Somewhere — probably in a corner of hell that looks just like Chasen’s — Hollywood’s old moguls are muttering darkly into their cocktails about the state of modern movies up topside. First, there’s all that sex and violence. Then there are all these new directors, so different from the good ol’ guys the moguls hired: Now there are women, African-Americans, Asians, uncloseted gays, even movie geeks who’ve learned everything they know at school. Who wants to see movies made by such people?
We do, of course. That’s why the current movie landscape is richer, more imaginative, and more personal than at any time since the early 1970s, when the creeping counterculture resulted in a sort of Prague Spring in Hollywood. It’s different this time around, though: While mainstream product may seem duller and more corporate than ever, savvy directors with more on their minds than Stallone’s biceps have learned to dart around the dinosaurs’ feet and get movies made their way. The following 20 filmmakers don’t represent any one group — some are Hollywood insiders, some are way out on the fringes, some are simply uncategorizable. But all could conceivably be on the list of Great Directors in a decade or two.
PEDRO ALMODOVAR: The bad boy of Spanish cinema was the darling of the moment with 1988’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Just as suddenly, he was très passe. But his new The Flower of My Secret indicates he may be too irrepressible to stay down long.
GILLIAN ARMSTRONG: My Brilliant Career, Mrs. Soffel, High Tide — no one gets under the skin of smart, troubled women like this Australian director. And Little Women proves she can do it on Hollywood’s terms.
KATHRYN BIGELOW: Proving her worth in such macho genres as action and horror, she has a knack for outrageous visuals and a love for over-the-top plots. Point Break and Strange Days should age well, and the redneck vampire saga Near Dark is a classic right now.
JAMES CAMERON: He galvanized action movies with thinking man’s brawn in The Terminator, T2, and Aliens but has since immersed himself in his F/X company, Digital Domain. His upcoming Titanic looks to be a sink-or-swim proposition.
JANE CAMPION: With three startlingly original features (and a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for the third, The Piano), this New Zealander has carved out a niche as an uncompromising artist. Her adaptation of Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady will hit theaters in November.
JOEL COEN: Never commercial heavy hitters, Joel and his producer-cowriter brother, Ethan, specialize in quirky gimcracks — and with Fargo, they’ve connected with humanity for the first time.
DAVID CRONENBERG: It’s been a long, strange trip for this Canadian, from B-movie horror (Rabid) to art-film abstruseness (Naked Lunch), with some amazing stops (The Fly, Dead Ringers) in between.
JOHN DAHL: Dahl makes neo-noirs with long, sly fuses. Behind pulpy titles such as Red Rock West and The Last Seduction lurk twisty plots and meaty roles for actors like Nicolas Cage and Linda Fiorentino.