***please keep in mind im excluding active legends like martin scorcese, werner herzog, woody allen, jean luc goodard and people like that. i just think putting them on a list like this would be kinda obvious.***
I think as of right now, he might be the most untouchable as far as im concerned. Of any director, he's made the most memorable movies of the last decade (the piano teacher, cache and the white ribbon). And even his recent movies that may not be considered "the best" of the past decade are still better than most (code unknown, funny games and time of the wolf). Similar to lars von trier (who's also on this list), Haneke is so great at fucking with the audience, raising questions that people are affraid to ask, and his movies leave you with an uneasy feeling (although he does all of this in a much less "prick-ish" way than Von Trier does). In one decade, he's taken on some serious issues, has tried different genres and has succeeded each time: the birth of facism (white ribbon), both: "white guilt" and race issues (code unknown & cache) and he even took a realistic stab at the post apocolyptic genre with time of the wolf. And id put code unknown up against crash any day of the week.
RICHARD LINKLATER, OLIVIER ASSAYAS & STEVEN SODERBERGH
I grouped these three directors in to one, because they all pretty much represent the same thing. None of these directors are affraid to take risks, try completely different genres from one film to the next (soderbergh: bubble-> the ocean's 11 movies-> che, linklater: school of rock -> scanner darkly -> me and orson welles, assayas: demonlover -> clean -> summer hours -> carlos). They can work with either; big budgets or almost no budget, release 2 movies in a year, and they can get amazing performances from their actors (weather it be an ensemble or an individual standout performance). Of the three directors mentioned, Olivier Assayas might have the best track record (in my opinion, he hasn't made a bad a film yet). Soderbergh and Linklater both fall in to the same category, in that they actually do have more bad movies than great movies, but the great ones completely overshadow the bad ones. For example, all the of the ocean's sequels and full frontal seemed like silly movies, but just Che and Traffic alone overshadow all of that stuff. And of the three directors mentioned, Soderbergh is best at working with non proffesional actors (in fact with the exception of Gus Van Sat, he might the best of anyone on this list). Soderbergh even did the unthinkable and remade Solaris. RELAX, i recognize the original is way better, but his version isnt as bad as people make out to be. I use to hate it myself, but gre to like it. And the same thing with Richard Linklater. The Bad News Bears remake was pointless, but he still made Me and Orson Welles, Before Sunset and School of Rock which totally cancel out bad new bears (and other slip ups like fast food nation). And as overrated as scanner darkly was, it was still a fun movie, and a him trying something different.
I know they had a shitty first half of the last decade (although they did make O Brother Where art Thou), but No Country and Serious Man brought them redemption. I almost didn't wanna put them on this list simply because i hated Burn After Reading SO much (and it couldve been a great movie), but if im going to have one entry on this list for "the people", which basically means the one that wont have people bitching at you because you left them off your list (you know, the tarantino's and the christopher nolan's), i'll chooe the coens (although Nolan does get an honorable mention).
LARS VON TRIER
That shy/asshole grin that he always has makes me think that Von Trier is well aware of what he's doing, which is fucking with people. He started the last decade fucking with us by giving us the unexpected ending in Dancer In The Dark, and ended most recently with another headfuck; 'Antichrist'. In any group, you need a prankster. And Lars Von Trier fits that description to a Tee. Just about every movie he's made in the last 10 years has some kind of flaw, but similar to Soderbergh and Assayas, hes not afraid to take risks (although the risks Von Trier takes serve a different purpose). Also, almost all of his movies from the last decade, with the exception of 'Boss of it All' are bound to bring out many serious discussion, debates and stir up some serious emotions, which i think at the end of the day is his ultimate goal. So no matter what way you cut it, he's succeeded.
its almost like she was groomed for greatness. if you go from working for jim jarmusch to wim wenders (as well as working as casting director for tarkofsky at one point) you almost CANT fail as a filmmaker. Unlike many of her fellow popular female directors of the moment (specifically Sofia Coppola), Denis has no problem focusing on issues besides female problems. And even her films that do deal primarily with female issues aren't cliche and overdone (rape, abuse, etc). One of her most recent films; 35 Shots Rum was a great example of this. Many other directors would have taken the basic plot of that film; the relationship between a father and his daughter, and turned it in to a predictable story of incest or abuse. She did the complete opposite. In Beau Travail she was able to make a film with obviously homosexual undertones, and yet still make it feel masculine. She can do both; straight forward storytelling (35 Shots of Rum) as well as surreal & subjective storytelling as well (The Intruder). All of her movies contain beautiful cinematography and AMAZING music (courtesy of Tindersticks). She even took a stab at horror (or Denis's own interpretation of horror) with the somewhat disturbing; Trouble Every Day.
GUS VAN SANT
He can go through periods when you're kinda like "wtf" (even cowgirls get the blues and the psycho remake), but for five films in a row, he hasnt slipped up yet (although as good as paranoid park was, he was very close to doing a repeat of 'elephant'). Kinda of like Soderbergh, some of Van Sant's films are so different in; the look, film making style and subject from one film to the next that some people aren't even aware that the same guy responsible for Good Will Hunting is also responsible for 'Last Days' and 'Gerry'. Also, as an openly gay director, he's never afraid to touch on homosexuality, but at the same time does it in such a subtle way that its not even the issue of the film (with the exception of 'Milk', which is still still a good movie too). In a decade he covered school shootings, did 2 bios (harvey milk & kurt cobain), worked with A-list actors (matt damon, sean penn and james brolin) to high school kids who've never acted before (elephant & paranoid park) and has had equally successful results each time.
He's probably the best new director to emerge from the past decade, and one of the few people worthy enough to fill tarkofsky's shoes (especially with japon and silent light which are both obvious homages to tarkofsky's style). This might be the one debatable entry on this list because his movies aren't for everyone, but i personally think he makes some of the most beautiful movies out, so i kinda feel like its too bad for people who may not enjoy his movies.
Mike Leigh is one of the few directors left that represents real people and real issues. He walks in the shadow of John Cassavetes, yet manages to copy NOTHING from him (usually when people claim to show realism or express truth in film, they always have to resort to that knock-off handheld camera, improv style of cassavetes as if they're actually doing it justice). Mike Leigh is great at both getting an amazing performance from his entire cast (all or nothing) as well as getting standout performances from his actors as well(vera drake and happy go lucky). Although all his movies are set in the UK, and some people label his movies has "british films", anyone can relate to them.
*LYNNE RAMSAY - if she was more active, she would've been on my current top ten for sure (only 2 movies in 11 years).
*CHRISTOPHER NOLAN - he brought batman back and inception is probably one of the most fun movies of this year. Even though he does get overrated sometimes, he still deserves to be mentioned
*MICHAEL MANN - put down the 1980's camcorder, and you'll be on this top ten list no question.
*DARREN ARONOFSKY - Another one of the best directors to emerge from the last decade who deserves to be mentioned.
*WONG KAR WAI
*PT ANDERSON - I personally think he's done a great job of carrying Robert Altman's torch