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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

12. Todd Haynes

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Wilson Webb/Killer/The Weinstein Company/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5884215a) Todd Haynes, Cate Blanchett Carol - 2015 Director: Todd Haynes Killer Films/The Weinstein Company USA On/Off Set Drama

Todd Haynes directs Cate Blanchett in “Carol” (2015)

Wilson Webb/Killer/The Weinstein Company/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

People you might know populate Todd Haynes movies – frustrated housewives, put-upon store clerks, accomplished museum employees. Haynes tells their secrets and suppressions, favoring female protagonists who perform 24/7, attempting to meet cultural standards of what a woman should be. It’s apt that his 30-year-old breakout short, “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story,” starred Barbie dolls. An Oscar-nominated screenwriter (“Far From Heaven”), Haynes won Best Artistic Contribution accolades at Cannes for “Velvet Goldmine” (1998), before bringing a pair of films to the main competition. “Carol” won the Queer Palm prize in 2015; jurors hailed it as “a moment in history” and “the first time a love story between two women was treated with the respect and significance of any other mainstream cinematic romance.” His ambitious follow-up, “Wonderstruck,” was a non-starter at the box office and in the Oscar race, despite magnetic production design and a poignant debut from deaf child actress Millicent Simmonds. —JM

11. Asghar Farhadi

Asghar Farhadi and Shahab Hosseini Palme D'Or Award and Closing Ceremony, 69th Cannes Film Festival, France - 22 May 2016

Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti flank their “The Salesman” director Asghar Farhadi at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival closing ceremony

Alberto Terenghi/Cannes/REX/Shutterstock

The first Iranian filmmaker to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film, Asghar Farhadi is the natural successor to the great legacy of Iranian cinema that began with Iranian New Wave directors such as Abbas Kiarostami and Jafar Panahi. In “A Separation,” Farhadi weaves a complex moral tale out of a seemingly simple narrative, that of a disintegrating marriage. Farhadi used this everyday occurrence to explore issues of class, gender, aging, family, and duty. His next two films, “The Past” and “The Salesman,” both played in competition at Cannes. Farhadi won Best Screenplay for the latter, which cleverly drew inspiration from Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” Farhadi is now a household name with American cinephiles; “The Salesman” also won Best Foreign Language Film, making Farhadi one of a handful of filmmakers to win the award more than once. His next project, “Everybody Knows (Todos lo saben),” will open the festival this year. Shot entirely in Spanish, the film stars Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz as a married couple on a trip to Spain. —JD

10. Lynne Ramsay

Lynne Ramsay - Best Screenplay - 'You Were Never Really Here' and Joaquin Phoenix - Best Performance by an Actor - 'You Were Never Really Here' Winners photocall, 70th Cannes Film Festival, France - 28 May 2017

Lynne Ramsay and Joaquin Phoenix were both 2017 Cannes winners for “You Were Never Really Here”

David Fisher/REX/Shutterstock

This tells-it-like-it-is Scot has been courting Cannes for almost half her life with churning, multi-sensory work focused on society’s outcasts. “Small Deaths,” her 11-minute graduation short from the UK’s National Film and Television School, won the festival’s Prix de Jury prize in 1996, an award Ramsay won again for “Gas Man.” “We Need to Talk About Kevin” (2011) was her first full-length competition entry. She was a Palme d’Or juror in 2013, and tied for the Cannes screenwriting statuette last year with her fourth feature, “You Were Never Really Here.” That film’s path to the Croisette bewildered the director: her financier submitted a cut without her knowledge, then requested a four-hour meeting with Ramsay; he delivered the good news after causing her much fretting. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, he’s going to pull there plug, there is no more money to shoot this,’” she told a Film Independent at LACMA audience this month. Her lead actor, Joaquin Phoenix, also won top Cannes honors, a casting she willed to happen after setting his portrait as her screensaver. —JM

9. Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan poses with the Palme d'Or award for the film Winter Sleep during a photo call following the awards ceremony at the 67th international film festival, Cannes, southern France France Cannes Awards Photo Call, Cannes, France

Nuri Bilge Ceylan poses with his Palme d’Or award for “Winter Sleep” at Cannes in 2014

Thibault Camus/AP/REX/Shutterstock

The most acclaimed Turkish filmmaker in contemporary cinema, Nuri Bilge Ceylan nevertheless faces relative obscurity among American moviegoers for a typically superficial reason: His movies are slow, pensive experiences, filled with long pauses and hushed conversations instead of simple exposition. Patient viewers, however, will delight in the opportunity to soak in the complex moods of Ceylan’s elaborate character studies, which have grown to encompass a variety of themes and genres over the last two decades. Ceylan’s evocative romance “Climates” wowed Cannes audiences in 2006, while 2011’s beguiling police drama “One Upon a Time in Anatolia” — a slow march to investigate the discovery of a dead body on one eerie night — solidified the scope of his ambition. Ceylan is one of the few filmmakers capable of applying a slow cinema approach to thrilling genre tropes, and his Palme d’Or winner “Winter Sleep” represents the accumulation of this skill. The Chekhov-Dostoyevsky riff follows a wealthy landowner and former actor who looks down on the poor residents of his neighborhood while grappling with his failed ambitions. At over three hours, it never drags; Ceylan’s movies earn their depth with each involving scene. Back at Cannes 2018 with “The Wild Pear Tree,” another three-hour-plus excursion, Ceylan shows no sign of abandoning his uncompromising technique. —EK

8. Andrea Arnold

Riley Keough, Sasha Lane, Andrea Arnold, Shia LaBeouf 'American Honey' Photocall - The 69th Annual Cannes Film Festival, Cannes, France - 15 May 2016

Riley Keough, Sasha Lane, and Shia LaBeouf surround their “American Honey” director Andrea Arnold at Cannes 2016

Anthony Harvey/REX/Shutterstock

Like Sofia Coppola, so much of Arnold’s still-burgeoning cinematic legacy is tied up in her relationship with the festival, which gave her a major boost in 2006 with a jury prize for her first feature, “Red Road.” In subsequent years, she’s screened two other films in competition, including the Michael Fassbender breakout “Fish Tank” and “American Honey,” both of which speak to her prodigious talent and her ability to noticeably grow with each other project. (And each film has gone on to win its own jury prize, no small feat in an always-crammed competition section.) As Arnold as expanded her oeuvre, Cannes has stayed with her, as she pushes past her own homeland straight into the belly of American poverty, while always keeping her unique point of view. That Arnold often tells stories about impoverished characters — and they still find a home at the chi-chi festival! — is another mark in the festival’s favor. Good is just good, and Arnold’s films (and Cannes’ decision to keep programming them) prove that. Now, about a Palme… —Kate Erbland

7. Jean-Luc Godard

French-swiss Director Jean-luc Godard Receives the the Leenards Foundation Cultural Prize As He Attends the Award Ceremony of the 'Prix Et Bourses Culturels Leenaards 2013' in Lausanne Switzerland 13 November 2013 Switzerland Schweiz Suisse LausanneSwitzerland Culture - Nov 2013

Jean-Luc Godard in 2013

Jean-Christophe Bott/Epa/REX/Shutterstock

When a Jean-Luc Godard movie goes to Cannes, it is treated as a sacred event. “In Godard, there is god,” moderator Henri Behar said, introducing the filmmaker for his “Notre musique” in 2004. “Godard, forever!” shouted one eager moviegoer in a packed room before “Goodbye to Language” in 2014. A living legend decades ago, Godard’s mystique has only magnified in recent years as the octogenarian continues to make movies that defy categories and push the boundaries of film language. They’re challenging texts that evade easy explanation, and Godard likes it that way — he hasn’t come to Cannes in recent years, allowing his absence to add to the sense of creative mystery surrounding his works. These include the marvelous “Film Socialism,” screened in the Un Certain Regard sidebar for no good reason, which amounts to a hilarious and unpredictable statement on technology and national identity. “Goodbye to Language” played in competition where it belonged. The 3D essay film elicited applause from the crowds as Godard tooled around with the medium, showing that he has lost none of his appetite for experimentation into his late eighties. The French New Wave director isn’t just a survivor; as one of the few major artists of the 20th century producing high-level work into the 21st, he’s a cinematic poet who refuses to quit. With “The Picture Book” heading to Cannes competition in 2018, he remains at the top of his game. —EK

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