There are some directors that carry so much clout, that simply their name will fill seats in theaters. The likes of Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino are as big and famous as the stars in their films, but what about the many other talented directors who fly under the radar? There is a host of extremely talented directors, both new and old, who are sadly somewhat unknown. If you haven’t heard of any of these directors, do both yourself and them a favor by checking out some of their work. You won’t be disappointed.
10. Taika Waititi
Trying to establish yourself as a director when you are situated in New Zealand is no easy feat, but Taika Waititi is doing his part and has a cult following for his fantastic style of comedy. Those that are familiar with the comedy series Flight of the Conchords are more likely to know of Waititi, as he is a part of the same circle and his films feature a similar deadpan style of humor. If you are a fan of this style, and Flight of the Conchords, then you will simply love his work and particularly his most recent film, the mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, which he also stars in alongside Jermaine Clement as a group of vampires in a house-share. He has also directed the excellent Eagle vs. Shark (again starring Clement), and 2010’s Boy, which became the highest grossing New Zealand film at the local box office.
9. Will Gluck
The comedy genre is so saturated that it can be hard to find any real quality, and many viewers will simply go by who is starring in the film instead of who the director is or the premise of the storyline. One comedy director who is a somewhat hidden gem is Will Gluck, who has directed a few of the better and more successful comedies of recent times. Despite this, he is not a household name and instead the plaudits have gone to those starring in his films. The director of Fired Up!, Easy A, Friends with Benefits and About Last Night, these are by no means groundbreaking comedy films, but they are funnier and more intelligent than most modern comedies and frequently satirize the clichés that you find in romantic comedies. Directors rarely get the recognition in comedy, but Will Gluck is deserving and a director to keep an eye out for.
8. Lynne Ramsay
You will be hard-pressed to find a director more capable of creating dark, gritty and inherently human films than Scottish director, writer and producer Lynne Ramsay. Her films are known to explore heavy themes and subject matter, most notably guilt, grief, death and the aftermath of these. She has achieved some fame and recognition for the adaptation of We Need to Talk About Kevin, the haunting story of a mother attempting to come to terms with her troubled son and the atrocious horror that he commits. It is an incredibly disturbing story, and Ramsay did a fantastic job of bringing this to the big screen and blending the drama and horror. Her debut, Ratcatcher, is another sensitive and haunting story of guilt, and she also directed the 2002 drama Morvern Caller. Ramsay was set to direct the upcoming Jane Got a Gun, but left the project in 2013.
7. Ben Wheatley
A filmmaker who certainly knows how to jolt his audience, Ben Wheatley has just a handful of films on his resume, but they are all compelling and shocking watches. His debut film, Down Terrace (2009) he also wrote, produced and edited, and the film is a bleak yet hilarious kitchen sink crime film. Next up Wheatley directed, wrote and edited 2011’s Kill List (2011), which is a mysterious crime-thriller that blends elements of horror, and a strange and ambiguous ending has polarized many viewers, but some critics rate it as one of the best contemporary British films. Sightseers (2012) is perhaps his best known work, a brilliant horror-comedy that is as troubling as it is comical, and like all his films it relies heavily on British humor. He also directed 2013’s A Field in England and has two upcoming features, yet outside the UK Wheatley remains a relatively unknown filmmaker.
6. Todd Solondz
Todd Solondz has created some of the most thought-provoking films of recent times, yet the dark nature and satirization of middle class American suburbia has seen him somewhat shielded from mainstream success. His dark sense of humor and some of the subject matter polarizes many audience members, but there is no denying his talent as a screenwriter and director. His best known work is 1998’s Happiness, a controversial film that follows the lives of three sisters and their families, with plenty of depravity unfolding. Other notable features include 2001’s Storytelling, 2004’s Palindromes and 2009’s Life During Wartime. Perhaps not a filmmaker for those easily offended, Solondz has created some shocking yet equally fantastic films and tackled subjects that the majority would shy away from. This has kept him somewhat under the radar, but those that enjoy his films classify him as one of the best working directors in the business.
5. Ti West
Unless your name is John Carpenter, becoming a well-known director through the horror genre is incredibly difficult. Whilst horror buffs may know the names of many directors, this is typically a genre which does not permeate the mainstream. This is a shame, as there are many fantastic filmmakers in the genre who are flying under the radar. One of these directors is Ti West, who has a somewhat old school ethos in that he does not rely on “jump scares” (a cheap tactic) to thrill his audience. Instead, he creates a creepy and foreboding atmosphere and relies on psychological horror. He appears to be a student of the genre, as a number of his films are a subtle homage to classic horror films whilst also keeping them fresh and engaging. His work includes The Roost (2005), The House of the Devil (2009), The Innkeepers (2011) and The Sacrament (2013).
4. Shane Meadows
Our British readers may be more familiar with Shane Meadows, but he is a director that fully deserves global recognition. The master of creating gritty, bleak and harrowing stories with a sprinkle of black humor, there is no other director/screenwriter quite like Meadows. Unquestionably his greatest work is the powerful This Is England and the three subsequent miniseries (also fantastic), where he created characters that you genuinely cared about in an incredibly tense, dramatic and traumatic story that is also hilarious at times. Prior to this he wrote and directed Dead Man’s Shoes, another bleak and dramatic story of a soldier returning to his hometown to take revenge on a group of drug dealers that torment his mentally-impaired brother. Meadows also has a few lesser known films to his name, and all of this work makes him one of the finest English filmmakers of all time.
3. Kathryn Bigelow
Kathryn Bigelow is a very important person in Hollywood, yet sadly she is still relatively unknown despite her success. In 2010, Bigelow beat out both James Cameron and Quentin Tarantino to become the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director. This was for the brilliant war film The Hurt Locker, yet she still remains somewhat under the radar. Prior to this, Bigelow directed a number of high quality films including Point Break (1991), Strange Days (1995), The Weight of Water (2000) and K-19: The Widowmaker (2002). Following on from 2009’s The Hurt Locker, Bigelow directed 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty, a dramatization of the manhunt for Osama Bin Laden. Operating largely in a male dominated genre, Bigelow is an important and influential filmmaker with great vision and talent. Whilst she is well known and respected in the industry, she is not yet as popular as she should be.
2. Richard Linklater
Richard Linklater is not a household name (unless you are a movie buff), which is crime, as he has proven himself to be one of the best and most daring contemporary filmmakers on more than one occasion. Not only has he directed some of the best and most heartfelt comedies of the last 20 years, but he has also proven his versatility through directing a number of ambitious and experimental films. His portfolio includes Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight, School of Rock, A Scanner Darkly, Waking Life (rotoscope animated) and Boyhood. The latter, which is a passion project that he also wrote, earned him multiple Academy Award nominations and has helped his popularity and reputation, but equally he remains under the radar and for some reason is omitted from the discussion when talking about the greatest contemporary filmmakers.
1. Martin McDonagh
Whilst it is true that Martin McDonagh has achieved some fame (he is an established Irish playwright), his name is unfortunately not as well known as it should be. His debut full length feature, 2008’s In Bruges, has achieved cult status and is simply a must-watch if you have not seen it yet. Starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, the hilarious and dark comedy (McDonagh’s trademark) follows two Irish hitmen who are sent to hideaway in Bruges after one accidentally kills a young boy. McDonagh followed this up with the slightly better known Seven Psychopaths, again starring Farrell, as well as Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson and Tom Waits. This is again a dark comedy, but also a very witty metafilm with a tone that has drawn comparisons to Tarantino. His first short, Six Shooter, won an Academy Award in 2005.