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Best Of 2013: The Breakout Directors Of The Year

by The Playlist Staff
November 27, 2013 5:20 PM
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Sebastián Lelio

Sebastian Lelio (“Gloria”)
You often see the phrase “celebration of life” as a way of describing a film or book, and it never really makes much sense. Every time we take a breath, it’s a celebration of life. Every time we kiss someone, it’s a celebration of life. We really don’t need to gather together and actually celebrate life because we go around doing it every day of our lives. That being said (caveat time!), Sebastian Lelio’s “Gloria” is a celebration of a specific person’s life, so it certainly makes sense that one would be so ebullient about the subject matter. The Spanish-language picture, Lelio’s fifth, was quickly snapped up for an Oscar-qualifying run by Roadside Attractions, and it’s easy to see why. The title character, a middle-aged woman a decade removed from a divorce, remains oblivious that she’s consistently the last one at the party, drinking herself to the bottom of a glass each and every night. It’s mere happenstance that a chance meeting with an older man gives her the opportunity to be an important part of someone else’s life, but of course there are various challenges. From Gloria’s perspective, her time is being wasted by a schleppy Romeo who doesn’t have his affairs in order. But “Gloria,” slyly, is also about the compromises we make when we’re with someone else, when love and affection is no match for chance, opportunity and circumstance. Lelio could have made an oppressive, downbeat picture, but “Gloria” is packed with spicy humor and a playful spirit that never lets Gloria (as played by an excellent Paulina Garcia) become a victim.

Jordan Vogt-Roberts, Toy's House

Jordan Vogt-Roberts “The Kings of Summer”
Emerging from the comedy world, Vogt-Roberts is a veteran of Funny Or Die sketches, though he caught most people’s attentions with the short “Successful Alcoholics.” While that film had a broadly comedic tone, it showed enough of a handling of actors and themes enough to bode well for his inevitable big screen debut. That approached in the form of “The Kings of Summer,” and while he enlisted comic veterans like Nick Offerman, Allison Brie, Tony Hale, Thomas Middleditch and Hannibal Burress, the core of the picture are the three young boys at the center. 'Kings,' which features a trio of kids building their own four-wall sanctuary in the woods away from civilization, feels like a spiritual relative to children’s films of the '80s, which weren’t beholden to demographics and catchphrases and featured oddballs and outsiders with filthy vocabularies. But while Vogt-Roberts can’t resist the allure of a good gag, and arguably gives Offerman enough improv time to sidetrack the story, he’s clearly got an aptitude for building onscreen relationships and depicting natural conflict that goes beyond simple sketch-comedy prowess. While watching “The Kings of Summer” you get the sense that there’s a funnier—not better—version of the film sitting on the cutting room floor. Which is, if anything, exciting, as he’ll likely learn to mesh comedic and drama elements in a clearer way with his follow-up effort.

Afternoon Delight

Jill Soloway (“Afternoon Delight”)
While the '90s saw a new wave of directors emerging from the world of music videos, the aughts have seen more and more filmmakers crossing over from the small screen (and in some cases, pinging back and forth between the two). “Community” directors Joe and Anthony Russo landed the upcoming “Captain America” sequel, “Game of Thrones” director Alan Taylor just crushed the global box office with “Thor: The Dark World,” and on a smaller scale, earlier this year “Six Feet Under” and “United States of Tara” writer/producer Jill Soloway made her big screen debut with “Afternoon Delight.” Judging the film’s log line—a bored Silverlake couple hires a stripper to be their nanny—you would think you might be in for a broadly sketched comedy, as we did when we sat down for the film’s Sundance premiere. But we quickly learned that Soloway was a filmmaker determined to keep it real. The film is ostensibly a comedy, but one with careful shading unafraid to explore real issues and perhaps ironically for someone coming from TV, it plays less like a sitcom than 99% of rom-coms these days. Like Lisa Cholodenko or Nicole Holofcener (who have also both also dabbled in TV) before her, Soloway is willing to hang her vision on a somewhat commercial hook but unafraid to color outside the lines too (just watch for that Cassavetes-inspired third act). The jury at Sundance recognized this and Soloway took home the Directing Award for the U.S. Dramatic Competition. Though her debut was regrettably underappreciated while in theatres, we’re still expecting big things from her in the future. Best case scenario: Kathryn Hahn becomes her full-time muse (Keener to her Holofcener) and they make a dozen more films together.


Haifaa Al Mansour (“Wadjda”)
"Wadjda" was always going to get a certain amount of attention on the festival circuit: it was the first ever film made in Saudi Arabia, and directed by a female filmmaker, no less. But there's a difference between a well-meaning novelty and a legitimately great piece of work, and it was thanks to director Haifaa Al-Mansour that her debut fell into the latter category. Al-Mansour, the daughter of Saudi poet Abdul Rahman Mansour, and a former oil industry executive, had made a few splashes at festivals with shorts and documentaries before now, but "Wadjda" is an extraordinary calling card going forward—gorgeously shot, delicately balanced, always humane, and summoning up rich performances from a not-massively experienced cast. There's a confidence shot through the picture that never makes it feel like a debut, let alone a debut that was often directed while Al-Mansour was in a car communicating with the crew by walkie-talkie, lest she be seen mixing with men in public. For all the restrictions, it's a film of immense freedom and humanity, and we can't wait to see what she comes up with next.

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  • 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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