Best Of 2013: The Breakout Directors Of The Year

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by The Playlist Staff
November 27, 2013 5:20 PM
14 Comments
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Every year, film buffs get themselves in a lather over the latest from their favorite experienced directors. The calendar is marked for the next Spielberg, I’ll be there opening day for Scorsese’s latest, I am all about Spike Lee, etc. But the real pleasure in being a film fan is stumbling upon the undiscovered, lifting a rock and uncovering a new talent, a new voice, with a brand new vocabulary for us to learn. The Scorsese films will be there for us to discover and rediscover whenever we want. In 2013, however, there was only one Shaka King picture, there was only one Lake Bell joint.

What’s exciting about catching a filmmaker with their debut or breakout movie is seeing the birth of a new cinematic language. Not every filmmaker has all the pieces in place so quickly: Brandon Cronenberg’s “Antiviral” was one of the year’s clunkier debuts, but it was considerably more polished than the early experimental fare from his father David. Even the more modest debuts could foretell the filmmakers that will be running Hollywood a decade from now. And when the earlier films are as accomplished as the ones featured in the following piece, it paints a rosy picture for the future of the industry, one we just don’t get to see very often.

Here are a few fresh and emerging faces in filmmaking who provided 2013 with some of its cinematic highlights. If you haven’t seen these films yet, make sure you rectify this soon.

Destin Daniel Cretton (“Short Term 12”)
Expanding upon his short, Cretton’s “Short Term 12” has become one of those summertime indie hits that, as the end of the year approaches, many can’t stop talking about. Cretton tackles some sobering material in this, his second film, dealing with troubled youth in a group home. But it’s also not a bummer. Cretton doesn’t skimp on the ugly details from which these children are superficially isolated, and the area itself is a depressing, paint-chipped summer camp of restrictions, rules, and maximum supervision. But thanks to the warmth of a cast with great chemistry, he emphasizes not just the everyday clock-punching struggles of this staff, but also the illustration of people making changes in the world, chisel by chisel. Rarely do you see independent films with this sense of time and place, but “Short Term 12” feels both confident and relaxed, emotionally specific without being overtly somber or intense. “Short Term 12” is very much like the best of crowd-pleasers, a warm, funny and inviting film that earns its keep by taking an incisive but heartfelt look at a difficult subject, and for Cretton, who is attached to the high-profile “The Glass Castle” starring Jennifer Lawrence next, it’s a helluva calling card.

Lake Bell

Lake Bell (“In A World...”)
Lake Bell pulled quadruple duty on her directorial debut, “In A World…” clocking in credits as writer, director, star and producer, giving real credence to the saying “if you want something done right, do it yourself.” And the result is a vastly charming comedy that also injects the film with a real world dose of feminist subtext. Set in the highly competitive movie voiceover world, Bell manages to gently skewer Hollywood cliches (“Amazon Games,” anyone?) and workplace sexism. She also manages a hell of a cast, stacked with character actor heavyweights (including Bell herself) such as Fred Melamed, Ken Marino, Michaela Watkins, Rob Corddry, Demetri Martin, Tig Notaro, Nick Offerman and Alexandra Holden (with notable cameos from Eva Longoria and Geena Davis). With that group, how can you go wrong? But Bell does much of the heavy lifting with regard to performance as well, as the dizzy but determined Carol, and the result is one of the most satisfying comedies in years, with an ending that will make you want to shout “PREACH!” in a crowded theater. Her comedic voice is a welcome, and needed, one indeed.

David Lowery (“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”)
Lowery is no newbie: the indie film lifer has been working under the radar for years now, and carries an editing credit on two of the year’s finest independent films, “Upstream Color” and “Sun Don’t Shine,” as well as the moody, as-yet-unreleased “Nor’easter.” But it’s his latest film, “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” that has placed him on the map. A lot of that is due to a relatively high wattage of stars in the picture, all doing terrific work: Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara are heartbreaking as a separated couple of criminal lovers, and as voices of conscience, Keith Carradine, Ben Foster and Nate Parker are excellent in one of the year’s finest ensembles. But it’s not necessarily the depth of their work as much as how they’re used by Lowery. His approach echoes Terrence Malick in its emphasis on the fluidity of nature and the inner monologue of voiceover sifting through the story like fingers through grass. The actors themselves are forces of nature, with Affleck and Mara distant buoys in the ocean, and others representing nature’s obstacles to keep them apart. A movie like “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” doesn’t announce itself loudly as it merely wafts through the air, reminding moviegoers of an earlier time, a combination of the romantic outlaw poetry of “Badlands” but also the neo-contemporary western slant of John Milius’ “Dillinger.” This is no throwback, but rather a moment in time, one that envelopes the audience. Lowery’s picture isn’t one you watch, but one you get inside, only able to walk out of hours later, long after you’ve physically left the theater.

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14 Comments

  • Rob Roy | December 28, 2013 12:35 PMReply

    Thanks for a list. Some of these films I´v seen (Newlyweeds a few days ago) , some not, but definitely goin´to watch them when the time comes. But people, listen to me and look for little indie film The Battery, it´s labeled under the horror genre (zombies), but it´s much more than that. Great character piece with awesome soundtrack and very solid performances. I saw it a few days ago and it´s the last movie this year which sneaked on my TOP 10 list. Go and see it, for me probably the best micro budget indie since Bellflower

  • newyorker | December 4, 2013 2:53 PMReply

    my 10 favorite breakout directors this year are
    1-Ryan Coogler-Fruitvale Station
    2-Henry Alex Rubin-Disconnect
    3-Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg-This Is The End
    4-Joseph Gordon Levitt-Don Jon
    5-Fede Alvarez-Evil Dead
    6-Maggie Carey-The To Do List
    7-Nat Faxon & Jim Rash-The Way, Way Back
    8-Benson Lee-Battle Of The Year
    9-Stuart Blumberg-Thanks For Sharing
    10-Lake Bell-In A World

  • Franco | December 2, 2013 2:50 PMReply

    James Franco as a Director should not be ignored for brilliant As I Lay Dying (Tim Blake Nelson as Anse gives an Oscar winning performance) and Child of God (Scott Haze as Lester Ballard another Oscar winning performance).

    Franco adapted two very different but extremely difficult novels that no one has ever tried before, he should be applauded for his achievements.

  • Chris | November 28, 2013 4:42 PMReply

    Gimmie the Loot should not be an honorable mention.

  • Luke | November 28, 2013 12:37 PMReply

    Nevermind 2013, I'd suggest that The Act of Killing is one of the most remarkable documentaries of all time; one that will pervade the cultural, social and political zeitgeist for years to come.

    I'd also vouch for Clio Bernard with The Selfish Giant. Sure, she found some success with the documentary The Arbour, but I think that this new joint puts her right up there at the front with the Dardenne Brothers and Ken Loach as a poetic-naturalist filmmaker. Very bold, beautiful and resonating stuff.

  • Five Easy Pieces | November 28, 2013 2:04 AMReply

    Ryan Coogler's Fruitvale Station did not win the Camera D'or for Best First Film at Cannes, as the article states. Anthony Chen's Ilo Ilo won.

  • GERARD KENNELLY | November 28, 2013 1:20 AMReply

    i want to watch ,,,

    KILL YOUR DARLINGS........ dane dehaan

    EVERYBODY HAS A PLAN ...... might do for viggo what dead ringers did for irons

    MAMA ........ headhunters star nikolai coster waldau

    CONCUSSION ...... a fearless sexy performance by all accounts

  • BRAD LEE COUP PAIR | November 28, 2013 1:10 AMReply

    i have to say the only film this year that stucks out in my mind when it
    comes to direction is The Place Beyond The Pines

  • THOR | November 27, 2013 5:17 PMReply

    I guess Sebastian Silva and Joe Swanberg don't count?

  • Uhhh | December 29, 2013 9:46 PM

    as breakout directors? no, they don't.

  • oogle monster | November 27, 2013 1:10 PMReply

    In a recent interview (promoting Catching Fire), Jennifer Lawrence said she is PRODUCING The Glass Castle. There was no mention of her actually going in front of the camera. Any confirmation?

  • Carlos | November 27, 2013 1:58 PM

    I'm pretty sure she's also starring. The author of the memoir has even commented on her casting.

  • Kevin | November 27, 2013 1:22 PM

    Click on the link and you'll find all the info you need to know ;)

  • DG | November 27, 2013 12:25 PMReply

    No Shane Carruth? I know he's already got Primer but this year felt like more of a 'breakthrough' for him

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