The 2010s have been filled with great films, and these are the best movie directors of the decade. As 2019 draws to a close, it's time to look back upon not just the past decade of movies, but also the people who have been responsible for making them.
This decade has been a fascinating time for movie directors, which has included legendary filmmakers delivering some big efforts, and new stars emerging on the horizon. At the same time, it's become commonplace for these emerging talents to be quickly swooped up by major franchises. The likes of Josh Trank and Colin Trevorrow, for example, all broke through with indies, before being chewed up and spat out by the machine. Others, however, have soared thanks to the likes of Marvel, Star Wars, and DC.
We've seen new films from all-time greats such as Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, the likes of Steven Soderbergh and Kevin Smith have retired and then returned, and across the board we've seen a number of exciting directors new and old produce some great films from 2010-2019.
20. Debra Granik
Movies: Winter's Bone, Leave No Trace.
There's an eight-year gap between Debra Granik's two movies this decade, and while that's too long for a filmmaker of her sublime talent, it was also worth the wait. With a rare gift for depicting the reality of human struggles, Granik's works can be harrowing at times, but she never leaves you without a veneer of hope as well.
19. Richard Linklater
Movies: Bernie, Before Midnight, Boyhood, Everybody Wants Some!!, Last Flag Flying, Where'd You Go, Bernadette?
The volume of Richard Linklater's output means he's had some misses this decade, but that's to be expected when you often take such big swings - and when he hits, they tend to be home runs. His best films, such as Before Midnight and Boyhood, convey an astonishing touch of artistry: that of a director who can make a film feel so real, in both the happiness and the heartache.
18. Greta Gerwig
Movies: Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig has just a sole film as a director so far, and yet still deserves a place here. That's how stunning a debut Lady Bird is (and also how great Little Women looks). Gerwig's feature film belies her relative inexperience behind the camera, easily blending comedy and emotion for a film that's at times hilarious, at others heartbreaking, and always authentic, with a greater visual style than is often mentioned too.
17. Alejandro G. Innaritu
Movies: Biutiful, Birdman, The Revenant.
In the middle of the 2010s, Alejandro G. Iñárritu was the director of the decade, which included him winning back-to-back Best Director Oscars. Operating at the very pinnacle of his craft for a few years, Iñárritu was able to perform some amazing feats of filmmaking, no matter how difficult they might've been to manage.
16. Quentin Tarantino
Movies: Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.
Quentin Tarantino has been around long enough now that his style isn't just recognizable, but a genre of its own, yet there's still little better than the real deal. His movies this decade have continued a trend of extreme violence and dialogue no one else can match, but it's his most recent effort that's the most remarkable. In Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Tarantino shows a much more mature and even sentimental side, confirming that even this old dog can learn some new tricks.
15. S. Craig Zahler
Movies: Bone Tomahawk, Brawl In Cell Block 99, Dragged Across Concrete.
S. Craig Zahler's movies are defined by violence. Across his movies this decade, he's made films that will make even the hardiest cinephile wince as punches land, limbs bend, and bones crunch. It's explosive, thrilling stuff, but it's also worth noting that Zahler has a great command of story and character, creating gripping tales that are served by those bursts of violence, and is a director who knows how to get the very best out of his actors, including a revelatory turn from Vince Vaughn.
14. Rian Johnson
Movies: Looper, Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Rian Johnson is a dangerous name to mention on the internet, but even some of Star Wars: The Last Jedi's detractors would admit he's a talented director. Johnson has shown himself capable of making thought-provoking, thrilling, and visually stunning movies, no matter if the budget is $30 million or $200m. With large-scale action combined with his own touches of humor, gorgeous cinematography, and rich in story, character, and themes, Johnson deserves to be acclaimed, not abused.
13. Taika Waititi
Movies: Boy, What We Do In The Shadows, Hunt For The Wilderpeople, Thor: Ragnarok.
From a low-budget vampire mockumentary to a massive MCU blockbuster, Taika Waititi has emerged as one of cinema's most unique - and hilarious - voices this decade. He's able to inject his sense of humor into just about anything, which included making Thor one of Marvel's best characters and most exciting franchises, but even better was Hunt For The Wilderpeople. There, he showed an astonishing and singular talent for taking that humor, but turning it into real emotion at the flick of a switch.
12. The Russo Brothers
Joe and Anthony Russo started the 2010s known for their work directing sitcoms. They end it as the people who helmed the highest-grossing movie of all-time in Avengers: Endgame. They've become the best and most-reliable directors of the world's biggest movie machine, and doing that takes real skill. They're directors who can stage a thrilling elevator fight sequence, an epic battle featuring dozens of characters, or just an intimate dance scene, and make all equally marvelous.
11. Paul Thomas Anderson
Movies: The Master, Inherent Vice, Phantom Thread.
Paul Thomas Anderson is another director whose legacy is already guaranteed and speaks for itself, but that doesn't make his work this decade any less worthy of celebration. We're well-acquainted with PTA's filmmaking styles, from his mesmerizing use of music to his constantly probing camera, making each of his movies a work of art. This decade, he's done so in a psychosexual meditation of relationships and love; an acid trip disguised as a film; and in The Master, arguably his best work, one of the great American films of modern times.
10. Jordan Peele
Jordan Peele was well-known for his comedy writing and acting, which has made his turn into the horror director of the moment even more surprising. With Get Out, Peele didn't just make an excellent horror film that blended scares with comedy and a timely message, but what felt like a cultural milestone. Us wasn't quite as successful, but it was the sign of a director with great ambition, expert skill, and who is only going to get even better.
9. Barry Jenkins
Movies: Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk.
Returning from an eight-year hiatus, Barry Jenkins delivered one of the most talked-about films of the decade with Moonlight (for reasons good and bad). Oscars shenanigans aside, what Moonlight and its follow-up, If Beale Street Could Talk, showed is that Jenkins is one of the most important voices in cinema today: rarely have people of color been shown on screen in ways that mix pain and anguish with such beauty and grace.
8. Kathryn Bigelow
Movies: Zero Dark Thirty, Detroit
Kathryn Bigelow hasn't been as busy as you might've hoped on the back of The Hurt Locker, but when she has directed, it's been a reminder of just how incredible she is. In both Zero Dark Thirty and Detroit, Bigelow has shown that she can make tense, taut, politically-charged thrillers that will have you on the edge of your seat as well as, if not better than, just about anyone else in the business.
7. Wes Anderson
Movies: Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Isle of Dogs.
By now, everyone knows what they're getting from Wes Anderson: his olf-kilter humor paired with his own brand of melancholy, all dressed up in the most gorgeous, fussily designed and perfectly symmetrical sets. But if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Anderson this decade has become even more, well, Wes Anderson-y, and maintains his unique voice through both live-action and stop-motion animation. The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of his absolute best, and this decade has proved Anderson as a supremely talented filmmaker who doesn't just let us see into his mind and heart, but puts it on glorious display.
6. Alex Garland
Movies: Ex Machina, Annihilation.
Alex Garland made the leap this decade, going from novelist and screenwriter to director of his own films, and it's one he's handled with such skill you'd think he'd been doing it for decades. In both Ex Machina and Annihilation, he's not only shown that he can create jaw-dopping visuals on low-to-mid budgets, but also create cerebral sci-fi films that deftly play with big ideas, don't dumb things down, provide thrills at the time, and refuse to leave your thoughts afterward.
5. Alfonso Cuarón
Movies: Gravity, Roma.
Alfonso Cuarón doesn't make movies very often: he has just two this decade, and only five this century. But when he does, you can be sure they're pretty damn great. With 2013's Gravity, he made a technical marvel that achieved great things with new technologies. Even better was 2018's Roma, which is not only the best Netflix movie to date, but paired that technical brilliance with a searingly human story, making for his most staggering work so far.
4. David Fincher
Movies: The Social Network, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl.
David Fincher is still perhaps best known for his two major works in the 1990s, but his run at the beginning of this decade is a stunner. Across his three movies from 2010-2014, Fincher continued to be a director who can so hauntingly capture the darkest sides of humanity, create mood and mysteries that enrapture us, and do so with meticulous attention to detail that ensures every single shot not only looks great, but is worth analyzing over and over again. Mindhunter has helped fill the gap, but it remains a huge shame that he hasn't directed a movie since 2014.
3. Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan established himself as one of the world's best directors in the 00s, but what's most impressive is that he's kept up those standards while pushing himself even further. Inception is a groundbreaking work of genius, and his subsequent efforts this decade show not only a filmmaker determined to keep on raising the limits of his craft, but marrying that ambition with a greater emotional maturity too. Like Spielberg at his peak, Nolan is now pure event cinema, and doesn't disappoint.
2. Damien Chazelle
Movies: Whiplash, La La Land, First Man.
Damien Chazelle's still-fledgling career has perhaps been slightly overshadowed by controversies around his films, but what matters is just how special his movies are. Through his three features this decade, Chazelle has proved himself to be a filmmaker who has a serious sense of style and technical brilliance, whether he's creating a Golden Age musical or a massive sci-fi flick. But he's also one of substance too, capturing the pain and glory that comes with so singularly pursuing your dreams, even if they are fools.
1. Denis Villeneuve
Denis Villeneuve has had a longer career than most realize, but it's undoubtedly the 2010s where it has skyrocketed. He's been on a remarkable run that just about any director in history would be proud of, and marked himself out as one of this generation's greatest craftsmen, whether it's smaller-scale thrillers or dazzling blockbusters. He can capture the ugliness of humanity, but in the likes of Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 - two of the decade's best films - its beauty too.
- Ari Aster
- Ryan Coogler
- Ava DuVernay
- Yorgos Lanthimos
- Phil Lord & Chris Miller
- Christopher McQuarrie
- Martin Scorsese
- Edgar Wright