From Paul Thomas Anderson to Guillermo del Toro to Patty Jenkins, a wide variety of directors across genres are vying for attention this awards season.
Paul Thomas Anderson
“The Phantom Thread”
Not a frame of Anderson’s latest has yet been seen by the public, nor is much known about it, but he’s the rare filmmaker whose name alone can stoke anticipation. The fact that this 1950s-set film about the fashion world also stars Daniel Day-Lewis, who plans to retire from acting, only piques interest further.
Easily the most divisive studio film of 2017, and presumably intentionally so, Aronofsky’s “Mother!” could curry favor among his fellow directors for the sheer boldness of his vision, as he and star Jennifer Lawrence ascend ever-escalating levels of madness.
“The Florida Project”
An indie darling du jour thanks to his sleeper “Tangerine,” Baker returned with yet another warm, sly-humored study of fully fleshed characters on the margins of American life.
“The Meyerowitz Stories”
A fixture of high-level indie filmmaking and one-time Oscar nominee, Baumbach drew praise for this Netflix acquisition starring Dustin Hoffman and Adam Sandler.
Box office for “Detroit” was a bit disappointing, but as the first (and to date, only) female Oscar director winner, Bigelow brought her trademark intensity and cut-glass craft to this re-creation of a volatile moment of 1960s racial animosity.
Bong has been a darling of international cinema ever since his unexpected triumph with “The Host,” and the South Korean auteur made an effortless transition to English-language filmmaking with “Snowpiercer.” With “Okja,” the director revealed the sensitive side that he’s long held just under the surface.
Chbosky was mostly known as a writer until 2012, when he directed his own young adult novel, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” to considerable success. His latest, based on R.J. Palacio’s novel, stars Jacob Tremblay as a boy with a rare facial deformity.
Cooper’s period Western — starring Christian Bale as a soldier who escorts a dying Cheyenne chief back to his homelands — premiered to strong reactions at Telluride, and was acquired by Entertainment Studios.
Coppola, already an Oscar screenplay winner for “Lost in Translation,” became only the second woman in history to win a director prize at Cannes for her remake of the 1971 Don Siegel slow-burner, which saw her translate her sensibility into a Southern Gothic setting with ease.
“Goodbye Christopher Robin”
Longtime theater figure and “My Week With Marilyn” helmer Curtis directed this affecting biopic of “Winnie the Pooh” creator A.A. Milne. In both its tone and setting, the film has shades of Marc Forster’s J.M. Barrie tearjerker “Finding Neverland,” which picked up several Oscar noms in 2004.
Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
“Battle of the Sexes”
Directors of smart romantic comedies “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Ruby Sparks,” Dayton and Faris managed to retain those films’ offbeat charm for this real-life story of Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs’ famous tennis match, a flashpoint in ’70s gender relations that remains relevant today.
Guillermo Del Toro
“The Shape of Water”
Unrecognized by the Oscars since his pair of nominations for “Pan’s Labyrinth,” Del Toro has offered a similarly meaty, imaginative piece of idiosyncratic filmmaking here, which comes with the additional heft of the writer-director’s Golden Lion award from Venice.
“The 15:17 to Paris”
Eastwood’s latest has yet to be screened, but it’s hard to count out the prolific perennial Academy favorite. On the heels of “American Sniper,” his latest is about the three Americans, two of them servicemen, who subdued a gunman on a French train in 2015.
“The Disaster Artist”
One-time Oscar host and acting nominee Franco dove headfirst into directing as soon as he got the chance, helming no fewer than 10 generally low-budget features since 2010. With this portrait of cult director Tommy Wiseau, however, Franco appears to have taken his time, turning out a hysterical and often touching tale of one of alt-Hollywood’s most colorful characters.
“Victoria & Abdul”
Frears has a decent track record when it comes to working with female British monarchs and ennobled British actresses: He was previously nominated for directing Helen Mirren as Elizabeth II in “The Queen,” here he directs Judi Dench as Victoria.
“Lady Bird” is not technically indie darling Gerwig’s directorial debut — she co-directed 2008’s microbudget “Nights and Weekends” with Joe Swanberg — but it may as well have been, announcing an exciting new filmmaking talent coming into her own. Among the best-reviewed films of the year, Gerwig helms this quasi-autobiographical coming-of-age tale with equal amounts of micro-specific details and universally relatable emotions.
Aussie director Gillespie has had an unusual career, moving from straight comedy to heartstrings-tuggers like “Lars and the Real Girl.” With the Tonya Harding biopic, “I, Tonya,” he brings his trademark empathy to a real-life tabloid sensation.
David Gordon Green
Green managed to synthesize both his indie roots and his mainstream filmmaking experience with this portrait of Boston Marathon bombing victim Jeff Bauman, always ready with unexpected humor and thought-provoking framing to shake up the boilerplate.
“Call Me by Your Name”
The Italian director first turned Stateside heads with his swooning “I am Love,” and he’s already made an even bigger splash among critics with this sensual love story between an American grad student (Armie Hammer) and his professor’s 17-year-old son (Timothee Chalamet).
Haynes was controversially denied a director nomination for his critical 2015 hit “Carol,” and here he offers yet another side of his sensibility, crafting a warm, family-friendly tale of two children who set out in search of parental figures.
Never before has the world of Marvel or DC comic-book adaptations generated a director nomination, but Jenkins’ efforts to bring Wonder Woman to the screen may merit extra attention. Not only was the film an important corrective to the overwhelming maleness of the comic sphere, it’s currently the highest-grossing film ever from a female director, it was also simply an expertly made highlight of the genre.
“First They Killed My Father”
Adapting Luong Ung’s memoir of atrocities and being forced to become a child soldier during the Khmer Rouge’s reign in Cambodia, Jolie’s fourth directorial effort is strong stuff, but it’s also arguably the most cohesive and affecting film she’s yet made.
“The Killing of a Sacred Deer”
Writer-director Lanthimos has been on the rise ever since his Greek-language breakout “Dogtooth,” moving into English-language cinema while leaving his surreal pessimism intact. Here he directs Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell in a dark, hospital-set thriller.
“Last Flag Flying”
Tackling a sort of spiritual sequel to Hal Ashby’s “The Last Detail,” Linklater explores patriotism and military sacrifice in his own low-key fashion, and allows his leads Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne and Steve Carell to shine.
Much was made of the R-rating that Mangold embraced in this unusually bleak take on the X-Men’s Wolverine, but it was more than the rating that made his treatment adult, and voters may respond to his measured, probing work in an ostensible franchise entry.
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
The Irish-British theatrical wunderkind first arrived in the Academy’s sights with his 2008 film, “In Bruges,” for which he received a screenplay nomination. This searing, Frances McDormand-starring dark comedy has the potential to give his name even more renown in film circles.
Among the most acclaimed and old-school maximalist filmmakers never to be nominated for a best director Oscar, Nolan stated a strong case for himself with this summer’s historical epic, “Dunkirk,” which was both a critical and commercial juggernaut.
Two-time screenplay winner Payne’s foray into a speculative fiction divided early festival audiences, but the director has a sizable fanbase for his half-sympathetic, half-lampooning portraits of American dreamers and schemers.
One of the biggest filmmaker success stories of the year, Peele expanded from his sketch comedy roots with this wildly successful debut, which tackled sticky questions about contemporary race relations through the prism of classic Hollywood horror filmmaking, inspiring just as many shivers as laughs and uneasy nods of recognition.
Rees’ Sundance entry represented a remarkable step-up for the ascendant director, from the LGBT indie “Pariah” to HBO’s “Bessie” to this searing, sadly contemporarily relevant adaptation of Hillary Jordan’s tale of racism and trauma in 1940s Mississippi.
“War for the Planet of the Apes”
For his final chapter in this intelligent blockbuster franchise, Reeves embraced digital technology while adhering to the classical principles of David Lean and Sergio Leone.
Actor and motion-capture wizard Serkis made a strong first impression behind the camera with this Andrew Garfield-starrer about a polio-stricken activist for the disabled.
A year after nabbing an Oscar screenplay nomination for “Hell or High Water,” Sheridan’s directorial breakthrough, about a crime investigation on a Wyoming Shoshone reservation did excellent specialty business in late summer.
“The Big Sick”
Most of the press around runaway sleeper hit “The Big Sick” concerned co-writer and star Kumail Nanjiani, but Showalter deserves plaudits as well, having made a name for himself as a sensitive director of heartfelt comedy after “Hello, My Name Is Doris.”
Already an Oscar-winning writer, the inimitable Sorkin tried his hand at directing for the first time with this year’s Toronto entry, bringing his own script to life with the help of lead Jessica Chastain.
From battles over the freedom of the press, government leaks and military transparency, “The Post,” about the debates over publication of the Vietnam-era Pentagon Papers, already seems to have plenty of ammo to make an award season impact.
“Blade Runner 2049”
Certainly one of 2017’s foremost visual spectacles, Villeneuve’s sequel to the iconic Ridley Scott film was a smash hit with critics, and its level of detail and imagination could help compensate for its disappointing box office.
Commanding a sizable cult fan base, the Puckish Wright made perhaps his most accessible and most formally bold film at the same time: a car-chase jukebox musical that debuted to the biggest box office of the director’s career.
Wright has long been a filmmaker of immaculate if sometimes baroque taste, and a preternatural ability to direct actors, and he found a perfect vessel for both skillsets with this re-creation of wartime London, anchored by a marvelous performance by Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill.