Entertainment Weekly's 25 Best Working Directors Today

25. Guillermo del Toro
THE EVIDENCE: The Devil's Backbone (2001), Hellboy (2004), Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
WHY HIM: Because this Mexican filmmaker manages to imbue geeky, fantasy, sci-fi stuff with both compelling emotion and some of the most eye-popping visuals we've ever seen. (We're still reeling from the spooky Pale Man scene in Pan's Labyrinth.) When he lost three years to The Hobbit, we really missed him, which is why it's good he's coming back with multiple projects in tow, like Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, which he produced, and movies based on Frankenstein, H.P. Lovecraft, and Disney World's Haunted Mansion.

24. Pedro Almodovar
THE EVIDENCE: All About My Mother (1999), Talk to Her (2002), Bad Education (2004), Volver (2006)
WHY HIM: For the first half of his career, Almodóvar excelled at brightly colored pansexual romps as wickedly pleasurable as they were hollow of any deep feeling. With All About My Mother, the Spanish director finally used his distinctive visual skill to mine seemingly bottomless wells of emotion, and each film since has pretty much been a masterpiece. Also, for a proudly gay man, he deserves an award for the all love and care he's devoted to Penélope Cruz's bosom.

23. Spike Lee
THE EVIDENCE: Do the Right Thing (1989), Malcolm X (1992), When the Levees Broke (2006)
WHY HIM: A master stylist, Lee has carved out a niche for himself in American cinema as an activist filmmaker dedicated to social commentary as mythology. His masterpiece, Do the Right Thing, with its bold colors and thumping soundtrack, proves racism to be as unendingly cyclical as the phases of the giant moon hanging in the sky when Klansmen attack Malcolm's family in Malcolm X. And he's never lost his edge. Case in point: When the Levees Broke, Lee's apocalyptic elegy to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, a documentary as epic poetry.

22. Brad Bird
THE EVIDENCE: The Iron Giant (1999), The Incredibles (2004), Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol (2011)
WHY HIM: Even in a place as hallowed as Pixar Animation, Bird's got the Midas touch. After doing the impossible with the old-school toon The Iron Giant — he got us to shed real tears at a movie with Vin Diesel in it — the writer-director hatched a pair of Oscar winners for the CG dream factory. Then he made the leap to live-action — emphasis on the action — and revitalized Tom Cruise's spy franchise.

21. Clint Eastwood
THE EVIDENCE: Mystic River (2003), Million Dollar Baby (2004), Letters from Iwo Jima (2006), Gran Torino (2008)
WHY HIM: At an age when most filmmakers begin slowing down, Eastwood has spent the last decade releasing roughly one film per year, all of them marked by a style so unfussy that it looks positively classical in our hyperkinetic movie moment. His directing might be restrained, but he's been able to explore a whole host of genres — noir mystery, underdog sports weepie, war film, biopic. Eastwood's no-bull persona belies a willingness to stretch: He directed a film in a foreign language, cast mostly non-actors in Gran Torino, and has been prepping a Beyoncé-headline musical version of A Star Is Born. Eastwood makes some duds, but that's the advantage of a steady work ethic: There's always a new movie on the horizon.

20. David Lynch
THE EVIDENCE: Blue Velvet (1986), Mulholland Drive (2001), Inland Empire (2006)
WHY HIM: Since the height of his Twin Peaks/Wild at Heart mainstream popularity in 1990, the neo-noir surrealist has directed five films whose combined gross is a whopping... $22 million. And yet 1997's Lost Highway has spawned a certifiable cult; 1999's The Straight Story was just plain wonderful; and Mulholland Drive was a flat-out masterpiece that earned him an Oscar nomination and cemented his place on the All-Time Auteur list. (It also launched the career of Naomi Watts, and thankyouverymuch for that.) Yes, nobody saw Inland Empire, his challenging and acclaimed hand-held digital epic, but its Big Picture significance is seismic: At the age of 62, Lynch redefined himself anew as a trailblazing artist and is redefining the whole notion of ''independent filmmaking'' for a new generation of eraserheads.

19. Werner Herzog
THE EVIDENCE: Fitzcarraldo (1982), Grizzly Man (2005), Rescue Dawn (2006)
WHY HIM: Herzog may be a bit of a Teutonic cartoon when he's not behind the camera (if you don't believe us, check out his dour Simpsons appearance). But he's also one of the most underappreciated and unpredictable filmmakers today. Whether he's working in features or documentaries, Herzog is obsessed with the obsessed, be they opera lovers in the Andes, outdoorsmen blind to the brutality of the natural world, or prisoners of war fighting tooth and nail for survival. You never know what Herzog will do next. Just that it will be weird and hypnotic.

18. Peter Jackson
THE EVIDENCE: The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003), King Kong (2005)
WHY HIM: The New Zealander who made his bones doing splatter-horror mapped a route into our collective fantasy dreamscape and pulled out an impossibly universal version of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, one which gave everyone everything they ever wanted from those books. No one since Spielberg has managed to combine emotional truth and whiz-bang brilliance in such a seamless way.

17. Roman Polanski
THE EVIDENCE: Rosemary's Baby (1968), Chinatown (1974), The Pianist (2002), The Ghost Writer (2010)
WHY HIM: Because he brings an artist's brush to tired genres and creates something totally new and unexpected: the hardboiled noir (Chinatown) and the then-dead horror genre (Rosemary's Baby). And just when his critics said his best days were behind him and that the years in exile left him with nothing new to say, he won Best Director for The Pianist.

16. Todd Haynes
THE EVIDENCE: Far From Heaven (2002), I'm Not There (2007), Mildred Pierce (2011)
WHY HIM: He may not crank out movies at the same rat-a-tat clip as some directors, but every film on his resume is personal, polished, and as enigmatic as a puzzle box. Haynes is fascinated by the cryptic, internal lives of his characters, be they closeted 1950s suburban husbands (Far From Heaven), mercurial musicians (I'm Not There), or feminists whose freedom comes with a tragic price (Mildred Pierce). Thanks to his unerring touch, they fascinate us too.

15. James Cameron
THE EVIDENCE: Aliens (1986), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), Titanic (1997), Avatar (2009)
WHY HIM: He's dubbed himself the ''the king of the world,'' and who are we to argue? After all, the man did create the two biggest blockbusters of all time. 

14. Mike Leigh
THE EVIDENCE: Secrets & Lies (1996), Vera Drake (2004), Happy-Go-Lucky (2008), Another Year (2010)
WHY HIM: The bearded Brit has arguably the strangest working method of any filmmaker: Instead of writing an actual script, he works with his actors for weeks until a story line and dialogue emerge. But he's responsible for some truly heart-wrenching big-screen stories, not to mention some strong female performances (Secrets' Brenda Blethyn, Vera's Imelda Staunton).

13. Darren Aronofsky
THE EVIDENCE: Pi (1998), Requiem for a Dream (2000), The Fountain (2006), The Wrestler (2008), Black Swan (2010)
WHY HIM: He's as innovative a visual stylist as any director working today, and his first three films were so dense with ideas that they kept your head buzzing hours after leaving the theater. For The Wrestler, however, the Brooklyn native stripped away all his intricate imagery and heady concepts, and instead used his camera to burrow into his characters' inner lives — resurrecting Mickey Rourke's career in the process. With Black Swan, he found a way to marry The Wrestler's gritty humanism with his preceding films' go-for-broke gonzo style. The result? His first Oscar nomination for Best Director.

12. Lars von Trier
THE EVIDENCE: Breaking the Waves (1996), Dancer in the Dark (2000), Melancholia (2011)
WHY HIM: When the Danish director first appeared on the American radar with his Oscar-nominated Dogma 95 masterpiece Breaking the Waves, it was easy to dismiss him as a gimmicky provocateur. But despite his devilish rep, von Trier has proven that he's one of the finest directors of women working today, whether its Emily Watson, Björk, or Kirsten Dunst in his most recent existential arthouse gem, Melancholia. Now if only he could play nice.

11. Woody Allen
The Evidence: Annie Hall (1977), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), Midnight in Paris (2011)
WHY HIM: After more than 40-odd movies, Allen still somehow manages to surprise and delight us. Granted, not every trip to the plate is a home run. But the mere fact that the Manhattan misanthrope can still hit one out of the park every few years is enough reason to celebrate. Take his latest, Midnight in Paris: a Francophile fantasia that proved that the 76-year-old could still deliver the biggest box-office hit of his career and make us believe that the best may be yet to come.

10. PT Anderson
THE EVIDENCE: Boogie Nights (1997), Magnolia (1999), There Will Be Blood (2007)
WHY HIM: One of the most dynamic directors to emerge in the last 20 years, Anderson makes movies that crackle with energy and typically showcase volcanic performances (see: Daniel Day-Lewis in Blood). Anderson is particularly good at taking a well-worn genre — the Western epic, the romantic comedy — and transforming it into something modern and unforgettable.

9. Kathryn Bigelow
THE EVIDENCE: The Hurt Locker (2009)
WHY HER: Kathryn Bigelow's movies hit your bloodstream fast. They shred your nerves and make your palms sweat. Think of the skydiving scene in Point Break, the brutal techno-rape in Strange Days, or the gut-clenching defusing of an Iraqi car bomb in The Hurt Locker, which incidentally made her the first woman ever to take home a Best Director Oscar.

8. Alexander Payne
THE EVIDENCE: Election (1999), Sideways (2004), The Descendants (2011)
WHY HIM: Because there is no better chronicler of real human emotions on celluloid today. Payne can be wickedly funny (Election), spot-on about the human heart (Sideways), and revelatory about our resilience in crisis (The Descendants). But with each story he tells, he's always after the same thing: the truth.

7. The Coen Brothers
THE EVIDENCE: The Big Lebowski (1998), No Country for Old Men (2007), A Serious Man (2009), True Grit (2010)
WHY THEM: Like two smart-alecs in the back of a classroom, the Coens are occasionally too clever for their own good. But they've been astute students, co-opting old-school film noir and incorporating their own twisted brand of wit and irony. A Coen hero is a bumbler, so tracking down the money in a Coen film makes for a bumpy, and often deadly, ride. But they can play it straight, too, as shown by A Serious Man, 2009's quiet meditation on growing up Jewish, and 2010s nearly classical Western, True Grit.

6. Terrence Malick
THE EVIDENCE: Badlands (1973), Days of Heaven (1978), The Thin Red Line (1998), The Tree of Life (2011)
WHY HIM: After a 20-year hiatus between the heartbreakingly gorgeous Days of Heaven and the sprawling, powerful The Thin Red Line, the reclusive Malick is steadily making up for lost time. All of his works seem to spring fully formed out of his mind and onto the screen, like daydreams with impeccable cinematography. The surreal Tree of Life was one of 2011's most polarizing achievements, both befuddling and inspiring. Now he has four different projects in the works, with stars like Ryan Gosling and Natalie Portman in line to shine.

5. Christopher Nolan
THE EVIDENCE: Memento (2000), The Dark Knight (2008), Inception (2010)
WHY HIM: Nolan is the rare director determined to make you, the moviegoer, walk out of the theater after his film and gasp, ''I've never seen anything like that before.'' His movies are full of twists and riddles, and even his popcorn fare is stuffed with enough brain candy to fill up a graduate school syllabus.

4. Martin Scorsese
THE EVIDENCE: Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), GoodFellas (1990), The Departed (2006)
WHY HIM: He's Martin Scorsese. I mean, come on...

3. David Fincher
THE EVIDENCE: Zodiac (2007), The Social Network (2010), The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
WHY HIM: His taut, meticulous thrillers reflect his own irrepressible obsessiveness, but his last two films are the work of a supremely confident maestro of visual storytelling. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) earned him his first Oscar nomination, and his Social Network proved even computer-programming could be riveting when properly ''Finchian,'' and with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, he embraced the thankless task of adapting an international best-seller that we thought we knew and made it more visceral than we ever imagined.

2. Quentin Tarantino
THE EVIDENCE: Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994), Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004), Inglourious Basterds (2009)
WHY HIM: Because no one loves movies (the good, the bad, and the obscure) more. That fanboy giddiness comes across in every single frame, every soundtrack nugget, and every baroque pop monologue. Most of all because his passion is infectious. We walk out his flicks with 100 more titles to add to our Netflix queue.

1. Steven Spielberg
THE EVIDENCE: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), E.T.: The Extraterrestrial (1982), Schindler's List (1993), Saving Private Ryan (1998)
WHY HIM: Spielberg didn't just invent the blockbuster; he invented our childhoods. Jaws, Close Encounters, and Raiders of the Lost Ark redefined horror, sci-fi, and adventure for a whole generation of moviegoers. And as we grew up, so did he, with more serious dramatic triumphs like Saving Private Ryan and Munich.


Lynch and Malick are way too low on this list IMO, and RME @ almost all of these being white males working exclusively in the English language.