In the early 20th century, when the public's love affair with cinema began, we were first introduced to this beguiling new art form through its stars, and this is exactly how the powers that be wanted it. When the Hollywood studios ran the film industry like a tightly controlled, upper-class bordello, the emphasis was placed on the faces you could see, the actors, and a films director existed in some theoretical dark corner of the silver screen, practicing some ethereal cinematic wizardry that the plebeian film fan could never even hope to understand. As the Hepburns', Davis', Borgarts', and Gables' of the world began to age though, and their box office power diminished, the studios were briefly forced to let the inmates run the prison, handing over the keys to the pesky directors. Suddenly, the auteur was born. While technically speaking, Auteur Theory, the belief that a films director is its author and is primarily responsible for its success or failure, started with the essays of the French New Wave director Francois Truffaut, it didn't burrow its way into the minds of mainstream moviegoers until the 1970s when directors such as Francis Ford Coppola, Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas became household names. This was not to last though, for as the money came rolling in from the box office receipts of films such as Jaws and Star Wars, the multi-national corporations that took over the film studios more or less replaced the auteur with high-concept blockbusters and film franchises. However, even as the public has gorged itself on mind-numbing popcorn flicks, a significantly large group of cineastes have kept the idea of the auteur very much alive. For these film fans, debating the merits of this director's filmography over an others is a discussion of pure joy, but while it's easy to look back a few decades and declare this or that auteur a "genius", it's a little harder to build consensus around contemporary filmmakers and their work. The difficulty of this task is exactly what makes it worthwhile though, so what proceeds is a list, only considering films made post-1999, of the 20 greatest directors of the 21st century.
20. Jacques AudiardFilmography: Read My Lips (2001); The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2005); A Prophet (2009); Rust and Bone (2012) European filmmakers have been focused on "social realism" since the Italian Neorealist movement that sprung out of the desperate poverty in the immediate chaos of post-WWII Italy. However, while strands of this realist movement would always remain prevalent in European cinema, the masters of continental cinema, such as Fellini, Truffaut, and Bergman, combined much of the subject matter of realist films with some of the techniques of classic Hollywood. Far from shunning the "artifice" of movie magic, these auteurs used the ethereal qualities of film to better highlight the lives of their "typical" characters. They embraced the unique qualities of cinema instead of viewing them as a problem to work around. Sadly, this attitude has seemed to dissipate among contemporary European filmmakers, but one exception to this has been Jacques Audiard. The French director behind such films as A Prophet and Rust and Bone still tends to focus on characters living on the margins of society, but, he does so in a manner that isn't obsessed with emphasizing just how REAL his characters' circumstances are. Instead, Audiard's films tend to be infused with a certain amount of humanism that could almost be described as Capra-esque, and Audiard doesn't shy away from employing cinematic flourishes such as the use of licensed music and montage sequences when he feels it appropriate. For these reasons, Audiard earns a spot on the list.