The Most Influential Filmmakers Of The 2010s

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Vote up the filmmakers who made the biggest impact on cinema and pop culture.

The 2010s have been nothing if not an interesting decade at the movies. From the dominance of franchise IP to the merging of major studios and the ascent of streaming services, the landscape has gone through a fitful evolution. And yet, it remains the case that filmmakers, through their successes and their failures, sit at privileged central positions amid all the industry machinations. It’s their work that continues to drive conversation, permeate the culture, and shape what comes next.

Some work in comedy, others specialize in horror, while still others do what they can to pitch down the middle only to have their work touch off maelstroms both productive and not. Fortunately, driving us forward are filmmakers from ever-diversifying backgrounds, serving ever-diversifying films. These are some of the most influential filmmakers of the decade.

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  • While he’s a fairly obvious entry, he’s obvious for good reason: Christopher Nolan's 2010s were tremendously successful. From Inception to The Dark Knight Rises to Interstellar to Dunkirk, he managed to make massive, primarily original work with studio backing that landed with audiences, even when they weren’t clear sells.

    Dunkirk, for example, is a carefully structured period story with borderline inaudible dialogue centered on an Allied defeat. However, it cleared half a billion dollars worldwide. While his chilly aesthetic drew both rapturous praise and backlash over the decade, nobody quite managed to blend a personal signature with known-quantity forms (i.e. the heist film, the war film, the sci-fi epic). Nolan continues to make the case, in essence, that ambitious and director-driven original work can still break out in the modern studio landscape.

    • Age: 52
    • Birthplace: Europe, Eurasia, United Kingdom, London, England
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    While the back half of the decade has been marked by a frustrating number of cancellations, David Fincher’s 2010s output remains nothing if not impressive. Starting with The Social Network, he initiated a run of ambitious, culturally engaged adaptations, jumping next to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and then on to Gone Girl. That first film landed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin an Oscar and signaled the course Fincher went on to take: imbuing established forms (the origin story, the thriller, etc.) with his signature dread-building direction. Plus, Gone Girl's success helped cement author Gillian Flynn's status as the it thriller writer, which she parlayed into Steve McQueen's Widows and HBO's Sharp Objects. Notably, Fincher collaborated on each with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, whose glitchy, synth-heavy scores also landed an Oscar and were key in each film's lasting and distinct feel.

    When his announced World War Z follow-up came to the same fate as his planned HBO series, he found a welcome partner in Netflix, which he launched into legitimacy with House of Cards. The partnership continued with Mindhunter - which Fincher oversaw completely - and Love, Death & Robots, which he executive produced. Fortunately for him, Netflix appears to be all in, as they've announced his return to feature directing with a black-and-white chronicle of the life of Herman Mankiewicz, the screenwriter behind Citizen Kane.

    • Age: 60
    • Birthplace: Denver, Colorado, United States of America
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    For Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho, the decade ended with an Oscar campaign for his Palme d'Or-winning masterpiece, Parasite, a film whose success made the writer/director's recent output all the more exciting to engage with. The man is nothing if not difficult to pin down, as he works equally capably in both high genre and grounded domestic thrillers. Snowpiercer and Okja - his other two films from the 2010s, which also happened to be his first two English-language features - fall considerably more so in that former camp.

    What binds each film he makes across his entire career is a singular obsession with class: who it benefits, who it hurts, and how any one person can leap or fall at the whim of their employers, mega-corporations, or the oligarchs at the front of the train. That class and adjacent economic anxieties became a dominant cultural leitmotif during the decade in question only makes Bong's work seem more urgent.

    • Age: 53
    • Birthplace: Daegu, South Korea
  • Denis Villeneuve had a helluva decade. The French Canadian director’s six features during that time frame count upwards of 15 Oscar nominations between them, and that only set the stage for the massive undertaking that is Dune, an adaptation of the famously impossible-to-successfully-adapt Frank Herbert novel of the same name.

    Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, Arrival, and Blade Runner 2049 all boast incredible visuals, distinctive scores, and spots on innumerable year-end best lists. It's that back trio - Arrival, Blade Runner 2049, and the forthcoming Dune - that can be most easily read in light of the decade as a whole, as they each belong to the recent spate of think-y, "adult"-oriented science fiction also seen in the likes of High LifeUnder the Skin, and Ex Machina. That the two we've seen happen to be among the best is just another testament to Villeneuve's skill. The guy's on a tear, establishing himself as one of the few big-budget studio filmmakers to earn credibility both among critics and mass audiences.

    • Age: 55
    • Birthplace: Gentilly, Quebec