Top 10 Greatest Working Directors

 1. Steven Spielberg

THE EVIDENCE: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T.: The Extraterrestrial (1982), Schindler’s List (1993), Saving Private Ryan

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.

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.

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

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..

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.

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.

7. Joel and Ethan Coen

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.

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.

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.

10. Paul Thomas 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.