedies of the last few years, but done with heart and an understanding of the horror genre and some visual flair too (unusual for the mock-doc genre). This year’s “Hunt For The Wilderpeople” was even better: a rousing, utterly charming adventure that showed he could play on a big canvas. And that canvas just got a lot bigger: next up, “Thor: Ragnarok.”

Al Manour95. Haifaa Al-Mansour
There are a lot of bad-news trends that we report on throughout the year, so it’s truly exciting when we get to be sunny-side-up, and the emergence of Saudi Arabia’s first female filmmaker, Haifaa Al-Mansour is one such time. Making an international splash not just because of that catchy epithet, but also because of the evocative simplicity and engaging warmth of her feature debut “Wadjda” in 2012 (also the first feature-length film to be shot entirely in her native country), Al-Mansour was already something of a controversial figure in Saudi filmmaking for her award-winning 45-min documentary “Women Without Shadows.” It would have been easy for “Wadjda” to have been a token critical hit, but gratifyingly, its strength has led to bigger things: Al-Mansour’s next movie is “A Storm in the Stars,” in which a who’s-who of rising young stars (Elle Fanning, Douglas Booth, Bel Powley, Tom Sturridge, Maisie Williams) bring the story of “Frankenstein” author Mary Shelley to life.

gina-prince-bythewood94. Gina Prince-Bythewood
For too long, Gina Prince-Bythewood has gone undervalued. To some extent, she’s still undervalued: it’s a straight-up fact that not enough people have seen her work so far. But we think her time’s about to come, and finally a larger audience will be waking up to how brilliant she is. Prince-Bythewood broke through with two movies in 2000: tender, well-acted HBO movie “Disappearing Acts,” and seminal, finely honed love story “Love & Basketball.” Her most recent movie, “Beyond The Lights,” was a fine reminder of her talents: detailing the romance between a Rihanna-style pop star struggling with fame (an astonishing Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and an ambitious young cop (Nate Parker), it was smart, moving and should have been a huge hit, but was mishandled by its distributor. Bigger things await, though: Prince-Bythewood is behind upcoming Fox series “Shots Fired,” about police shootings, and will reteam with Mbatha-Raw for an adaptation of Roxane Gay’s novel “An Untamed State” at Fox Searchlight.

Interview: Richard Linklater Talks ‘Everybody Wants Some!!,’ Spiritual Sequels, Music In His Films & More93. Richard Linklater
Always more Austin than Hollywood even when making studio movies, a perpetual outsider was embraced by the establishment when “Boyhood” became an unlikely awards phenomenon two years ago. And that kind of recognition for Richard Linklater has been long overdue. Like many filmmakers who are prolific and unconstrained by genre, Linklater can be patchy — he had a rough patch in the mid-00s with “Bad News Bears,” “Fast Food Nation” and “Me & Orson Welles.” But he’s been on the run of his life recently with disarming curio “Bernie,” devastating trilogy closer “Before Midnight,” the epic, yet deeply intimate “Boyhood,” and winning, if minor “Dazed & Confused” follow-up “Everybody Wants Some.” They’re quite different, but united by a very particular Linklater-ishness: an easy-going charm, a deep humanity, a deceptive incisiveness. He’s pleasingly unpredictable too, as his next move, a sequel to Hal Ashby’s “The Last Detail” with Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell and Laurence Fishburne, proves once again.

27532-the_bad_batch_-_director_ana_lily_amirpour92. Ana Lily Amirpour
There’s a good chance Ana Lily Amirpour would have featured in a higher position on this list had her sophomore feature “The Bad Batch” not left our Venice reviewer so wholly nonplussed. Still, although it might not have been the satisfying home-run we’d hoped for, there’s little doubt ‘Batch’ is an intriguingly uncompromised expression of Amirpour’s ineffably hip sensibility which means that even those who find it a letdown after her deliciously doomy, swoony debut “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” must be plenty interested in where she goes next. Even this early on in her career, Amirpour has a terrific eye (in collaboration with her regular DP Lyle Vincent), an ear for a sublimely off-kilter yet deeply appropriate soundtrack cue, and a finger-on-pulse coolness, which means that her magpie-like pick-and-mix approach to genre and aesthetic will always yield something idiosyncratic, however successful or unsuccessful it turns out to be.

evolution_-_director_s_portrait91. Lucile Hadžihalilović
All these years, we were debating whether Gaspar Noé was a genius or an empty provocateur, and it turns out that we should really have been paying attention to his wife and sometime collaborator Lucile Hadžihalilović, whose two strange, beguiling features to date show her to be the real talent in that particular filimmaking power couple. After a series of shorts, and producing and editing Noé’s breakthrough “I Stand Alone,” Hadžihalilović made her feature debut with 2004’s “Innocence,” about a macabre boarding school. Over a decade later, she returned with “Evolution,” following children on a mysterious island tended to by a group of women. The two make perfect companion pieces to each: utterly beautiful, dreamlike not-quite-horror films influenced by Lynch and Victor Erice but still entirely their own thing, movies with little interest in following traditional narrative but nevertheless worming their way entirely into your psyche. We just hope we don’t have to wait another decade for her next film.