Generation X has taken over the movies. Just this fall, new films from David O. Russell, Ben Affleck, and Quentin Tarantino promise to be major players come awards time. So who are the five best American filmmakers under 50?
5. Darren Aronofsky
Arrogant enough to turn down the opportunity to direct Batman Begins, the Brooklyn-born filmmaker has made some surprising choices. After starting out in David Lynch territory with Pi, he threatened to disappear in a fog of epic sci-fi weirdness with The Fountain but returned to Earth in triumph with the agreeably gritty and surprisingly straight-on The Wrestler, which relaunched Mickey Rourke and showed an unexpected depth of feeling and humanity. Then came Black Swan, a worldwide sensation that deservedly won Natalie Portman an Oscar and managed to be cerebral, trashy, arty, and sexy all at the same time. Now Aronofsky is going off in yet another direction, steering the mega-budget Bible epic Noah with Russell Crowe, which sounds like either a disaster or a sensation but seems guaranteed to make an impression.
4. Paul Thomas Anderson
PTA, still only 42, is a problem case: His first two films Hard Eight, a mean little noir set in Las Vegas, and the classic 1970s epic Boogie Nights, made him a force, a filmmaker who could design characters as well as the best playwrights while combining music and pictures to make scintillating cinema.
Inspired by Robert Altman’s multi-character pieces, he employs a fluidity of camera movement and creates a broad canvas with exacting concentration and dedication. Enter a Paul Thomas Anderson film, and you’re engulfed and awed. Yet he has now made three films (or four, if you count Magnolia and its Tom Cruise character) about rage-fueled misfits — Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood and now this fall’s The Master. All three films are mesmerizing character studies, and the latter two feel as firmly grounded in their settings as anything you’ve ever seen, but they all end with the equivalent of a shrug. If Anderson returns to this theme again, it may start to feel old.
3. Wes Anderson
Does anyone with the aggressively goofy The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou on his resume belong on this list, especially if it’s the same guy who made the aggressively dull The Darjeeling Limited? Yes, because Anderson has an originality of vision — quirk to the max — that only Tarantino can match, because Bottle Rocket did so much with so little, because Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums are among the best films of their era, and because Fantastic Mr. Fox was a perfect little jewel, as strange and pretty and funny as childhood itself. Keeping it simple, Anderson had a big arthouse hit this summer with the lightly engaging adolescent fable Moonrise Kingdom, which seems certain to earn him another screenwriting Oscar nomination.
2. Steven Soderbergh
At times Soderbergh seems to be scattering his talents in too many directions — after his breakthrough as a blockbuster man with Erin Brockovich, Traffic, and Ocean’s Eleven, he veered into imitation noir (The Good German), low-budget titillation (The Girlfriend Experience,) limp satire (The Informant!), TV (K Street), turgid sci-fi (Solaris), and documentary (And Everything Is Going Fine), not to mention the interminable four-hour propaganda piece Che. But with Contagion and Magic Mike, Soderbergh has returned to the top, making intelligent, arty mass-market films with terrific acting and fast-moving stories. Now that he’s proved he can do it all, he should continue doing what he does best.
1. Quentin Tarantino
QT seemed to be fading slightly with his overly indulgent and frantically allusive Kill Bill films, but there is no doubt that Inglourious Basterds put him back at the center of the conversation with eight Oscar nominations and $320 million in worldwide box office. Tarantino rewrote the book on what was cool with Reservoir Dogs in 1992 and the best film of the 1990s, Pulp Fiction in 1994, and for several years worshipful wannabees mimicked him, to increasingly tiresome effect. No one can write dialogue that’s as pungent, funny, and yet believable as his, and both Kill Bill films and Inglourious showed off his increasing skill as a master of image. Excitement is unrestrained for his Christmas Western about an escaped slave Django Unchained, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jamie Foxx.
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