One of the many stories we can now see emerging as a central narrative of 2014 at the movies is just how many indie, arthouse or otherwise more under-the-radar directors made the leap to the big time this year. From Gareth Edwards delivering “Godzilla,” to The Russo Brothers making very respectable work of “Captain America: the Winter Soldier,” to James Gunn knocking “Guardians of the Galaxy” out of the park, to Ava DuVernay moving to a much larger canvas with “Selma,” and Darren Aronofsky tackling the massive “Noah,” it’s been such a phenomenon this year that we dedicated two whole features to it in the first half of the year (When Indie Directors Get Big Budgets and Next-Generation Blockbuster Directors). It seems that Hollywood has woken up to the vast store of talent that exists in the low-budget milieu, and more and more, the calling-card small film or successful TV stint is being used as a conduit to gain a higher profile and a bigger budget the next time out.
But that’s not the only way a new talent can break through, nor, thankfully, is a comic book franchise necessarily the endgame of every indie filmmaker. So when we were thinking about the year’s major breakouts in terms of direction, we tried to strike a balance between those who we can see moving on to $200m budget spectaculars and those whose next modestly-priced, heartfelt piece of personal expression we can’t wait to see —essentially, we’ve tried to mix in industry breakthroughs with neophyte arthouse filmmakers and even a few better known names who have seen a quantum level leap in terms of their profile in 2014. As such, names like those above almost feel too big already, and we’re aiming to highlight people one step back from the Gunns and the DuVernays: directors who weren’t top of mind at the start of the year, but as 2014 draws to a close, we’re expecting great things from them. Here are our favorite directorial breathroughs of 2014. And click here for all of our Best Of 2014 coverage.
Ana Lily Amirpour – “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night”
2014 saw the arrival of two “hipster” vampire films, Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive” and Ana Lily Amirpour’’s “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night.” Both exude an effortless cool, boast a killer soundtrack and have copacetic style to spare. And while Amirpour’s film might feel heavily indebted to Jarmusch’s overall approach, the results are more like two unique artists given the same assignment delivered drastically different essays on the meaning of existence. And for one, Amirpour’s film only features one vampire who has to live with her struggle alone; a gothy, teen outsider misfit who haunts the streets of Tehran at night feasting on undesirables and warning little boys their evil deeds won’t go unpunished. Featuring a distinctly arresting black and white look and carefully controlled mise en scene with just the right amount of striking camera moves, ‘AGWHAAN’ is at the very least a visual wonder to behold. And Amirpour’s use of music is just intoxicatingly dreamy and evocative. Based on a short film of the same name, it’s arguable that Amirpour puts a greater emphasis on mood and atmosphere than she does narrative, and ‘AGWHAAN’ does not possess the layered existential laments and insights that Jarmusch’s film does. But as a feminist movie about an outsider on the fringes who meets a kindred soul (who happens to be human), what it lacks in plot and narrative texture it more than makes up in formal joys. If nothing else, it’s the best Iranian feminist vampire film in existence, and Amirpour is certainly one of the most exciting new voices in film bar none.
Amma Asante – “Belle”
Given that she won a BAFTA for her first film, the little-seen-in-the-US “A Way Of Life,” it might seem odd to include British director Amma Asante among a list of breakout directors in 2014. But that BAFTA was a decade ago, and as she told us in our interview back in May, Asante had some ups and down in the intervening years before coming roaring back (and finding a substantial U.S. audience too) with sleeper period drama “Belle.” Detailing the remarkable true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), born to an aristocratic father and slave mother in 19th century England, and telling a Jane Austen-ish love story against the backdrop of a legal case that was crucial in ending slavery in Britain, it might not be the most formally adventurous film of any director on this list (though it is undeniably Well Made in a classical sense), but that almost feels deliberate. The film is a clever act of cinematic smuggling, using a Downton-ish coat to sneak in a complex and canny film about gender, race, class and identity. With finely modulated performances throughout, it’s little wonder that Asante’s already lined up her next moves, with studio thriller “Unforgettable” preceding WWII drama “Where Hands Touch.”
Wes Ball – “The Maze Runner”
Hollywood’s holy grail the last few years has been finding a new young-adult franchise to fill the gap when “The Hunger Games” wraps up next year. It arrived, but less from the hotly-touted “Divergent,” which underperformed somewhat, and more from the under-the-radar “The Maze Runner,” which ended up grossing well over $300 million worldwide, beating not just “Divergent,” but also movies like ‘The Fault In Our Stars” and “22 Jump Street.” The man responsible? First-time director Wes Ball. The filmmaker came to Hollywood’s attention with a self-financed 3D CGI short called “Ruin” that made a bit of a splash a few years back, and though Fox optioned it for a feature version, it also nabbed him the “Maze Runner” job when Catherine Hardwicke dropped out of the project. Plenty of inexperienced helmers have come unstuck before, but Ball did a very solid job: the visuals are confident and distinctive, but he doesn’t lose track of the performances either, with some strong work by the young cast. Ball’s currently in production on sequel “The Scorch Trials,” but after the success of the first film, we’d be very surprised if Marvel, Lucasfilm, etc don’t come knocking in the next few years.
James Ward Byrkit – “Coherence”
Very few saw “Coherence,” James Ward Byrkit’s cunning little sci-fi indie that was released earlier this year, but if you’re looking for a pre-end of year catch up, we’d definitely recommend checking it out. The film was the closest thing we had this year to a new Shane Carruth film, and is sure to attract a building cult over the few years. Regardless of its box office totals, it’s bound to have opened a ton of doors for Byrkit for projects that should be more widely noticed. The writer/director was previously best known as a close collaborator of Gore Verbinski, co-writing “Rango” and directing a “Pirates of the Caribbean” spin-off short film, among others. But “Coherence” is quite different: a ultra-low-budget “Twilight Zone”-ish chiller shot in only five nights, about a dinner party disrupted when the fabric of reality starts collapsing. Driven equally by big ideas (quantum mechanics!) and some smartly created, well-performed characters, and though understandably rough around the edges, the film has a real feel for atmosphere, tension and invention. It earned Byrkit a Breakthrough Director nomination at the Gotham Awards, though his next project marks a return to his more kid-friendly work: he’s co-writing the long-gestating “Fraggle Rock” movie…
Damien Chazelle – “Whiplash”
Very few had a better 2014 than Damien Chazelle. At the start of the year, the 29-year-old was basically unknown: his first feature, musical “Guy And Madeline on a Park Bench,” had been well-liked but little-seen, and prior writing credits on 2013’s contradictorily-titled “The Last Exorcism Part II” and Elijah Wood-starring B-movie “Grand Piano” didn’t exactly suggest our next great auteur. But then “Whiplash” premiered at Sundance, and the buzz around the writer/director of the scintillating, thrilling jazz-drum-themed investigation into the cost of greatness has only got more thunderous since. It’s a tight, admirably nasty little picture, more “Amadeus” than “Fame,” and with an appropriately musical rhythm that feels entirely Chazelle’s (that bravura final sequence is something that directors twice his age wouldn’t have the balls to do). In about six weeks, he’ll probably have at least one Oscar nod, but he’s not going to be coasting: next year, he’ll shoot follow-up “La La Land,” a musical with “Whiplash” lead Miles Teller and Emma Watson (and he’s got a Neil Armstrong biopic in the works too).
Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard – “20,000 Days On Earth”
Part art project, part biography, part self-promotion, part documentary and part fiction, Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s Nick Cave movie is such a curious hybrid of contradictory impulses that it should by rights fly apart at the seams. But most surprising of all is just how entertaining the film is, despite almost comical levels of self-aggrandizing mythmaking. Fictionalizing a 24 hour period in Cave’s life which unfolds as a first-person documentary peppered with woozy, dreamlike encounters that may simply be ghosts of a dimly remembered past, ‘20,000 Days’ is saved from unbearable self-indulgence by the deadpan but unmistakably self-aware direction. But this is not a “Spinal Tap” style mockumentary either, as Cave himself (who co-wrote the script with the filmmakers) is complicit, and so the trio end up delivering a remarkably generous, warm and thought-provoking meditation on creative endeavor, the folly of ego and the sometimes heartbreaking insubstantiality of memory. Whether this proves a breakout in the traditional manner (ie leading toward a sci-fi/superhero franchise in a year or two) would seem to be in some doubt, simply because Forsyth and Pollard are established visual artists for whom this film is largely an extension and enlargement of themes they’d made their careers anyway. So who knows if their more esoteric, arty impulses will continue to find conduits to the big screen, but on this evidence we’d love to see more from them and are very glad those two worlds touched in such a singular, inspiring and darkly dazzling way with this multi-hyphenate movie.
Dan Gilroy – “Nightcrawler”
The children of writer/sculptor Ruth Dorothy Gaydos and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Frank Gilroy must’ve grown up in a nourishing creative environment: Tony (“Michael Clayton”) is an Oscar-nominated writer/director, while Dan got his first chance at helming a feature with this year’s great “Nightcrawler.” He was wise to wait to direct (whether by choice or not), instead focusing on screenwriting since his first gig as co-writer on 1992’s “Freejack.” More than a decade later, his script “Two For the Money” was made by D.J. Caruso, becoming a sizeable hit in 2005. On the basis of “Nightcrawler,” he may have just been waiting to mount the right project once he had enough cachet. However/whatever the fates aligned that allowed Dan Gilroy to make the film —a thrilling, blackly funny character study-cum-success story in the vein of “King of Comedy” with hints of “Taxi Driver,” all under the guise of a “Network”-style harsh media critique— is moot at this point, because the film should be a lasting work that should find even greater appreciation with time. He gifted star Jake Gyllenhaal with his best role to date amongst many strong recent turns (one that hopefully is recognized by the Academy), but also may be in line for an original screenplay nod himself. But like his brother Tony’s first feature as helmer, he’s just as deserving of a director nod.
Jennifer Kent – “The Babadook”
How do you know that your horror movie’s done the job? Well, a tweet from William Friedkin, director of “The Exorcist” (a picture sometimes named as the best ever in the genre), saying “I’ve never seen a more terrifying film than ‘The Babadook’” is a pretty good indication. That has to be particularly satisfying for the movie’s director, Australian helmer Jennifer Kent, given that she’s been developing her debut for nearly ten years. A sensation when it screened at Sundance, it centers on single mother Amelia (the astonishing Essie Davis), still a mess of grief after the death of her husband several years earlier, who’s struggling to raise her difficult, damaged son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). But a bad situation gets worse with the arrival of a mysterious book that threatens the arrival of a creature called The Babadook. Kent (who started as an actor and assisted Lars Von Trier on the set of “Dogville”) expertly milks the tension, leading to a horror film that’s less about jump scares and more about an atmosphere that buries itself into your skin and rattles your bones. But it’s also substantial and smart, using its genre background to explore loss, mourning and the nightmare of parenting. It’s one of the best horror movies in years, and looks likely to land Kent on the A-list: she was on the shortlist to direct superhero blockbuster “Wonder Woman.”
Steven Knight – “Locke”
Like others on this list, Steven Knight had a long career in other areas before he became a movie director. The British helmer started off in TV game shows, where he co-created “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire,” the success of which likely meant that he’d never have to work again. And so Knight, who was also a published novelist, switched streams and became a screenwriter, earning an Oscar nod for his first, Stephen Frears‘ excellent “Dirty Pretty Things,” Other projects followed, most notably David Cronenberg’s “Eastern Promises,” but things really blew up for him in the last couple of years. Directorial debut “Hummingbird,” starring Jason Statham, didn’t quite hit the mark, but off the back of the success of his TV show “Peaky Blinders,” Knight landed a huge critical hit with “Locke,” a one-man show featuring Tom Hardy as a man in crisis, set entirely within a moving car. A taut, beautifully acted morality play shot stylishly enough that it never drags or feels constrained, it’s a feat that more experienced directors would potentially turn their nose up at, but it’s one that proved the making of him as a director. Knight hasn’t yet picked his next directorial project, but he’s keeping busy: Bradley Cooper is starring in his long-gestating chef-related project, due for release next year, “Peaky Blinders” got a third season, and he’s reteaming with Hardy for TV show “Taboo,” a period piece about the East India Company.
Tayla Lavie – “Zero Motivation”
Tribeca is becoming an increasingly important showcase for new talent on the festival calendar, often sweeping up cracking new films overlooked by Sundance and SXSW. This year, the big breakout was “Zero Motivation,” a dark comedy that won comparisons to “Girls,” “M*A*S*H” and “Catch-22,” and took the festival’s top narrative award. All being well, it’ll put debut director Talya Lavie firmly on the map. The Israeli helmer’s first feature is based on her own experiences working in a military typing pool during her mandatory national service with the IDF. It loosely expands on a short film she made, centering on three bored women in a remote desert outpost, in a low-key, smart and authentic manner. Compared to “Office Space” and Robert Altman in our review, which called it “an exciting new original voice in cinema,” it won Lavie the festival’s Nora Ephron award in addition to the top prize, and Zeitgeist Films are releasing it in the US this week, so you’ll soon get to see what the fuss is about. Next up will be an adaptation of Sholem Aleichem’s short story “My First Romance,” which is set in Brooklyn, and should bring even more people to her fan club.
David Leitch & Chad Stahelski – “John Wick”
You gotta hand it to these first-time directors —who both cut their teeth for decades doing stunt work, the occasional acting gig, shooting second unit and a host of other production duties— because they seized their opportunity. David Leitch (Brad Pitt’s stunt double in “Fight Club”) and Chad Stahelski (he apparently did stunts on “Orgazmo”… huh) should have little trouble lining up their next gig. Nothing as of yet, though, has materialized, but studios with plans for mid-to-low budget action releases would be wise to hit them up because “John Wick” was one of many pleasant surprises this fall. A movie about a former badass hitman (Keanu Reeves) seeking revenge on the Russian meanies who killed his puppy, stole his car and left him for dead sounds just a tad silly, but damn if the movie doesn’t work like gangbusters. The setup is over quicker than you can say “I know kung fu,” and from there on you it’s on par with the first ‘Raid’ film: non-stop, brutal and flat-out cool action, shot more like golden era John McTiernan than modern day slice-and-dicers like Michael Bay or Paul Greengrass. Stahelski (Reeves’ stunt double on “Point Break” and “The Matrix” trilogy) and Leitch construct the action in fluid extended takes, utilizing Reeves’ gift for action choreography by letting it play out in a wider frame. It’s refreshing to see another action film, like “The Raid” and its sequel, made for adults (even though it’s a cartoonish reality, it’s an intense one and not for the faint of heart) and with real verve and love for the genre. More action movies like this please!
David Mackenzie – “Starred Up”
Scottish helmer David Mackenzie is easily the most experienced name on this list: his latest is actually his eighth film as director, and his previous work has included major movie stars like Ewan McGregor, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell and Ashton Kutcher in films like “Young Adam,” “Hallam Foe,” “Spread” and “Perfect Sense,” some of which were decent, some of which weren’t. But “Starred Up” is something else, a career reboot that felt like it was made a hungry film-school grad, and it should turn the way people think of Mackenzie on its head. A stark, brutal, yet tender prison drama starring Jack O’Connell as a violent inmate sent to the same lock-up as his jailbird father (Ben Mendelsohn), the film’s shot through with a raw energy and authenticity that’s closer to “A Prophet” than to most other British films in the genre, with Mackenzie making the movie feel like he’s bottled up a hurricane of tension, which at any second could kick through the screen at you and hit you with a sock full of snooker balls. It also shows the director marshalling one of the best ensemble casts of the year, with reliable pro Mendelsohn a perfect pair with O’Connell, who’s excellent in everything but particularly here. Next, he wants to reteam with O’Connell on a biopic of Scottish king Robert The Bruce, and we couldn’t be happier about that…
Theodore Melfi – “St. Vincent”
You might not have noticed —it’s not a hip critical favorite or a serious awards contender— but “St. Vincent” has quietly been one of the real indie hits of the year, taking nearly $40 million since it opened in October, putting it behind only “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” It’s all the more impressive that it comes from a first-time director, who managed to attract an all-star cast led by Bill Murray (after Jack Nicholson flirted with the project). Theodore Melfi, the movie’s writer/director, comes from a background of producing low-budget indies before he sat in the director’s chair himself, mostly on shorts and commercials. He managed to woo big-name producers and then Murray (as ever, an involved and lengthy process involving endless voicemails and a dash to LAX to discuss the script with the actor), who then helped to attract the rest of the cast, which includes big names like Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts and Chris O’Dowd. The film doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s a sturdy, tonally assured piece of work with a winning specificity to its voice and setting, giving Murray a real gift of a part in one of his best performances, one that the audience have clearly responded to in a big way. Given its runaway success, don’t be surprised to see Melfi land a big gig as his follow-up.
Jesse Moss – “The Overnighters”
Though it’s not had quite the same kind of high profile as “Citizenfour,” “The Overnighters” has been wowing non-fiction fans since it premiered at Sundance in January (winning the Special Jury Prize for Intuitive Filmmaking), and is generally seen as a safe bet for an Oscar nod this year. That should help to bump Jesse Moss, a veteran but relatively unsung documentarian behind it, a few steps up the ladder from here on out. Moss began his career working with Barbara Kopple before making his solo debut with 2003’s acclaimed “Con Man.” Several further pictures have followed, most notably “Speedo: A Demolition Derby Love Story” the same year, and 2008’s “Full Battle Rattle,” but none can match the impact of “The Overnighters.” Moss focuses his lens on Pastor Jay, a North Dakotan minister trying to shelter newcomers to his town against the locals’ support, and he’s an undeniably fascinating subject. But more than anything, it’s the honesty, fairness, compassion, and disinclination to shirk from the truth that makes the film have such an impact, and that’s what we look forward to seeing much of from Moss in the years to come.
Laura Poitras – “Citizenfour”
Easily the most talked-about non-fiction film of the year, a front-runner for the Documentary Oscar (and even, some suggest, a dark horse for a Best Picture nomination), “Citizenfour” looks to make director Laura Poitras, if she wasn’t already, one of the best known documentarians working today. Non-fiction fans have been aware of the filmmaker (who trained as a chef before going into filmmaking) for a while: debut “Flag Wars” was Spirit and Emmy nominated, she picked up a MacArthur Genius Grant in 2012, and 2006’s “My Country, My Country,” about life in Iraq under U.S. occupation, was Oscar-nominated. That film was the first in an unofficial trilogy, continued with 2010’s “The Oath,” about a pair of Yemeni men who both worked for bin Laden, about the war on terror: a trilogy that saw Poitras put under surveillance and harassed by her own government. “Citizenfour,” which focuses on Edward Snowden, completes that trilogy, and it might be the high point: made virtually in secret with an extraordinary level of access —Poitras was right on the ground floor of the story, intimately involved with Snowden before he went public. It’s totally gripping stuff, and the kind of film that looks to cause real change and attention, making Poitras one of the most vital names on this list.
Gillian Robespierre – “Obvious Child”
This year saw a number of thinkpieces and similar discussing the death of the romantic comedy. This may have come to pass — when was the last time you saw a great studio entry in the genre?— but one suspects that many of those pieces were written by people who hadn’t seen “Obvious Child,” a legitimately great modern comic love story that also managed to include genuinely progressive politics, granting the genre a breath of fresh of air. The woman responsible for the film (which details stand-up Jenny Slate attempt to get an abortion after a one-night stand, even as she falls for the man who put her into her predicament) is first-time feature director Gillian Robespierre, who expanded her short of the same name into her admirably fat-free, funny feature, which won raves at Sundance and became a sleeper hit for A24 (it was the company’s biggest movie of the year). Shot and edited while she was still juggling a day job at the Director’s Guild of America, Robespierre brings a perfect tonal balance, giving a serious subject levity without treating it lightly, and elicits some killer performances from her cast. She’s currently working on an untitled comedy about divorce, and we expect similarly top-notch stuff from her when that project gets made.
Jeremy Saulnier – “Blue Ruin”
Filmmakers: it’s always important to take rejection in your stride. This time two years ago, Jeremy Saulnier’s second feature, “Blue Ruin,” had been turned down for a place at Sundance. Within six months, the film was premiering at Cannes, beginning a year-long whirlwind that culminated in the film’s immediate cult status on its release back in the spring, and has put Saulnier (who also served as the movie’s stellar DP) on just about everyone’s one-to-watch lists. The director actually made his directorial debut with horror-comedy “Murder Party” back in 2007, but really stepped up his game this time, somehow finding a new lease of life in the most tired of genres, the revenge movie, by placing at its centre a bumbling, incompetent drifter (the excellent Macon Blair). Tense to an almost Hitchcockian degree, funny without sacrificing the stakes, gorgeously atmospheric, and lean enough to never outstay its welcome, the film suggests that Saulnier is the real deal in a way that “Murder Party” never suggested, and the film’s success must be especially gratifying given that he financed it mostly with his savings. Saulnier’s already in production on his follow-up, “Green Room,” which sees punks Imogen Poots and Anton Yelchin forced to fend off neo-Nazis led by Patrick Stewart. If that’s not one of the best movie of 2015, we’ll be stunned…
Justin Simien – “Dear White People”
What we want most from an emerging director is a distinctive voice, and the idea that their films couldn’t be made by anyone else. Perhaps the most distinctive voice we discovered this year was Justin Simien, whose directorial debut, the Sundance-acclaimed comedy “Dear White People,” was one of the most welcome surprises of the year. Simien is a former studio publicist who’s been working on the partially-crowdfunded film (initially intended to be a TV series called “2%”) since 2007. Based partially on his own Ivy League experiences, the film revolves around a traditionally African-American residence hall at a predominately white college, examining race in an America that after Obama’s election was suddenly said to be post-racial. Any number of terrible incidents this year have demonstrated why that was horseshit, but the lightness of touch in which Simien approaches his thorny subject-matter, and the complexity and compassion with which he writes his characters (brilliantly played by an excellent ensemble) made the film as entertaining as it was thought-provoking. Whatever Simien does next, we’ll be paying attention.
Robert Stromberg – “Maleficent”
What was the third biggest-grossing movie of the year (to date?) “X-Men?” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier?” “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes?” “Interstellar?” Wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong again —the film currently ranking only behind “Transformers: Age Of Extinction” and “Guardians Of The Galaxy” for the year is Disney’s “Maleficent,” its Angelina Jolie-starring rejig of the fairy tale “Sleeping Beauty.” That’s impressive, but doubly so given that the filmmaker behind it, Robert Stromberg, had never directed before. He’s no neophyte: Stromberg’s an experienced visual effects artist who graduated to production design around five years ago. And for the three movies he served in that job for, he won Oscars for two (“Avatar” and “Alice In Wonderland”), before landing the “Maleficent” gig. This isn’t to say that we thought Disney’s pointless reboot was a good movie, because it emphatically isn’t. But it’s not like Stromberg did a worse job on his movie than Tim Burton and Sam Raimi did on their own gaudy live-action fairy tales, so Stromberg’s certainly proven himself to be a capable pair of hands on that kind of grand canvas, and we suspect he’ll have another big project on his plate soon.
Best TV Breakthrough: Michelle MacLaren
It’s not uncommon these days for a TV helmer to make a leap into the blockbuster world: Alan Taylor and the Russo Brothers are just two recent names who’ve made the leap successfully. But it’s rarer for the announcement of a director stepping up to features to be greeted with overwhelming celebration and to follow active campaigning by fans, but that’s a measure of the strength of the work that Michelle MacLaren’s been doing on the small screen before she was announced as the director of Warner Bros’ upcoming “Wonder Woman.” MacLaren made her name as an executive producer on “The X-Files,” making her directorial debut on that show, and worked principally on network procedurals in the following years, but she really came to people’s attention thanks to “Breaking Bad,” on which she helmed eleven episodes across five seasons, including a number of the show’s highlights. She’s also been a regular director on “The Walking Dead,” with her contribution this year marking a high watermark for the show (that would be season four, episode sixteen “A“). That’s just some of the stellar work she did in 2014, however: she returned to “Game Of Thrones,” having debuted in season three on the show, for the great episodes “Oathkeeper” and “First Of His Name,” as well as doing an episode of “The Leftovers.” Next up, MacLaren’s doing the second episode of “Breaking Bad” spin-off “Better Call Saul,’ before turning her attention full time to magic lassoos and invisible jets for “Wonder Woman,” which will star Gal Gadot, and hit theaters on June 23rd, 2017. We can’t wait to see what she does with it.
Honorable Mentions: Some of the other debuts, sophomore efforts and general step-changes that impressed us this year include: Yuval Adler’s Venice 2013 title “Bethlehem“; E.L. Katz’s pitch black, gross-out “Cheap Thrills“; Eliza Hittman’s lovely, heartfelt “It Felt Like Love“; Anthony Chen’s shockingly underseen “Ilo Ilo”; Charlie MacDowell’s Sundance favorite “The One I Love”; Tim Sutton’s lyrical, abstract “Memphis”; David Wnendt’s transgressively icky “Wetlands”; Leigh Janiak’s horror debut “Honeymoon”; terrific Israeli film “Policeman” by Nadav Lapid that finally got a release this year; Hong Khao’s lovely “Lilting”; Daniel Patrick Carbone’s wonderful “Hide Your Smiling Faces”; and Scott Cohen’s debut film “Red Knot” with Olivia Thirlby also marks him out as one to watch.
Slightly bigger names who pinged a little higher on the register this year include Jim Mickle who really broke out with last year’s remake of “We Are What We Are” but made good on that with “Cold in July”; Lenny Abrahamson continues his ascendency with the brilliantly offbeat “Frank”; Alex van Warmerdam has been around and winning international awards for a long time but it was “Borgman” that really had us taking proper notice; and while Ned Benson’s ambitious release strategy for “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” rather backfired, even the edited-together ‘Them’ version shows a great deal of promise for the future.
Who have we missed from our roundup of the Breakthrough Directors class of ‘14? Let us know in the comments.
–Oli Lyttelton, Erik McClanahan, Jessica Kiang & Rodrigo Perez