Jonathan Levine — Maybe my favorite director from the last several years, Levine is a guy who understands romance, and heartbreak, and what it feels like to fall in love. He understands the true, heart-shattering, emotional exuberance of being in love, the fleeting moments, the overwhelming insecurity of it, and the monumentality of it, the vulnerability, and the kindness of it, and those qualities are on full display in his oeuvre, which includes The Wackness, 50/50, and Warm Bodies. The guy should be making all of Hollywood’s romantic comedies, but despite the critical — and profitable — success of his films, Levine is not only not a household name, he doesn’t have a ton of projects lined up (he’s working on a TV pilot, and afterwards, may reunite with Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (who were behind 50/50) for another movie.
Chris Miller and Phil Lord — Amazing directors who have, three times now, taken projects that sounded like money grabs, and on all three occasions, given us absolute gold, starting with Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (much better than anyone expected), 21 Jump Street (a surprisingly winning, funny buddy comedy) and just this weekend, The LEGO Movie, a rousing, witty, fast-paced kids film that appealed just as much to adults as kids, and also managed to do exactly what the movie needed to do: Make kids want to run out and play with their Legos.
Jennifer Lee — Have you heard this name before? You should, because she’s behind two of the best animated films of the last few years. She co-directed Frozen, and she co-wrote the best animated film of 2012, Wreck-It-Ralph. She’s another filmmaker with the exact right sensibilities to make kids’ movies that are as equally appealing to adults, thanks again to smart, subversive plots, humor that appeals to adults, and winning themes that appeal to children.
Jeff Nichols — This guy directed our second favorite movie of 2013 (Mud), and the second best movie you didn’t see in 2011 (Take Shelter) and yet, not a lot of people know his name. Get to know it. He’s from Arkansas. He’s got an incredible knack for both storytelling and pace, and his muse, so to speak, is Michael Shannon. They’re going to be a great filmmaking combination for years to come (including this year’s sci-fi drama, Midnight Special, which will also star Adam Driver).
Andrew Dominik — Dominik has only made three films in 14 years, but he’s made them count. Chopper is basically the movie that made Eric Bana’s career. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is one of the best movies you’ve never seen, and sports one of the very best ensembles of the 21st century, and Killing Me Softly, a 2012 Brad Pitt film that sadly wasn’t seen by nearly as many people as it deserved to be seen by (and that should have merited an supporting actor nomination for James Gandoflini). His next film should capture the attention he deserves: Blonde, based on a Joyce Carol Oates book (which was a finalist for the Pulitzer) chronicles the interior life of Marilyn Monroe.
Thomas McCarthy — Everyone loves The Station Agent, and whenever people think about it, they always associate Peter Dinklage with it. Fewer associate the film with its brilliant writer/director, who also gave us one of the best movies you didn’t see in 2007 (The Visitor), and in 2011, wrote and directed our second best comfort film of the year, Win Win. He assembles amazing casts, writes and directs incredible films, and so far, $10.1 million is the most any of his films have made. That should change later this year when he attempts to make a credible actor out of Adam Sandler again with The Cobbler, which will also star Dustin Hoffman and Steve Buscemi.
Lynn Shelton — Certainly a well-known name in indie circles, Shelton only knows how to make intimate, brilliantly acted relationship films (Touchy Feely, Your Sister’s Sister, Humpday) and yet, her top box-office performer only made $1.6 million. Maybe that changes later this year with Laggies, about a woman played by Keira Knightley who is permanently stuck in adolescence (so, a female Seth Rogen character?). It will also star Chloë Grace Moretz, Ellie Kemper, Kaitlyn Dever, and Sam Rockwell.