|Left to right: Luke Kirby and Michelle Williams in Take This Waltz|
Ladies and gentlemen... we have done the unthinkable. The Oscar Buzz has managed to turn a year old! It is hard to imagine that what started off as a spring board to talk about The Master quickly evolved into a discussion forum for all things Academy Awards. The comments have been great and I proud of the cohorts I made, notably my Films with Friends cohort Mike (of Mike's Reviews). Hopefully this blog will continue to grow and cover more content with this Oscar season just starting to take off. But how do you celebrate a birthday?
I will admit that when I was coming up with thoughts for how to commemorate the first year anniversary, I felt kind of bad that I blew an Oscar-centric love letter months ago, admittedly during a slow period. However, my belief is that while it is great to see coverage of all of the upcoming attractions, I figured that what would make these one-offs special is if I got you to know a little bit more about me via the medium of movies. If nothing else, then to help you understand what I like and what goes into my judgments. For those already aware that the best Best Picture winner is Annie Hall, what exactly do I follow it up with?
I decided to do things a little differently and focus on directors. While at first my initial reaction was to just post about my favorites, the list became a little familiar: Martin Scorsese, Joel and Ethan Coen, David Fincher, James Whale... There's no fun or novelty in that concept. How do I take this concept and find something fresh in it? With all of this in mind, I decided to do something audacious.
I decided to list my favorite post-millennial directors. The basic curriculum is that their directorial debut had to be released post-2000. I know it is sort of an unorthodox prism of organization, but it does create quite the predicament. In researching this entry, I discovered that a lot of my up and coming favorites were actually around in the late 90's, thus leaving the likes of Derek Cianfrance (1998), Sofia Coppola (1999) and Edgar Wright (1995) ineligible. Even then, there's the question of what makes a director great, especially in a time when a lot of them are taking subpar studio films or not quite as great as they once were.
That is a challenge that I accepted and in the end, the list is reflective of directors I like as a whole or believe will be very promising in the years to come. Along with the list, I will provide recommendations of each (note: I am only including films I have seen, so some may appear incomplete) and reasoning behind my decision. I may be missing some big league names like J.J. Abrams or Joss Whedon, but in truth, it is largely because I feel that these people deserve more recognition. In the comments, feel free to share any name I missed. The following is 25 directors that I feel you should know about.
Notable Works: Juno, Up in the Air, Young Adult
Probably the most successful of the post-millennial directors in terms of consistent quality and high anticipation. While prospects are having me believe that his latest Labor Day isn't the greatest, his first four films are top notch and reflect a director who is keen on telling very human stories that are full of humor and life's numerous inconsistencies. From growing up (Juno) to disconnection (Up in the Air) to nostalgia (Young Adult), Reitman is one of the few who tows the line between comedy and vulnerability so effortlessly. If you haven't seen his films, I highly recommend you do, as he is probably the most entertaining entry on this list.
Notable Works: The Wackness, 50/50, and Warm Bodies
While Reitman has the more consistent body of work, Jonathan Levine is probably the strongest percent ratio. At first, I wasn't entirely sure why that was, as his films all vary in content, but he has quickly become one of my favorites when he turned the zombie plot into one of the most sincere romances of the year. Besides the dubious honor of turning Ben Kingsley into a pot-smoking weirdo in The Wackness, his triumph so far is the highly underrated, robbed of Oscars film 50/50: the cancer comedy that I am confident in saying is our generation's Terms of Endearment, but with more Skeletor references. He is the hip young director who I feel has one of the more promising perspectives of anyone on this list. He'll surprise you with subversion, and that is all I could hope for. With the upcoming release of his shelved debut All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (long story), I can't wait to see if he can continue his strong track record.
Notable Works: Brick, The Brothers Bloom, Looper
I am not just including him as a promo for his return to the director's chair tomorrow night on Breaking Bad (though he does a great job there). He is on this list for not only being one of the more engaging, genre-bending directors out there, but also because he is just so likable. If you get a chance to hear him riff on the podcast show /Filmcast, please do. He is a delight and his work reflects competence with his latest only hopefully shooting him up into the stratosphere. Looper ranks among some of the best sci-fi of the decade (more on that later), and it convincingly turns Joseph Gordon-Levitt into Bruce Willis: a feat within itself. Of course, when your debut is Brick and is one of the finest examples of modern film noir, there is little doubt that you are going places. Here's hoping that whatever he does next, it will be as fun and bizarre as his first three films.
Notable Works: Smashed, The Spectacular Now
I am serious when I say that this may be my favorite new director of the decade so far. In the short span of two years, he has made two of the greatest films on the subject of romance and alcoholism with astute casting and brilliant camera work. His stories may be too simple, but it only draws more attention to the characters, and thankfully the scripts can back it up. It has been awhile since I found a film maker this exciting and so capable of painting realism in a way that is unapologetic, but never painful to watch. His work is captivating beyond belief and I can only hope that whatever he does next will be just as intoxicating.
Notable Works: The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Funny People
Probably one of the most influential names in mainstream comedy from the past decade. Even if he hasn't directed that much, his producing and writing credits is enough to make any of the imitations get labeled to this director, who is James L. Brooks if he was crasser. While This is 40 is an atrocious use of his talents, his first three films remain very strong examples of what curse words and heart look like when properly appropriated. Even the highly underrated Funny People has a lot of merit, even if it does continue his notorious streak of making overlong films. Nonetheless, he deserves every second of his screen time because even the script is thrown out for riffing, it is some of the funniest stuff you've ever heard.
Notable Works: I'm Still Here
Without a doubt the one director with my highest level of anticipation for his second film. Despite negative reviews, I find I'm Still Here to be one of the greatest, Andy Kaufman-esque satires of celebrity that has ever been released. It may paint Joaquin Phoenix in a ridiculous, unflattering light, but his ability to dive into the id and nuances of the gossip columns is something beyond brilliant and throwing that into a narration as ridiculous as focusing on an actor-turned-rapper is the single greatest concept in a debut that I have seen. I love the ambitious, rebellious nature of the project and eagerly await to see what way Casey Affleck decides to screw with audiences next. It may be unsettling, but I am sure it will be equal parts unexpected.
Notable Works: Dogtooth, Alps
One of the perks of the Academy Awards is that it makes me aware of films I sometimes wouldn't have ever heard of. This includes former Best Foreign Film nominee Dogtooth. The story of children secluded in a home by their parents is one of the most perverse, fascinating, and hauntingly beautiful films that I have seen. While his work is very melancholic, it does reflect this dark desire that I don't feel too many other films tackle. While Alps kind of pales in comparison, the plot is beyond weird to the point that it doesn't matter. He's just really good at giving you a head trip.
Notable Works: District 9, Elysium
I will admit that Elysium was a little problematic, but the thing that makes me feel that this is one of the more promising young faces is that he captures tone and atmosphere nicely. Along with his muse Sharlto Copley, he manages to give sci-fi a much needed boost of energy by mixing desert-like locations with political fervor and stunning visuals. Besides the assistance of producer Peter Jackson, I can see why his debut District 9 got so much acclaim. Mixing mockumentary with actual situations may have been a clunky transition, but those final moments are so interesting that even if Elysium isn't the greatest of follow-ups, it is something to be proud of. Something that shows that in time, this guy will be great.
Notable Works: Attack the Block
As of this publishing, Attack the Block remains the best sci-fi film that I have seen in years, possibly the decade. It is full of life and characters that clever turn their slums into a battlefield against some of the most brilliantly conceived aliens. Along with dialogue that is through the roof memorable and was considered so confusing that there needed to be a glossary of terms, this is a voice that is unique and fun enough that hopefully he keeps the steam going with whatever he does next. Either way, he does win the most infectiously fun and mind blowing debuts of the decade so far.
Notable Works: Atonement, Hanna
If you need an adaptation of familiar classic literature, Joe Wright is your best bet. While he has strayed sometimes from this with varying success (The Soloist, Hanna), he has managed to create some of the most solid costume dramas of the modern era. He helped to put Saorise Ronan on the map with the great Hanna and continues his winning streak with Anna Karenina. He adds class and brilliant scores by Dario Marianelli to most of his films and creates definitive art. Of course, after the success of Hanna, I wouldn't mind seeing him do something unexpected, like another action film.
Notable Works: Hunger, Shame
The closest thing right now that we have to auteur film making. With 12 Years a Slave receiving great reviews at TIFF, it is an exciting time to follow the career of a man who notoriously got his last film, Shame, out of the Oscar race for being too sexual. His slow pacing and long shots of mundane scenery is cathartic and innovative in its simplicity. His work is also brutally honest and as a result, has produced one of Michael Fassbender's greatest performances. While I am not as fond of Hunger, I do admire it on technical merits, as it did introduce the world to one of the more interestingly authentic, unapologetic voices to hit the scene in the past decade.
Notable Works: Girl Walk // All Day
Believe me when I say that if you haven't seen Jacob Krupnick's debut that turned the Girl Talk album "All Day" into a dance party in New York, you really should. It is marvelous and front to back one of the most amazing, upbeat examples of guerrilla film making out there. Its narrative may not always be front and center, but what we do have is a poetic, beautiful masterpiece that says a lot about being young in modern times. I love this film to the point that I rank it among my personal favorites and eagerly await whatever Krupnick would plan to do next. It is innovative, different, and most of all, the funnest thing you'll be able to see (for free). I assure you that once you press play, it will be hard to stop.
Notable Works: Fruitvale Station
To date, my favorite directorial debut of the year belongs to Ryan Coogler. Mixing like in Oakland, CA with a brilliant performance by Michael B. Jordan, he shows a lot of promise to turn everyday life into heightened portrayals. Also, from numerous interviews that he has given, he seems like one of the most well-versed young directors currently working, and that almost makes me reassured for whatever he does next.
Sam Fell and Chris Butler
Notable Works: ParaNorman
Long time readers of The Oscar Buzz will be aware of how much I adore ParaNorman and think that Laika Studios is close to trumping its competitors for quality work. The mix of stop motion and computer graphics is some of the most cutting edge technology currently seen in films. Also, with a story so progressive and engaging, it is baffling to wonder why this didn't capture the zeitgeist more. While I am not entirely sure how things will be with these two in the future, at least as co-directors, they created one of the best animated movies of the past few years, and I can only hope that they do that again soon.
Notable Works: OSS: Cairo Nest of Spies, The Artist
As I stated before, I love The Artist and find it to be one of the greatest Best Picture winners in years. While I eagerly await his follow-up, I am convinced that Michel Hazanavivicus is no joke of a director. Having started his career with actors Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo in the OSS series that parodied James Bond, I get a strong sense that he has a keen eye towards satire that doesn't feel fake. While The Artist remains his biggest triumph to date, his back catalog reflects ambition and cleverness that is highly enjoyable without being forceful. Of course, his ability to just make a great silent movie in this era is worthy of a placement on this list alone.
Notable Works: Take This Waltz, Stories We Tell
In terms of memorable scenes from films last year, one would be daft to not take a look at Take This Waltz, which features many memorable moments. The one that assured me that Sarah Polley was at very least one to watch, it was a montage scene that turns a relationship into a spinning cycle that is technically brilliant. Also, her ability to tell stories with silence and show the falling apart of a relationship with visual techniques is impressive. It may at times be a little understated, but it shows someone who has ambitions and knows how to make intriguing works. Her latest, Stories We Tell, is no slouch either as it explores her family's strange history.
Notable Works: Exit Through the Gift Shop
One of the more intriguing mixes of fact and fiction in the documentary universe to date. While it is arguable on who Banksy actually is, his story is fascinatingly shot through clever tricks that hides his personality and invents a man named Mr. Brainwash to connect a loose narrative together. While I doubt that he will ever get into releasing more documentaries, he managed to make an impressive mark with a mind bending look into his world that almost seems to as much a joke as it is actually happening. Somehow it convinced the Academy to nominate it for Best Documentary. When Banksy claimed to want to show up in a rather unappealing outfit, they suggested that if he does, he would be kicked out. Now that is pretty awesome.
Notable Works: Four Lions
One of the more entertaining political satires of the past few years remains Four Lions. Its take on suicide bombers as bumbling idiots is as dark as things get, but also very entertaining if you don't subscribe to their methods. It manages to tow the line between satire and makes the characters sympathetic without glorifying terrorism. It is a genius piece of work that is packed with memorable roles and performances (including Benedict Cumberbatch) that will give you a new book of slang to use whenever you see your friends. Rubber dingy rapids, bro!
Notable Works: Lars and the Real Girl, Fright Night
What makes him one of the more interesting directors is that he takes unorthodox subject matter and turns it into comical character pieces. With Lars and the Real Girl, he somehow made a romance with a sex doll into something more poignant. Fright Night also remains one of the more underrated horror films of the past few years. His work varies in quality, but it is always fascinating and different. Bubbling with personality, I can only hope that his projects continue to be this weird.
Notable Works: Moon, Source Code
Another great voice in the realm of sci-fi is Duncan Jones, who with a minimal budget managed to make a story on the moon into something far more unique and bizarre. Even his follow-up, which played with the concept of time, is a fun and enjoyable mystery. With two great films under his belt, he is looking to mix up the genre to some fresh, new territory.
Notable Works: Tiny Furniture
This one is kind of a cheat, as she is more successful on her show Girls, but for those that want to know where it all started, check out her first film. It may play out as a prototype to Girls, but it is also an unapologetic, vulnerable, and funny look at being young and wanting to find your place in the world. I can only hope that when Girls ceases to exist that she will return to cinema and continue to make thought provoking entertainment that pushes boundaries without being repulsive.
Notable Works: Cabin in the Woods
Having worked with Joss Whedon for years, it almost seemed right that his analytic horror film would be co-written with him. The film reflects some of the most clever, fun take downs of tropes the genre has seen in years. It takes bizarre turns and all without losing any of the momentum. It may just be a fluke, but his debut has managed to capture the zeitgeist in ways that its initial shelved back history would have decreed. Now it's time to see what his next move is.
Notable Works: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
I will admit that in theory, I am more in love with Lorene Scafaria as a writer. Having co-written the equally fun Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, she has an eye for characters that goes beyond the average comedy. With her directorial debut, she managed to turn the apocalypse into a fun roulette of characters who may only be on screen for a minute, but leave a memorable mark. The ending may have been problematic, but as a whole, she is one of the more promising voices to comedy to come out in the past few years. Even if she is just reduced to writing scripts, I believe that she will continue to be a fun, lively addition to the cinematic world.
Notable Works: Rubber, Wrong
While his work may be awkwardly understated at times, has there really been a weirder film maker out there? True, there are more surreal talents, but when Rubber focuses around a killer tire that also dissects how we perceive cinema, it is hard not to admire the creativity. Even Wrong, a love letter to canines, has plenty of incorrect bizarre nature that even if it isn't always successful, there is a sense that Quentin Dupieux's voice is authentic and what he does do will at least be worth checking out.
Notable Works: The Runaways
It almost seemed right that this music video director would decide to make a biopic on rebellious girl group the Runaways. Providing one of Kristen Stewart's best performances, the story is heart breaking, fun, and full of the spirit that the band was about. With plenty stylistic flairs from her music video experience, it manages to be both a crash course on the band and an equally entertaining experience. This underrated gem only makes me wonder if she will ever return to the big screen for another round, as I feel she is capable of being one of the greats.
What do you think? Who did I miss?