Top 25 Active Directors: Did EW Get it Right?

by Anne Thompson
February 19, 2009 7:00 AM
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EW loves lists like this one, the top 25 active directors, designed to inspire healthy debate. Did they get it right? And what do they mean by active, exactly? "Most talented, in-demand directors behind the camera today?" They're trying to have it both ways--it's a power list measuring fame, heat, influence and at the same time, a qualitative measure of talent.


Sorry, while I get why these guys are listed, their order does not compute. Where's Oliver Stone? David Cronenberg? Oscar-nominated Gus Van Sant isn't even in the also-ran Top 50 list, where filmmakers who are female (Mira Nair and Mary Harron but no Jane Campion), past their prime (Woody Allen, Sidney Lumet), documentarians (Michael Moore) black (Spike Lee), or directors of animation (Miyazaki, Stanton, Bird) are relegated. Also not included are Werner Herzog, Paul Verhoeven, Peter Weir or Terrence Malick. Oy. For those who would ask for a woman to be on the Top 25 list, there simply aren't any in this league. I'd like to see Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) get there some day.

Here's the EW List with annotations from me:


1. Steven Spielberg


The greatest. Of course.


2. Peter Jackson


Nipping at Spielberg's heels. For the moment, they're collaborating, on TinTin. I've seen some footage of The Lovely Bones, due next fall, and it looks impressive indeed. DreamWorks produced.


3. Martin Scorsese


Absolutely.


4. Christopher Nolan


He's a bit high in this context--ahead of Clint Eastwood, who is way too far down.


5. Steven Soderbergh


Also too high. Much as I admire much of Soderbergh's output, he rushes through too many movies in too little time, and could shape many of them better before he shoots. Che was a potentially great movie buried inside a sprawling, shapeless mess. The Good German was entirely misconceived.


6. Ridley Scott


Solid studio craftsman with a wide skill set--VFX, action, comedy, drama--who could be even greater if he compromised less. Yet I respect his ability to churn out strong movies with cranky movie stars within the system--despite the occasional misstep like A Good Year.


7. Quentin Tarantino


Of course.


8. Michael Mann


He's still managing to make his own brilliant, crazy movies with studio millions, whether they're commercial or not. Usually not. (Which is fine, as long as he can get away with it.)


9. James Cameron


As good as it gets, even if he hasn't made a studio feature since Titanic. Avatar awaits.


10. Joel and Ethan Coen


Nonpareils.


11. Guillermo del Toro


Ditto.


12. David Fincher


Another director stuck inside a studio matrix, dependent on big budgets. Love to see him break free somehow.


13. Tim Burton


Amazing what he does, even within the studio system.


14. Judd Apatow


Effective, hugely influential, successful and prolific, but he's still listed too high.


15. Sam Raimi


This list is very EW, geared at younger males. Raimi is a great director and deserves all credit for his movies including the Spiderman films. But again, he's ahead of some great Hollywood filmmakers here.


16. Zack Snyder


300 was great and I can't wait to see Watchmen. Again, ahead of Boyle, Eastwood, Alomodovar and Howard? Please.


17. Darren Aronofsky


Yes, a talented, gifted director on the rise. Ahead of Clint Eastwood?


18. Danny Boyle


He's super gifted, but Slumdog is this year's news. He's ahead of many great directors with longer resumes and less heat.


19. Clint Eastwood


Why so shockingly low? He's the model for how to be a director, for chrissakes. Is he, maybe, too old for these juvenile-oriented EW fanboys?


20. Ron Howard


I like some of his least successful movies best. Like The Missing.


21. Ang Lee


An astonishingly versatile, sensitive filmmaker who can handle an American western, a British Jane Austen movie, or Asian epics. He can do anything.


22. Paul Thomas Anderson


Much as I laud his ambition, I feel that he hasn't made his best film yet. He's trying to navigate the studio/budget/indie waters. He's not a commercial director, so it's tough.


23. Paul Greengrass


He can make art and commerce at the same time, drives his studio crazy, but delivers.


24. Pedro Almodovar


Easily one of the greatest directors in the world.


25. Jon Favreau


One of the most promising helmers on the rise today. He can handle FX, comedy, actors, the whole ball of wax.

[Originally appeared on Variety.com]

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