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25 Best Film Directors Of The 2010s

As the decade draws to a close, Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge attempts to pick out 25 of his favourite directors of the last ten years.

Who is your favourite director of the decade? Let us know in the comment section below!

25) Pablo Larraín – Post Mortem (2010), No (2012), The Club (2015), Neruda (2016), Jackie (2016), Ema (2019)

Pablo Larraín and Natalie Portman work on ‘Jackie’

Whether it be chilling (The Club) or alluring (Jackie), Larraín hit a range of emotional notes in a decade that saw him emerge as one of South American cinema’s leading voices.

24) David Lowery – Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013), Pete’s Dragon (2016), A Ghost Story (2017), The Old Man & The Gun (2018)

David Lowery talks to a ghost while filming ‘A Ghost Story’

As well as directing Robert Redford’s acting swansong, Lowery gave us two beautiful collaborations with Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara.

23) Steve McQueen – Shame (2011), 12 Years A Slave (2013), Widows (2018)

Steve McQueen and Chitwel Efijor on the set of ’12 Years A Slave’

McQueen’s haunting adaptation of Solomon Northup’s memoir, 12 Years A Slave, won an Academy Award for Best Picture. The British director also delivered a stylish take on the heist genre with Widows.

22) Edgar Wright – Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010), The World’s End (2013), Baby Driver (2017)

Edgar Wright talks to Ansel Elgort and Lily James on the set of ‘Baby Driver’

The thrills and charms of Wright’s work make him hard to leave off this list. Baby Driver certainly holds a strong claim to be the most masterfully directed and all-round entertaining action film of the decade.

21) Ryan Coogler – Fruitvale Station (2013), Creed (2015), Black Panther (2018)

Ryan Coogler talks to Sylvester Stallone on the set of ‘Creed’

The indie success of Fruitvale Station opened doors for Coogler to leave his stamp on Hollywood. A fresh new step in the Rocky franchise (Creed) was then followed by one of the most culturally significant films of the decade (Black Panther).

20) Quentin Tarantino – Django Unchained (2012), The Hateful Eight (2015), Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019)

Quentin Tarantino on the set of ‘Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’ with Leonardo DiCaprio

Tarantino came close to his finest work with Django Unchained and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. The films also contained two of Tarantino’s most memorable scenes to date (the dinner party in Django Unchained and the home invasion in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood).

19) Joel and Ethan Coen – True Grit (2010), Inside Llewyn Davis (2013), Hail, Cesar (2016), The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs (2018)

The Coen brothers flank Jeff Bridges on the set of ‘True Grit’

The Coen brothers’ decade peaked in 2010, but that’s not to say the rest of their work was in any way disappointing. Inside Llewyn Davis was a muted and – perhaps in turn – underappreciated effort. While Hail, Cesar and The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs took us into more familiarly screwy territory for these two directors. Yet it is still the outstanding remake of True Grit that stands above the rest.

18) Yorgos Lanthimos – Alps (2011), The Lobster (2015), The Killing Of A Sacred Deer (2017), The Favourite (2018)

Emma Stone and Yorgos Lanthimos on the set of ‘The Favourite’

Few could pull off the eccentric and deeply perturbing stories that Lanthimos does. The dark humour and perpetual misery of The Favourite is certainly a jewel in his crown this decade.

17) Wes Anderson – Moonrise Kingdom (2012), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), Isle Of Dogs (2018)

BTS of ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’

More quirky brilliance and aesthetic delights from Anderson awaited us in the 2010s. Although all three of his films were a success, the highlight has to be The Grand Budapest Hotel (in contention for his best film to date) and the performance it brought out of Ralph Fiennes.

16) Andrey Zvyagintsev – Elena (2011), Leviathan (2014), Loveless (2017)

Maryana Spivak in ‘Loveless’

Zvyagintsev unleashed three cutting and unflinching takes on contemporary Russian society. Leviathan has a strong claim for the best foreign language film of the 2010s.

15) Taika Waititi – Boy (2010), What We Do In The Shadows (2010), Hunt For The Wilderpeople (2016), Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Taika Waititi talks to Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson on the set of ‘Thor: Ragnarok’

Waititi’s rise to become the most in-demand comedy director around has been one of the stories of the decade. His first three films of the 2010s paved the way for him to make a big splash on Hollywood with Thor: Ragnarok. The Kiwi director is now highly sought after – as an actor and director – and is set to direct the next Thor movie.

14) Barry Jenkins – Moonlight (2016), If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

Barry Jenkins talks to young Alex Hibbert on the set of ‘Moonlight’

Jenkins gave us two love stories of sleek beauty and tragic hardship. Moonlight received deserved acclaimed, although If Beale Street Could Talk was worthy of far more attention than it got.

13) Asghar Farhadi – A Separation (2011), The Past (2013), The Salesman (2016), Everybody Knows (2018)

Shahab Hosseini and Asghar Farhadi in conversation on the set of ‘The Salesman’

Farhadi won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film twice this decade. The director’s portraits of modern day Iran have made him one of the most important and influential filmmakers around.

12) Alex Garland – Ex Machina (2014), Annihilation (2018)

Alex Garland and Alicia Vikander prepare an iconic shot in ‘Ex Machina’

Sci-fi greatness awaits this writer-director. Both of Garland’s films executed challenging concepts with visual panache and striking substance.

11) Debra Granik – Winter’s Bone (2010), Stray Dog (2014), Leave No Trace (2018)

Debra Granik directs Thomasin McKenzie in ‘Leave No Trace’

Not only did Granik give us two brilliantly poignant films this decade, but she also helped introduce two talented young actresses to the mainstream – Jennifer Lawrence and Thomasin McKenzie.

10 Special Mentions

Chloé Zhao films ‘The Rider’

Chloé Zhao, Dardenne Brothers, Paul Thomas Anderson, Jacques Audiard, Sean Baker, Jafar Panahi, Kelly Reichardt, Richard Linklater, Carol Morley, David Fincher.

10) Olivier Assayas – Something In The Air (2012), Clouds Of Sils Maria (2014), Personal Shopper (2016), Non-Fiction (2018), Wasp Network (2019)

Olivier Assayas watches monitors with Kristen Stewart on the set of ‘Personal Shopper’

Assayas might have claim to be the most underappreciated director of the 2010s. He especially deserves credit for his collaborations with Kristen Stewart (Clouds Of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper) and Juliette Binoche (Clouds Of Sils Maria and Non-Fiction), which brought the best out of these two magnificent actors.

9) Ari Aster – Hereditary (2018), Midsommar (2019)

Ari Aster directs Florence Pugh on the set of ‘Midsommar’

It only took two films for Aster to take his place as a horror great. Hereditary and Midsommar both sparked intensely visceral reactions from audiences. They also created the space and atmosphere for transformative performances from Toni Collette and Florence Pugh.

8) Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird (2017), Little Women (2019)

Greta Gerwig talks to Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet while filming ‘Lady Bird’

Gerwig’s decade would most likely have been remembered for her iconic acting role in Noah Baumbach’s Franches Ha (2012) had it not been for this second venture into directing. The tenderly captured mother-daughter relationship in Lady Bird demonstrated that her spark and depth could translate behind the camera as well. All the signs suggest she will go on to be one of the most successful directors of the next decade.

7) Bong Joon-Ho – Snowpiercer (2013), Okja (2017), Parasite (2019)

Bong Joon-Ho talks to Tilda Swinton on the set of ‘Okja’

Joon-Ho would have made this list on the genius of Parasite alone. Yet the director has two differently impressive films to add to his catalogue in the 2010s. It will be fascinating to see how he follows up from Parasite in the coming decade.

6) Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity (2013), Roma (2018)

Alfonso Cuarón directs Sandra Bullock and George Clooney on the set of ‘Gravity’

Two distinctly different films – at least on the surface – won Cuarón Academy Awards for Best Director. What Cuarón’s efforts this decade do share in common is incredible cinematic vision and deeply human storytelling – even if one of those films takes place in the whirling chaos of space.

5) Damien Chazelle – Whiplash (2014), La La Land (2016), First Man (2018)

Ryan Gosling and Damien Chazelle watch monitors together on the set of ‘La La Land’

Chazelle successfully landed three widely acclaimed films this decade. The first two musically-oriented films were pulled off with soaring flair and intense emotion. First Man, in contrast, showed he could manage a blockbuster budget and more restrained storytelling. The 34 year old director also had a hand in the highly entertaining thriller, 10 Cloverfield Lane, which he co-wrote Josh Campbell and Matt Stuecken.

4) Alejandro González Iñárritu – Biutiful (2010), Birdman (2014), The Revenant (2015)

Alejandro González Iñárritu and Michael Keaton on the set of ‘Birdman’

The relentless energy and intelligence of Birdman marked Iñárritu out as a visionary director. He would carry that cinematic audacity into The Revenant with a number of bold and standout sequences (the one shot opening sequence and the bear attack). Yet however much we marvel at his intrepid filmmaking, Iñárritu’s greatest achievement of the decade will most likely be the lead performances he brought out of each of his lead actors (Javier Bardem won Best Actor at Cannes, Michael Keaton enjoyed a career resurgence, and Leonardo DiCaprio won his first Oscar for Best Actor).

3) Martin Scorsese – Shutter Island (2010), Hugo (2011), The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013), The 50 Year Argument (2014), Silence (2016), The Irishman (2019)

Scorsese gets on the floor to direct Margot Robbie and Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘The Wolf Of Wall Street’

Scorsese’s passion and cinematic genius have showed no signs of tailing away in the last ten years. In fact, there is a good case to be made that this is the legendary director’s finest decade to date. There’s no doubting the disorienting darkness of Shutter Island, the outrageously entertaining excesses of The Wolf Of Wall Street, and the powerfully patient storytelling of The Irishman are marks of a great director still in full creative flow.

2) Christopher Nolan – Inception (2010), The Dark Knight Rises (2012), Interstellar (2014), Dunkirk (2017)

Christopher Nolan with Matthew McConaughey on the set of ‘Interstellar’

No one has done big-feel cinema like Nolan this decade. Three jaw-dropping films (The Dark Knight Rises is just below standard) have cemented his place as a leading blockbuster filmmaker who does not misprize audience intelligence. Nolan makes films that need to be seen in IMAX, while also respecting audiences enough to construct narratives that are stimulating far beyond visual thrills – just think of the endings of Inception and Interstellar. Refreshingly demanding and intensely memorable cinema.

1) Denis Villeneuve – Incendies (2010), Prisoners (2013), Enemy (2013), Sicario (2015), Arrival (2016), Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Amy Adams and Denis Villeneuve on the set of the ‘Arrival’

Villeneuve went from subtle war drama to epic sci-fic mystery in a decade that demonstrated his immense skill for crafting deeply compelling stories across different scales and genres. The French Canadian director’s impressively assured handling of Blade Runner’s return to the big-screen may been viewed as his biggest triumph, but Prisoners, Sicario and Arrival would not look out of place on any ‘Top 10 Films Of The Decade’ list.


  1. Great list James, however I will admit what a grand disappointment to see James Mangold missing from this list and its special mentions

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