Amy Seimetz (“Sun Don’t Shine”)
Some people act, write and direct, and some people tell the story of the year in film all their own, “Zelig”-style. In 2013, Seimetz was one of those people in the independent world. As a member of the ensemble of cheeky no-fi horror crossover “You’re Next,” Seimetz ended up cavorting with contemporaries Ti West and Joe Swanberg through a relatively mainstream-y slasher. She also became an unlikely love interest in Shane Carruth’s bewitching “Upstream Color,” giving one of the year’s strongest lead performances. And Seimetz (who also popped up in Ti West’s as-yet-unreleased “The Sacrament”) made her mark as a director as well, helming the sweaty, steamy no-budget noir “Sun Don’t Shine.” It’s a film that plays out as a mystery, gradually unpeeling itself to reach a charred core, except that one can’t help but notice you’ll keep unpeeling long after the movie is over. Seimetz has made a disquieting debut, a tense picture where not much of consequence happens, but the audience remains riveted to their seats, as if one wrong move while watching the picture could yield a nasty punishment for the characters in front of you. It’s a small film, but once that announces a major talent behind the screen, one who isn’t beholden to small budgets, but rather enthralled by them. “Sun Don’t Shine” never feels slight, and never feels less than vital.
Shaka King (“Newlyweeds”)
NYU grad Shaka King’s debut feature is unclassifiable, if only because it so successfully melds two things mainstream filmgoers love. One is the romantic comedy, and King scored heavily with unknowns Trae Harris and Amari Cheatom as a married couple who rely on each other for companionship, love and understanding. And also bud, since the other thing filmgoers love is comedic drug use. There’s a catharsis to watching others onscreen interact with a controlled substance, and in “Newlyweeds” there’s no shortage of the sticky icky to please the potheads in the audience. But it’s not all jokes for this film, as King has to measure the balancing act of carefree pot use and pot-fueled gags and fantasies, but also the realities of when a vice starts to pry at the relationship between two people. It’s essentially a love triangle where one part of the tripod doesn’t speak, allowing the film to reflect on the social realities of being middle-to-lower-middle class in New York City and wanting to indulge in a bit of luxury once in awhile. King’s first film is an absolute pleasure from beginning to end, and earlier this year we named it one of the all-time great pot films, but it’s also one of the year’s best films full stop.
There were many filmmakers we liked whom we nonetheless felt made films that straddled the line between 2012 and 2013, including Adam Leon (“Gimme The Loot”), Lucy Molloy (“Una Noche”), Andrew Semans (“Nancy, Please”) and Terence Nance (“An Oversimplification Of Her Beauty”). Among this year’s rookies, there were strong debuts we felt we should mention from the likes of Stace Passon (“Concussion”), John Krokidas (“Kill Your Darlings”), Kieran Darcy-Smith (“Wish You Were Here”), Rebecca Thomas (“Electrick Children”), Aaron Schimberg (“Go Down Death”), Andrew Dosunmu ("Mother Of George"), Jim Mickles ("We Are What We Are") and Ana Piterbarg (“Everyone Has A Plan”).
Among bigger names, the team of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg scored a $100 million hit their first time out with the very funny “This Is The End,” while Keanu Reeves revealed some interesting action chops with the diverting “Man Of Tai Chi.” It can be intimidating making your big screen debut on a studio level, but that didn’t stop Fede Alvarez (“The Evil Dead”) and Andres Muschietti (“Mama”) from making an impression, and while their films slightly falter in the third acts, they’ve deservedly become in-demand names with the studios. James DeMonaco also used the horror genre to prop up his career with his second film, “The Purge,” and should note the efforts from second-time filmmakers Hannah Fidell (“A Teacher”) and Jeremy Sauliner (festival fave “Blue Ruin,” coming in ‘14). — Jessica Kiang, Gabe Toro, Katie Walsh, Cory Everett