Auteur Cinema - The Best Voices In The Industry Today

11/13/2020

"Auteur" seems like one of those words thrown around when people talk about film that not everyone seems to know how to define. Does it refer to a good director? Or does it refer to one's work that is unique but not exactly good? Here, I'm going to dive into auteur theory and how it came to form, as well as how to spot such a director when watching his or her work. 

Auteur theory is essentially the belief that a director holds the most creative control in the process of making a movie, like that of an author of a book. The term was popularized in the 1950s in France at the height of its New Wave movement, when directors were breaking the boundaries of what a movie could or could not do.

Despite its detractors who see film as a collaborative process between the director, cinematographer, screenwriters, and editors, auteur theory is still prominent today because audiences tend to see a film as a creative vision by the director. Above all else, what this term really means is that a director's work is defined by specific idiosyncrasies and trademarks that no others can replicate.

Below is a list of 24(!) of the greatest auteur directors in the business today.  

RICHARD LINKLATER

Part of the VHS generation of directors who never went to film school, Linklater's work is defined by authentic situations and philosophical conversations that focus on adolescence and the passage of time. His settings range from American suburbs to major European cities.

SEE: Dazed and Confused, The Before Trilogy, School of Rock, Boyhood 

ALFONSO CUARÓN

Cuarón's work is identifiable by perfectly crafted long takes and set designs, as well as the usage of the color green. His films often have backdrops to specific political events and time periods, mainly in Mexico. 

SEE: Y tu mama tambien, Children of Men, Gravity, ROMA

THE COEN BROTHERS

Though the brothers often jump between genres, the work of the Coens focuses on creating iconic characters and throwing them in absurd and dark situations. Comedy is used as a cover for presenting questions on morality. Excellent cinematography is frequent with Roger Deakins, their DP.

SEE: Fargo, The Big Lebowski, No Country For Old Men, Inside Llewyn Davis 

CHRISTOPHER NOLAN 

A master of the sci-fi genre, Nolan's work is usually a puzzle waiting to be unsolved. His blockbusters are defined by wide lens scopes, loud sound design, and many different twists and turns along the way that usually deal with time. 

SEE: The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Interstellar, Dunkirk 

SPIKE LEE

A true New York filmmaker through and through, Spike's films boldly examine race relations and underlying bigotry in today's age. Many feature characters speaking straight to the camera, angry and fed up, and stories based around the director's own upbringing in Brooklyn. 

SEE: Do The Right Thing, Malcolm X, 25th Hour, BlackKklansman 

SOFIA COPPOLA 

The daughter of the man behind The Godfather, Sofia has established herself as an auteur of her own through strong characters and dialogue. Her films often feature female protagonists dealing with themes of loneliness and dreams of success, and have distinct soundtracks.

SEE: The Virgin Suicides, Lost In Translation, Marie Antoinette, Somewhere  

WES ANDERSON

From all the directors listed here, Wes' films likely have the most distinct looks of all. His absurd production designs using miniatures and painted backdrops, whimsical color pallets, and characters who consistently go through identity breakdowns earns him praise as one of the great auteurs working today. 

SEE: The Royal Tenenbaums, Life Aquatic, Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel

BONG JOON-HO

One of the few good things of 2020 is that Bong is finally a household name. The Korean filmmaker's work usually targets social themes and class divide, while effectively balancing tonal shifts. However, there is always some hope to be found within these dark stories. 

SEE: Memories of Murder, Mother, Snowpiercer, Parasite 

QUENTIN TARANTINO 

A man whose name needs no introduction, Tarantino has more or less created a genre within itself. Common in his films are sharp and captivating dialogue, extreme uses of violence, nonlinear storytelling, and many pop culture references, especially to older and classic films

SEE: Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, Inglorious Basterds, The Hateful Eight 

DENIS VILLENEUVE 

Denis has firmly established himself as one of the most exciting directors of the decade. His trademarks consist of unflinchingly dark and realistic stories, as well as the violence that ultimately unfolds; beautiful cinematography and shifting character perspectives are also pretty much guarantees. 

SEE: Enemy, Sicairo, Arrival, Blade Runner 2049

CLAIRE DENIS 

Another Denis on this list, the French filmmaker has rightfully gained a cult following for her highly interpretive and wildly sexual surrealist work. Many of her films focus on the effects of colonialism, as she grew up in West Africa during its existence. 

SEE: Beau Travail, Trouble Every Day, 35 Shots of Rum, High-Life 

PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON

PTA - another member of the VHS generation - has changed up the genres of his films many times, but has never lost sight of his vision. The director is known for ensemble casts in his early films, character studies of disturbed men, California settings, and iconic imagery. 

SEE: Boogie Nights, Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood, The Master 

EDGAR WRIGHT

Best known for the editing of his work, including fast transitions and wipes, Wright has also popularized his work with creating hilarious characters and always using the perfect songs to match the mood of the scene.

SEE: The Cornetto Trilogy, Scott Pilgrim vs The World, Baby Driver

STEVE MCQUEEN

Another director who rose to stardom this decade, this London-born filmmaker's work often tackles disturbing subject matter and shows the power of the human condition. His films usually feature unforgettable long takes and raw performances from his actors, especially Michael Fassbender.

SEE: Hunger, Shame, 12 Years A Slave, Widows 

DAVID FINCHER 

Known for his precision and numerous takes on set, Fincher is a perfectionist when it comes to camera placement. His style consists of low lighting, discrete computer effects, and symmetrical framing, with stories revolving around the mental breakdowns of his central characters. 

SEE: Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac, The Social Network   

GUILLERMO DEL TORO 

Del Toro is one of the most creative filmmakers on the planet today, and each of his films dive into the weird and supernatural through imaginative storytelling and creature creations. His projects always consist of detailed production designs that combine stories of horror, fantasy, and drama. 

SEE: The Devl's Backbone, Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth, The Shape of Water

SPIKE JONZE

Someone who truly has an eye for the absurd, Jonze's films often take imaginative sci-fi concepts to show the fundamental loneliness present in humanity. He challenges conventional ways of storytelling and uses humor to balance the often depressing subject matter. 

SEE: Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Where The Wild Things Are, Her

BARRY JENKINS 

With just three films to his name, Jenkins has cemented himself as one of the great black artists in the movie industry by challenging the conventional stories told regarding African-Americans, and presenting them with raw sense of tenderness and love in his films. He is also a master of the close-up shot. 

SEE: Medicine For Melancholy, Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk 

NOAH BAUMBACH 

Baumbach's strong-suit is capturing the real day-to-day lives of ordinary people and their relationships. Despite being in the industry for over 20 years, he has stayed passionately within the independent world of cinema. 


SEE: The Squid & the Whale, Frances Ha, Meyerowitz Stories, Marriage Story

YORGOS LANTHIMOS 

There are few directors working today as exciting as Yorgos. The Greek filmmaker has an eye for the unique, and creates films as impossible to fully comprehend as they are entertaining. Often in his films are uncomfortable and shocking moments of sex and violence. 

SEE: Dogtooth, The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Favourite 

THE SAFDIE BROTHERS 

The films by the Safdie brothers often have a sense of neorealism, casting non-actors in many of the roles, and combine this with a level of nail-bitting intensity that no other director today can emulate.  They seem to be on track to becoming the new, great NYC filmmakers. 

SEE: Heaven Knows What, Good Time, Uncut Gems 

MARTIN SCORSESE 

Undoubtedly the longest working director on this list, the legendary Marty has 40 years of consistently great films to his name. Although he is probably most known for gangster and crime pictures, full of narration, violence, and Rolling Stones music, his full filmography is much broader. Some of his films deal with specific periods of American history, some deal with urban outcasts who struggle to succeed, and some (my favorite) look at religious contemplation and man's relationship with God. 

SEE: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, King of Comedy, After Hours, Goodfellas, The Departed, Wolf of Wall Street, Silence, The Irishman

HONORABLE MENTIONS

-David Lynch, Wong Kar-wai, and Terrence Malik, completely unique voices who would have been included if they were simply more consistent with their releases.

-The rising horror trio that is Robert Eggers, Ari Aster, and Jordan Peele. 

-A few rising female filmmakers who are finally getting the recognition they deserve: Lynne Ramsay, Andrea Arnold, Kelly Reichardt and Greta Gerwig. 

-Luca Guadaningo; Damien Chazelle; Sean Baker; Xavier Dolan; Alejandro G. Inarritu; Ryan Coogler; Steven Spielberg; Park Chang-wook; Adam McKay; Taika Watiti.