When it comes to making movies, it may be the actors who rake in the big bucks, but anyone who knows anything about the business will tell you that it’s the director who truly makes the film what it is. With the exception of the annual barrage of award shows, directors are never really given the attention that they deserve, so as part of our ongoing look back at the movies of the 2000s, here is a list of the best directors of the decade. Though I had originally intended to keep the list to just five names, it quickly became obvious that it would be impossible to do, especially when you consider just how many great movies each one delivered over the course of the last ten years.
7. Wes Anderson
Love him or hate him, Wes Anderson knows how to make great movies. Though he’s remembered more for his quirky screenplays than his ability behind the camera, Anderson seems to have a hand in every single detail of his movies, and that’s a telltale sign of someone in love with their craft. He also boasts one of the best stables of actors in town (Bill Murray, Angelica Huston, the Wilson brothers, etc.), and more recently, nabbed such in-demand actors as George Clooney and Meryl Streep to voice a couple of talking foxes in a stop-motion animated film that’s actually better than Pixar’s latest. Add to that one of the best comedies of the decade in “The Royal Tenenbaums,” the cult favorite “The Life Aquatic,” and the criminally underrated “The Darjeeling Limited,” and his place on this list suddenly doesn’t seem so unwarranted.
6. Clint Eastwood
Sometimes working too much can have a counteracting effect, because while Clint Eastwood was able to bang out nine films over the course of the last decade, it’s his hit-and-miss track record that ultimately prevents him from finishing higher on the list. For every “Letters from Iwo Jima,” there’s a “Flags of Our Fathers,” and while films like “Million Dollar Baby,” “Mystic River” and “Gran Torino” are easily some of the best movies of their respective years, “Space Cowboys” and “Changeling” are some of the worst. His latest film, “Invictus,” falls somewhere in between, and that’s only because he makes the subject material better than it is. Still, if there’s anything we can learn from a guy like Eastwood, it’s that sometimes less is more.
5. Peter Jackson
Apart from making three of the biggest movies of the decade, Peter Jackson also tackled a remake of one of the most iconic movie monsters of all time and a best-selling novel where the main character spends a majority of the story in heaven. If “The Fellowship of the Ring” hadn’t become a worldwide sensation, though, Jackson’s career could have gone down a very different path. After having been entrusted by New Line Cinema to shoot all three “Lord of the Rings” films back-to-back, Jackson returned the favor by delivering a worldwide sensation that kept the studio in business for a few more years (before merging with Warner Bros.), while making a name for himself as a visual maestro. That led to another pet project, “King Kong,” and eventually to a big screen adaptation of “The Lovely Bones.” Neither one is quite as good as the “LOTR” trilogy, but then again, neither are most movies.
4. Joel and Ethan Coen
The Brothers Coen got off to a great start in 2000 with the musical comedy “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” only to follow it up with duds like “Intolerable Cruelty” and “The Ladykillers.” Of course, I’ve resisted from even mentioning “The Man Who Wasn’t There” because, although not exactly a failure, it had absolutely no impact on me. They eventually turned things around with the 2007 Oscar winner, “No Country for Old Man,” which was not only one of the best films of their career, but of the decade as well. “Burn After Reading” saw them revisit their quirkier side, while “A Serious Man,” although much different from their other films in that it doesn’t feature a single big-name actor, is the kind of movie that you need to watch more than once to fully appreciate. That could be considered a negative in this day and age, but it’s exactly that disregard for mainstream audiences that makes their work so memorable.
3. Jason Reitman
As the child of a big-time movie director, I’m not sure if it’s easier to succeed in Hollywood or fail, but Jason Reitman has quickly outshined his father’s legacy with three of the best films of the decade. Granted, it’s not a lot to judge by compared to some of the other directors on this list, but Reitman has proven himself more than adept at making movies – especially when he’s the one writing them. His 2005 debut, “Thank You for Smoking,” was a great adaptation of an already funny Christopher Buckley novel, while 2007’s “Juno” continued a trend of getting great performances from every one of his actors. Though he’s yet to be rewarded for his work behind the camera, “Up in the Air” shows an incredible maturity to his filmmaking that might finally net him a golden statue. Even if it doesn’t, though, that doesn’t change the fact that he makes the kind of movies that just about everyone can enjoy.
2. Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino is the kind of director that other filmmakers must secretly hate, because his movies are unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. What’s so great about a Tarantino flick is that he takes a genre that most people might not usually be interested in and revamps them for a mainstream crowd. He also writes some of the most quotable dialogue in the business and has a knack for using actors whose careers have long been dead. David Carradine delivered his greatest performance as the titular character in the two-part revenge film, “Kill Bill,” while Kurt Russell was all sorts of vintage cool in the “Death Proof” portion of “Grindhouse.” Of course, Tarantino’s greatest achievement of this year came with the release of his World War II epic “Inglourious Basterds,” a decidedly more mature feature from the director that proved even Tarantino could grow up when the time came.
1. Christopher Nolan
When your weakest film is the 2002 thriller “Insomnia,” you know you’ve had a great career, and Christopher Nolan’s only gets better with each passing year. Before directing big stars like Al Pacino and Robin Williams, however, Nolan made a name for himself with the mind-bending reverse narrative, “Memento.” Both movies were pretty big achievements for a young filmmaker, but they pale in comparison to what he accomplished with the Batman films. After successfully rebooting the franchise with 2005’s “Batman Begins,” Nolan struck gold again with the 2008 follow-up, “The Dark Knight,” when his highly-debated decision to cast Heath Ledger as the Joker paid off in spades. It’s actually quite surprising that Nolan has yet to receive an Oscar nomination for his work – especially with underrated gems like “The Prestige” to his name – because he’s easily one of the best directors working today.