One cannot discuss the films of the 2010s without mentioning the talented visionaries behind each camera that brought them to life. Some were well-known faces that surprised everyone with what they could do in the director’s chair. Others were complete unknowns who reminded the industry what originality looked like in a film again. But make no mistake: these are the faces who could easily become the next Spielberg, Scorsese or Kubrick, though perhaps they should be judged on their own talent. Here the mxdwn Movie’s feature staffs picks for the best new directors of the 2010’s:
1. Denis Villeneuve
The genius filmmaker behind masterpieces like Prisoners (2013), Sicario (2015), Arrival (2016), and Blade Runner 2049 (2017), Denis Villeneuve’s name skyrocketed into the 2010’s with one successful film after another. Rightfully so, as all of them have been incredibly mature, well-crafted, cerebral movies that leave a lasting effect on the viewer. Villeneuve has created a distinct style for himself with his use of mood-heavy scores, thematic color palettes, and camera angles that create a sense of voyeurism and secretive watching.
He also frequently utilizing twist endings and, most appreciable of all, strong female characters. Hollywood is often criticized for churning out large productions that feature weakly written or unrealistic portrayals of women. Villeneuve is evidence that big budget films can still depict layered female characters, even in action movies. His films tend to take on incredibly complex, sophisticated ideas and portray them without oversimplification — respecting the viewers intelligence while still offering them a breath-taking and mind-altering viewing experience.
– Avalon Allen
2. Greta Gerwig
Greta Gerwig has made a name for herself in the past decade by providing representation for young women everywhere on the big screen. Her directorial debut Lady Bird was regarded as the pinnacle of modern coming-of-age movies, garnering awards for Best Motion Picture, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay. The film follows the growing-up of a California high schooler and is heavy with an air of realism and lack of romance. Her most recent film, Little Women, an adaptation of the novel by Louisa Alcott, also revolves around the livelihood of young women, though in the context of a period piece.
Through the projects Gerwig produced during the 2010s, she has provided a place for young women to exist and see themselves in film. Rather than being supporting characters, women take center stage in Gerwig’s movies and act as autonomous, realistic people. Gerwig has not only furthered female representation, but made way for an authentic positive representation of women in media.
– Natalie Holderbaum
3. Damien Chazelle
Damien Chazelle made history as the youngest director to win both the Golden Globe and Oscar for Best Director when he released La La Land in 2016. But the 34-year old director took the industry by storm in 2014 with his breakout film Whiplash, a tense drama about the toxic relationship between a drummer and his “Gunnery Sergeant Hartman but a teacher” musical instructor. The film received universal acclaim and made J.K. Simmons’ Terrence Fletcher’s one of the decade’s best cinema villains, earning both him a well-deserved Oscars.
With Whiplash, La La Land and the Neil Armstrong biopic First Man under his belt, Chazelle has proven above and beyond to be a talented filmmaker. His films capture anxiety and beauty quite naturally and show off an inventiveness that has yet to be consumed by the Hollywood machine. The man has his whole career ahead of him, and what a resume to start out with in six years alone.
– Ben Wasserman
4. Ari Aster
Steven Spielberg’s first commercially successful film was Firelight, a lost story about a town overran by flying saucers. The master behind Avatar and The Terminator, James Cameron, started his career with a sequel to the Piranha series. How does Ari Aster make his debut as a director? By releasing one of the most anxiety-inducing horrifying films in recent memory: Hereditary.
Hereditary is the movie most directors would hope to retire on. But to bounce back with an original take on horror-folk storytelling in 2019’s Midsommar? It’s unheard of, yet it works so well. Aster brings a confidence as a master of setting moods and telling the darkest stories in the most fascinating ways. There’s horror, and then there’s Ari Aster horror.
– Ryan Sterritt
5. Taika Waititi
With a filmography that includes What We Do in the Shadows (2014), Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016), Thor: Ragnarok (2017), and most recently Jojo Rabbit (2019), Taika Waititi has proven himself an expert in endearing and relatable comedy. What makes his films so distinct is the uniqueness of its humor, which implements an odd blend of dryness and sweetness. Whether he’s focusing on ancient vampires, an orphaned juvenile delinquent, or a hammer wielding God of Thunder, he depicts them all with originality and light-hearted treatment.
Most charming about Waititi’s style is his authentic depiction of childhood. This is most exemplified with his films Boy (2010), Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016), and Jojo Rabbit (2019), which show all the ups and downs that come with being a kid. Rather than shying away from the rough parts that often accompany childhood or portraying them with depressing bleakness, they’re handled with realism and humor. Waititi showcases how you can indeed do comedy in a mature way.
– Avalon Allen
5. Jordan Peele
Calling Jordan Peele one of the best new directors of the 2010’s would have sounded absurd at the start of the decade. Back then, Peele was best known for his comedic chops on Keye and Peele and, despite the show’s genius skits, him jumping to the director’s chair (in horror of all genres), seemed rather fantastical. Turns out, however, all those genre satires and Obama impressions made Peele a genius at understanding what makes moviegoers tic. Just look at how Get Out rose to horror stardom as one of the decade’s best films and an Oscar- winner for Best Original Screenplay.
With both Get Out and 2019’s Us, Peele has demonstrated his ability to both scare moviegoers and peel back the banal layers of American society. In this sense, his films are more akin to social thrillers, blending thrills, scares and humor in a manner that never feels forced. The fact that he’s focusing on non-white stories demonstrates the need to diversify the industry and cast a stronger light on representation in cinema. He’s good at making stories about monsters, especially those homegrown on American ideals.
– Ben Wasserman
7. Ava DuVernay
Ava DuVernay’s rise to fame has helped shift cultural perception and shape the entertainment industry. Her unique brand of filmmaking features African Americans in leading roles–from historically marginized figures to young heroines of modern America. For Selma, a groundbreaking film with a twist on the story of Dr. Martin Luther King, she was the first black woman to earn the nomination for the Golden Globe Award for Best Director and first black female with a film nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Likewise, with A Wrinkle in Time, while unsuccessful, made her the first black woman to direct a film with a budget of about $200 million dollars.
DuVernay’s style places importance on complex family and romantic relationships, marginalized groups, and characters who find themselves in a predicament. There tends to be a focus on the characters’ faces, low lighting, the prison system, and young, black female protagonists. With these films and her recent Netflix miniseries When They See Us, DuVernay is making waves and paving the way for other black women to take center stage in filmmaking.
– Anastasia Hanna
8. Ryan Coogler
Ryan Coogler has only directed three films- Black Panther, Fruitvale Station, and Creed, yet he stands out because of the significant impact all three entries have had on the push for diversity in the entertainment industry. African-American culture is often neglected in Hollywood, but Coogler’s films gave it more representation with honest looks at his character’s lives and struggles, even when taken to fantastical locations like Wakanda. He also has a way of approaching mainstream cinema with a creative process that feels distinctive, dramatic, and personal.
– Anastasia Hanna
9. Chad Stahelski
Starting out as a stunt coordinator and serving as co-director of John Wick along with David Leitch, Chad Stahelski has experience in the action genre. Being the sole director of the John Wick sequels has only further proven his grasp on directing. The action scenes in this franchise are excellently choreographed and don’t rely on quick-cut editing or shaky cam to showcase the skills of Baba Yaga, making Wick’s story all the more interesting to watch as well. Action movies are mostly overlooked in Hollywood, but watching the technical skill of these movies have made them stand out amongst the genre’s best over the last decade. It makes the viewer want to experience them again and again but I do believe one thing is certain…No one expected John Wick to be as good as it is.
– Rick Rice
10. Roger Eggers
Eggers paved a bold path in independent horror cinema throughout this decade. Both The Witch and The Lighthouse take on the horror genre in a way that defies convention. The muted narratives of these films are steeped in realism and work to scare audiences in a way that leans on the disturbing side. Rather than using jump scares or other stereotypical characteristics of blockbuster horror films, Eggers relies on an eerie storyline whose basis is enough to unsettle any audience.
An independent horror movement has taken off in the past decade, with Eggers being a noteworthy contributor to said movement. Audiences are used to every trick in Hollywood’s scare-book, resulting in many horror fans being more invested in a cinematic scare than a flashy one. Both of Egger’s films fill this consumer’s demand, as he continues to deliver visually striking films that also have the power to mortify.
– Natalie Holderbaum
11. Alex Garland
Ex Machina came out of nowhere. Critics praised the film as genuine science-fiction: a slightly exaggerated tale of technology that holds a mirror to our current lives. Director Alex Garland is no stranger to science fiction, however, having written Never Let Me Go, 28 Days Later, and Sunshine before launching his directorial debut with Ex Machina.
Continuing his love for science-fiction and the complex questions it poses, Garland introduced the world to his take on the novel Annihilation. While not as successful as his previous film, Annihilation was critically praised as a fascinating and hypnotic look at human relationships. Both films challenge our thoughts on human behavior and what it actually means to be a human being, cementing Garland’s promise in filmmaking.
– Ryan Sterritt
12. Coralie Fargeat
Corale Fargeat’s Revenge may sound like a retread of I Spit on your Grave, but this time around it adds a feminist spin. It’s bloody, brutal and surely not for the faint of heart, but when you consider the idea that a woman wrote and directed this movie, it changes everything. Beautifully shot, well-acted and definitely part of the French New Wave of Horror, Fargeat is a director that I hope to follow over the years. We don’t see many female horror directors, especially ones who make a film of this caliber. Revenge may not be for everyone, but no one can deny the skills at which Fargeat has brought to the table.
– Rick Rice