Greatest Living English Language Directors

5. Terrence MalickThe Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will celebrate the 30th anniversary of ÒDays of HeavenÓ with the premiere of a new print of the film on Wednesday, November 12, at 7:30 p.m. at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. The screening is presented as part of the AcademyÕs Gold Standard screening series. The new print is from the collection of the Academy Film Archive, courtesy of Paramount Pictures. Pictured: Terrence Malick during production on DAYS OF HEAVEN, 1978.

Terrence Malick is, at least in my opinion, one of the few major figures in American film that is consciously “artistic.” While there are many great American filmmakers, I think Malick is one of the few who doesn’t view himself first and foremost as a craftsman or an entertainer. His films constantly search for transcendence and the sublime in ways that even the most ambitious European filmmakers rarely even attempt. From his debut film Badlands in 1973, Malick has been interested in exploring the “higher” questions in more and more experimental ways. After his sophomore feature, Days of Heaven in 1978, Malick took a 20 year break from directing, becoming a Salinger-esque mythic figure in the process. His legendary nature as a recluse heightened the anticipation of his return in the late 90’s with his war film The Thin Red Line. Ever since then, his films have been subjected to increased scrutiny as his weighty themes have garnered equal numbers of fervent admirers and unimpressed detractors.TerrenceMalickDirectingBale

Malick is praised and criticized for his approach to narrative. While his films clearly progress linearly and follow a defined story, Malick goes off on cinematic tangents that often beguile even his fans. Like Lynch, an explanation of Malick would take much more space than a blog post. I’ll just say that his films deal with spirituality in ways that no other living American filmmaker even tries. His collaboration with wunderkind cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki has ensured that his films are as visually beautiful as his themes of transcendence and joyous rapture.

Terrence_Malick111“We always had hope, the illusion that there was a place where we could live, where one could emigrate and go even further. Wilderness, this is the place where everything seems possible, where solidarity exists – and justice – where the virtues are somehow linked to this justice. In the region where I grew up, everyone felt it in a very strong way. This sense of space disappearing, we nevertheless can find it in cinema, which will pass it on to us There is so much to do: it’s as if we were on the Mississippi Territory, in the eighteenth century. For an hour, or for two days, or longer, these films can enable small changes of heart, changes that mean the same thing: to live better and to love more. And even an old movie in poor and beaten condition and can give us that. What else is there to ask for?”  – Terrence Malick

Film Year
Badlands 1973
Days of Heaven 1978
The Thin Red Line 1998
The New World 2005
The Tree of Life 2011
To The Wonder 2013

4. The Coen Brothers

coenbrothers2-xlargeAlthough they’ve finally achieved more mainstream recognition over the last decade thanks to their Oscar winning No Country For Old Men, A Serious Man and True Grit, The Coen Brothers have been among the very best American filmmakers ever since the mid 1980’s. The Coen’s are a unique cinematic force in that they often write their own films as well as direct. Even more than that, they’re almost unprecedented in how well they do both tasks. Coens_mp_main_wide_coenspitt452They’re more inventive and capable as directors than other famous dual role filmmakers (Woody Allen/Tarantino) but better writers than most other great directors who have adapted their own scripts. Their unique skillset has enabled them to build one of the most towering filmographies in modern film. They’re able to make classic comedies like The Big Lebowski and O Brother Where Art Thou, gangster films like Miller’s Crossing, Oscar winning dramas like Fargo and No Country For Old Men, and smaller, poignant films like A Serious Man and Inside Llewyn Davis.

coen-brothers“It’s easy to offend people. People get uncomfortable, for instance, when the main character in a movie is not sympathetic in a Hollywood formula way. Our movies are loaded with things that aren’t to everyone’s taste. On the other hand, there’s a scene in [O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)] where a frog gets squished that everyone seems to like. It’s all right to do the frog squishing.” – Ethan Coen

Film Year
Blood Simple 1985
Raising Arizona 1987
Miller’s Crossing 1990
Barton Fink 1991
The Hudsucker Proxy 1994
Fargo 1996
The Big Lebowski 1998
O Brother, Where Art Thou 2000
The Man Who Wasn’t There 2001
Intolerable Cruelty 2003
The Ladykillers 2004
No Country For Old Men 2007
Burn After Reading 2008
A Serious Man 2009
True Grit 2010
Inside Llewyn Davis 2013

3. Francis Ford CoppolaFrancisFordCoppolatumblr_mepr3i9Fq71rovfcgo7_1280

Francis Ford Coppola is one of the harder directors to rank on this list. His work from the 1970’s (Godfather part 1&2, The Conversation, and Apocalypse Now) is quite easily the greatest decade for any filmmaker ever, and stands as the definitive work of the best decade of American film. His resume pre-1970 and post 1980 though, is riddled with poorly received films.FrancisFordCoppola-directing-Godfather

Unfortunately for Coppola, I have seen very little outside of his 1970’s work and so I can’t really make any definitive analysis of the majority of his work. Maybe some day I’ll talk more about him.

“I think cinema, movies and magic have always been closely associated. The very earliest people who made films were magicians.”  – Francis Ford Coppola


Film Year
Dementia 13 1963
You’re A Big Boy Now 1966
Is Paris Burning 1966
Finian’s Rainbow 1968
The Rain People 1969
The Godfather 1972
The Conversation 1974
The Godfather Part II 1974
Apocalypse Now 1979
One From The Heart 1982
The Outsiders 1983
Rumble Fish 1983
The Cotton Club 1984
Peggy Sue Got Married 1986
Gardens of Stone 1987
Tucker: The Man and His Dream 1988
The Godfather Part III 1990
Bram Stoker’s Dracula 1992
Frankenstein 1994
Jack 1996
The Rainmaker 1997
Youth Without Youth 2007
Tetro 2009
Twixt 2011

2. Martin Scorsese

Martin_Scorcese_41b13_NicolasGuerin17 martin-scorsese-taxi-driver Martin_Scorcese_tumblr_n1xswcz9VE1rovfcgo1_1280

  Although Scorsese is the popular choice among critics for the greatest American director, I pulled out the subjectivity card here and put him #2. Although he’s undoubtedly one of the all-time greats, his career never quite peaks for me the same way as others (most would disagree, but Taxi Driver is his only film that would place in my top 50 all-time) and his resume has a bit more misfires than I’d like. martin_scorsese_directing-533x282That being said, he’s one of the most consistently excellent directors of all-time. Even his failures are interesting to watch and by my count he’s made well over 15 films that I’d at least recommend that people see. Better yet,he’s still going strong despite being 73 years old. His last film, Wolf of Wall Street, was one of his best and his upcoming film Silence, looks very promising. Martin_Scorcese_wpid-photo-aug-5-2012-333-pmHe’s made three films that are unquestioned cinema classic (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas) and all of his films are interesting in their own ways. He’s not only one of the great living directors, he’s one of the great directors of all-time, in any language.

“Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out.”  – Martin Scorsese

Film Year
Who’s That Knocking At My Door 1968
Boxcar Bertha 1972
Mean Streets 1973
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore 1974
Taxi Driver 1976
New York, New York 1977
Raging Bull 1980
The King of Comedy 1983
After Hours 1984
The Color of Money 1986
The Last Temptation of Christ 1988
Goodfellas 1990
Cape Fear 1991
The Age of Innocence 1993
Casino 1995
Kundun 1997
Bringing Out the Dead 1999
Gangs of New York 2002
The Aviator 2004
The Departed 2006
Shutter Island 2010
Hugo 2011
The Wolf of Wall Street 2013

1. Steven Spielbergsteven-spielberg-directing-1f3ac8d19b393d6994f9db407f4614fe-large-96779

I would argue that no one’s ever been more inherently cinematic than Steven Spielberg. Hitchcock once said that Spielberg”“is the first one of us who doesn’t see the proscenium arch,” meaning that he made his films without any stylistic debt to the Theater as previous directors had. He has an almost preternatural ability to film scenes in the exact best way that they should be filmed, even if they’re not the flashiest or most intrinsically compelling. He’s a director who has made Iconic movies in almost every genre. He helped create the modern Horror film with Jaws. He helped create the modern action film with Raiders of the Lost Ark. He’s made several of the all-time great science fiction films (Close Encounters, E.T, Minority Report, Jurassic Park, A.I). He’s made dramas that dwarf those of more “serious” directors. He’s simultaneously one of the great action directors and one of the best at filming conversations. Steven_Spielberg_104813-004-A83C810CHis career is a series of highs, starting with Jaws in 1975 which revolutionized how Hollywood made films. Two years later he, along with Lucas, legitimized science fiction as THE big money maker with his film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In 1981 he set the template for the 80’s action adventure with Raiders of the Lost Ark. In 1993 he had in my opinion the single greatest year any director has ever had with the one-two punch of Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List. In 1998 he changed the way war movies were made with Saving Private Ryan. In the early 2000’s he returned to his earlier genre toying form with modern classics A.I Artificial Intelligence and Minority Report, while also delivering knockout films like Catch Me If You Can. In later years, he’s turned to more contemplative dramas like Munich, Lincoln, and Bridge of Spies, all much more thematically complex than Spielberg’s critics will ever give him credit for. No single figure in American film has changed the industry more than Spielberg. In my opinion, no other director has been as good either.

Steven-Spielberg-–-The-Legend-of-World-Cinema2“My movies are all different. I’ve tried to make every movie as if it was made by a different director, because I’m very conscious of not wanting to impose a consistent style on subject matter that is not necessarily suited to that style. So I try to re-invent my own eye every time I tackle a new subject.”- Steven Spielberg

“I dream for a living.”  – Steven Spielberg

Film Year
Duel 1971
The Sugarland Express 1974
Jaws 1975
Close Encounters of the Third Kind 1977
1941 1979
E.T:The Extra-Terrestrial 1982
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom 1984
The Color Purple 1985
Empire of the Sun 1987
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade 1989
Always 1989
Hook 1991
Jurassic Park 1993
Schindler’s List 1993
The Lost World: Jurassic Park 1997
Amistad 1997
Saving Private Ryan 1998
A.I Artificial Intelligence 2001
Minority Report 2002
The Terminal 2004
War of the Worlds 2005
Munich 2005
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull 2008
The Adventures of Tintin 2011
War Horse 2011
Lincoln 2012
Bridge of Spies 2015




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