Ana Lily Amirpour – A Girl Walks Home Alone
Amirpour’s stark black and white imagery is striking and moody. The use of light and shadow, black and white, perfectly creates an evocative atmosphere in this Iranian vampire film.
Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Anderson’s quirky visual style is typically pitch perfect; working in several different aspect ratios, Anderson finds way to work in wonderful sight gags (see the prison escape), give us a light indoor snow flurry and, in the most bravura sequence, transport the viewer to a stop-motion action sequence. And he knows when to just hold a shot too and let the staging flow from the camera’s stillness (“And you think I did it!”). Yet another masterful turn.
Francis Ford Coppola – The Godfather Part II
Coppola’s direction is never flashy and it’s always in service of the story and characters. But no one can direct these sequences the way he can; watch the sequence of Vito stalking Fanucci through the crowded festival and ultimately shooting him in the hallway – the tension of that sequence, the poetic imagery . . . no one but Coppola could have done that.
Gareth Evans – The Raid 2
Evans directs the action here with a sure and steady hand; he knows when to move the camera dynamically to add to the intensity and also when to just pull it back and let the gorgeous violence speak for itself. He has an eye for strange and striking imagery; the slow build up to a brawl in a prison courtyard is artistic, strange, tense and visually beautiful.
Frederic Van Groenigen – The Broken Circle Breakdown
Van Groenigen handles the time jumping nature of this film perfectly; the movie leaps seamlessly from moment to moment in the central couple’s relationship with no regard for chronology. Van Groenigen is smart enough to let the performances breathe, but there’s a late montage that takes us through the sorrow and tragedy of the film in an intense and unsettling barrage of images that’s one of the best montages I’ve ever seen.
Jennifer Kent – The Babadook
Kent, like James Wan, understands the Nothing is Scarier trope and her direction of this quite intense horror film is methodical, slow and terrifying in the way it steadfastly refuses to show us anything very real. Filled with striking images and dark, inky shadows, the visuals here manage to remain striking and frightening even when Kent does reveal glimpses of the monster (as in one particularly intense dream that finds the Babadook clinging to the ceiling above a bed). Kent’s first feature signals that she’s a director to watch for certain.
David Lowery – Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
Lowery crafts a lovely, amber-toned homage to the cinema of the seventies with this languidly paced drama. His camera captures light perfectly, whether it’s the orange light of a slowly setting sun or the dusty darkness of an underlit bar.
Hayao Miyazaki – The Wind Rises
Miyazaki takes a strange subject, the life story of the man who invented the Japanese Zero plane, and turns it into a delightful, beautiful animated film. The visuals are really stunning here. The visuals often seem to be windows into the imaginations of the characters; when a character draws a diagram and then the simple line drawings leap off the page, assemble and then fly around the room, you can’t help but be captivated. And the dream sequences are even more stunning.
Kelly Reichardt – Night Moves
In Night Moves, Reichardt turns her quiet, meditative eye on a trio of ecoterrorists and her direction is spare, minimal and beautiful. She captures the actors and their environments perfectly and quietly. A late night boat trip down a river is a perfect example; it’s a sequence most would play for suspense – Reichardt lets it unfold like a quiet piece of music.
Edgar Wright – Hot Fuzz
Wright’s gonzo direction is a huge part of why this movie works as well as it does. It’s sharp, witty and often flat out hilarious in the way it leaps from scene to scene and in the way it sends up all the action movie conventions. Slow motion explosions; characters leaping through the air firing weapons; intense, chaotic mug shots being taken; extremely dramatic paperwork being done. Check out any number of montages for evidence of what I’m talking about.