50 Greatest Directors of the 21st Century

10. Steven Spielberg

21st Century Filmography:A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), Minority Report (2002), Catch Me If You Can (2002), The Terminal (2004), War of the Worlds (2005), Munich (2005), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), The Adventures of Tintin (2011), War Horse (2011) Steven Spielberg's films are often criticized for his tendency to embrace a kind of bland sentimentality, and it's true that many of his works (past and present) depend on romanticized emotional cues. But Spielberg is one of those true born-filmmakers because he understands exactly what drives us to the big screen in the first place: A sense of discovery and adventure that we can't get anywhere else. Spielberg's films have captured the attention of children and adults for decades, and he has created some of the most recognisable motion pictures to have ever graced the multiplex. Culturally-ingrained masterpieces like Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jurassic Park, Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List secured Spielberg's place as last century's most famous director, but what kind of place has the 21st century proven for the maestro of movies? Well, nobody would agree that the 21st century has been Spielberg's best decade (that's a toss up between the 80s and the 90s), but it definitely hasn't slowed down his work ethic. There have been a few stinkers: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was a huge misfire made worse by a dud of a screenplay; A.I Artificial Intelligence practically alienated everybody that went to see it (it does have some worthy hidden depths). With The Terminal, Spielberg succeeded admirably in the rom-com genre (it was better than Always, anyway), albeit forgettably, and his bringing of Tintin to the world of CG filmmaking proved to be an enjoyable - if not especially spectacular - affair. It was with Minority Report, however, that Spielberg showed his adeptness for darker materials - his adaptation of Philip K. Dick's short story resulted in a thrilling sci-fi flick that avoided the sentimental touches. Catch Me If You Can proved an elegant and highly entertaining outing for Leonardo DiCaprio, and the eagerly-awaited War of the Worlds (although a great example of Spielberg at his best and worst) brought blockbuster filmmaking back to its roots. As promising a filmmaker as ever, the time to stop looking to Spielberg for quality entertainment is still a long way off. First Feature: Duel (1971) Cream of the Crop: Minority Report (2002) Next Up: Lincoln (2012)

9. Quentin Tarantino

21st Century Filmography: Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (2003), Kill Bill, Vol. 2 (2004), Death Proof (2007), Inglourious Basterds (2009) There's no doubt that Tarantino defined 90s cinema with his uber-cool flicks about slick gangsters and their slicker associates (and should this be a list of the The Greatest Filmmakers of the 90s, the Mississippi-born motormouth would surely top the list). After Pulp Fiction broke holy ground in '95, every budding filmmaker with a camera clammed to recreate Tarantino's fresh new style - a melting pot of pop cultural-fueled exchanges, twisted narrative technique and tendencies towards ultra-violence. So if the 21st century hasn't proven quite as prosperous for the 90s wonderboy, what were the chances that he'd break ground twice, anyway? Tarantino deriders will say that he's working backwards nowadays: His films less resemble original stories embedded with subtle homages and have become simple pastiches lacking the original beats of his earlier films. Though there's some truth in that (his Kill Bill films are obvious genre homages on purpose), it's not as if the former video store clerk has failed to acknowledge the fact that his style is... well, the style of the world's biggest film geek ("I only work in homages," he once stated). His vehicular slasher movie Death Proof gave us one of the best car chase sequences ever put to celluloid, but was underwhelming and overwritten by any standard: Critics and audiences were left cold. But with Inglourious Basterds, his 2009 western branded with World War 2 iconography, Tarantino struck a perfect balance between his straighter 90s ventures and the homage-clad Kill Bill films. It was one of the best and most enjoyable films of the decade (and gave the world Christoph Waltz - thank you!). It was also his best film since Pulp Fiction. If his popularity ain't exactly what it used to be, there's no doubt that Tarantino remains a fire of cinematic endeavor (his next movie, Django Unchained, looks to give the southern slavery scene the Inglourious Basterds treatment). Love him or loathe him, it's obvious that nobody cuts a slice of entertainment quite like Tarantino does: Entertainment made for the world's biggest movie geeks... by the world's biggest movie geek. It's obsessive cinephila expressed as an art form. First Feature: Reservoir Dogs (1992)Cream of the Crop: Inglourious Basterds (2009)Next Up: Django Unchained (2012)

8. Darren Aronofsky

21st Century Filmography:Requiem of a Dream (2000), The Fountain (2006), The Wrestler (2008), Black Swan (2010) The films of Darren Aronofsky are unashamedly bleak, dark and depressing, so it's no surprise than many film-goers are put off by these reoccurring themes of sadness: just one look at a few clips from Requiem of a Dream might be enough to put somebody off for life. But Aronofsky is one of the most talented filmmakers to emerge over the course of the 21st century - unabashed, real and emotionally-charged filmmaking is Aronofsky's thing, but these emotions are often put into a blender with surrealism, fantasy and touches of horror or science-fiction. 21st century highlights include... well, everything he's made since Requiem of Dream warrants immediate viewing. First Feature: Pi (1998)Cream of the Crop: Black Swan (2010)Next Up: Noah (2013)

7. Martin Scorsese

21st Century Filmography:Gangs of New York (2002), The Aviator (2004), The Departed (2006), Shutter Island (2010), Hugo (2011) Not just a 21st century master, but arguably the greatest director of all-time, Martin Scorsese is also the quintessential American auteur. Though he will perhaps always be best remembered for his incredible run of films throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s, the New York-born Scorsese has also made his mark on the 21st century with a succession of familiarly-themed films, documentaries, passion projects and some new surprises. The best of these is The Departed, a perfectly-realized Scorseseian crime flick in the vein of his earlier gangster films that, too, blends visuals, dialogue and music as if they were one fluid whole. Scorsese also paid homage to the horror and noir films he has always admired with the bold and dramatic Shutter Island, and put the life of eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes up on screen in The Aviator. An unexpected move in many ways, Scorsese tried a hand at his first ever children's film in 2011: Hugo. It opened to critical praise and overwhelmingly good reviews from audiences of children and adults everywhere. If anybody ever said that all Scorsese films were alike, there's plenty of argument to be had now that Hugo (currently) bookends one end of the man's astounding career. First Feature: Who's That Knocking At My Door? (1968)Cream of the Crop: The Departed (2006)Next Up: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

6. David Fincher

21st Century Filmography: Panic Room (2000), Zodiac (2007), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), The Social Network (2010), The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011) Dark? Twisted? Shot with a clinical, technical precision? We must be talking about David Fincher, of course, who made his name in the 90s with the bleak, brilliant horror Se7en and the stylish, inventive and twisting Fight Club. For the man whose pictures lounge in the residues of film noir aesthetics, these films assured that Fincher was often referred to as one of the best directors of that period; he's also made some of the best films of the 21st century. 2007's Zodiac, to be precise, and the Aaron Soarkin-penned The Social Network in 2010. Zodiac was a masterclass in how to tell a period drama with wit and atmosphere, made especially better and more interesting because the crime is never solved - there is information being exchanged at every moment but Fincher lets it wash over you with careful, calculated precision. If Zodiac was one of 2007's best films (and now, years afterwards, is often praised as one of the best serial killer films ever made), The Social Network makes a similar case for 2010. Though nothing like Fincher had every directed before, he pins his tendencies to the material without letting it get in the way of the script. The finishing product is beautifully-told, slick, tight and resonant. Above all, Fincher is a technical whiz and a perfectionist, two traits that come across in all of his films. Though Panic Room received lesser praise than most films of the period, it's a vastly underrated exercise in first-class pulp storytelling. Which proves that Fincher can thrive with any kind of material, and has done so on almost every occassion he has been given the chance. First Feature: Alien 3 (1993)Cream of the Crop: The Social Network (2010)Next Up: -
 
Posted On: 
Contributor

All-round pop culture obsessive.

Discussion