This isn't necessarily a list of my favorite directors, or the best directors I know, but rather, the ones I'm likely to be interested in if I see something by them that I haven't seen before. I'm also requiring that I've seen at least two films by the director.
Also, I've gotta say, there's a distinct lack of female directors on this list, and thinking about it, in film in general. Alternate list title: Sausage Party!
If I were forced to only watch films by a single director or director team, I wouldn't have much thinking to do before picking the Coens. It's not necessarily that they're always good, but that they're usually good, usually interesting, and have an amazing range. From shaggy-dog comedies like The Big Lebowski and O Brother Where Art Thou to action thrillers like No Country For Old Men to quieter dramas like The Man Who Wasn't There, the Coens are all over the place, and occasionally, as with Lebowski and No Country, they're geniuses, more than outweighing misfires like Raising Arizona.
Favorites: No Country for Old Men and The Big Lebowski Next On The List: A Serious Man
Based on the fact that two of his films are some of my all-time favorites, Cuaron could be in the running for my all-time favorite director. I just haven't seen any others, so that's something of a roadblock. The subjects haven't really interested me, but then, if someone told me the subject of Y Tu Mama Tambien, I may not have been interested in that either, and that's now arguably my favorite film.
Cuaron is extraordinarily skilled at getting fantastic performances from his characters, and almost a show-off at creating long shots - the gunfight scene in Children of Men is a superb example of this.
I'm something of a missionary for Wong Kar-Wai, preaching the gospel of Wong to any who might be interested. No other director makes every shot so beautiful. His films all have the feeling of nursing a drink in a dive bar, listening to an amazing song on the jukebox, regretting the ones that got away. I've got a bit of a primer to his work here, and may convert it to Lunch list soon.
Favorites: In The Mood For Love and Chungking Express
The king of the samurai flick and one of the most influential directors of all time. But unlike many of the other "classic" directors, I'm actually often as entertained by Kurosawa's stuff as I am respectful of it. The entirety of The Seven Samurai is fantastic, with or without historical context, full stop.
Okay, using Pixar instead of Brad Bird or Andrew Stanton or whomever is kind of cheating. But I'd argue that the studio uses a consistent enough aesthetic and is well-known as the studio more than any single director that it's fair. Pixar's films are consistently entertaining, and when they're at their best, they're simply wonderful films that are good for children as much as adults.
Favorites: Wall-E and Ratatouille
Next On The List: Up and would you believe that I haven't seen either Toy Story yet?
Ang Lee may be the only director with a wide enough range to match the Coen brothers, but I haven't gotten quite as much entertainment from his films, so he's lower on the list. That said, his films are usually interesting, and occasionally fantastic. That's always a worthwhile gamble to take.
Favorites: Lust, Caution and Hulk. Yeah, I said it.
Next On The List: I've seen a lot of his stuff, but wouldn't mind Eat Drink Man Woman and Ride With The Devil sounds interesting.
Soderbergh fascinates me. He's a director who seems entirely able and willing to put out popcorn fare like Ocean's Eleven in order to line his pockets, which gives him the financial freedom to do crazier stuff, like Che or The Girlfriend Experience. In a sense, he's a lot like some of his favorite actors, George Clooney or Matt Damon, who are equally willing to do blockbuster and personal projects. In addition to that, he's also simply a very good director, able to find beauty where it should be found, and drama where it needs to be.
Favorites: Traffic and The Informant!
Next On The List: The Good German keeps bugging me from the library shelf, and I'm grabbing it someday soon.
The Wes Anderson backlash lately seems to have abated with The Fantastic Mr. Fox taking his work in slightly different directions while keeping the qualities which make his work so interesting. I was less disappointed with his stuff, though. The Darjeeling Limited was weaker than his other stuff, but anyone with the potential to pull off a Rushmore needs to be watched.
Favorites: Rushmore and The Life Aquatic
Next On The List: The Fantastic Mr. Fox isn't far behind The Informant on my list.
I'm not huge on Tarantino. I think he's got lots of wonderful ideas, and occasional mindblowing scenes, but I'd hesitate to call any of his films true classics. Still, any director who can pull off scenes like the Crazy 88s fight in Kill Bill needs to be watched.
Favorites: Kill Bill vol 1. and Reservoir Dogs
Next On The List: Inglorius Basterds looks like a lot of fun.
Gilliam may be on this list more for his failures than his successes. The man has crazy visions of fantasy and reality, and puts them together more interestingly if occasionally disastrously than anyone else. While watching a film which tried to do something similar and never going all the way (Don Juan), I couldn't help but think that Gilliam should have directed it.
Favorites: 12 Monkeys and, hell, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Also Lost In La Mancha for a film about Gilliam's star-crossed directing career.
Next On The List: The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus
Melville falls squarely in the category of "Classic Directors I Respect More Than Like." But I respect his stuff as damn interesting and intellectual, even if I can't recommend it totally. His morally ambiguous, close-mouthed heroes and sparse, dangerous worlds are mesmerizing.
There's a general trend with directors (and critical praise for them) to give props for subtlety. And that's fair, but occasionally, subtlety isn't enough. Spike Lee will occasionally bash through subtlety and scream in your face, but he does it well enough (and works with actors well enough) that often it works. Often it doesn't work, and you get Bamboozled. So it goes.
Favorites: 25th Hour and Do The Right Thing
Next On The List: Not sure. I would like to see When The Levees Broke at some point.
Hitchcock is the classic director I'm most aggressively pursuing at the moment. In the last few weeks, I've watched North By Northwest, Vertigo, and just missed Rear Window. I generally like his stuff, but it hasn't clicked with me in a "Best Ever" kind of way. Still, if I want to be any kind of movie reviewer, Hitchcock is kind of necessarily, and I am enjoying it.
Favorites: North By Northwest and The Man Who Knew Too Much
Next On The List: Not entirely sure, but I do need to watch Rear Window and The Birds in ways that aren't "skipping back and forth to them while watching something else on TV."
Sure, The Dark Knight was cool and all, but I'm more interested in Nolan for The Prestige and Memento. This is a guy who can pull a twist and a mindfuck off like nobody else in the business. As someone who generally dislikes poorly-done twists, I've gotta take my hat off to the guy. His ability to coax great performances from great actors like Christian Bale and Heath Ledger is an added bonus.
Favorites: The Prestige and Memento
Next On The List: Inception looks pretty interesting, based on the wikipedia site.
Woo is bad as often as he is good. His reputation was made off the execrable A Better Tomorrow but solidified with action classics like Hard Boiled. Which Woo are you getting in any given film? Who knows, but the chances that it's great probably makes it worthwhile, right?
Favorites: Hard Boiled and Red Cliff pt 1
Next On The List: I'll know it when I see it. Any recommendations?
My girlfriend pointed Gondry out to me after she read the list, which is a valid point. His playful form and reluctance to use CGI appeal to me greatly, and I've thoroughly enjoyed the three moves of hist that I've seen.
Favorites: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Be Kind Rewind are both excellent
Next On The List: Human Nature is the only one I haven't seen, so I guess it's it.