Now we’re getting to the big categories. For Best Director, as well as the four major acting categories, I felt that I needed a top 10. I included directors both whose films I loved, and directors who I felt their personal style contributed ultimately in the betterment of the film.
#10- RYAN COOGLER (CREED)
I don’t think Creed would have been successful without Ryan Coogler. I think he proved himself a talent to watch with Fruitvale Station, and he continues to prove himself as one of the brightest new voices with Creed. It’s a reboot of a major franchise, sure, but it’s more than that. It’s a father/son tale, told beautifully through two different relationships. This could have easily been a hack job not worth our time, but it turned into one of the best films of the year, earning Sylvester Stallone an Oscar nomination.
#9- SEAN BAKER (TANGERINE)
He shot a film about trans prostitutes on an IPhone. If you woke up this morning, and you thought you were a director with balls, you’re not Sean Baker. No proper ‘Best Director’ conversation could even think of happening without at least considering Sean Baker. Tangerine ended up being one of my biggest surprises of 2015, and Baker is now fully on my radar. Often as critics we ask for new perspective, and I think Sean Baker has that in spades. I’m excited to see his next step.
#8- ALEX GARLAND (EX MACHINA)
A first time filmmaker debuts on this list. I hope he doesn’t flare out, and be a one hit wonder, but something tells me that Alex Garland is the next big thing. He crafted a truly remarkable story in Ex Machina, using really only 4 actors, and being the first director to truly put Alicia Vikander on the map. He saw in her what we all see now, and sometimes as a director, having the ability to spot talent is a huge part of making great cinema.
#7- QUENTIN TARANTINO (THE HATEFUL EIGHT)
Again, I think Tarantino poured his soul onto film this year. The Hateful Eight wasn’t just another Tarantino movie, it was a love letter to westerns of yesteryear. It was Tarantino’s way of showing appreciation for the films that inspired him to do what he does best. And instead of hitting us constantly with graphic violence, he saves it for his awesome climax. Most of the film is dialogue heavy, keeping the audience guessing as to who among the eight cannot be trusted. And in the end, it all pays off.
#6) JJ ABRAMS (STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS)
JJ Abrams is really one of maybe a handful of directors I would have trusted with the Star Wars franchise. He wasn’t just responsible for creating a great movie, but rather for setting the tone for the next two sequels, as well as making up for the disappointing prequel trilogy. He managed to succeed, and because of that, he is now the director of the highest grossing domestic release of all time. JJ consistently proves himself as an intelligent director capable of coming up with something new, while also reminding you of what came before. He manages the perfect balance of nostalgia and innovation.
#5) ALEJANDRO INNARITU (THE REVENANT)
Yes, The Revenant is long. Too long. But what a beautiful work it is, despite its length. Every shot could be a painting. He has long tracking shots that seem like they’re never going to end. He shoots scenes in almost a 360 nature, which is incredibly hard to stage. The film may have been long, but it did so to enhance DiCaprio’s performance, and DiCaprio was likely made better by working with Inarritu.
#4) PETE DOCTER (INSIDE OUT)
Lets not forget how amazing Inside Out was, and how that likely was not a fluke. This is the same man who gave us the beautiful story in Up, which managed a Best Picture nomination. Docter is consistently the best animated feature director, hitting home runs with Monsters Inc, Up, and now Inside Out. I automatically get excited when I see his name attached to a Pixar effort, because I know it will be just a little bit better because of it. He took a simple concept, “growing up is hard”, and managed to really break the imagination gates open and let it run wild.
#3) GEORGE MILLER (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD)
I have so much love for Miller. I wasn’t even a fan, and he made me a fan. His decision to use practical effects, ultimately is the crowning achievement in an already terrific film. It looks so much better because it isn’t all computer animation. It’s real. Those cars are actually moving, and the stuntmen are potentially in real danger. He managed to take what should have just been another summer blockbuster, and turn it into one of the best films of the year (or really, any year).
#2) LENNY ABRAHAMSON (ROOM)
Directing a film in a confined space isn’t as easy as it looks. Directing a film with two actors, one of them being a child, isn’t easy either. Sure, that’s not the whole movie, but it’s the bulk of it. It’s truly the meaty part of the film, and I think Abrahamson did a fantastic job with it. Room is one of my favorite films of the year, and I think it has a lot to do with Abrahamson and his talent as a director.
#1) RIDLEY SCOTT (THE MARTIAN)
I’m not sure how Ridley Scott was left off the Oscar nominee list, because he is my top choice for director this year. It’s a career best for him, telling a story with three different sets of cast. There’s the earth team, the space team, and Matt Damon. The story effortlessly bounces between three groups, with a large ensemble, somehow making each character feel equally important. It does all of this, and doesn’t dumb it down for the audience. The Martian is one of the smartest scripts of the year, directed by the best director of the year.