While actresses and actors are the ones that are put front and center to sell a film it’s the directors that are largely responsible for making films stand out and in the 2010s we had more than our fair share of talented filmmakers that helped define the decade with memorable products. From established icons to brand new faces making their marks, the last ten years have seen countless directors stake their claim in cinema history by adding numerous highly acclaimed and award winning pictures and box office hits to their filmographies introducing new styles and artistic merit to the industry. With the decade now complete I thought it was time to honor some of the most memorable and notable filmmakers of the past decade and explore their contributions to the medium that made them worthy of recognition. These are my picks for the Top 10 Film Directors of the 2010s.
For this list I took a look at some of the most notable directors that made their mark over the past ten years. All of these filmmakers had to have led at least two big screen productions released during the decade with special consideration given to those filmmakers whose movies have helped contribute to the evolution of the industry, genres or style. Basically, this isn’t just about filmmakers that made good films but also about those whose names became synonymous with cinematic quality in the 2010s.
I should also note that YES there are a lot of men in this list, especially white males. This list started with a shortlist of ten directors and then I cut that lineup in half and unfortunately it’s a reality that the last decade has not presented the most diverse group of filmmakers which is a much larger issue that hopefully by this time in ten years will no longer be a problem. So regardless of skin color, gender or nationality my goal for this list was to give deserving directors who made their mark over the last decade their due.
What director impressed you the most over the last ten years? Let me know in the comments below. Let’s get to it!
10. Greta Gerwig
While I debated adding Kathryn Bigelow to this list the Oscar winner actually won her Best Director award for a 2009 film although she did release two great picutres in the 2010s in the form of “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Detroit”. Greta Gerwig had an arguably better decade overall especially after earning Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for her 2017 flick “Lady Bird”. Gerwig immediately became one of the most respected women in Hollywood and her 2019 offering “Little Women” solidified that fact earning the director her second Best Picture nomination while being controversially snubbed from the Best Director category. While she had a more notable decade than Bigelow it’s important to consider both of these women trailblazers in a ten-year span where moviegoers demanded respect be given to female filmmakers.
9. Jordan Peele
The 2010s also saw several black filmmakers make their mark including Barry Jenkins and Ryan Coogler, but Jordan Peele definitely had the biggest breakout run especially in the last few years of the decade. Peele, mostly known as one half of the comic duo Key and Peele, shocked the world with his insightful 2017 horror flick “Get Out” which earned him a Best Original Screenplay Oscar and nominations for Best Director and Best Picture. Peele became an instant star of the horror genre and quickly revealed his second film, “Us”, for a 2019 release. That film was equally insightful and successful solidifying Peele’s name as one of the most sought after horror writers and directors in the business helping continue the trend of black filmmakers becoming household names during the 2010s.
8. Wes Anderson
Wes Anderson was a household name before the 2010s but his three releases during the decade were among the most fun and memorable films in their respective genres. Anderson brought his unique cinematic style to the big screen with “Moonrise Kingdom” and the animated “Isle of Dogs” but it was his 2014 offering “The Grand Budapest Hotel” that found this filmmaker at his best earning him Best Director and Best Picture nominations and winning four of the nine honors it was nominated for at that ceremony. It is also highly touted as one of the best films of the century. Anderson might not have topped the box office in the 2010s but he certainly did well to further establish his style to the point where his artistic touch has now practically birthed a genre all its own.
7. Quentin Tarantino
Despite controversies surrounding the director in the later half of the decade, Quentin Tarantino continued to establish himself as one of the best in the business with his third decade containing three or more releases. Tarantino started the 2010s with one of his best films yet “Django Unchained” in 2012 which has since become a classic while his 2015 offering “The Hateful Eight” was less critically successful but still considered a work of art in its own right. Tarantino capped off the decade with possibly his best film since “Pulp Fiction”, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”, which earned him his first nomination for Best Picture at the Oscars as well as a Golden Globe win for his first nomination for Best Picture – Musical or Comedy and a Best Director nod by both award shows as well. All of this adds up to one hell of a decade many directors could have only dreamed of.
7. Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Alejandro G. Iñárritu was one of three Mexican directors to win Best Director Oscars in the 2010s along with Guillermo Del Toro and another filmmaker I’ll get to soon. But, along with said other filmmaker, he’s also one of only two directors to win that very award TWICE over the past ten years and he did it in back to back years, a feat not accomplished since the 1950s, for “Birdman” and “The Revenant”. Add “Biutiful” and to the list and you have one of the best breakout directors of the decade. Iñárritu’s films may be an acquired taste but they served as fine examples of inventive filmmakers from the seemingly one-shot result of “Birdman” to the “The Revenant’s” outstanding showcase of purely great cinematography and atmosphere. Like a true artist Iñárritu made a name for himself presenting each film like a painting leaving many curious what he will do next.
5. Alfonso Cuarón
Joining Iñárritu as a two-time Best Director Oscar winner in the 2010s was fellow Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón whose only two flicks from the decade, “Gravity” and “Roma”, helped establish him as one of the best directors in the world. Showing a knack for both incredibly human storytelling and symbolic visuals Cuarón proved with only two films that it’s not how many movies you lead but how focused you are in making those movies as good as they can be. On top of that, Cuarón proved to be a versatile cinematic genius as the writer, producer, editor and director of both movie and the cinematographer of “Roma” showing that his talents extend well beyond the limits of the camera.
4. Damien Chazelle
A true breakout story of the 2010s, Damien Chazelle was responsible for three of the best movies of the decade, “Whiplash”, “La La Land” and “First Man” with “La La Land” earning his an Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Director, the youngest person ever to win both awards at 32-years-old. While “First Man” has been sadly forgotten by many, “Whiplash” and “La La Land” became instant classics and showed the director’s talent for mixing music and cinema in spectacular fashion. Chazelle has also become known for his great talent for mixing style and substance. Sadly it seems his future in the 2020s lies more in television than on the big screen, but we can still expect to see some films from this budding star including his latest project “Babylon” set for release this July.
3. Christopher Nolan
The 2010s wasn’t necessarily a breakout decade for Christopher Nolan. He had already proven himself with films like “Memento”, “The Prestige” and “The Dark Knight” but the 2010s is where he truly found his footing and identity providing spectacular and creative products like “Inception”, “Interstellar” and “Dunkirk” along with the final film in his “Dark Knight” trilogy “The Dark Knight Rises”. All four movies were box office hits and became defining classics of the 2010s with “Dunkirk” earning Nolan his first nod for Best Director at the Academy Awards and both “Inception” and “Dunkirk” being Best Picture nominees. Nolan became possibly the most respected mainstream director of the decade with films that embraced more practical effects over computer generated effects and created immersive and addictive viewing experiences for both critics and audiences to embrace.
2. Martin Scorsese
It’s almost unfair to put Martin Scorsese here because everyone knows this man is a master filmmaker. The 2010s only added to his legacy with five memorable films and one scathing criticism of superhero pictures in 2019. During that time Scorsese released “Shutter Island”, “Hugo”, “The Wolf of Wall Street”, “Silence” and “The Irishman” which were all considered among the best films of their respective years including a few landing at number one with numerous publications. He also racked up a Best Director Golden Globe for “Hugo” and two Best Director and Best Picture Oscar nominations while “The Irishman” has earned him one more in each category for the 2020 ceremony. The 2010s saw a lot of young talent rise to the top, but Scorsese’s decade only further established him as one of the best even after over four decades in the business.
1. Denis Villeneuve
Responsible for more films in the last decade than anyone on this list, Denis Villeneuve may not be the most inspired choice to top this countdown, but he is the most deserving. A breakout decade took Villeneuve from a relative unknown to one of the most respected names in the business despite only earning one Academy Award nomination for Best Director. Over the past ten years Villeneuve provided several thriller and action films such as “Incendies”, “Prisoners”, “Enemy” and “Sicario”, but it’s his two latest films “Arrival” and “Blade Runner 2049” that became his biggest contributions to the decade becoming two of the best sci-fi movies of the decade and some would say two of the best films of the 2010s in general. Villeneuve’s name has become synonymous with quality and creativity and he isn’t slowing down bringing a new adaptation of “Dune” to the big screen later this year.