Puiu takes his time and shows an audience how rewarding it can be when a film stays in the moment. The camerawork may seem simple, the acting too natural to notice, but his decision to utilize such a style is only surpassed by how engrossing the film becomes.

9. Rian Johnson – BRICK
Johnson shows a lot of style with BRICK, and none of it feels borrowed from other directors. The film is moody and artfully composed, and his handling of the ensemble is uniformly excellent.

8. Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris – LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
The oddly long opening section of this film takes place with people sitting around a table. That kind of staging usually sucks the energy right out of a feature, but the direction is alive without using obvious camera tricks. The same goes for the numerous scenes inside the family van. Overall the film has an odd tone, but the quirkiness is welcoming rather than held up for ridicule.

7. Guillermo Del Toro – PAN’S LABYRINTH
Welcome everybody to the wonderful world of Guillermo Del Toro. He’s been on my list twice before, with THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE and BLADE 2. Del Toro is one of those complete directors like Peter Jackson and Robert Zemeckis. He can handle effects and camerawork with a skill equal to his handling of actors and story. I’m glad others are starting to notice.

6. James McTeague – V FOR VENDETTA
For a mainstream film, VENDETTA offers a lot to think about. (When it opened there was some debate over whether the film was pro-terrorist.) McTeague combines elements of action, mystery, sci-fi and politics with terrific energy and flair. He’s also crafted a film where individual sections are just as satisfying as the dramatic whole, and pulled some showcase performances from the ensemble cast.

5. Darren Aronofsky – THE FOUNTAIN
Some directors know the craft of film and create work that is cool, but artificial. Others know how to bring out the emotional content, often at the expense of good filmmaking. Aronofsky excels mightily at both. There’s a mathematical precision to his shots and images in THE FOUNTAIN, plenty of visual and aural motifs that repeat and reflect on each other. This is all in the service of a love story, where everyone on and off camera puts their passion out there on the screen.

In a recent interview, Todd Field state that he has no interest making any movie he can explain in a pitch. He wants to make films where he’s unsure of the final product. That’s so true with LITTLE CHILDREN, and I love the film for that reason. I wasn’t sure how I felt when it was over, but I knew I had seen something interesting. Field’s open approach created a film that stayed with me as many themes come together in my mind, adding richness to his dark suburban tale.

3. Neil Marshall – THE DESCENT
In horror, as with comedy, timing is everything. Along comes Neil Marshall who knows how to play an audience like a piano, and we never see the crescendos coming. Marshall didn’t just create a thrill ride with THE DESCENT, there’s a lot of rich interplay between the characters, and a logic behind things most horror films don’t bother with. Take out the creatures and it would be harder to dismiss Marshall’s considerable achievement. Maybe in a few years he’ll become respectable like Peter Jackson and Guillermo Del Toro.

2. Larry Charles – BORAT

People see BORAT as a brilliant one-man show. I keep thinking about what must have gone on behind the scenes to make everything look so spontaneous. (Call the film carefully planned improvisation.) People don’t discuss the work of Larry Charles – who’s helmed numerous episodes of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” – because it would take away from the finished film. If you see how the trick was pulled off, it wouldn’t seem so magical.

You know there was hours of material that didn’t reach the screen, most of it probably rightfully so. Plus, there’s a delicate balance between what’s staged and what’s real. Some bits are more obvious, but it’s not a formula just any director can tackle. The fact that the finished film is hailed as a comedy masterpiece says a lot about the invisible contribution of Larry Charles.

1. Paul Greengrass – UNITED 93
If you want to see how phenomenal Greengrass’ direction is, just compare his approach to Oliver Stone’s WORLD TRADE CENTER. Greengrass didn’t want to recreate events we all witnessed, tell stories we all heard. He pulled us deeper in than we ever had the opportunity to go before. Beyond providing the kind of fantastic insight that comes from meticulous research, Greengrass creates a the most patriotic film since the attacks, and a moving eulogy to the heroism of the people on flight United 93.

This doesn’t offer the safe happy ending of WTC. We know what happened. We know what we’re going to see. But most people were afraid to be moved. What they didn’t get is Greengrass was completely aware of our feelings. He doesn’t pull the heartstrings. Instead, he sucks the wind right out of you. I was locked into this picture, unaware of the technique until repeat viewings. The end didn’t make me sad so much as it made me want to burst into applause. It’s the greatest directorial achievement since Fernando Meirelles’ CITY OF GOD.


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