McCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS

Call them "the millennials" - four newer filmmakers whose careers took off on the cusp of the new century and who, coincidentally, all have movies or a big DVD coming out this holiday season.

It's difficult to find a common thread in the careers of David O. Russell, Darren Aronofsky, Sofia Coppola, and Christopher Nolan.

But all four have managed the rare feat of remaining true to their outlooks and interests while making films that connect with audiences. Perhaps it's this balancing act between art and entertainment that unites them despite the different directions their visions take them.

Russell, 52, whose The Fighter opened this month, has long been associated with outrageous comedies and with themes of family.

Aronofsky, 41, specializes in personal, trippy cinematic visions. Despite a somewhat mainstream hit with The Wrestler, he's back to his old tricks with Black Swan.

Coppola, 39 is a showbiz brat whose movies invariably deal with the isolating nature of fame. Her Hollywood-specific tale, Somewhere, opens by early next year.

And Nolan, 40, who has gone from quirky, twisted dramas to the humongously successful reboot of the Batman franchise, had one of his biggest hits with summer's dream-drama, Inception.

Here are snapshots of the four:

David O. Russell

What's new:

The Fighter.

The real-life story of boxer "Irish" Micky Ward offers an often funny study of the positive and negative influences of family.

Backstory: This New Yorker, who studied English and political science at Amherst College, made his feature debut in 1994 with Spanking the Monkey, a quirky, low-budget comedy about a teen who has an affair with his mother. Next was Flirting With Disaster (1996), in which Ben Stiller goes looking for his birth parents. But it wasn't until 1999's Three Kings, a surreal black comedy, that Russell's potential was revealed.

Essential films: Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees (2004).

What's up next: Nailed, a romantic comedy.

Christopher Nolan

What's new:

Inception

(now on video). High-tech thieves enter the dreams of their targets to steal secrets. The highlight is the dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream heist sequence.

Backstory: This Londoner grew up making films with his father's camera. His first feature was the black-and-white Following (1998), about a man obsessed with following strangers. But his breakthrough was the 2000 art-house hit Memento.

Essential films: Memento, Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Prestige (2006).

What's up next: The Dark Knight Rises.

Darren Aronofsky

What's new:

Black Swan.

What his

Requiem for a Dream

did for druggies, this film does for psychotic ballerinas. A lead dancer (Natalie Portman) slides into psychosis under the pressure of preparing a new

Swan Lake

.

Backstory: This native of Brooklyn, N.Y., studied film at Harvard University and made his feature debut in 1998 with the low-budget Pi, a black-and-white thriller about a reclusive genius. His breakthrough film was 2000's Requiem for a Dream.

Essential films: Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain (2006), and The Wrestler (2008).

What's up next: The Wolverine.

Sofia Coppola

What's new:

Somewhere

. A Hollywood action star (Stephen Dorff) succumbs to dissipation in a Hollywood hotel suite.

Backstory: The daughter of filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola (cousin of Nicolas Cage and Jason Schwartzman) made her screen debut as the baby being baptized in The Godfather. During the '90s, she took small film roles but found her place behind the camera with the release of The Virgin Suicides in 1999.

Essential films: The Virgin Suicides (1999), Lost in Translation (2003), and Marie Antoinette (2006).

What's up next: No new projects have been announced.