1. Christopher Nolan
2008-2012 output: The Dark Knight, Inception, The Dark Knight Rises
To think, Nolan barely made my 2008 list (he was #10), and now he’s #1! My undying love for “Batman” has something to do with it, but it mostly has to do with how his “Dark Knight” films are instant classics. As if that wasn’t enough, with “Inception”, he’s also made another masterpiece in between his last two “Batman” epics. Finally, I must say that out of all 10 directors listed on this page, he’s the one whose next project(s) I’m most intrigued and excited about.
2. Steven Soderbergh
2008-2012 output: Che, The Girlfriend Experience, The Informant!, Contagion, Haywire, Magic Mike
This guy, man…. He’s even more prolific than Woody Allen, and even his least satisfying work (“The Girlfriend Experience” in this case) is hardly uninteresting. And when Soderbergh is firing on all cylinders, watch out! To me, “Che” is nothing less than a masterpiece, even though it’s somewhat underrated (by its director himself, even). And “Contagion” and “Haywire” are just about as enjoyable and well-crafted as old-fashioned genre movies get.
3. Quentin Tarantino
2008-2012 output: Inglourious Basterds; upcoming: Django Unchained
I’m quasi-cheating here because no one’s seen “Django” yet… But “Inglourious Basterds” was all kinds of awesome and it’s only grown in my esteem since it first came out. At this point, its self-proclaimed status as Tarantino’s masterpiece sounds more accurate than ever.
4. Paul Thomas Anderson
2008-2012 output: The Master
I’m definitely cheating here, because I would have preferred not to include any filmmakers who’ve only made one feature in the past four years in the Top 10. But goddammit, PTA was my #1 in 2008 and his latest, the just-released “The Master”, is yet another masterpiece.
5. Darren Aronofsky
2008-2012 output: The Wrestler, Black Swan
Here’s to defying expectations! I mean, there is a distinctive visual artist with some thematic obsessions at work throughout Aronofsky’s filmography, but the out-there, almost show-offy nature of films like “Pi”, “Requiem for a Dream” and “The Fountain” differs greatly from the more down-to-earth (relatively), immediate quality of “The Wrestler” and “Black Swan,” if only in the way that those latter two are all about their lead character, whereas Aronofsky’s earlier films were more epic/expansive.
6. David Fincher
2008-2012 output: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
I always admired Fincher (well, maybe not at the time I saw his mediocre “Alien” sequel in theatres as a teen), but thought for a long while he would never reach the heights of “Se7en” and “Fight Club” again. I practically gave up on him after “Benjamin Button”, but then whammy! He made two of the most stunning movies of the last few years, both visually and thematically, to say nothing of the mind-blowing Trent Reznor scores.
7. Cameron Crowe
2008-2012 output: Pearl Jam Twenty, We Bought a Zoo
Not super productive, but his 2011 one-two punch – one brilliant rockumentary plus a deeply touching dramedy – have reignited my passion for the work of this kindred spirit of a filmmaker.
8. Steven Spielberg
2008-2012 output: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Adventures of Tintin, War Horse; upcoming: Lincoln
His body of work is undeniably uneven, with outright duds standing next to his masterpieces of the 70s, 80s and 90s, but for my money, his often edgier post-2001 work is pretty amazing. Okay, some of his most recent work is lightweight, but I for one loved the hell out of “Indy 4” (sue me) and “War Horse” truly moved me.
9. Lars von Trier
2008-2012 output: Antichrist, Melancholia
The definition of a love-him-or-hate-him filmmaker, which makes him fascinating right there. I’m firmly in the love him camp, even though I sometimes hate what he does – never on the whole, but in parts. “Antichrist” is a good example of that: some of it is extraordinary, but some of it is practically unwatchable. But would we want it any other way?
10. David Gordon Green
2008-2012 output: Pineapple Express, Your Highness, The Sitter
It’s growing harder and harder to hold on to the idea that he’s an artsy indie-film prodigy and the proper heir to Terrence Malick. Then again, I may love some of his rowdy comedies even more than his early lyrical dramas. And when you add his episodes of “Eastbound and Down” to the mix, broham more than earns a place on the list, though lower than in 2008 (let’s be realistic).