In film criticism, auteur theory — the idea that a film reflects a director’s personal creative vision — has been a controversial subject since 1954, when French critic-turned-filmmaker François Truffaut first advocated that the director was a film’s primary author. For Truffaut and other critics who wrote for Paris-based Cahiers du Cinéma, a film was most reflective of its director, displaying the style and themes that would be unmistakable throughout that person’s body of work.
While auteur theory has continued to be highly influential in the film community, there’s an obvious problem: It minimizes the roles of the huge amount of people that work on a film, especially if the director is not the screenwriter. But does the director deserve author credit as the person who is responsible for directing all those different areas to shape his or her vision? That’s much harder to say, which is why the argument has shown no signs of slowing down after 60 years.
That being said, here are seven modern American directors who seem to lend credence to auteur theory with a distinctive visual style that appears throughout their bodies of work.
1. Wes Anderson
When it comes to distinctive style, there’s probably no better modern example than Wes Anderson, the director of Moonrise Kingdom, The Royal Tenenbaums, and last year’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. The writer-director is one of the best examples of a modern auteur, with a whimsical visual style all his own and narrative tendencies that remain consistent across his body of work.
Chances are that if you know of Anderson and his past films, you can spot whether a movie is directed by him within five seconds of watching one his works or viewing a trailer for an upcoming film. With a distinct color palette that links everything from a the production design to the outfits, Anderson adheres to a meticulous set of visual flourishes that give the director’s films the specific fantastical feeling that all Anderson films have.
When it comes to framing, Anderson is known to keep his camera mostly stationary, preferring to shoot scenes in straight-on fashion — something most directors avoid because it prevents the scene from taking on a three-dimensional feel. This is what Anderson prefers, and the net result is a series of a shots that often feel as if they are part of a painting rather than a three-dimensional, moving image.