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Best Cannes Directors of the 21st Century

Check out the IndieWire film staff's countdown of 25 living auteurs who have thrilled and stirred us on the Croisette this century, undaunted by rigid festival etiquette and the massive international stage.

Xavier Dolan Lynne Ramsay Lars von Trier Pedro Almodóvar Wong Kar-wai Sofia Coppola

Xavier Dolan, Lynne Ramsay, Lars von Trier, Pedro Almodóvar, Wong Kar-wai, and Sofia Coppola

Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock, Michael Buckner/Deadline/REX/Shutterstock, Rolf Konow/Zentropa Ents./Kobal/REX/Shutterstock, Matt Sayles/AP/REX/Shutterstock, Christophe Karaba/EPA/REX/Shutterstock, Columbia/American Zoetrope/Sony/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

18. Olivier Assayas

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Prods./Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5880664d) Olivier Assayas, Juliette Binoche, Kyle Eastwood Heure D'Été, L - 2008 Director: Olivier Assayas Mk2 Productions FRANCE On/Off Set Summers Hours

Olivier Assayas with Juliette Binoche and Kyle Eastwood on the set of “Summer Hours” (2008)


At this point, Olivier Assayas is as much of a staple at Cannes as tuxedoes and red carpets. The brilliant French modernist has premiered seven different features at the festival since the turn of the millennium, from the overlooked “Sentimental Destinies” in 2000, to the masterful “Personal Shopper” in 2016 (and that’s not even counting his vital contributions to anthologies like “Paris, Je T’Aime” and “To Each His Own Cinema”). Assayas has been linked to Cannes since the very early days of his career, when his script for André Téchiné’s “Rendez-vous” earned him a walk down the Croisette in 1985. But the last 18 years have seen him a force of nature at the festival, whether premiering films Out of Competition (e.g. “Carlos”), or in (“Clouds of Sils Maria”). We were disappointed to learn that his latest work, “Non-Fiction,” won’t bow there in 2018, but it surely won’t be long until Assayas is back where he belongs. —DE

17. Lars von Trier

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Zentropa/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5882172c) Kiefer Sutherland, Kirsten Dunst, Lars Von Trier, Alexander Skarsgard, Charlotte Gainsbourg Melancholia - 2011 Director: Lars Von Trier Zentropa DENMARK On/Off Set Drama

Lars von Trier directs a scene from the 2011 film “Melancholia” featuring Kiefer Sutherland, Kirsten Dunst, Alexander Skarsgård, and Charlotte Gainsbourg 


Thousands of Cannes press attendees weeped through the musical-tragedy “Dancing in the Dark” (2000), which took home both the Palme d’Or and Best Actress. That film is now more remembered for Original Song Oscar-nominee Bjork’s #MeToo claims against her director than its groundbreaking mise en scène. The bad boy of Danish cinema is back at Cannes with out-of-competition “The House that Jack Built,” seven years after “Melancholia,” another great film tarnished by his behavior. At the notorious “Melancholia” press conference, the puckish writer-director jokingly called himself a Nazi as Kirsten Dunst squirmed. (She took home Best Actress.) In the days to follow Von Trier apologized repeatedly for the “stupid, idiotic” comments that led to his banishment from the festival. “It was completely stupid, completely stupid,” he told me on his last day in Cannes, “but I am not a Nazi.” Cannes had supported the auteur from the start, pushing him right into Competition in 1984 with “The Element of Crime,” followed by “Epidemic” in 1987 in Un Certain Regard. After that he was in Competition all the way with stylish black-and-white film noir “Europa” (1991) (which he blames Harvey Weinstein for mishandling), English-language tearjerker “Breaking the Waves” (1996), starring Best Actress nominee Emily Watson and Stellan Skarsgard; provocative Dogme entry “The Idiots” (1998), mob drama “Dogville” (2003), starring Nicole Kidman, stagey over-the-top slave tale “Manderlay” (2005), intense psychodrama “Antichrist” (2009) and brilliant end-of-the-world tragicomedy “Melancholia” (2011). Who else would plop gorgeous bride Kirsten Dunst in a moonlit field to pee in her wedding dress? —AT

16. Yorgos Lanthimos

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Bfi/Irish Film Board/Canal+/Cnc/Greek Film Center/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5874595b) Yorgos Lanthimos The Lobster - 2015 Director: Yorgos Lanthimos Bfi/Irish Film Board/Canal+/Film4/Cnc/Greek Film Center GREECE/UK/IRELAND/NETHERLANDS/FRANCE On/Off Set Scifi The Lobster

Yorgos Lanthimos on the set of “The Lobster” (2015)

Bfi/Irish Film Board/Canal+/Cnc/Greek Film Center/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

A skilled theater and music video director who helped craft Olympic spectacles in his native Athens, Oscar-nominated Lanthimos has built himself a splendid film career at Cannes and beyond. His unsettling, dark-humored narratives have thus far had whoppers of original conceits: children outlawed from leaving their yard (“Dogtooth,” the festival’s Award of the Youth and Un Certain Regard Award victor in 2009), hotel singletons who will become animals unless they mate with fellow guests (“The Lobster,” a Cannes Jury Prize and Queer Palm – Special Mention recipient in 2016), the son of a dead patient who forces the surgeon to murder a family member (“The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” tied for Best Screenplay on the Croisette in 2017). Curiosity is high for his third English release (“The Favorite” with Emma Stone) an uncharacteristic period piece, and the first Lanthimos feature he did not write himself. —Jenna Marotta

15. Michael Haneke

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Wega Film/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5881781d) Michael Haneke, Emmanuelle Riva, Jean-Louis Trintignant Amour - 2012 Director: Michael Haneke Wega Film AUSTRIA / FRANCE On/Off Set

Michael Haneke gives notes to Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant
on the set of “Amour” (2012)

Wega Film/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Austria’s angriest auteur belongs to one of world cinema’s most exclusive clubs: the two-time Palme d’Or winner. Even more impressive is the fact that those prizes came for back-to-back films, as “The White Ribbon” won in 2009 and “Amour” followed just three years later. Haneke has been a mainstay at Cannes for much of his career, winning prize (Grand Prix, “The Piano Teacher”) after prize (Best Screenplay, “Caché”) on the Croisette long before taking home the Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film for “Amour.” His joyless, occasionally didactic style may not be for everyone, but the powers that be at Cannes have long ranked among his most loyal boosters. It’s easy to see why: At his best, Haneke displays a level of control over his material that few others can pull off.—MN

14. Jim Jarmusch

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage. Mandatory Credit: Photo by David Lee/Bac Focus Features/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5881448n) Bill Murray, Jim Jarmusch Broken Flowers - 2005 Director: Jim Jarmusch Bac Films, Focus Features USA/FRANCE On/Off Set Comedy/Drama

Bill Murray and Jim Jarmusch on the set of “Broken Flowers” (2005)

David Lee/Bac Focus Features/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Jarmusch has been a repeat figure at Cannes since winning the Camera d’Or for “Stranger Than Paradise” in 1984, the festival’s award for best first feature. The idiosyncratic filmmaker famously wrote to young filmmakers: “Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination.” Jarmusch eschews traditional narrative structure for a minimalist filmmaking more driven by mood than plot, though dark humor makes his films more accessible than typical avant-garde fare. In 2004, he released a compilation of shorts called “Coffee and Cigarettes,” which put the likes of Tom Waits and Iggy Pop in conversation. The Bill Murray vehicle “Broken Flowers” reintroduced Jarmusch to wider audiences in 2005, as did the delightfully raw “Only Lovers Left Alive” in 2013, which cast Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as hipster vampires. Jarmusch keeps experimenting with form throughout the years, layering his considerable wisdom onto an ever-evolving vision—always remaining distinctly Jarmusch. —Jude Dry

13. Apichatpong Weerasethakul

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Anna Sanders/Eddie Saeta/Gff/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5877400g) Apichatpong Weerasethakul Loong Boonmee Raleuk Chat - 2010 Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul Anna Sanders Films/Eddie Saeta/Gff THAILAND/UK/FRANCE/GERMANY/SPAIN On/Off Set Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives A Letter To Uncle Boonmee

Apichatpong Weerasethakul on the set of “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” (2010)

Anna Sanders/Eddie Saeta/Gff/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

There’s no other filmmaker quite like Apichatpong Weerasethakul, whose dreamy masterpiece “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” won the Palme d’Or in 2010. His movies lull you into a hazy, almost oneiric state before jarring you awake with the sight of a monkey ghost or a strange sex scene proving that “Joe” (as he’s affectionately known) was way ahead of the “Shape of Water” curve. Most recently at Cannes with “Cemetery of Splendour,” Weerasethakul previously won the Un Certain Regard prize for 2002’s “Blissfully Yours” and the Jury Prize two years later with “Tropical Malady.” His films are mysterious objects at all hours of the day, and though Joe is a good nickname, the moniker he earned for his big win in 2010 more than justifies his spot on this list: Apichatpalme. —MN

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