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.