claire-denis10. Claire Denis
For so long the exception that proved the female-filmmaker rule, French director Claire Denis has quietly, but to widespread cinephile adoration, amassed an amazing career of 11, soon to be 12 peerlessly intelligent, uncompromising titles. Her debut “Chocolat,” like many of her films, is about colonialism (Denis’ perspective on class and racial divisions in French society is informed by her own upbringing in a white French family in various African countries), and is a shimmeringly ambiguous yet clear-sighted and accessible entry point into her fascinating filmography. “Beau Travail,” starring Denis Lavant, might well be her first real masterpiece, though, with “White Material,” “35 Shots of Rum” and the much-misunderstood “Trouble Every Day” not far behind. In fact, while we may not have liked 2013’s “Bastards” as much, really Denis has never made an uninteresting film, and her next project, Robert Pattinson-starring sci-fiHigh Life” is one of our most anticipated titles of next year.

mia-hansen-love9. Mia Hansen-Løve
Still only 35 but with five films behind her, Mia Hansen-Løve has grown in both skill and stature with every subsequent film, which is impressive given that she started with some pretty remarkable work. An actor in her teenage years, then a Cahiers Du Cinéma critic, Hansen-Løve broke through with the impressive “All Is Forgiven,” followed swiftly by the devastatingly, remarkably mature “The Father Of My Children” and melancholy romance “Goodbye First Love.” Her last couple of films have truly confirmed her as one of the best we have right now: first with “Eden,” an epic, decades-spanning look at the French house music scene and arrested development; then this year’s “Things To Come,” a sublime, deceptively funny, intimate character study which might be the best-edited movie we’ve seen in years, among its many virtues. Each of her films has been so compassionate, so finely written and perfectly directed, that it’s frankly a little terrifying to think of how good she might be in another few years.

birth-2004-joanthan-glazer-nicole-kidman8. Jonathan Glazer
It’s a lazy byword for greatness, but sometimes it’s difficult to avoid invoking Stanley Kubrick as a laudatory comparison. And there is something in the meticulous craft and minute, hold-your-breath attention to detail that Jonathan Glazer can achieve that calls Kubrick to mind — never more so than during his third and greatest film to date, “Under The Skin.” Creating an uncanny, otherworldly atmosphere, and showcasing an astonishing turn from Scarlett Johansson, where his previous titles, the highly enjoyable sunshine gangster film “Sexy Beast” and the criminally underrated reincarnation mystery “Birth,” impressed us deeply, it was “Under The Skin” nine years after the latter that made us full converts. With a clutch of the most iconic music videos in recent memory to his name, and a venerable career in commercials (here are his 10 best), Glazer’s been working more consistently than his three-feature filmography suggests, but we have to hope it won’t be another decade before we see his next big-screen outing.

denis-villeneuve7. Denis Villeneuve
There’s a certain kind of movie that some claim aren’t being made, or that just aren’t successful, that have shifted entirely to television: smart, grown-up, star-driven thrillers, artfully made and rarely if ever insulting the intelligence. Those who claim that they’ve vanished haven’t been paying attention to Denis Villeneuve. The French-Canadian director won acclaim at home with films like “Maelstrom” and “Polytechnique” before gripping drama “Incendies” became a worldwide hit and an Oscar nominee. English-language debut “Prisoners” was pulp executed at the highest level, and he’s only grown from there: The much smaller “Enemy” was a vice-tight, bizarre thriller that went to much stranger places than you might have expected; while “Sicario” brought a haunting abstraction to the war-on-drugs actioner. His latest,Arrival,” might be his best film yet, playing the heartstrings as well as the nervous system like a fiddle. We never thought we’d be optimistic about a “Blade Runner” sequel (especially one with Jared Leto in it…), but in Villeneuve’s hands, we can’t wait.

pablo-larrain6. Pablo Larraín
Our Oli Lyttelton said it best when he tweeted “Internet: Movies are dead; Pablo Larraín: Here’s my third awesome film in 18 months.” Chilean director Larraín, whose first three films “Tony Manero,” “Post-Mortem” and “No” would themselves have been the crowning achievements of a lesser filmmaker’s oeuvre, has doubled his filmography in under two years, with each new film a progression in terms of confidence. After the Oscar-nominated “No,” he delivered eviscerating disgraced-priest parable “The Club;” playful, frenetic, deconstructed biopic “Neruda;” and his English-language debut, hotly tipped as an Oscar player in 2017, “Jackie.” But what’s most exciting is that while his lively intelligence remains, Larraín challenges himself with new aesthetics and approaches each time, whether it’s the VHS fuzziness of “No,” the crepuscular low-contrast palette of “The Club” or the bright, steady, full-face close-ups of Natalie Portman in “Jackie.” Of all the future greats to emerge in the last five years, none energizes us like Larraín.

martin-scorsese5. Martin Scorsese
You may have heard of this guy. But when we reworked this list to favor “exciting,” and many of his similarly famous contemporaries took a tumble down the rankings as a result, Scorsese stayed more or less where he was. Not only is he essentially the patron saint of independent cinema, and a tireless evangelist for film appreciation; not only is his name synonymous with an entire style of vibrant, violent, irresistibly exuberant filmmaking; not only has he roughly 10 undeniable classics under his belt (here’s our retrospective), but at 73 he’s managed to retain his relevance. There have been lulls, like the solid but worthy “Hugo,” and recent TV misfire “Vinyl,” but with the ferociously funny “The Wolf of Wall Street” seeing him back on snarling form, and upcoming passion project “Silencebowing in December, not to mention all the documentaries, producing and preservation projects he’s involved in, Scorsese remains American cinema’s most precious natural resource.

todd-haynes4. Todd Haynes
A career that starts with a virtually banned art project about Karen Carpenter told with Barbie dolls, went through some seminal works of New Queer Cinema, and has gone on to take in some of the most acclaimed films of the last 25 years is an unlikely one, but you suspect Todd Haynes wouldn’t have done it any other way. He’s never been fully embraced by the establishment — “Carol” was one of the best films of last year, but ultimately failed to pick up a Best Picture nomination. But whether he’s paying homage to glam rock with “Velvet Goldmine,” updating Sirk with “Far From Heaven,” making one of the most unconventional and fascinating biopics ever with Bob Dylan pic “I’m Not There,” or digging deep into a melodrama classic with his HBO miniseries re-do of “Mildred Pierce,” Haynes is consistently surprising and utterly in love with cinema. We’ve become sadly used to long gaps between his films — he only has three features this century — but he’s already wrapped his “Carol” follow-up “Wonderstruck,” and that’s the best news we’ve heard in a while.

joel-ethan-coen3. The Coen Brothers
Were it not for that unpleasant mid-’00s blip of “Intolerable Cruelty” and “The Ladykillers” (and the former is better than some suggest), we’d probably think of the Coens as having one of the most flawless filmographies in the history of the medium. Over 30 years, they’ve built up a catalogue of work of near-unfathomable cleverness, ranging from broad, Preston Sturges-esque screwball (“O Brother, Where Art Thou?”) to bleak neo-Westerns (“No Country For Old Men”), and yet every one of their films could only have come from them (just watch almost anything described as Coen-esque and watch how hard it fails for further proof of this), and feel utterly of a piece with each other. They’re capable of inducing such delight and such darkness, of building even a character with one scene into a memorable person, of wrangling language into something utterly quotable, and of using the unlikeliest premises — with their last two films, a folk-music road movie and a Hollywood mystery — to tackle the biggest questions of existence. For all the film-is-dead panicking of late, it’s never going away as long as the Coens are here.

kathryn-bigelow2. Kathryn Bigelow
While it is astounding and galling that she is still the only woman ever to have won a Best Director Oscar, it’s not at all surprising that the honor went to Kathryn Bigelow. Having graduated from the grungy nihilism of her first features, “The Loveless” and vampire flick “Near Dark,” to slicker genre titles “Blue Steel” and “Point Break,” in 1995 she turned in sorely undervalued sci-fi “Strange Days.” The ’00s were patchy, featuring largely forgotten misfires “The Weight Of Water” and “K-19: The Widowmaker” before Bigelow exploded back onto the scene, quite literally, with the taut, topical “The Hurt Locker.” That film’s Oscar triumph opened doors, but Bigelow stuck to her newfound guns for “Zero Dark Thirty” — possibly her best film to date — ambiguous, muscular and morally murky. Her terse, politically charged sensibility seem perfect for her 2017 Detroit riots picture: If there is anyone who can do justice to such a controversial incident 50 years on, it’s the committed, fiercely uncompromising Bigelow.

paul-thomas-anderson1. Paul Thomas Anderson
So here we are, four days and 99 filmmakers (plus probably three times as many that were under consideration at some point in the process) later, and while endless arguments ensued over much of the list placement, Paul Thomas Anderson always felt like the obvious choice for the number one slot. There are few filmmakers left for whom a new movie feels like a real event, but ever since his career began (at the terrifyingly prodigious age of 26 with “Hard Eight”), Anderson’s movies have felt major even when they’ve been minor-key (as with “Punch-Drunk Love”). “Boogie Nights” and then “Magnolia” confirmed him as a filmmaker of uncommon skill, but he’s somehow got even more promising as he’s gotten older, stepping away from his major influences — Scorsese, Altman, etc. — and, with “The Master,” “Inherent Vice” and “Junun” into territory that’s entirely his own, with rhythms that are entirely his own. Next year, he’ll reunite with Daniel Day-Lewis for a ’50s-set fashion-world movie we’re affectionately calling “Paul Thomas Anderson’s Next Top Model,” and it can’t get here soon enough.

As you might imagine, the process to get this list even down to 100 was a fraught one, and we could have filled a list of 500 filmmakers quite happily. We won’t list them all here, but there are plenty of directors that came close to making the cut that deserve attention. Among the ones most likely to get you lighting torches and clutching pitchforks are some veteran filmmakers who have storied careers behind them, who either haven’t been on great form of late, or don’t show much sign of still being active. Their numbers include Jean-Luc Godard, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma, John Carpenter, Agnès Varda, William Friedkin, Bernardo Bertolucci, Roman Polanski and Woody Allen (plus those who’ve fully retired like Hayao Miyazaki, Stanley Donen or Alan Parker). Their lack of placement on a silly list like this is no comment on the greatness of their past works.

In terms of fresher faces, relatively speaking, there were some other heartbreaking exclusions. Among them were Bennett Miller, Paul Greengrass, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Fatih Akin, Arnaud Deplechin, Patricio Guzmán, Amy Berg, Danny Boyle, Brad Bird, Tomas Alfredson, Christian Petzold, David Mackenzie, David Cronenberg, Alex Ross Perry, Pawel Pawlikowski, Roy Andersson, Ira Sachs, Sion Sono, Cate Shortland, David Michôd, Corneliu Porumboiu, Lee Chang-Dong and Whit Stillman.

And there were more, like László Nemes, Steve James, J.A. Bayona, Peter Jackson, John Boorman, Terence Davies, Tsai Ming-Liang, The Wachowskis, Takashi Miike, Hong Sang-Soo, Gareth Edwards, Ridley Scott, Ken Loach, Joe Wright, Lenny Abrahamson, Warren Beatty, Peter Weir, Jennifer Kent, Jessica Hausner, Jonathan Demme, Sean Durkin, Paolo Sorrentino, Terry Gilliam, Noah Baumbach, Ruben Östlund, Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Peter Strickland, Thomas Vinterberg, Damián Szifrón, J.C. Chandor, Tobias Lindholm, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Dee Rees, Lynn Shelton, Catherine Breillat, Mira Nair, Harmony Korine, David Gordon Green, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Shane Meadows, Clint Eastwood, Tom McCarthy, Benh Zeitlin, J.J. Abrams, Joe Cornish, Alex Garland, Michel Gondry, Andrew Stanton, Dan Gilroy, Matt Reeves and many, many, many more. Who said film was dead?

And finally, a word for a filmmaker who, when we started putting the list together, was firmly placed inside the top 10, but sadly passed away not long after: Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami. Here and elsewhere, he’s very sadly missed.

  • When I saw Linklater in 93rd place, I stopped reading. You have to be kidding.

    • JJ

      Yeah, Linklater is easily top15 for me.

      • drake

        agreed, its silly. he’s top 10-15. pure nonsense at 93

        • palefire

          Um, no.

          • drake

            dynamite reply

          • palefire

            Thank you.

    • Fruity Fonzie

      right? the playlist crew always ruin the lists with their rankings. Mess.

  • Vitor Barreira

    Mrs. Jessica Kiang, I am a long time reader of your critical reviews of films, and, in general, I recognize that you have a «high taste» and a powerful prose to explain the «things of cinema». I admire you and I follow in general your views on the films that you analyze, qualify and quantify. But this time, the exercise you proposed to do, ranking the 100 best current film directors, goes beyond all limits of reason. In addition to not explain the criteria you use to rank the film directors, a task that would be logically impossible, you don´t realize the aesthetic absurdity of your exercise. To give you a comparison, could you hierarchize or rank the painters of the Italian Renaissance, or the painters of Dutch Baroque period? I think you could not, I think it would be an exercise doomed to failure. Mrs. Jessica Kiang I beg you to not continue with this exercise and recognize, humbly, before your readers that what you have done was no more nor less than an absurd, capricious and arbitrary hobby.

    • JJ


    • noot

      lol (2)

  • Gian Bas

    Refn’s best movie wouldn’t exist without “Thief” and yet he’s way higher than Michael Mann.
    It’s too late now but I think an alphabetical order would be better than this. I know it’s just a game but I can’t stand watching Ang Lee, of all people, in a lower position than someone like Miguel Gomes or Andrea Arnold, who haven’t managed to break out of the festival circle and probably never will. People still talk about movies like Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Lust Caution and Icestorm. Fish Tank? Not so much.

    • palefire

      Fish Tank was rather mediocre.

  • RedRed22

    refn’s wildly overrated

    • Harsh Parmar

      and in this list he’s got better position then QT,Linklater,herzog and many others.

  • DG

    Kelly Reichardt’s first film wasn’t Old Joy but a Florida -set movie called River Of Grass, which I actually think is one of her best movies. There’s a new restoration of it out this year and I’d strongly recommend people to track it down!

  • blake011

    Let me guess Paul Thomas Anderson will be in the Top Ten for some reason. I love his old stuff but after Master and Vice film buffs need to re evaluate if he is actually that good.

    • JJ

      For me, The Master is his best film.

      • blake011

        Wow really?

        • drake

          probably 4th for me. “magnolia” and “there will be blood” his best

        • JJ

          Absolutely. I love all of his films, though. The Master gets better and better everytime I rewatch it.

  • drake

    I did this on my own in February-i only included 15.

    Top 10
    -Wes Anderson
    -PT Anderson
    – Tarantino
    Honorable mention

    • HHAHAHAHA tarantino at first and honorable mention for Scosese? Get fk are here.

      • drake

        great argument here

        • Study

          • drake

            still no argument from you. just laughing and insults with nothing to say. empty

  • Paul

    I feel like this should have been 2 different lists: A Greatest and a Most Exciting

  • drake

    i disagree with much of the list but love that you’re doing it. and it’s perfect timing as it’s kind of slow as you mention. i kind of love the “There are those who consider Andrew Dominik’s elegiac anti-western, “The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford” the best film of the new century, and those who are wrong about movies.” comment. haha. i’ve got it as my #3-5 film of the 21st century. great work here.

  • Khar99

    Greatly enjoyed the list. I don’t care so much about the order, I’m more interested in discovering directors that are unknown to me. And there are many. If even a fraction of those are as good as the ones on the list I do know, it is going to be a busy winter.

  • ahnmin

    Alfonso Cuaron directed A Little Princess, not Secret Garden.

    • Jess

      You are quite right, thank you for noticing that slip — corrected.

      • ahnmin

        Cuaron would never direct a movie with a protagonist that annoying.

  • Jason Holland

    I was hoping to see one of my favs Derek Cianfrance……but great list nonetheless!! 🙂

  • Matt Rosen

    This is such a typical jerkoff film school list of directors. Like typical PTA, Fincher, Scorsese and the ridiculously overrated Glazer. Leaving out Bennett Miller and JA Bayona and Mira Nair (who all make consistently great films) is a joke and then you see Linklater is 93. This list was probably made by people who enjoyed American Hustle.

    • drake

      i like bennett miller’s films but he and nair and even bayona seem to be directors who make good films rather than great directors. that’s a key distinction. the people at the top of this list should both make great films and be auteurs. Miller would be on my top 100 but his imprint on a film isn’t the same as wes or PT anderson or even those like Glazer, QT, Sofia Coppola, etc.

  • Fernando Americo

    I am excited for whatever world Ridley Scott want to take me

  • blake011

    PTA being one is ridiculous. I mean come on.

    • palefire


      • blake011

        The Coens, Nolan, Tarantino, Linklater all deserve to be above him and that just American directors. The Master and Inherent Vice are terrible.

        • palefire

          Yeah, no. I’d put him on equal grounds with The Coens, and Malick for American directors. But Nolan and Linklater don’t have anything close to the films of Anderson in their oeuvre. Hell, Linklater have several films that I would consider below average. Nolan has about three in that hover around that rating. The Master and Inherent Vice are fantastic, especially, The Master.

        • p-dub

          The Master and Inherent Vice definitely aren’t terrible. Difficult, cerebral, whatever, sure. But terrible?

          They were both met with rave critical reviews (and mixed audience reactions) and as the years have progressed, they’ve only grown in their stature. Look no further than BBC’s Top 100 list that came out a month or two ago. Inherent Vice and The Master (and There Will Be Blood at #2) all made the list.

          I’m not saying these lists are scripture, but they do indicate that the critical consensus around these two films in particular is very strong and there are many many pieces around the internet exploring the complexity of those films.

          I get that people are tired of seeing him ranked so highly but I also think he’s undeniably one of our greatest and most challenging filmmakers out there.

          • blake011

            I would agree with you The Master is getting a cult following but do you think that is happening with Inherent Vice?

          • drake

            I don’t think so from what i’ve seen. but as p-dub mentions it was on the BBC list. i think it will fade over the years. i just don’t think it’s as visually interesting as the rest of his work

          • blake011

            That’s absolutely correct. I mean I don’t like The Master at all but at least it has some pretty shots. There are no good shots in Inherent Vice.

          • palefire

            What are you talking about? It’s gorgeous. I was actually lukewarm to it the first time. But it’s like a Coen Brothers film. It get funnier each time you watch it.

          • p-dub

            You’re just talkin’ crazy! There’s a 70MM print floating around rep houses that you should check out if you ever get the chance.

            I’ll never forget the first time I saw the opening image of the beach, with the gorgeous light and grain on the image, followed by Joanna Newsom glowing with the light of the sun beaming through her hair as in closeup while she narrates. My jaw dropped.

            As he gets older, Anderson seems to have taken more and more cues for the classic Hollywood directors, favoring mediums and composition over frenetic camera movement. There’s an argument to be made that he could have directed it in a more “FUN” way like Boogie Nights, but I am happy with how he went instead. The compositions are simple, but there are grace notes everywhere; whether that’s the lighting or color, the subtle camera movements, or absurd background details.

            Inherent Vice is a difficult film. The plot is purposely convoluted (but is easy to follow basically once you know everyones names.) It’s probably intellectually more satisfying than emotionally. It’s also a story that feels like things should come together somehow or be more clearly connected, but often don’t (though they are all thematically linked and loop around and bounce off each other throughout) on a pure plot level.

            I totally get why people dismiss it as just a weird misfire on first viewing. Yet I keep insisting that people watch it a couple more times. It works as a rich exploration of the changing era and death of a movements dreams, a pulpy noir, a slapstick comedy, and a melancholy look at love and the way it’s destined to break. I think it’s an absolute masterpiece.

            Sorry. I started typing and just started nerding the hell out.

          • drake

            good stuff here.

  • LupeX

    No Zack Snyder on this list? Can you name a director that captures the essence of the epic with his erotic touch and classical iconography? Every frame is a painting when it comes to Snyder. He has mastered the visual language of cinema and he brings it to bear on the epic and the intimate.
    He filmed WATCHMEN which studios had been befuddled by for decades. He is one of the most excitign and prolific directors in Hollywood with similarities to Stanley Kubrick and many of the same criticisms that Kubrick received when people did appreciate his talent.

    • palefire

      Zack Snyder should be in the art department where he belongs. Guillermo and a few other should follow him there.

    • drake

      synder is a hack. not sure he’d be on my list of 200

  • skeal magnolias

    On what planet are Danny Boyle, David Cronenberg and Whit Stillman fresh faces?


    This article/list is titled wrong.

  • palefire

    Anyone who thinks Intolerable Cruelty is a blip in a filmography shouldn’t be making this list.

    • blake011

      It is a blip in the Coens career..

      • palefire

        Nah, that would be The Ladykillers. IC is one of their funniest films and a great homage to screwball comedies that stands with some of the greats.

        • p-dub

          It’s personal taste but I just don’t think IC is funny. For me, that’s what really kills the film. Visually I’m not very excited by it, it’s some of their weaker characters, and there’s very little to hold onto once it’s over.

          The Ladykillers also suffers from that same feeling of emptiness. I understand why it’s dismissed, but for me, I still find the film very funny. It is certainly slight and definitely seems like an odd note in their filmography, but I have to admit it makes me laugh a lot. Whether it is Tom Hanks doing just about anything, imagining the Coen’s writing Marlon Wayan’s dialogue, a kick ass gospel soundtrack, or just some of the profoundly strange tonal decisions that were made on the film.

          Both films have issues, but thankfully they were couched between two masterpieces like The Man Who Wasn’t There and No Country for Old Men. It was a weird time in the careers (they’d produced several flops previously and were more open to being for hire for studios at the time) and I’m glad they’ve found an amazing artistic groove that they seem to have been riding ever since.

      • drake

        blake is right here

  • Tyler Belk

    Thank you for including a plethora of female talent! Exciting times in the world of indie film

  • Jim

    Haneke’s not in the Top Ten. You have got to be kidding. You’ll look back on this list in ten, twenty years and laugh at yourselves for that.

  • drake

    again- thanks for doing this list- disagree with much but it was lots of fun to read through each day… baumbach and sorrentino are glaring omissions … and this is an honest question- not trolling- where is david o russell? i can’t find him-

  • Alexander Simmons

    hateful eight was tone deaf, hollow and empty? You cucks who write this shit are fucking losers lmao.
    Just like Spike Lee, you morons are mad that a white man can make a better movie about racial issues.

  • Dheep’ P

    Yes, your list isn’t skewed in any way, is it ?

  • lostjack

    When reading lists like this, especially from Playlist I tend not to care so much about the rankings as I do about what you have to say about each filmmaker. There’s no right list or wrong list but the fact that you guys are even taking the time to put together a list like this is greatly appreciated. Sure I would rank certain filmmakers higher or lower but I also appreciate that there are some filmmakers on this list I’m not familiar with and that it’s a completely international list. Great work guys (but seriously, Linklater should have been higher ranked ;))

  • The Acedian

    I have a soft spot in my heart for Stoker… Sorry, but it’s wonderfully Baroque in imagery and well-acted with a delicious wickedness and weird sensibility. If I didn’t know Park Chan-wook had directed it, I’d have guessed it was a terrific Tim Burton movie (with half the silliness that can mar some his work).

  • PSmith

    Jeez, what an awful list. So forcefully “diversed” and in the same time shamelessly Americanocentric. Unbelievable ridiculous pick that you definitely cannot expect from the undoubtedly professionals who write for playlist

    • SillySock

      STFU…America pretty much is the film industry.

  • Kure Kure Takora

    Brazilian directors out!!!!!!!!!

    Walter Salles???? Fernando Meirelles????? José Padilha??????

  • Ishan Patel

    Typical feminist propaganda.

  • Facebook User

    + Kim Ki Duk, Baz Luhrmann…

  • KingKat

    Both Roman Polansky and Woody Allen are absent here. That choice doesn’t seem purely innocent though there’s certainly a chance that it is.

    • KingKat

      After I posted this I read the blurb on Zelig in the mockumentary list which explains your thoughts on modern Allen as having “interchangeable sameness”. That’s fair though Allen’s sameness is so refreshingly different from what everyone else is doing that I find that very forgivable. I won’t dwell on Polansky since he’s not the same caliber of director as Allen anyways.

  • Jen Vx

    What about Sean Baker? How can you not be excited about him? What is wrong with you?

  • SillySock

    Nolan should be #1 by a mile

    this list is retarded at best