Millennium debuts, part 2

Director Christopher Nolan makes audiences feel tingly about human frailty.

Director Christopher Nolan makes audiences feel tingly about human frailty.

The bottom half of my list of the 10 best directors to debut this decade was stacked with one-hit wonders, but the relevance of these top five filmmakers should extend into the next decade and beyond:

5. Larry Charles, Borat, Brüno. A prolific TV writer (he penned 20 episodes of Seinfeld), Charles’ inauspicious debut was the Bob Dylan head scrambler Masked & Anonymous, but his sacred cow-slaughtering partnership with Sacha Baron Cohen marked him as the decade’s unparalleled provocateur.

4. Ed Harris, Pollock, Appaloosa. Actor/director-dilettantes abounded in the aughts, but none reached farther and achieved more than Harris. The solid biopic Pollock works best as a vehicle for Harris the actor, but Appaloosa is intelligent, nuanced and the best Western of the decade.

3. Todd Field, In the Bedroom, Little Children. Another actor turned director, Field takes the honor of “ridiculously talented director least likely to ever make a superhero movie.” Field’s first two features were scabrous probes into the roiling desires underlying suburban “contentment,” but an upcoming adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian could be his breakthrough.

2. Michel Gondry, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep, Tokyo!. The premiere visual artist of the decade (and the last great music video director), Gondry’s world is one where the banality of everyday life easily slips into hallucinogenic flights of fancy. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a near-perfect marriage of story, design and emotional wallop.

1. Christopher Nolan, Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight. Memento had an out-of-the-gate assurance that was LeBron-like, and The Prestige was an ambitious and uncompromising near-masterpiece. Nolan has stayed true to a bleak vision of obsession and human frailty even while making the most successful movie of the decade; the question for the next 10 years is how far he’s willing to push it.