In less than a week, I shall turn 44. Funny, I don't feel that old. In fact, it always seems as though I am just at the beginning of my career. But as I'm sure everybody half my age will happily remind me, 44 is getting up there. There are people my age who are grandparents. Teddy Roosevelt was President when he was 44; so was JFK. And certainly, many of my friends and former colleagues have "made it" – they're wealthy, they own homes, they hold executive positions or even run their own companies. I'm not being down on myself. I just think it's remarkable how different 43-44 looks on people. But it is sort of depressing, as a filmmaker, to note that the following nine successful directors were born after me:
- Paul Thomas Anderson. This guy turns 44 exactly two months after I do. By his 28th birthday, while I was still struggling to finish Foreign Correspondents, he had already nabbed an Oscar nomination for Boogie Nights and was starting work on Magnolia. The difference? Anderson hustled. He interned for an acquaintance of mine at a theater company in 1992-93. According to her, all he did was schmooze with the company's most famous actor, Philip Baker Hall, who would go on to star in several Anderson films. The young and hungry Anderson didn't care whose toes he stepped on. And today he's one of America's most well-respected directors.
- M. Night Shyamalan. "Night", as his friends call him, is a little more than three months younger than I am. His career blossomed at more or less the same time as Anderson's. But it feels like forever since he's had a well-received movie (most consider 2002's Signs to be Shyamalan's last true success, though almost all of his later films have been profitable). At least I've got this on the guy: No one can yet call me a has-been.
- Kevin Smith. Born just four days before Shyamalan, Smith too is kind of a has-been. After he wowed the indie world with Clerks in 1994 (when he was just 23!), his subsequent output defines the law of diminishing returns. At this point, Smith seems happiest to be on stage spouting his juvenile opinions before a rapt audience, and getting paid big bucks for it. He is the Sarah Palin of filmmakers.
- Christopher Nolan. One of the most powerful players in Hollywood turns 44 this July – just days before Smith and Shyamalan, in fact. I have no beef with Nolan, except that his work is getting increasingly bloated and pretentious. Another Memento, please.
- Edgar Wright. What really hurts is that this insanely talented British director (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim, etc.) just turned 40 two days ago – and look at what he's already accomplished. The other folks on this list have filmographies that I could take or leave, but I truly envy Wright's career.
- Rian Johnson. I also envy the nerdy and highly approachable 40-year-old Mr. Johnson. He may not be a household name yet, but he's given us interesting movies like Brick and Looper and directed the legendary Breaking Bad episode "Ozymandias". His future is very bright and I wish I were him.
- Duncan Jones. Some young filmmakers owe at least a little of their initial success to their famous parents: 42-year-old Sofia Coppola, daughter of Francis; 36-year-old Jason Reitman, son of Ivan; and 42-year-old Duncan Jones, son of David Bowie. But I think Jones – who's helmed just two features so far, Moon and Source Code, but what fine features they are – is the most exciting of the bunch.
- Joe Wright. This list could be dominated by Brits. Along with Nolan, Jones, and Edgar Wright, I could easily include Tom Hooper, who at 41 already has a Best Director Oscar for The King's Speech. Or Matthew Vaughn, 43, who directed Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class, among others. But 42-year-old Joe Wright – no relation to Edgar – has made several stately yet intriguing features, such as Atonement, Pride & Prejudice, and Anna Karenina. His style is much more mature and personal than Hooper's or Vaughn's, and thus he has, I think, the most likely long-term career.
- Harmony Korine. It would be obvious to finish this list with 41-year-old Ben Affleck. Sure, he's a decent director, but I can't stand the guy. Many others feel the same way about arthouse enfant terrible Korine, also 41. He was barely out of his teens when he wrote 1994's Kids, and has since churned out several polarizing features that I personally think have genuine artistic merit, from Gummo to Mr. Lonely to last year's Spring Breakers. (Only his unwatchable Trash Humpers, in my opinion, truly deserves to be dismissed as obnoxious junk.)