Their numbers have been steadily increasing and it's not easy to single out just 10, but we narrowed down the field by only including directors who are currently active -- sorry, Penny Marshall! -- and have made more than a couple of (English language) films. Who do you think will be next to win an Oscar? There's been a lot of hoopla surrounding the historic Oscar wins (Best Director, Best Picture) for Kathryn Bigelow and 'The Hurt Locker' -- and rightly so. Though a distinct minority, female directors have been working away in Hollywood for a long time (the late Ida Lupino, a true pioneer, was making movies in the '40s and '50s) and Bigelow's achievement is a boost for all of them.
Their numbers have been steadily increasing and it's not easy to single out just 10, but we narrowed down the field by only including directors who are currently active -- sorry, Penny Marshall! -- and have made more than a couple of (English language) films. Who do you think will be next to win an Oscar?
10. Amy Heckerling
For the groundbreaking 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' (1982) alone -- with its breakout performances from Sean Penn and Jennifer Jason Leigh -- Heckerling deserves major recognition. She did equally well with the Jane Austen remake 'Clueless' (1995), and though some of her following work was not so memorable, 2007's 'I Could Never Be Your Woman' had its charms. Coming up: 'Vamps' (2011), a rom-com starring 'Clueless' star Alicia Silverstone and Krysten Ritter as New York City vampires negotiating the dating scene.
9. Julie Taymor
Taymor was a highly creative stage director (she won a Tony for 'The Lion King') before she started working in film, and she brings that unique sensibility to the screen. Her sensational 1999 Shakespeare adaptation 'Titus' and acclaimed 2002 Frida Kahlo biopic 'Frida' were both visually amazing, and she utilized her considerable musical expertise for the 2007 Beatles tribute 'Across the Universe.' There's more unorthodox Shakespeare on the way with a gender-bending 'The Tempest' (2010), starring Helen Mirren, Alfred Molina and Chris Cooper.
8. Nicole Holofcener
Holofcener's honest, funny and sometimes painful portrayals of female relationships are the foundation of her uncompromising films 'Walking and Talking' (1996), 'Lovely and Amazing' (2001) and 'Friends With Money' (2006), all featuring her muse Catherine Keener. Whereas 'Money' -- starring Jennifer Aniston as a dissatisfied single woman amid rich, married (equally dissatisfied) friends -- was a wry, pointed commentary on a particular upper-class L.A. lifestyle, the upcoming 'Please Give' awards privileged New Yorkers the same treatment.
7. Catherine Hardwicke
Relative upstart Hardwicke specializes in atypically insightful films about teens, as documented by the gritty portrayal of rebellion in her acclaimed 2003 debut 'Thirteen'; 2005's 'Lords of Dogtown,' about the pioneering West Coast skateboarding scene of the '70s; and even, yes, the first 'Twilight.' Next she turns 'Hamlet' into a modern-day supernatural thriller starring 'Dogtown's Emile Hirsch.
6. Jane Campion
The second woman to be nominated for a Best Director Oscar (for 1993's 'The Piano') after Lina Wertmüller, Campion's known for her distinctive portrayals of decidedly non-mainstream women of all eras, including her stylized 1996 adaptation of Henry James's 'Portrait of a Lady,' starring Nicole Kidman; the darkly satirical 'Holy Smoke' (1999) with Kate Winslet; and most recently, the gorgeous biopic 'Bright Star,' starring Abbie Cornish as the muse of poet John Keats.
5. Sofia Coppola
The daughter of the legendary Francis Ford Coppola, Sofia may have started out with a major genetic advantage, but she's since become a distinctive force on her own. She surprised many with her dark, dreamlike 2000 debut 'The Virgin Suicides' and followed with the moody character study 'Lost in Translation' (2003), starring Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray, for which she nabbed a Best Director Oscar nomination. Though audience reaction was mixed, her highly unorthodox 'Marie Antoinette' (2006) once again displayed her singular flair. Due out later this year: 'Somewhere,' about a celebrity (Stephen Dorff) who reexamines his life.
4. Mira Nair
Her recent Earhart biopic 'Amelia' may have been underwhelming, but the Indian-born Nair already proved her directing mettle with a couple of solid high-profile adaptations -- W.M. Thackeray's Vanity Fair (2004) and Jhumpa Lahiri's 'The Namesake' (2007) -- plus the triumphant 'Monsoon Wedding (2001), not to mention formative works 'Mississippi Masala' and the gritty 'Salaam Bombay!' Colorful and culturally enlightening, her movies are completely accessible.
3. Nora Ephron
Like many directors, Ephron started out writing screenplays, in her case very successful ones ('When Harry Met Sally,' 'Silkwood'). As a director she went on to make some of the biggest rom-coms of the '90s ('Sleepless in Seattle,' 'You've Got Mail'), followed by a couple of flops (2000's 'Lucky Numbers,' 2005's 'Bewitched'). But with last year's exceptional 'Julie & Julia,' for which Meryl Streep was Oscar-nominated, she's clearly back on top on her game.
2. Nancy Meyers
Another writer ('Private Benjamin,' 'Baby Boom') turned director, Meyers has been a steady box-office presence since her 1998 directorial debut, a remake of 'The Parent Trap' starring a young Lindsay Lohan. A traditional rom-com specialist, she's helmed (and written) 2003's 'Something's Gotta Give,' 2006's 'The Holiday' and, most recently, 'It's Complicated,' the first Hollywood romantic comedy starring a 60-year-old (Meryl Streep) -- something that would never have flown a generation ago.
1. Kathryn Bigelow
Remarkable as the movie is, 'The Hurt Locker' is the culmination of a career that has truly defied stereotypes. With her grim, innovative vampire film 'Near Dark' (1987), Bigelow showed a visceral, in-your-face style that had previously been the domain of male directors. Her flair for action was apparent in the compulsively entertaining 'Point Break' (1991) with its jaw-dropping, much-studied chase scene, while the extraordinary and uncategorizable 'Strange Days' (1995) cemented her reputation as as a daring, technically sophisticated director. Next she's directing family drama 'The Miraculous Year' for HBO, which, despite its title, is not autobiographical.