In recent times, various filmmakers from Hollywood making films in the English language have come forward with their unique directorial vision and have lit up the screen with their unique flavor of cinema, so this list will focus on contemporary filmmakers. The classification has been based on three major factors: the filmmakers should have made their directorial debuts after the 1990s, they should have at least made two films and they are to be ranked on the basis of the English-language films which they have directed, as some of the filmmakers started their careers in other countries and in their native languages before making the shift to making English-language films. So, here is a list of the top 10 contemporary Hollywood filmmakers (ranked):
10. Guillermo del Toro
This Mexican filmmaker, who later shifted to making English-language films, is part of the acclaimed trio of Mexican filmmakers in Hollywood known as ‘The Three Amigos’ (along with Cuarón and Iñárritu). Guillermo del Toro’s films have always displayed unique and very evocative imagery, and his fascination with the idea of dark fantasy tales has always brought something interesting to the big screen. Even though some of his films are not up to a particular standard, his unique voice can be heard in Spanish films like “The Devil’s Backbone” (2001), “Cronos” (1993), and especially in his masterpiece, “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006). Later, the same excellence is also reflected in his various works in the English sphere, such as his Oscar-winning film “The Shape of Water” (2017) and, more recently, probably one of the most underrated films of this decade, along with a fantastic take on the 1947 film of the same name, “Nightmare Alley” (2021).
9. Darren Aronofsky
Darren Aronofsky has never shied away from portraying themes and subjects in a very bold and hard-hitting manner. His films have always refrained from toning down the elements that one may seem to find very disturbing and that have always affected the viewers on a very psychological level. Aronofsky’s visual language is impeccable, and some of the imagery in his films will be forever engraved in one’s mind, as can be seen in his masterpieces like “Requiem For A Dream” (2000), “The Wrestler” (2008) and “Black Swan” (2010). He also manages to create a very horror-like atmosphere even though the films do not generally possess any kind of generic horror tropes, and yet his films are very tender with a sense of empathetic warmth.
8. Christopher Nolan
The most astounding thing about Nolan is that, even after being commercially successful, he does not dumb down his films to cater to or pander to the viewers. He is also one who has always fought for films released in cinema only, that too shot on film rather than digitally (although it’s way more expensive). Nolan has always tried to make films that challenge the audiences and make them active viewers rather than passive ones. He was at his best, especially during his early phases when he was more of an independent voice and made brilliant films like “Memento” (2000); then his shift to more high-budget films saw some interesting renditions, like his Batman Trilogy, along with mind-bending sci-fi films like “Inception” (2010) and also a brilliantly tense and thrilling war film set against the backdrop of the Second World War with the film, “Dunkirk” (2017). Furthermore, it can be said that, among the current mainstream filmmakers, he seems to be one of the most interesting ones.
7. Alejandro González Iñárritu
Even though his best film came from his debut in his native language, “Amores Perros” (2000), his filmmaking career garnered much more attention, especially in the mainstream format, after he made some of the best English films of recent times. Iñárritu also holds the massive feat of winning consecutive Best Director awards at the Oscars for his brilliant and seamless tale of a once-popular artist fading into oblivion in “Birdman or, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance” (2014) and for his atmospheric and intense film, “The Revenant” (2015). His filmmaking voice has always had a very lyrical quality associated with it, along with a very distinct vision of humans and humanity.
6. Yorgos Lanthimos
The Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos began his career by making films in his native language. With the brilliantly twisted and shocking film “Dogtooth” (2009), he marked his presence in the world of cinema. Later on, he shifted to making films in the English language, and with it, he brought his very own original, unique, and twisted vision to the fore. Yorgos has tackled very well films that are made both on a very small and large scale, from the very original “The Lobster” (2015) and a much more disturbing “The Killing Of A Sacred Deer” (2017) to a very one-of-a-kind period piece, “The Favourite” (2018). His filmmaking voice is something that is quite unique and rare, especially in the current scenario. Moreover, Lanthimos’ films are such that one should always keep a keen eye on them, especially if one appreciates originality in the 21st century.
5. Denis Villeneuve
Even though Villeneuve started his career with very intimate, low-budget independent films, that too in French, he rose high in the ranks in Hollywood, starting with some interesting small-scale films like the psychological drama “Enemy” (2013) and the harrowing atmospheric thriller, “Prisoners” (2013). He later switched to making modern, large-scale epics, crafting one of the finest sci-fi films of recent times, “Arrival” (2016) that one seems to have been forgotten, especially in this day and age where epic filmmaking is misunderstood as some caricaturish superhero films just pretending to be epic with amateurish use of CGI and technical features. Another distinguishing factor of Villeneuve is that he managed to make an equally brilliant sequel to an existing cult classic with his film “Blade Runner 2049” (2017). Furthermore, he also successfully undertook the previously jinxed project of adapting Frank Herbert’s “Dune” for the big screen. It emerged as a brilliantly made film of epic proportion garnering both monetary and critical acclaim in the year 2021. His films have always possessed a meditative yet very engaging quality, along with the effective use of visual effects and CGI, making the audience use their cognitive skills too. This, however, is hardly ever seen, especially in some of the recent CGI-inflated so-called Hollywood blockbusters that are more about merchandising and less about the art.
4. Alfonso Cuarón
Cuarón has always gone back and forth and made films in both his native and the English language, and many of them are great films, especially his brilliant 1995 adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “The Little Children” and his personal best, the Mexican film “Y Tu Mamá También” (2001). His major shift to Hollywood was itself very interesting as he came to board the director’s chair for one the most popular franchises both in fiction and in contemporary cinema, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. He directed the third part of the series, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (2004), and one can see the impact he brought to the table as this film marks a complete shift from its predecessor in an extremely positive way, making it the best in the franchise. After that, there was no turning back, and he made consecutive impressive films with his dystopic vision of humanity in his film “Children Of Men” (2007) and the film that fetched him his first Oscar, “Gravity” (2013), a film that is a treat to one’s sensory organs and is among the most brilliantly conceptualized, visualized, and executed sci-fi films of this generation.
3. Quentin Tarantino
Probably one of the most popular names on the list, he has consistently put out films that scream Tarantino just from their first frame. Tarantino manages to perfectly carry forward the classical Hollywood filmmaking style, which he blends with various other contradictory styles to deliver his own style and voice of filmmaking. Quentin Tarantino managed to play with genre tropes and with various sexist and racist ideas even before Hollywood turned progressive. He has also subverted generic tropes to create bold films that are filled with tremendous writing, iconic characters, and dialogue, along with a proper dosage of humor, while painting the canvas with blood and violence yet being entertaining and full of fun and vivid imagery. Tarantino also has the perfect balance of being able to change the filmmaking grammar while being quite classical in his approach. His impressive body of work contains one of the most brilliant debuts with “Reservoir Dogs” (1992), followed by his masterpiece, the iconic and pathbreaking “Pulp Fiction” (1994). His films manage to create alternate historical timelines and subvert generic tropes in films like “Inglorious Basterds” (2009), “Django Unchained” (2012), and his recent “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” (2019). His filmography is also one that lacks the presence of a single bad film.
2. David Fincher
He is the perfect successor to the old-school Hitchcockian style of filmmaking in contemporary Hollywood. Even though he is sometimes categorized as a filmmaker who is predominantly known for making thrillers, one seems to forget that he also had made some masterpieces that delved into other genres, like the brilliant 2010 film “The Social Network,” a biopic on Mark Zuckerberg, which is without question also one of the best contemporary films. Along with that, he has delved into dramas like “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (2008) and an eerie atmospheric investigation drama based on the Zodiac killer mystery named “Zodiac” (2007). Other than that, obviously, there remain the more popular and iconic masterpieces like “Fight Club” (1999) and “Se7en” (1995), along with recent films like the thrilling “Gone Girl” (2014) and a more personal and passion project, “Mank” (2020). His films are always on the periphery of perfection, as he is someone who is extremely meticulous in his detailing and whose directing skills are of impeccable value.
1. Paul Thomas Anderson
Paul Thomas Anderson, also known as PTA, is definitely the best filmmaker working in the English-language film industry. Unlike some of the other greats, Paul Thomas debuted his filmmaking career with a somewhat decent film, “Hard Eight” (1996), but after that, it seems that there was no turning back as all his films are masterpieces in themselves, making it very difficult to choose any one particular film as his best. He also manages not to repeat the settings of his films, which gives each of them a distinct voice with some thematic commonality. He also has a vast body of work ranging from multi-character-driven films like “Boogey Nights” (1997) and “Magnolia” (1999) to a uniquely sympathetic romantic film like “Punch Drunk Love” (2002); other than them, there are highly character-driven films like “There Will Be Blood” (2002) and further films that each explore various themes and can’t be categorized in a single bracket. Furthermore, he is the best director in terms of bringing out career-best performances from all kinds of actors, be it veterans like Daniel Day-Lewis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Joaquin Phoenix, as seen in “There Will Be Blood” (2007) and “The Master” (2012) or stars like Tom Cruise who gave his best in “Magnolia” (1999) along with someone like Adam Sandler, as seen in “Punch Drunk Love” (2002), someone who is generally criticized for his acting chops.
Along with the above-mentioned filmmakers, there are some emerging voices that are always on the rise. Even now, there remains a very big divide between merchandise-oriented films and some more intimate and personal films. This list tries to encompass the diversity in the filmmaking voices that one possesses and, due to its compartmentalization of only English-language films, also restricts very nascent voices who have made just one or two films. That’s why some great filmmakers could not have been incorporated into the above-mentioned list. The Special Mentions are Sofia Coppola, Wes Anderson, Charlie Kaufman, Edgar Wright, Damien Chazelle, Spike Jonze, Steve McQueen, Barry Jenkins, Ari Aster, The Safdie Brothers, Danny Boyle, Sean Baker, and Robert Eggers.