For me, when I pick my directors, I think of many different factors. Was the film made better because the director was attached to it? Does the director have a unique voice and/or perspective? How well shot and edited was the film? Did it have a lot of pacing issues? Was the work original and groundbreaking, or just more of the same. Could literally anyone have replicated their work? These are the 10 directors I felt did the best directing job of 2016, plus five more for “Breakthrough In Directing”, which means they either had directed their first feature, or nearly their first.
BREAKTHROUGH IN DIRECTING:
5) Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane)
This man made a stealth sequel to Cloverfield. More importantly, it was thematically different from the original. Instead of being a shaky cam sequel about people running from aliens, it was a thriller about a girl fighting her captor. It didn’t even really need to be a Cloverfield film to be great, that was just the icing o the cake.
4) Tim Miller (Deadpool)
What I liked about Miller’s direction is that he managed to do the impossible. No one thought Deadpool was going to be as good as it was, and that success is due to Tim Miller’s understanding of the character and sticking to his guns. I’m concerned that he’s not directing the sequel.
3) Matt Ross (Captain Fantastic)
He directed a film about a man living with his kids in the woods, and then going on an adventure to rescue their wife/mother’s body and give it a proper burial. It’s not your typical film, and I’m hoping Matt Ross is not our typical director. Huge vote of confidence toward the future of his career.
2) Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)
He told a story no one else would have told. He calls it a personal story, but I like directors who dare to make the films no one else will. He also got a lot out of his actors. I’m looking forward to see what he does next.
1) Garth Davis (Lion)
What I admire about Garth’s directing is how much of a risk he took on Sunny Pawar, and how long he spent on that portion of the story. It might have been alluring to spend more time with Nicole Kidman. After all, she’s fucking Nicole Kidman. Instead, he knew where the heart of his story was, and he went with it.
10) John Carney (Sing Street)
What I love about Carney is his clear love for music, and his understanding of how to tell a great story centered around music. He constantly impresses me, and is becoming one of my favorite directors. He’s actually someone I think is getting better and better. I thought Begin Again was actually better than Once, and Sing Street was better than Begin Again.
9) Martin Scorsese (Silence)
While it might not be my favorite Scorsese film, I can’t deny how beautifully shot this film was, and how daring of a story it was to be told. He got a fantastic performance from Andrew Garfield. He’s also Martin Scorsese. Not including him in the top 10 is almost silly, considering how Scorsese might be the best director alive.
8) Peter Berg (Patriots Day)
I think Berg is an exceptional director, and he uses Mark Wahlberg as his muse. Sure, he was the director of Battleship, and you could continue to hold that against him, but that was also a Wahlberg-free film. If you look at his Wahlberg films, you’ve got Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon, and now Patriots Day. He’s been working on this formula for a while, with the payoff being just how good Patriots Day is, and how it pays an honest tribute to the city of Boston, and the survivors and victims of a terrible tragedy.
7) Garth Davis (Lion)
I’ve already said a lot about Garth Davis, but in addition to him being my breakthrough director of the year, I also think he was one of the best directors of the year.
6) Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester By The Sea)
What I need from Lonergan is for him to take less time between films. I need more films from him. I think he’s a fantastic writer/director, and he seems to always be able to get a lot out of his actors. Manchester By The Sea just felt so incredibly real, and non-acted.
5) Taika Waititi (Hunt For The Wilderpeople)
I loved this film, and I think he made a film that no one else would have made. That’s a huge factor for me, because I love it when I get a film that it outside the norm, and ends up being as terrific a surprise as Hunt For The Wilderpeople was.
4) David Mackenzie (Hell Or High Water)
Again, another film we don’t see made a lot, and a story that I can’t imagine directed by anyone else. Mackenzie has talked about this being a very personal film for him. He got terrific performances from his characters, and chose an unconventional ending. I’m really looking forward to his next project.
3) Gavin O’Connor (The Acccountant)
A really well directed puzzle. The Accountant asks a lot of its audience. It’s an incredibly smart film, and it wants you to pay attention. The success of this story has a lot to do with O’Connor, who has already proven to be a terrific director.
2) Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
He managed to to the unthinkable. He launched an original musical, and it was actually really really good. Chazelle is clearly part of a new generation of amazing directors. I loved Whiplash, and he also wrote 10 Cloverfield Lane. I love directors who have perspective and a fresh voice, and I think Chazelle has that in spades.
1) Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)
I thin Villeneuve might be the greatest director breakthrough since Christopher Nolan. He continuously directs exceptional films that push boundaries. Arrival is such an amazing, perfect film. He told a very different alien invasion movie, one that required its audience to think in order to enjoy the film. It focused on linguistics over brute force. It had great special effects, but without destroying national landmarks. And, he managed to throw in a nice twist. He’s my pick for Best Director of the Year.