50 Greatest Directors of the 21st Century

5. Michael Haneke

21st Century Filmography: Code Unknown (2000), The Piano Teacher (2001), Time of the Wolf (2003), Cache (2005), Funny Games (US) (2008), The White Ribbon (2009), Love (2012) If ever a list were drawn-up of filmmakers who purposely set out to toy with their audiences, Michael Haneke's name would place somewhere near the top. The German-born Haneke has already stated that he doesn't have much respect for what he calls American "barrel-down" cinema. Instead, he's more interested in the dissection and exploration of audience/filmmaker relations. Take his 1996 film Funny Games, for example (an ill-judged American remake hit screens 2008), which sets up a seemingly archetypal horror scenario and then makes you feel bad for having any prior expectations. If that doesn't sound like too much fun, it's not supposed to be - Haneke is more focused on giving you something to think about. The same kind of effect is learned from his 2005 film Cache, which, like it does for the characters who are placed in the mind-bending scenario of the film, serves up a kind torture device for the audience, too - who did what and why? Of course, Haneke never gives you the straight-out answers. That would be too simple. Whether or not his unique audience-based fixations are enough to completely alienate you from the material, Haneke remains an undeniably powerful filmmaker. The 21st century his proved to be his best period as a director: he was even recent recipient of the 2012 Palme d'Or for his relationship drama Love. One of very few filmmakers whose films can make you extremely nervous in the moments before a viewing, there's no denying the skill with which Haneke constructs his moral experiments. On meeting you in the hallway of a theater after a screening of one of his films, and noticing the frown stuck on your face, he might ask: "Hey, what did you expect would happen?" First Feature: The Seventh Continent (1989)Cream of the Crop: Cache (2005)Next Up: -

4. Peter Jackson

21st Century Filmography: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), King Kong (2005), The Lovely Bones (2009) It was New Zealand-born director Peter Jackson who achieved the impossible in the early part of the 21st century - his phenomenal cinematic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings novels was released to universal praise. Taking on a project of such wide stature might have seemed like a potential disaster for the relatively unknown director and blockbuster newbie, though Jackson managed to pull the whole thing off without any sign of a strain, transforming three hugely-adored fantasy books into a trilogy that stayed true to the spirit of the source material and made hobbits cool again. Practically perfect (save for an ever-so-slightly middling middle film), Jackson's vision proved to be more successful than anybody could have prophesied - the first instalment of the trilogy (The Fellowship of the Ring) hit screens in 2002 and grossed $871,530,324. Jackson would finish this epic journey at the 2004 Oscar ceremony with 11 nominations and 11 wins. After six years in the making, no one but Jackson and his team deserved such a sense of recognition. Jackson followed that colossus of a production with a swing at his dream project: a remake of classic 1933 adventure King Kong. This time the filmmaker managed to craft a huge blockbuster that was wholly reliant on special effects that were used to create Kong and the inhabitants of Skull Island. For Jackson, however, leaving out the emotional side of a story so personal to him was not an option - the film focused, too, on the relationship aspects concerning Kong's infatuation with Ann Darrow. It was a long movie at nearly three hours, but King Kong emerged as an undeniable epic, and the work of a certifiable blockbuster genius. His only misfire this century came in the form of popular novel adaptation The Lovely Bones, which, although not terrible, seemed at odds with the nature of its source material. First Feature: Bad Taste (1987)Cream of the Crop: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)Next Up: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

3. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

21st Century Filmography: O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), The Man Who Wasn't There (2001), Intolerable Cruelty (2003), The Ladykillers (2004), No Country For Old Men (2007), Burn After Reading (2008) A Serious Man (2009), True Grit (2010) For those brilliantly quirky brothers who often find themselves pegged as one man ("The Two-Headed Director"), the past 12 years has proved a sensational period in their nearly-flawless career. For the Coens, Joel and Ethan, are rarely anything but an original force of creative energy. They also happen to share one of Hollywood's most distinctive voices. The Coens make movies with visual flair, idiosyncratic dialogue, broad comedic moments, deft characters and worlds that seem somewhat like our own but are just a little too offbeat - all of which live and breath the history and influence of cinema. Over the course of the 21st century, the Coens have showcased two distinct traits: the power of originality and the power of adaptation. There have been a few duds: the low point is definitely the broad and strangely commercial remake of The Ladykillers - seemingly Coen in its make-up (it's a goofy story, after all), the finished film never seemed to gel. But even lesser works like 2003's Intolerable Cruelty and 2009's Burn After Reading are worthwhile trips for a Coen fan - they may not hold the lasting appeal of, say, Fargo (what does?), but there's joy to be found. The Coens have always felt comfortable working under a western-genre aesthetic - that's to say, the mythology of the old west and all its trappings is particularly forthcoming in many of their works. That's how they started their career with the excellent Blood Simple, but their latest films have also tapped into those ideals: their dark, violent morality-bending adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's No County For Old Men in 2007 was drenched in western iconography and was one of the best films of that given year. Perhaps that project granted the brothers their best taste yet of the genre: so much so, that they'd make their first full-on western with 2010's True Grit, a fine, poignant, exciting and beautifully-shot interpretation of the classic novel. The associated quirkiness might not be to everyone's tastes, but the Coens have made several films this century that appeal more broadly in their telling of emotionally resonant tales - these classics will undoubtedly stand the test of time. The greatest thing about these very talented brothers, of course, is that they have rarely compromised their voice for the sake of a paycheck. They make Coen Brothers movies. Let's hope they always will. First Feature: Blood Simple (1984)Cream of the Crop: No Country For Old Men (2006)Next Up: Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

2. Werner Herzog

21st Century Filmography:Wings of Hope (2000), Invincible (2001), Wheel of Time (2003), The White Diamond (2004), The Wild Blue Yonder (2005), Grizzly Man (2005), Rescue Dawn (2007), Encounters at the End of the World (2007), Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009), My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done (2009), Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010), Into the Abyss (2011) There are a number of directors who divide their time between both documentary filmmaking and features, but none so successful and confident within the realms of both formats as Werner Herzog. Herzog has been making films in all kinds of genres for a number of decades now, but the 21st century and the advancement of age have done nothing to slow the Bavarian director down. In fact, though his productivity has always been on the expansive side, these days his output seems to be larger than ever. Over the last 12 years, Herzog has made great film after great film on a variety of themes and subjects. Be it the story of a downed Vietnam war pilot (told twice, once as a documentary in Wings of Hope, and once as a feature film in Rescue Dawn), a shocking, haunting portrait of a man who went away to live with the bears (Grizzly Man), transporting us to far-off places we may never get the chance to visit (Cave of ForgottenDreams/Encounters at the End of the World), the days of a crazy, drug-obsessed detective (Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans) or the real-life telling of a nutcase who took up a last-stand in a house after stabbing a family member with an ancient sword (My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?): no subject is uninteresting to Herzog. After so many years, it isn't hyperbolic to say that Werner Herzog is one of the most fascinating personalities to have ever graced the world of filmmaking. His energy, passion and enthusiasm for projects of such diverse range and subject matter remains unrivaled. He's even a body of fascination to behold outside of the cinema scene: in the last few years alone, Herzog has rescued Joaquin Phoenix from a burning car, and was shot with an air rifle during an interview, only to continue proceedings, describing it as "not a significant bullet." If you are still unfamiliar with Werner Herzog, let this be the last time you read his name without attacking his filmography. He is, above all, a treasure and an institution. He understands that image is the most valuable tool of any filmmaker and crafts work of genuine power and artistry. He has helped audiences to discover dozens of worlds that we might never have had a chance to see for ourselves. He is a true creative with an astonishing and intimidating body of work. Knowing that Werner Herzog is out there, off at the very far reaches of the planet, or putting together his next feature film, is something that should never be taken for granted. Not by those of us who truly love the cinema and all its offerings. First Feature: Signs of Life (1968)Cream of the Crop: Grizzly Man (2005)Next Up: -
 
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