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Coolest filmmakers
Photograph: Time Out

The 50 coolest filmmakers in the world right now

The killer moviemakers you need to know about in 2022

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What makes a filmmaker cool? In the heyday of the studio system it might have been about creative autonomy, an office on the lot and the studio barman knowing how to mix your Martini. In the heady, revolutionary days of the ’60s and ’70s, a devil-may-care attitude, radical new stories to tell, and ideally a beard of some description might have marked you out as the hipster’s auteur of choice. Times have changed, though. The moviemaking world has fewer boundaries, more entry points and finally, slowly but surely, more hunger to share stories by women and people of colour. 

There’s a long way to go but we wanted to celebrate a time of gradual change by singling out the filmmakers who are genuinely moving the dial. The ones swinging for the fences in their choice of material and the way they’re bringing it to the screen. They’re not all new names – you’ll find some old stalwarts on here – but they all have in common a restless urge to do something different, exciting, bold. They come from across the planet and reflect all genres, and every kind of movie and moviemaking style.

To take it a step further, we’ve asked a few of them – Rian Johnson, Barry Jenkins and Lynne Ramsay, among others – to share what makes them tick as movie lovers: the scenes that make them laugh hardest, the cinemas they stan for, the cities that inspire them, and the movies that have left them cowering in the back row. Even the posters that they had up on their bedroom walls growing up. Turns out that a lot of cool directors once slept below Tim Burton’s Batman.

READ ON:
The most inspiring cities in the world – as picked by its coolest filmmakers

Cinema’s funniest scenes – as picked by its finest filmmakers

Where do Pedro Almodóvar, Nia DaCosta and Paul Thomas Anderson go to get their popcorn fix?

From Bambi to Buffalo Bill: the coolest filmmakers on their most scarring cinema experiences

15 up-and-coming filmmakers you need to know about in 2022.

Bong Joon-ho
Photograph: Shutterstock

1. Bong Joon-ho

How many filmmakers have their own hive? The South Korean master does: the devotee and ever-swelling, #BongHive. Aside from being so beloved that even his interpreter, Sharon Choi, has become a minor celebrity, Director Bong earns his place at the top of this list for his subversive and darkly funny parables like Mother, Memories of Murder and his anti-meat allegory Okja. And for making Parasite, a film so spectacularly great that it made the Academy do what it has never done in nearly 100 years and give a Best Picture Oscar to a film not in English – an experience he took in with the kind of bemused delight only the extremely cool could pull off. But it wasn’t so much about Bong gatecrashing a Hollywood party, as Hollywood finally waking up to what any of his peers, cinephiles or Korean moviegoers could hsve told it a decade ago: that he’s a towering talent whose films are cerebral, pointed and crowdpleasing all at once. Oh, and let’s not forget that he once ignored Harvey Weinstein’s Snowpiercer notes in magnificent fashion. Never mind the coolest filmmaker, Bong may be the planet’s coolest man. Phil de Semlyen

Where to start:
Head for 2003’s
Memories of Murder, a gripping serial killer mystery that juggles pratfalls and horrors with the tonal assurance that has become Bong’s hallmark.    

Paul Thomas Anderson
Photograph: Laurie Sparham

2. Paul Thomas Anderson

The term ‘McTiernan’s Run’ was coined for any filmmaker who turned out three classics in a row, as John McTiernan did with Predator, Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October. The term ‘Anderson’s run’ doesn’t exist but if it did, it would be best applied to a director whose every single film hits hard. After some fiery younger years as a get-ahead auteur with Boogie Nights and Hard Eight to his name, the Valley-born and bred writer-director (aka ‘PTA’) projects a more laidback aura these days, but as a filmmaker he’s lost none of his edge. Finding flaws in his work takes time and determination, while most of it only grows in stature – we’re saying that Inherent Vice’s time is still to come – and his latest, LA hangout movie Licorice Pizza, dispels any notion that he can’t do sunny and fun as well as dark and brooding. What makes him so cool is his sense of independence: as a callow 26-year-old he scored $3 million to make Hard Eight and since then he’s been doing pretty much whatever the fuck he wants – with help from some of the greatest actors of their generations. Phil de Semlyen

Where to start:
A seedy world mapped out by a master cartographer,
Boogie Nights starts out like a rush and ends feeling more like an overdose. Dirk Diggler is the first in a long line of striving PTA antiheroes – all of them darkly compelling.

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Julia Ducournau
Photograph: Philippe QUAISSE / PASCO

3. Julia Ducournau

Say bonjour to the heir apparent to David Cronenberg. Judging by her first two salvos – the icky, infectious coming-of-age body horror Raw and gender fluid serial-killer romp Titane – Parisian filmmaking tornado Julia Ducournau is going to be pinning people back in her seats for years to come. But what makes her so damn cool is a punky, no-shits-given attitude to borrowing the techniques extreme cinema to communicate genuinely profound ideas of gender fluidity, identity and family. Look beyond the bubbling viscera and broken bones and there’s beating heart and universal themes to connect with. Now a Palme d’Or winner, Ducournau’s next choices will be intriguing to witness. Will she carry on taking a sledgehammer to cinemagoing sensibilities or head to Hollywood? We’d chew our arm off to see a Ducournau Catwoman movie.        

Where to start:
Reports of audience members fainting at Raw’s premiere have become the thing of legend, but it remains a blueprint for her preoccupations with identities in flux and the beautiful horrors of the human body. 

In her words:
‘Would I make a superhero film? I’d be interested in bringing my organic signature to these films, which are not organic at all. If people allowed me to do that, I could have fun with that.’

Spike Lee
Photograph: Denis Makarenko, Shutterstock

4. Spike Lee

Sometimes everything does indeed come to those who wait. Lee entered the then very white world of cinema with 1985’s charming She’s Gotta Have It, which centred around a safe-looking middle-class black neighbourhood, before throwing us the grenades that were Do the Right Thing, Jungle Fever and Malcolm X. Called ‘controversial’ by those who feared both him and Black power, Lee has always done things his own way. Most notable about his career is how he has chronicled modern America, tackling hot topics like racism, 9/11 and sexploitation with the gusto of a talkshow host. A fabulous raconteur with killer fashion sense, Lee is also a master craftsman, jumping between fiction and documentary with ease. An American icon, he seemed to be drifting to the periphery before the world suddenly woke up when he dropped BlacKkKlansman, and Lee went from pariah to soothsayer. Kaleem Aftab

Where to start:
A regular on all good top 100 lists,
Do the Right Thing is Lee’s finest movie: a sweltering urban drama of racial tension that’s 30 years old and scarily timely.  

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The Safdie brothers
Photograph: Shutterstock

5. The Safdie brothers

Josh and Benny Safdie deal in nerve-shredding cinema driven by lovable desperados who tend to be their own worst enemies. Spare a thought for Adam Sandler’s fast-talking, hard-gambling jeweller Howie in the heart-attack that is Uncut Gems. Have a heart for peroxide-haired Robert Pattinson trying to elude capture after a bank job, while caring for his neurodivergent brother in Good Time. The Safdies have been spinning their adrenalised yarns of hustlers getting by on the streets of New York since their earlier days making Daddy Longlegs and Heaven Know What, inspired by unpredictable forefathers such as David Cronenberg and Charles Laughton. How their flair for infusing contemporary cityscapes with classical tension will materialise in their forthcoming HBO doc about Paul Reubens, aka Pee-wee Herman, is absolutely anyone’s guess. Sophie Monks Kaufman

Where to start:
The skittishly energised, R-Patz-starring
Good Time is the panic attack before the full-blown cardiac arrest of Uncut Gems.

Chloé Zhao
Photograph: Gage Skidmore_flickr

6. Chloé Zhao

It’s amazing to see uncompromising talent rewarded by the Hollywood establishment, so when Nomadland won six Oscars – including Best Picture and Best Director – it was a happy day. It was also weirdly appropriate that the ceremony was a pared-down, lockdown version of the grandiose norm: Zhao is known for her understated work that centres on character and nature. Expertly mixing reality and fiction, she often casts ‘real’ people alongside actors, such as rodeo rider Brady Jandreau in 2017’s The Rider, and nomads alongside the great Frances McDormand in Nomadland. Not many directors could make that work, but she does, delivering unforgettable performances and imagery. And she always looks like she doesn’t give a fig what anyone thinks, which seems pretty cool to us. Anna Smith

Where to start:
Less lionised than
Nomadland, The Rider is still close to being its equal – another mesmerising study of real life in America’s rural heartlands.  

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Barry Jenkins
Photograph: Denis Makarenko, Shutterstock

7. Barry Jenkins

It takes serious level-headedness to come out of the Oscars’ most monumental ever cock-up with integrity intact and reputation enhanced. Even Bonnie and Clyde couldn’t rankle director Barry Jenkins when Warren Beatty mistakenly handed La La Land the Best Film gong. Jenkins reacted with the poetic calm of one of his productions. The film he won for – eventually – Moonlight is the closest that American cinema has come to capturing the magic and sensibility of Hong Kong’s most stylish auteur Wong Kar-wai. Jenkins has been the tranquil eye of the hurricane since he grew up in a broken home in Florida, his mum a crack addict and his dad's identity disputed. The sea of calm has given us new perspectives from his debut, Medicine for Melancholy, up to his dazzling but criminally underseen Amazon series The Underground Railroad. Kaleem Aftab

In his words:
‘I met Lynne Ramsay at a film festival. She was really cool and I thought, okay, she’s a normal person who makes really great art. I’m a normal person, maybe I can do this?’

Where to start:
Moonlight, the defining LGBTQ+ drama of the past ten years. 

Pedro Almodóvar
Photograph: Denis Makarenko, Shutterstock

8. Pedro Almodóvar

Age often mellows, and certainly 72-year-old Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s films have become less obviously scrappy and punky over the five decades since he started out in post-Franco 1970s Madrid. One of his first films Pepi, Luci, Bom has a glorious scene of friendship in which one young woman pees on another’s face. But no one should mistake a maturing of tone, pace and ideas for a rejection of the progressive and provocative instincts which have defined Almodóvar’s career, from Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and All About My Mother to The Skin I Live In and Pain and Glory. The world is only now catching up with his attitudes to sex, identity, sexuality and the relationships that define us. Just look at the poster for his superb new film, Parallel Mothers, which stars long-time muse Penélope Cruz: it was banned by Instagram for featuring an enormous lactating nipple in glorious close-up. If the true meaning of cool is style plus substance, Almodóvar is the master. His hyper-designed films – The colours! The colours! – ooze compassion and an activist’s energy for how a better world could look. Who else can draw you deep into a character’s inner life while also making you wish you had their wallpaper? El maestro! Dave Calhoun

Where to start:
2002’s Talk to Her – a tragic melodrama about two men who meet when the women in their lives are in comas – won an Oscar for its script. It’s bold, beautiful and maybe Almodóvar’s best film.

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Ryan Coogler
Photograph: Kathy Hutchins Shutterstock

9. Ryan Coogler

Like the title character of his mainstream crossover Creed, Ryan Coogler quickly ascended to the top of his game thanks to his ability to stick and move… and land serious haymakers. His confident debut, 2013’s Fruitvale Station, about the police killing of an unarmed Black man, remains depressingly relevant. His follow-up cast its star Michael B Jordan in a hard reboot of the limping Rocky franchise. Creed was a big hit, but nothing like what would come next. Black Panther wasn’t just a billion-dollar superhero smash, but a global pop-cultural phenomenon that captured the zeitgeist, signaling to the suits (and the world) that auteurist Black stories should not be underestimated. Now one of the cinema world’s most influential voices, Coogler returns to Wakanda in November for a sequel bound to marry grandiosity with a deeply personal message. Andy Kryza

Where to start:
Anyone querying knee-taking needs to sit down with Coogler’s Fruitvale Station, an urgent retelling of the police slaying of a Black 22-year-old in Oakland.

Jordan Peele
Photograph: Justin Lubin

10. Jordan Peele

When Get Out hit screens, audiences struggled to categorise its eerie combination of class satire, sci-fi weirdness and out-of-body horror.  When the dust finally settled, Peele emerged from the Sunken Place with an Oscar and the unexpected baggage of ushering the so-called ‘social thriller’ into the mainstream. He’s proven a good shepherd, using his Monkeypaw Productions to nurture emerging directors (Candyman’s Nia DaCosta among them – see #22). Yet Peele is so much more than the bane of genre fans who like to use phrases like ‘wokeness run amok’. His doppelgänger chiller Us showed the former sketch-comedy star is a stylist above all, one who sprinkles his funhouse tales of terror with sly humour and an reverence to the Rod Sterling school of WTF. The upcoming Nope should continue his trend of mind-bending horrors with more on their mind than the next jump scare. Andy Kryza

Where to start:
Get Out is your Peele primer: a horror film, racial allegory and dating nightmare that pins you back in your seat.

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Denis Villeneuve
Photograph: Chia Bella James © 2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc

11. Denis Villeneuve

The heir apparent to Christopher Nolan or the Canuck Kubrick? French-Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve has the world at his feet right now and his direction of travel will be enthralling to witness. His love of chilly palettes and immaculate compositions calls Kubrick to mind, while he rivals Nolan for bringing an arthouse sensibility to blockbuster cinema. Not that he recognises that distinction: ‘Film is pop art,’ he says. ‘It's not whether it's auteur cinema or not.’ We love him for his canny casting choices, too, and foregrounding of female characters like Emily Blunt in Sicario and Amy Adams in Arrival. We also love him for recognising the cinematic genius of a random bagpiper in the grand vision that is Dune. The sequel promises an even more massive canvas for his already epic vision.—Phil de Semlyen

Where to start:
Arrival kicked off a sci-fi threepeat from Villeneuve that takes in the ethereal Blade Runner 2049 and the epic Dune. It might just be the best of them all: a Close Encounters-adjacent exploration of grief that should have won Amy Adams an Oscar.

In his words:
I have the energy now to make movies, and I may not have that in 20 years. It requires a lot of stamina.’

Steve McQueen
Photograph: Regency Enterprises

12. Steve McQueen

Whether he’s winning Turner Prizes or Oscars, Steve McQueen has been a seriously galvanising figure for both the art and film worlds. His work has adorned galleries and cinema screens, and having mastered those spaces, he brought it into our homes via his seminal Small Axe BBC series. His incandescent TV series Uprising showed that he could do it just as well with  non-fiction storytelling. The knighted auteur (it’s Sir Steve McQueen KBE these days) will once again be blurring distinctions between art and film when he launches ‘Sunshine State’ in 2022, an installation which promises to play with sound and image. It says everything that when someone mentions ‘Steve McQueen’ these days, you’re probably not thinking about an American actor on a motorbike anymore. Kaleem Aftab

Where to start:
Michael Fassbender and Liam Cunningham’s single-shot 17-minute scene in
Hunger is the centrepiece of a remarkable first salvo from the Oscar winner.  

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Cathy Yan
Photograph: Cubankite _ Shutterstock.com

13. Cathy Yan

With Birds of Prey, Cathy Yan – fresh off of her vibrant but little-seen breakout Dead Pigs – didn’t simply enliven the grimdark DC universe for a post-Snyder era. She hit the studio best known for brooding gods and grayscale landscapes point-blank in the face with a bazooka full of glitter. Her Margot Robbie-starring romp is a daffy, ultraviolet, colourful blast of candy- and cocaine-coated punk-rock girl power. Birds of Prey might not have been a runaway success to match the similarly gonzo Aquaman. But in Yan, a supreme stylist who’s equally comfortable staging a neon-drenched funhouse melee as she is a dreamy Lynchian nightclub scene, DC found a unique stylist who had the audacity to realize that maybe, just maybe, an action-forward break-up flick about a bubbly, bodega sandwich-obsessed murder clown should be fun. Yan is reportedly moving on next to sci-fi with The Freshening. We’re confident it will be fantabulous. Andy Kryza

Where to start:
There’s a reason you get handed the keys to a Hollywood blockbuster and for ex-journo Yan,
Dead Pigs, a fizzing, poppy slice of modern Chinese life, is it. 

In her own words:
‘What inspired me to become a filmmaker? Watching Farewell My Concubine for the first time with my parents in a small indie movie theatre.’

Martin Scorsese
Photograph: G Holland Shutterstock

14. Martin Scorsese

There was a time when Martin Scorsese wasn’t cool, but then there was a time when David Bowie wasn’t cool either and how ridiculous does that seem. Marty’s brief Tin Machine era came in the late ‘90s when the overly-languorous Kundun and the cold-blooded Bringing Out the Dead seemed short of the great New Yorker’s usual zip and dynamism. But even lesser Scorseses have their die-in-a-ditch champions – and there are so few of those as to be barely worth mentioning. But what makes him cool, aside from those hedgerow eyebrows and mile-a-minute smarts, and what has made his tradition from coke-addicted movie brat in the ‘70s to modern godfather of the medium so inspiring, is his sheer, unbridled devotion to the medium. Just head online and click on Scorsese talking about a film – any film will do – and try to resist wanting to stick it on and share its secrets. Especially if it’s one of his. Phil de Semlyen 

Where to start:

If you’re somehow just getting into Scorsese, the most iconic films are the best: Start with Goodfellas, a god-tier gangster film that careens from horror to hilarity, thrills to mundanity and suave to cocaine panic. It’s everything that makes Scorsese great into one near-perfect package. You can meditate on Silence after you catch your breath. 

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Céline Sciamma
Photograph: Andrea Raffin _ Shutterstock.com

15. Céline Sciamma

Céline Sciamma finds ways to touch your heart that sneak up on you until the frame is flooded with emotions. The feelings they engender, which seem to erupt out of nowhere, are the pay-off for sensitive character work and meticulous storytelling. The growing pains of children and queer people are a motif. Both find their roots in her 2007 debut Water Lilies co-starring Adèle Haenel, who reappeared 12 years later in her breakthrough fourth feature, Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Typically, she did the unexpected and shifted down a gear after the awards success of that film with her recent domestic miniature, Petite Maman. As a screenwriter, Sciamma is responsible for My Life as a Courgette, about a puppet with a giant head that ends up in a children’s home. Her capacity to depict kids operating within complex adult realities is hypnotising and overwhelmingly moving. Sophie Monks Kaufman

Where to start:
Sciamma has only made five films so far and there’s a lot to said for watching them all chronologically, so start with 2007’s tender coming-of-age drama
Water Lilies and watch her go.

In her words:
‘Watching
Mulholland Drive left the world feeling different. You start speaking the language of the film. That’s a very cool disturbance and that's what I'm always trying to do with my films.’

Yorgos Lanthimos
Photograph: Picturehouse Entertainment

16. Yorgos Lanthimos

There is being a noteworthy filmmaker, and then there’s kicking off a whole film movement that puts your nation’s cinema on the map. In 2009 Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos made Dogtooth. At first, it seemed like an outlier: a strange film about a father psychologically abusing his family. The acting was theatrical and otherworldly, yet it unlocked truths that so many films lack. And before you could unscrew the doors from your child’s bedroom, the Greek Weird Wave was upon us. Lanthimos did the seemingly impossible a few years later, transferring this Greek phenomenon to a wider English-language audience with The Lobster. Since then his films, like The Favourite, have become increasingly mainstream, but somehow they’re always about the traumas that mark our personality. Next up is an adaption of Alasdair Gray’s novel Poor Things, a Frankenstein-y tale set in Victorian Glasgow, which boasts Emma Stone and Willem Dafoe. Expect more offbeat brilliance. Kaleem Aftab

Where to start:
You can get a kick out
The Favourite without fully buying into Lanthimos’s style and worldview. But it’s a non-negotiable for the wonderfully weird allegory of modern dating that is The Lobster.

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Lynne Ramsay
Photograph: Denis Makarenko, Shutterstock

17. Lynne Ramsay

It’s mad to think that Lynne Ramsay has made just four feature films. But each one is close enough to perfection to make her one of the most lauded directors of our time. And she is, without question, cool. Often exploring distinctive characters on the outskirts of society, she has a wonderful ability to capture telling moments in their journey with startling, alarming precision. If you’ve seen We Need To Talk About Kevin or You Were Never Really Here, you’ll likely remember at least one scene that kicked you in the gut. A down-to-earth Scot, Ramsay delivers world-class cinema with visual eloquence and astonishing performances: Whether working with Tilda Swinton or Joaquin Phoenix, she’s what you would call an ‘actor’s director’ – and a lot more besides. Bring on number five.—Anna Smith

Where to start:
With a Samantha Morton performance for the ages,
Morvern Callar is a wonderfully self-assured, unapologetically offbeat tale of a supermarket clerk passing herself off as her dead boyfriend.  

In her own words:
‘I had such a great education in cool films when I was young. My parents had good taste, even though they were kind of simple folk. My mum was a big Hitchcock fan.’

Werner Herzog
Photograph: Andrea Raffin, Shutterstock

18. Werner Herzog

Does anyone have more hypnotic tones than Werner Herzog? There is so much to admire about his remarkable career, and yet it’s that voice that always sticks.  His unique cadence, combined with that authoritative German accent, makes it easy to believe, yes, of course albino alligators are Earth’s future rulers – at least, when he’s narrating it. He’s something of a cinematic cult leader himself, having made his name directing the troublesome Klaus Kinski in several masterpieces. At one point, no directing challenge was too great, even dragging a 320-tonne steamship up a hill for the glory of cinema. A cameo artist, he won a new generation of fans playing the shady Client in Star Wars spin-off The Mandalorian. There have been many ups and downs, but somehow Herzog always manages to end up king of the hill. Kaleem Aftab

Where to start:
Herzog’s muse-stroke-on-set-maniac Klaus Kinski burns brighter than napalm in
Aguirre and Fitcarraldo, two masterpieces about the cost of obsession. Don’t ask us to pick between them.

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Greta Gerwig
Photograph: DFree _ Shutterstock.com

19. Greta Gerwig

Goofy is rarely as cool as in Frances Ha. The 2012 comedy and its screwball heroine could have been the pinnacle of Greta Gerwig’s career, yet the actress pivoted to directing with the drop-dead brilliant Lady Bird and opened whole new vistas for her talents. A charmed acting career, frequently starring in films by partner Noah Baumbach, proved to be merely Gerwig 1.0, while co-writing gigs on the likes of Frances Ha and Mistress America (and a co-director credit on Nights and Weekends in 2008) now look like a runway to making her own movies. It’s early days, as the forthcoming live-action Barbie film is only her third, yet Little Women and Lady Bird are united by depictions of young women who refuse to compromise, whether in contemporary California or 19th century Massachusetts. Gerwig presents femininity as full of secret subversions. Who better to find the hard edges of a soft doll?—Sophie Monks Kaufman 

Where to start:
Lady Bird, natch. A coming-of-age jewel that saw Gerwig come of age as a major filmmaker.

Jennifer Kent
Photograph: Denis Makarenko, Shutterstock

20. Jennifer Kent

A big Ru-Paul’s Drag Race fan, Aussie filmmaker Jennifer Kent cites the appearance of her creation, the Babadook, on the show as the biggest highlight in a career that has also featured a number of actual awards. Such is the cultural status of the demonic critter – now an LGBTQ+ icon – at the heart of Kent’s breakthrough film. Like its villain, The Babadook is well deserving of its own celebrity as a bona fide horror masterpiece. Her follow-up, revenge thriller The Nightingale, won her a jury prize at Venice – as well as a volley of abuse from one journalist. No doubt to the chagrin of sexists everywhere, Kent is at the vanguard of a new wave of thrilling female filmmakers. Did The Babadook help kickstart it? ‘I don't know,’ she demurs, ‘but I think when a film is made and is successful then people can visualise more easily: “Oh, maybe more films from women could be good. Let’s give them a chance finally!” Someone who once travelled on her own dime to watch Lars von Trier make Dogville is making masterpieces of her own.—Phil de Semlyen

Where to start:
There’s a reason why
The Babadook is championed by such legends of the genre as William Friedkin. If you haven’t caught it yet, prepare your nerves.

In her words
:
‘I remember people saying: “‘Babadook’? What a stupid name. No one’s going to remember that.” It was sweet justice that he’s been embraced and loved, the evil old bastard that he is.’

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Robert Eggers
Photograph: Kathy Hutchins Shutterstock

21. Robert Eggers

That scream. As a bean-spilling, mermaid-loving Robert Pattinson ignites the finale of The Lighthouse with a searing, blown-out howl, you’ll forget he ever played a shiny vampire. Such is the power of Robert Eggers’s indelibly surreal horror films, where the supernatural sneaks into otherwise historically grounded worlds – where a one-eyed seagull packs as much peculiar comedy as it does Promethean calamity, and a silky black goat just might sweet-talk you into a coven. In his first two features, The Witch and The Lighthouse, Eggers cinematically evokes the Old Masters and German Expressionism to tell tales of Puritans and lighthouse keepers (The Northman, his upcoming Viking revenge thriller, continues the period-specific streak). But he’s done so with a brand of folkloric horror that feels unmistakably his own, with unnerving narratives both psychologically stressful and confidently feverish (we mentioned the talking goat, right?). Michael Juliano

Where to start:
With The Witch, an early-settler folk fable that turned a humble goat into the last word in terror. 

Nia DaCosta
Photograph: Parrish Lewis/Universal Pictures and MGM Pictures

22. Nia DaCosta

Far from the emotionless killers dominating the post Michael Myers generation, ‘90s slasher icon Candyman’s tragic tale is rooted in Black trauma and urban myth. As such, the original’s relevance has only grown. A Candyman reboot seemed at once urgent and untenable. Yet with the same humanist touch she brought to her breakout feature – the 2018 rural opioid-crisis thriller Little Woods – rising star Nia DaCosta built upon Candyman’s rich urban mythology, employing stylish shadow puppets and a flair for Cronenbergian body horror to craft a stirring horror yarn steeped in humanity. Like Ryan Coogler before her, DaCosta has been called up to Marvel after just two features – one intimate indie, one franchise overhaul. With her upcoming Captain Marvel sequel set to unite multiple generations of heroines, chances are that the director’s penchant for balancing compassion and spectacle will bring a welcome dose of humanity to a tale of superheroes soaring through the cosmos. Andy Kryza

Where to start:
Little Woods finds DaCosta wringing massive tension and big-picture ideas from a small-scale tale of desperation, crafting an old-school thriller with pathos and nuance.

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Makoto Shinkai
Photograph: Shutterstock

23. Makoto Shinkai

For many westerners, Japanese feature animation begins and ends with Hayao Miyazaki. No other director has broken through internationally to the degree that Miyazaki has. But of all the rising stars in anime, Makoto Shinkai is most likely to change that. Like Miyazaki, his films are often epic flights of fantasy, replete with gorgeous imagery both natural and supernatural. Also like Miyazaki, he earths everything in intimate human detail. He has only made five movies to date, but there’s already a masterpiece among them: 2016’s Your Name, which somehow morphs a high-school body/gender-swap comedy into a time-travelling romantic thriller where the survival of an entire town is at stake. (Tellingly, a live-action US remake is in the works, with director Marc Webb attached.) Shinkai might modestly try to spirit away any Miyazaki comparisons, but since Your Name, and its follow-up Weathering With You, they are starting to stick. And deservedly so.—Dan Jolin

Where to start:
There are Reddit threads dedicated to solving the mysteries of body-swap anime
Your Name. Our advice would be to sit back and enjoy its gasp-inducing visuals and affecting sense of romance.

Edgar Wright
Photograph: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

24. Edgar Wright

The well-timed whip-pans. The patter. The impeccably timed needle drops (‘Kill the Queen!’) The visual rhythm. Few modern directors possess a style as instantly recognisable as Edgar Wright, which becomes curiouser when you consider the hyperkinetic stylist’s filmography. Beginning with Shaun of the Dead, Wright has leapfrogged between genres, masterfully riffing on everything from Invasion of the Body Snatchers to heist flicks and giallo. No two Edgar Wright films are the same. Yet Wright is far from some cinematic DJ with an eye for mash-ups. Whether delving into the insular lives of Toronto hipsters or the sinister underbelly of rural Village of the Year competitions, each and every minute of an Edgar Wright film is distinctly Edgar Wright. Andy Kryza

Where to start:
Shaun of the Dead, the strawberry Cornetto that got Wright’s riotous Pegg-and-Frost trilogy underway in endlessly rewatchable style. Whether it’s superior or inferior to Hot Fuzz is the Godfather/Godfather II debate for millennials.

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SS Rajamouli
Photograph: John Phillips

25. SS Rajamouli

A box-office-monstering reminder that Bollywood represents only a fraction of what Indian cinema has to offer, Telugu language epic Baahubali earned SS Rajamouli more than a billion – billion – fans worldwide. He has a knack for elevating stars who command the screen, like Nani, Samantha Ruth Prabhu, NT Rama Rao Jr, Anushka Shetty, Prabhas, and then setting them loose in bonkers-sounding adventures (Eega is about a man reincarnated as a vengeance-questing house fly), that somehow make a whole lot of sense on the big screen. His inspirations range from his screenwriter dad KV Vijayendra Prasad, to Bruce Lee and Indian comic books, to Hollywood epics. ‘My all time favourites alternate between Ben Hur and Braveheart,’ he says. ‘I’ve seen them both maybe 300 times.’ Ashanti Omkar

Where to start:
Go big with Rajamouli’s big hit,
Baahubali: the Beginning, an epic that is enormous, over-the-top fun from the get-go – even before you reach the 45-minute-long battle scene.

In his words: ‘I was my father who helped me develop my creativity and K Raghavendra Rao, the director, who gave me my first film chance. They are my key mentors.’

Ruben Östlund
Photograph: Curzon

26. Ruben Östlund

For a killer example of how films and social media co-exist and clash, the transformation of the avalanche scene in Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure into a meme has you covered. Depicting a controlled explosion at a ski resort that has panic-stricken dad, Tomas, scarpering to leave his wife and kids to fend for themselves, the moment went viral on Twitter and was soon being shared as real, before being quickly denounced as a ‘fake avalanche’ in a case of serious internet self-owning. Östlund was no doubt tickled by the unexpected second life of this remarkable bit of filmmaking, because the Swede has himself taken inspiration from YouTube. But his two most recent films have been tar-black comedies with more timeless targets for their barbs: the male ego in Force Majeure and the vanities of the art world in The Square. Next up? The fashion industry in Triangle of Sadness. Prepare your Twitter feed for the memes. Phil de Semlyen

Where to start:
Family holidays don’t come much more disastrous than in
Force Majeure, a black comedy that cuts the male ego right down to size.

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Alfonso Cuarón
Photograph: Warner Bros.

27. Alfonso Cuarón

Somewhere in Mexico, Alfonso Cuarón is hopefully nursing a cold beverage by a pool. The two-time Best Director winner has just turned 60 and can look back on a 20-year run of films that have established him as one of most exciting, innovative and respected filmmakers out there. In a multiplex landscape that can sometimes have the stale air of filmmaking-by-formula, Cuarón always wants to show you something new, something thrilling: whether Children of Men’s now-famous Steadicam shot, or the stunningly beautiful, ultra-personal memoir of Roma, or, you know, all of Gravity. It’s sometimes easy to forget that he also made the Harry Potter film it’s okay for hipsters to like, The Prisoner of Azkaban. How many other filmmakers can straddle blockbusters and arthouse as comfortably? Here’s to the next 20 years. Phil de Semlyen

Where to start:
Children of Men is a dystopian vision of shockingly enduring relevance that masks its unparalleled technical wizardry under a thick layer of grimy realism and tooth-grinding urgency.

Mati Diop
Photograph: Eugene Powers Shutterstock

28. Mati Diop

Whatever the reason (racism, misogyny, snobbery are feature on a very long list), it took until 2019 for a Black female director to be invited to compete for a Palme d’Or at Cannes. That groundbreaking movie, Atlantics, was the feature debut by Parisian Mati Diop. A ghost story about migration, crime and gender set in Dakar, Senegal, it reframed the narrative of African lives away from the colonising gaze to the dilated pupils of Africans who will not be forced to fade away and hide, despite how convenient that would be for so many around the world. Atlantics is a call for people to take responsibility for their actions… The soundtrack is also striking, and perhaps that’s unsurprising given that her dad is legendary musician Wasis Diop. But don’t be fooled by her roots in Senegalese musical royalty – Mati does everything My Way. Kaleem Aftab

In her words:
‘When I started to write
Atlantics, African cinema was absent from screens. My ambition was to put Africa back at the heart of world cinema.’

Where to start:
Atlantics offers an undefinable mix of romance, migrant tale, social drama and ghost story – and every bit as intoxicating as it sounds.

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David Fincher
Photograph: Shutterstock

29. David Fincher

Perhaps no one expected David Fincher to be so durable. Of the MTV auteurs who segued into features in the ’90s he had arguably the biggest impact with Seven. But following that with The Game and Fight Club – even as searing and timely as it remains – didn’t indicate someone whose interests were particularly broad. And yet, more than 20 years later the prospect of a new Fincher film is exciting not simply because the craft and performances will be exemplary, but because the subject matter will surprise – even if you think you know what it is. From The Social Network to Mank, the movies are always about more than they appear – skewed takes on wildly eclectic subjects. Next up, based on the ferocious French comic by Matz, Michael Fassbender assassination thriller The Killer. Brace yourself. Nev Pierce

Where to start:
Gone Girl is a shockingly subversive piece of populist pulp that became the director’s biggest hit, a gleefully sadistic sleight of hand that finds the director at his most darkly playful. 

Luca Guadagnino
Photograph: Denis Makarenko, Shutterstock

30. Luca Guadagnino

‘An accident in every possible way’ is how the Palmero-born, partly Ethiopia-raised filmmaker modestly describes his calling card film to date, the dreamy yet wrenching coming-of-age drama Call Me by Your Name. His own coming-of-age as a filmmaker began with a Super 8 camera purchased by his mum in a Palermo department store. ‘Through it, I discovered what it meant to look into a camera and to shape the image of the world,’ he remembers.I learnt through having this thing in my hand and by just doing guerrilla filming.’ His recent evolution into one of European cinema’s most essential voice has taken in three Tilda Swinton collaborations: I Am Love, A Bigger Splash and Suspiria. The latter, an audacious remake of Dario Argento giallo horror, showed off his mischievous side by slathering Swinton in a tonne of make-up and pretending she was a German actor called Lutz Ebersdorf. Who knows, maybe Ebersdorf will return to play an elderly Tony Montana in Guadagnino’s long-planned Scarface remake? Phil de Semlyen

Where to start:
If you’ve seen
Call Me By Your Name, head for A Bigger Splash. It’s the sun-splashed second part of Guadagnino’s ‘Desire’ trilogy and it features Ralph Fiennes shaking his money maker to the Stones.

In his words
:
I'm proud to be on this list. I still remember my first review anywhere outside of Italy, which was Time Out on The Protagonists. Which was, of course, a dissing review.’

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Claire Denis
Photograph: Antonio Scorza _ Shutterstock

31. Claire Denis

The septuagenarian French doyenne of all things maverick, taboo-flouting and atmospheric occupies a curious position: she’s not a commercial big-hitter but those who dig her work do so with feverish devotion. Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins is a paid-up Denis devotee, while Robert Pattinson campaigned for years for the lead role in her English-language debut, High Life. Denis basically does whatever the hell she wants, whether it’s features, docs, TV or shorts. Genre-wise, she's dealt in war (White Material), revenge (Bastards), romance (Let The Sunshine In), horror (Trouble Every Day) and sci-fi (High Life). Her most critically adored film, Beau Travail, is a homoerotic study of male jealousy amongst French legionnaires under the Djibouti sun. Her signature is a heightened mood that makes each film a living beast. We’re already on tenterhooks for the next two: Fire and The Stars at NoonSophie Monks Kaufman 

Where to start:
All of Denis’s works possess the ability to jolt your preconceptions. Only
High Life features a fuckbox. 

Ari Aster
Photograph: lev radin _ Shutterstock

32. Ari Aster

‘“Hereditary” and “Midsommar” guy’ reads New Yorker Ari Aster’s nonchalant Twitter handle. It could just as easily read: “Tweets from the bloke who has freaked the shit out of you twice.” Not since John Carpenter followed up Halloween with The Fog has a one-two of horror movies curled up in our subconscious minds ready to project traumatising images when we least expect it. That decapitation, the burning man, the clifftop leap, the bear suit… the shocks linger, but what really elevates Midsommar and Hereditary is the sheer craft and the vice-like control of atmosphere exercised by a filmmaker using the genre to make cerebral points about everything from mental illness to toxic relationships. The journey there took in a stint at film school and a bunch of attention-grabbing shorts, including a thesis film, The Strange Thing About the Johnsons, that’s still chewed over a decade on. Next through the Aster wringer is Joaquin Phoenix in his new ‘nightmare comedy’ Disappointment BlvdPhil de Semlyen

In his words:
‘My philosophy about writing women is that I try to put as much of myself into them as possible. If I do that, they’ll feel real.’

Where to start:
You don’t start with Aster, you plunge right in. Whether you choose to do so in the darkness of Hereditary or the blinding light of Midsommar depends on the lighting schemes you prefer for your future nightmares. 

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Pablo Larraín
Photograph: Frederic Batier

33. Pablo Larraín

You’d have to be at least a little bit off your rocker to start taking the lives of fiercely-loved icons on screen, both in your own homeland (the poet Pablo Neruda) and overseas (Jackie Kennedy, Princess Diana), and radically reimagining them on screen. But Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín is anything but short of artistic chutzpah. His unblinking 2015 takedown of child abuse in the Catholic church, The Club, was proof that he’s a filmmaker who loves to pull apart systems from the inside. And recent success with a pair of bio-fantasies, Jackie and Spencer, have doubled down on that. Hollywood royalty are queuing to work on his films, as lovers of enigmatic arthouse cinema are to see them. ‘I deliver something that is incomplete and whoever experiences it has to complete it,’ he tells Time Out. Filling in those gaps is one of modern cinema’s pleasures. Phil de Semlyen

In his words:
‘If go to the cinema and I understand everything in the film, I wonder why the filmmaker wants me to be there.’

Where to start:
The completist should head straight for Larraín’s uncompromising second film Tony Manero. Everyone else kick off with his sparkling new Di-saster movie, Spencer.

Hirokazu Kore-eda
Photograph: Denis Makarenko, Shutterstock

34. Hirokazu Kore-eda

It scans that the Japanese director once wanted to be a novelist because his ability to create vivid slices of life, shot through with social themes, is deeply literary. Families – biological and chosen – are a preoccupation, most strikingly so in his Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters, a delicate masterpiece that uses a surrogate family of small-time criminals as a way to meditate on themes of poverty, family, the law, society, and most of all, food. Characters are constantly eating or preparing meals in his mouth-watering cinema. He made a foray into the gentlest realm of sci-fi with After Life, which is set in a bureaucratic waiting room that people enter after they die to choose one memory to take with them to the great beyond. The hugely emotive subject is packaged lightly. That’s the heavenly cinema of Kore-eda. Sophie Monks Kaufman 

Where to start:
Centred on a tight-knit clan of Tokyo grifters, Shoplifters transcends its Dickensian trappings and emerges as something universally moving. 

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Mia Hansen-Løve
Photograph: Denis Makarenko, Shutterstock

35. Mia Hansen-Løve

Mia Hansen-Løve has a rule that none of her films should contain any violence – at least, not the physical kind. Emotionally, watching her movies will make you feel like a dagger is being slotted into your heart. They break you like failed romances. Her latest, Bergman Island, is a tribute to Ingmar Bergman, the Swedish master who saw relationships like Picasso saw faces. In the past, she’s dealt with the highs and lows we feel when falling in and out of love for the first time (Goodbye First Love), suicide (Father of My Children and Eden) and separation (Things to Come and All is Forgiven, which she made aged 23). The way she depicts pain is done ​with such grace and melody that often we don’t realise that we’re broken until long after the credits have rolled. Kaleem Aftab

In her words:
‘We have his expression “claque” in France for violent films that people love, which means “a punch in the face”. I prefer watching films that are not punching me in my face.’

Where to start:
Goodbye First Love is a touching coming-of-age drama with shades of Eric Rohmer. ​​

Wanuri Kahiu
Photograph: Denis Makarenko, Shutterstock

36. Wanuri Kahiu

It’s fair to say that there are more gritty stories of life in Africa than celebratory ones. Afrobubblegum and its filmmaking exponent, writer-filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu, are here to redress the balance. The Kenyan is a one-woman power source for a new kind of African storytelling centred on ‘fun, fierce and frivolous images of African people’. ‘There’s not enough hope and joy in the films about us,’ she tells Time Out. Her work, like her breakthrough 2018 LGBTQ+ love story Rafiki, is helping redress the balance by sweetening its tougher aspect with a radiant energy and lust for life. Rafiki’s success outside her homeland has opened doors in Hollywood – next up is a Netflix rom-com – but whatever she choses to do, expect uplifting representations of the African diaspora. ‘If we don’t see enough images of ourselves in joy,’ she notes, ‘then what is our light at the end of the tunnel?’ Phil de Semlyen

In her words:
‘It had never occurred to me that people could spend their lives creating content until I walked into a TV studio aged 16. It became crystal clear to me that that was all I wanted to do with my life.’

Where to start:
Rafiki is still banned in its homeland, which deprives Kahiu’s compatriots of a kaleidoscopic queer love story that balances hope and heartache with consummate skill. 

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Ava DuVernay
Photograph: : Atsushi Nishijima/Paramount

37. Ava DuVernay

A champion of up-and-coming Black and female filmmakers, Ava DuVernay puts her hard-earned clout to use telling stories of African-American life. Her choices are supercharged with socio-political urgency. Shit needs to change, is the message, and it needs to change now. Her exoriating takedown of America’s penal-industrial complex, 13TH, is one of best documentaries of the past decade, while Selma balanced its Civil Rights story with a pointed feminist one without detracting from either. Unusually, DuVernay got her first experience of filmmaking as a Hollywood publicist, working on the set of Michael Mann’s Collateral, before taking the making the leap behind the camera. Her sci-fi A Wrinkle in Time teamed her up with Oprah Winfrey and centred a young Black actress, Storm Reid, at the heart of a Disney blockbuster. Shifting the dial is what the Compton-raised storyteller is all about. Phil de Semlyen 

Where to start:
The Martin Luther King Jr biopic Selma is the gold standard of biopics, a historical powerhouse that foregoes the schmaltz that bogs down the vast majority of true-story cinema. 

In her words:
Collateral felt like a different way to make films, with people of colour in communities I knew. It got me thinking about doing it on my own. So I did.’

Taika Waititi
Photograph: Andrea Raffin, Shutterstock

38. Taika Waititi

Jojo Rabbit and The Mandalorian don’t have much in common on the surface – at least, beyond the uniformed fascists. But there’s an unmistakably fresh Taika Waititi flair to every film or series he touches – and we mean beyond the New Zealand director’s memorably bantering cameos, whether as a soft-spoken pile of rocks, a naive bounty hunter droid or, um, an imaginary friend who happens to be Hitler. Above all else, Waititi has a knack for pouring life into his projects, literally with the undead mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows or in the kaleidoscopic Thor: Ragnarok, still the most buoyant entry in the MCU. Before he was landing Marvel and Star Wars gigs, though, Waititi was putting one one of the most amusingly endearing (but never twee) father-figure-and-son adventures onto the silver screen with Hunt for the Wilderpeople. That Waititi seal of quality carries over into his TV credits, too, from his early work on Flight of the Conchords to translating What We Do in the Shadows into a series to co-creating the stellar indigenous comedy Reservation DogsMichael Juliano

Where to start:
Thor might be bigger and Eagle vs Shark quirkier, but Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the closest a live-action indie film has come to feeling like a live-action Pixar film.

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Sean Baker
Photograph: Universal

39. Sean Baker

There’s a bit of the devil about Sean Baker, a New Jersey-born director starting to make major waves. He’s a man who wants us to empathise with some heinous characters. His latest film, Cannes favourite Red Rocket wants us to sympathise with a porn actor grooming a girl. Do we have to? In Baker’s cinema, he finds a way to make us. He’s walked this morally ambiguous tightrope through the gaze of transgender sex workers (Tangerine) and Chinese immigrants (2004’s Take Out). Always, Baker looks at the world through the eyes of characters who are the weakest link on the gravy train. The poor kids who live under the shadow of Disneyland, but without the means to actually enjoy the rides. Everywhere the camera looks, there are power structures at play and narcissists at work. But Baker, the devil director, chooses not to condemn and demonise but humanise and challenge conventional thinking. Kaleem Aftab

Where to start:
Featuring one of Willem Dafoe’s most endearingly gruff turns,
The Florida Project is the perfect entry point to Baker’s empathetic worldview and immersive style. 

Lulu Wang
Photograph: Sam the Leigh _ Shutterstock

40. Lulu Wang

Based on an actual lie’ is how Lulu Wang’s breakout hit The Farewell, a story of family and first-generation Chinese immigrants in New York, announces itself to moviegoers. But the title card was a reference to the white lie at the film’s heart – a young woman (Awkwafina) keeping her grandma’s cancer diagnosis from her – rather than any narrative tricksiness. The Beijing-born filmmaker’s irresistible film was all heart and sincerity. It also defied the wisdom of American financiers who wouldn’t stump up money unless a white character was crowbarred into the story. She was surprised to discover that it was the same story with a Chinese producer. ‘[They were] like, “You need a white guy in your movie,” ’ Wang told Indiewire. ‘They’re so influenced by Hollywood.’ She proved them all wrong with a film that coolly racked up $23 million at the box office and helped tear down at least one plank in the boring old Hollywood orthodoxy. Phil de Semlyen

Where to start:
Her Sundance darling,
The Farewell, could pull tears from a stone. It’s an Asian-American tale that’s both culturally ultra-specific and entirely universal.

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Kelly Reichardt
Photograph: Anders photo Shutterstock

41. Kelly Reichardt

A prolific filmmaker with a cult following, Florida-born indie hero Kelly Reichardt explores her American homeland with a watchful gaze and an open heart. She smuggles contemporary nods into historical dramas, such as the George Bush-inspired Meek’s Cutoff, but there’s no need to ‘get’ them to appreciate the wonder of her filmmaking. Her languorous takes are loaded with many meanings. Many of her films take place in Oregon; from the engrossing Wendy and Lucy – in which Michelle Williams searches for her lost dog – to the extraordinary First Cow. Her most recent work explores one of the most fruitful Reichardt topics: masculinity. This filmmaker is interested in gentle men in the truest sense, making her one of the most progressive directors at work today. Anna Smith

Where to start:
Wendy and Lucy marked Reichardt’s first collab with Michelle Williams – and the moment one of indie cinema’s most unique storytellers found her groove.

Lucrecia Martel
Photograph: Andrea Raffin, Shutterstock

42. Lucrecia Martel

‘Visionary’ is a word used frequently to describe Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel, who burst onto the scene with the extraordinary La Ciénaga in 2001, causing film critics and academics to jump out of their seats with excitement. A complex, riveting exploration of a middle-class family over one summer, it announced Martel as a major talent, and her subsequent films confirmed it. The Holy Girl and The Headless Woman were both nominated for the Palme d’Or, and went on to top polls of Latin American cinema – and cinema in general. More recently, the period drama Zama wowed audiences in Venice. And all this on a modest budget. If you’re not familiar with her work, you are in for a treat. Cool doesn’t even begin to cover it. Anna Smith

Where to start:
To describe 2018’s
Zama as an 18th-century period piece hardly does justice to the sly wit Martel smuggles into its story of a Spanish colonial office in a state of high dudgeon.

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Mamoru Hosoda
Photograph: Dick Thomas Johnson

43. Mamoru Hosoda

Part of a new generation of anime geniuses, Mamoru Hosoda grew up worshipping Hayao Miyazaki. So going from being invited to direct Howl’s Moving Castle to being removed for ‘creative differences’ stung. But with Wolf Children and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, an Oscar nomination for the beguiling Mirai, not to mention a 14-minutes standing ovation at Cannes for his new film, Belle, Hosoda has truly stepped out of his hero’s shadow. His combines computer animation – which Belle combines with traditional techniques –  with an innate understanding of a rare Miyazaki blindspot: the digital natives of Gen Z. Belle’s Beauty and the Beast-inspired story sees an ordinary schoolgirl become a singing sensation in a global online community known as ‘U’. ‘I’m fed up with the internet being shown as this dystopian place,’ he says. ‘I want to stand with the young people and say, “Enjoy it and be free.”’ It’s enough to make the internet cool again. David Hughes

In his words:
It’s not just about box office, it’s also how well your film connects with the audience. That’s what gives you the right to carry on making them.’

Where to start:
The whimsical Mirai is perhaps the best Studio Ghibli film not crafted by Studio Ghibli, a twisty Christmas Carol riff whose every frame bursts with imagination.

Alex Garland
Photograph: DFree Shutterstock

44. Alex Garland

His novel ‘The Beach’ had him hailed as a kind of Gen X godhead for British backpackers – not a tag you’d particularly want to stick – but Alex Garland has always been far too mercurial to be labelled. A rare mix of novelist, screenwriter and filmmaker, he’s not the literary edgelord it seemed he might become back in the ‘90s. As a director, his mesmerising Annihilation didn’t get the big-screen release it deserved but its fluoro-Tarkovsky visuals and intellectual heft made it an instant cult sci-fi. Same with Ex Machina, an AI thriller that will surely prove insanely prescient in years to come. As a screenwriter, he wrote 28 Days Later and Sunshine. And Dredd was a fraught production that blurred some lines between the two. He’s where Arthur C Clarke and Stan Lee meet: a pop-culture savant who knows that you have to keep Judge Dredd’s helmet on, and a sci-fi savant who conjured up Devs. Next up is A24 horror-drama Men – and expectations are very high indeed. Phil de Semlyen

Where to start:
Ex Machina is a litmus test to see if you’re jacked into Garland’s vibe: a sci-fi chamber piece full of psychosexual drama and existential philosophy that also includes some spectacular dance moves from Oscar Isaac. 

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Tomm Moore
Photograph: Festival Annecy_Flickr

45. Tomm Moore

Pixar, Ghibli, Aardman… and Cartoon Saloon? In a little over ten years and four feature-length animations, Tomm Moore and his co-founders Paul Young and Nora Twomey have made the case that this once-tiny Irish studio founded in 1999 in the medieval town of Kilkenny now belongs in that ridiculously vaunted company. The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea and Wolfwalkers are a trio of folklore tales rooted in Irish myths that filled hearts across the world. The Twomey-directed The Breadwinner showed that Cartoon Saloon could tackle tough themes in other cultures with equal sincerity, too. Moore is taking a well-earned break to do life drawing at the Beaux-Arts in Paris. ‘I took a break after like 22 years of constant struggle, because the studio is so busy,’ he says. ‘It’s amazing and bizarre to me where we’ve ended up.’ With 500 people working at the studio and five Oscar nominations, Moore – and Cartoon Saloon – is all about the transformative power of stories. Phil de Semlyen

In his words:
Ghibli are heroes of ours, but I think Aardman are a bit closer to home. I’d love to imagine that we’d be like them in 20 years.’

Where to start:
Both
Kells and Wolfwalkers benefit from a knowledge of Celtic lore. Song of the Sea is like a lush crash course: a kid’s-eye-view journey into the world of selkies and elves with incredible music to match.

Rian Johnson
Photograph: Shutterstock

46. Rian Johnson

‘My first films were probably James Bond parodies with my friends,’ remembers Rian Johnson of his earliest work. He’d borrow his dad’s VHS camera – the kind you had to plug into the VCR – and make scrappy short films around the family’s Orange County home. ‘If you looked at my room at high school it would not look like a cool person’s room. I was making movies on my Apple IIe computer and playing Infocom games.’ He’d reject the term even now, but we’re using it: Rian Johnson is very cool. The gracious way he’s navigated one or two tetchy fanbases (cough, Star Wars) is the cherry on top for a filmmaker who has brought ridiculous amounts of craft, wit and adventurousness to all his work, hopscotching from genre to genre (noir, buddy caper, sci-fi, space opera, murder-mystery), while feeling like a true fan of them all. And oh yeah, and he also directed two of the greatest episodes of Breaking Bad in ‘Fly’ and ‘Ozymandias’. Who wouldn’t want to see him make a real Bond film one day? Phil de Semlyen

Where to start:
Time-travel actioner
Looper is a grab-bag of everything that makes Johnson so invigorating: It’s got the noir sensibilities of Brick, the subversive sci-fi instincts of The Last Jedi and the whodunit wit of Knives Out.

In his words:
I never really watched horror movies as a kid, but I remember going to see Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II in college and it feeling like the scene in The Blues Brothers when light shines down from heaven. I walked out feeling like I was floating three feet up.’

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Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Photograph: Joe Seer _ Shutterstock

47. Phil Lord and Chris Miller

Phil Lord and Chris Miller thrive on dubious propositions. A hard-R reboot of a wholly inessential ’80s cop show? 21 Jump Street is one of the past decade’s best comedies (the sequel is even better). A feature-length ode to plastic blocks? The Lego Movie is one of the most beloved animated films of the century. A Han Solo prequel? Actually, Lucasfilm got antsy about the pair’s zaniness and replaced them with Ron Howard (er, whoops), but that just allowed them to spin a web of multiversal mayhem in the writer-producer chair of Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, an Oscar-winning game changer the entire Spidey franchise is still scrambling to top. Lord & Miller’s next directorial effort is TBA – they’ve been too busy producing the astonishing The Mitchells vs the Machines and the upcoming Cocaine Bear, plus a Spider-Verse sequel – but we’ve reached the point where we should probably stop asking questions and just let them rip. Andy Kryza

Where to start:
21 Jump Street is full of early clues of what makes Lord and Miller unique: a zippy, self-aware action-comedy that even its creators seem to understand shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does.

Lee Chang-dong
Photograph: Andrea Raffin, Shutterstock

48. Lee Chang-dong

Korean cinema isn’t just Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-wook. And Lee Chang-dong is just another reason why, pound-for-pound, the country might boast the most exciting national cinema in the world right now. If you discovered him via his 2018 Cannes breakout, Burning, which spun a Murakami short story into a gently simmering thriller, the political fury that underpins his films might not be obvious. But dig into his back catalogue and the quiet rage is stark. The hard-hitting Peppermint Candy opens with a deeply unhinged man’s suicide, then travels back to trace his personal history of violence to the country’s infamous Gwangju Uprising in 1980. A former minister of culture, Director Lee has form  centring characters disenfranchised by age (Poetry), physical disability (Oasis) and trauma (Peppermint Candy), with the state as a recurring villain. His favourite working title? ‘Project Rage’. Sophie Monks Kaufman

Where to start:
Burning is one of the films of the century, a hypnotic psychological thriller that established Steven Yeun as one of his generation’s most unpredictably great performers. 

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Andrea Arnold
Photograph: Denis Makarenko, Shutterstock

49. Andrea Arnold

Like her headstrong heroines, Arnold has forged her own path through life, delivering arresting, original films bursting with character, energy and wit. The award-winning Fish Tank gave a thought-provoking insight into the life of a working class British teenager, and displayed Arnold’s instinctive knack for street casting with its stunning central turn from Katie Jarvis. She went on to discover Sasha Lane, the lead in American Honey, a vibrant slice of road-trip realism with an authentic, youthful vibe. Now, to keep us on our toes, Arnold has made a documentary from the point of view of a cow in a milking farm, which is, of course, brilliant. Expect Cow to cement her reputation as a director with the power to surprise and amaze. Anna Smith

Where to start:
American Honey breathes fresh life into the road-film genre, injecting it with the kind of verve and experimentalism that’s been absent since the genre turned from daring to nostalgic.

Annemarie Jacir
Photograph: taniavolobueva _ Shutterstock

50. Annemarie Jacir

Annemarie Jacir has been giving the middle finger to the world ever since the Columbia University graduate’s short film Like Twenty Impossible (2003) became the first short from the Arab world to play in competition at Cannes. The pioneering spirit continued in 2011 when her feature debut, Salt of the Sea, became the first movie by a Palestinian woman to unspool at the fest. But she’s more than just a pioneer, and her films are a mix of politics with touching family stories. 2011’s When I Saw You, set in a refugee camp, linked being stateless with losing a father. Then her 2017 masterwork, Wajib, an estranged father-and-son tale set in the run-up to a wedding in Bethlehem, delivered arguably the best Christmas movie ever. Throw into the mix her work as a poet, author, museum curator, editor, cinematographer, and producer, and the question becomes: is there anything she can’t do? Kaleem Aftab

Where to start:
Jacir’s breakout film
Wajib (‘Duty’) is a prodigal-son story full of sensitivity and intimacy.

In her words:
‘What is cool in a movie?
A master performance combined with an unexpected shot that tells me everything I need to know at that moment.’

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