Directors essentially are the creative control centre for movies. Their job is to perfectly translate the words from a page to the silver screen. Sometimes, they don't even have the benefit of pages. They deal in transforming ideas into shapes.
Of course some directors prefer to apply that trade to a specific niche that works for them, and sometimes they become masters of that niche. Martin Scorsese is undoubtedly the master of the crime drama genre. Guillermo Del Toro is a genius of the fantasy genre. Katheryn Bigelow, in the 21st century, has made the gritty historical drama her own.
As immensely talented as these filmmakers are, they are all known for making a very particular kind of film. Not that this is a negative, they have all made great works of visual art. However, there are some directors that have achieved critical and commercial success by being artistic chameleons. You aren’t quite sure what type of film their next project will be.
10. Damien Chazelle
Damien Chazelle is the youngest person in history to win the Academy Award for Best Director. This was definitely deserved as La La Land is one of the most whimsical, full of life and colourful musicals of the 21st century.
His first feature film was Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, which essentially laid the groundwork for what would eventually become La La Land 7 years later. Heavily influenced by Jazz and the musicals of the mid 20th century, it seemed Chazelle had found his niche.
Then Whiplash came around. The only thing in common with Guy and Madeleine and La La Land this film has is the heavy Jazz influence. That’s it. Whiplash is an intense, brutal but powerful psychological drama that poses questions about the ugly side to artistic greatness. It’s such a simple plot, and from the outside it seems like the stakes are very low. After seeing the film, it feels more grandiose and epic than your typical Hollywood tent pole.
After the success of Whiplash and La La Land, Chazelle chose to completely flip the script once again with 2018’s First Man. An immensely intimate character study of Neil Armstrong in the years leading up to him becoming the first man on the moon. In a sense, he reversed the formula of Whiplash: instead of a relatively low stakes plot feeling epic, he managed to make the grandeur of space exploration feel so personal and genuinely moving.
At such a young age he still has essentially the whole of his directing life ahead of him and if his willingness to experiment with genres this differently is anything to go by, we should expect the unexpected from his next project.