Hollywood genre films are tricky things. Sure, every movie is classified into one or more genres to help draw an audience to the theater. For filmmakers, though, there's a fine line to walk between honoring the genre and relying on genre-standard tactics to throw together a film. Let's take a look at some of the best filmmakers in the business.

1. Absolute Action — Michael Bay

What do the following films have in common?

  • "Bad Boys"
  • "The Rock"
  • "Armageddon"
  • "Transformers"

Fast cars, pretty girls, big explosions, lots of action and Michael Bay. Bay has a style of his own. Most action movies can be effectively contained within a 2 to 4 minute theatrical trailer. Director Michael Bay manages to give audiences 2-plus hours of trailer-worthy movies for the price of admission. His cinematic style is complex. His mix of carefully-chosen camera angles and quick cuts create an interesting and fast-paced style that's incredibly difficult to match.

2. Accessible Art House — Baz Luhrmann

Luhrmann takes risks that few mainstream filmmakers are able to clear with the studios financing their films. For his version of "Romeo + Juliet" he utilized the Shakespearean text while placing the characters in a stylized, modern setting — a hybrid of a stereotypical mob story and a Western film. Somehow, what seems a little crazy on paper, in Luhrmann's hands, is beautiful, accessible and moving. For "Moulin Rouge!" he used modern songs to tell a story set at the end of the 19th century. Luhrmann's work is anything but mainstream, but it still manages to have a wide appeal.

3. Animated Family Films — Pete Docter

He directed Pixar's hit films "Up" and "Monsters, Inc." Docter is also credited for the original stories of "Toy Story," "Toy Story 2" and "Wall-E." The entire team at Pixar have been making fantastic animated features for years, but we think Pete Docter is worthy of recognition as an MVP.

4. Anything with a Puppet — Jason Segel

Okay, so he only has two films out that fit this characteristic, but you have to give a big shout out to Jason Segel of "How I Met Your Mother" fame, and for his films "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and "The Muppets." Segel wrote both films and (spoiler alert) the Dracula musical featured in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" is something he had been working on separately for the film. And then there's the latest Muppet movie — penned by Segel. Charming, funny and nostalgic while still being relevant, it's a family movie that everyone will love.

5. Dark Dramas — Christopher Nolan

The Dark Knight Trilogy is arguably the most successful franchise reboot and re-imagining of Batman. Thanks to director Christopher Nolan, of course. Nolan has a knack for taking dark and often complex source material and making it both commercially palatable and artistically advanced. "Batman Begins" completely re-imagined the world of one of America's most beloved superheros and succeeded in delving far deeper into the character of Bruce Wayne than any other film had previously.

"Memento" and "Inception" had such complex plots and devices that they would have been bewildering to audiences in the hands of a lesser filmmaker. "The Prestige" could have easily fallen into the trap of an unremarkable period drama about magicians. Nolan plays particularly well with shadows and darkness to create suspense and elevate the viewer's involvement in the drama.

6. Fantasy — Peter Jackson

Say what you will about "Super 8," Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy of films are the most cohesive fantasy trilogy out there. Jackson brings the world of Middle-earth to life. Extensive CGI and visual effects were necessary to create this fictional world. For a trilogy with a combined running time of 558 minutes (or 9.3 hours) that's an impressive achievement.

7. Gothic Horror/Drama — Tim Burton

Burton has really created a distinctive style and it works on every project he takes on. He's made animated films like "Frankenweenie," used claymation techniques for "Nightmare Before Christmas" and "The Corpse Bride," and even mixed mediums with films like "Beetlejuice." Burton was the obvious and perhaps only choice to bring the musical "Sweeney Todd" to the big screen. His style is so distinctive and layered that it's hard to imagine anyone trying to replicate it (and succeeding).

8. Mockumentary — Christopher Guest

"This is Spinal Tap" was the first movie of its kind. Combining fictional characters and the framework of a documentary, Christopher Guest built a hilarious and quotable movie about the waning careers of the hard rocking band "Spinal Tap." He went on to make more films in this style, including the cult classics "Best in Show," "Waiting for Guffman," and "A Mighty Wind."


9. Raunchy Comedy Judd Apatow

Would you go see a comedy from the director of "The Forty Year Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up"? So would we. That's because Judd Apatow has managed to conquer comedy. He has had a hand in modern classics like:

  • "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy"
  • "Forgetting Sarah Marshall"
  • "Superbad"
  • "Step Brothers"
  • "Get Him to the Greek"
  • "Bridesmaids"

Apatow's films manage to meld absurdist plot points with honest and lovable characters. As silly as the plot from "Step Brothers" may seem on first viewing, you realize every time you watch it that these characters exist in the real world. Apatow isn't afraid of being raunchy and his films will make you laugh until you cry.

10. Sweeping Epic — James Cameron

Whether he's tackling the ill-fated trek of “Titanic” or taking you on a journey to the future, James Cameron makes great movies on an epic scale. "Avatar" was a revolution in its use of 3-D technology to improve storytelling (rather than to just flaunt the use of the technology), and is still a great movie screened at home on a standard television. "Titanic" brought the storied luxury liner to life and managed to capture a romance and several other major stories without feeling disjointed. Cameron knows how to weave narratives together to keep the viewer engaged, that's for sure.

Author: Kitty Stephens – Once a dancer at Vegas, Kitty now writes about trends in dance and reviews music and film.