So far in our On The Rise series this year, we've looked at talent on the ascension in front of the camera, with a cluster of actors and actresses who look set for great things. We've also highlighted promising cinematographers, writers and composers who've already proven their worth, and look like they're about to be more and more in demand as time goes on.
So to close things off, there was only really one option: the directors. While we believe that the auteur theory can be overblown -- filmmaking is about collaboration at its heart, as our previous On The Rise pieces demonstrate -- the movies we love simply wouldn't exist without directors and their visions. And one of the most exciting things about this job is discovering new filmmakers who look ready to deliver in a big way in the near future, and below, you'll find a dozen that have gotten on our radar recently, directors from whom we can't wait to see the next work. Take a look below, and let us know your own picks in the comments section.
All of the directors below have faced struggles in getting where they are, but none to the extent of Saudi Arabian filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour, who didn't just make the first feature film to be shown outside her native country, but has managed to do so in a nation where theaters are banned, and rights for women are severely limited. The size of her achievement is impressive enough that it risks overshadowing her film, "Wadjda" (which will screen at Tribeca next month, before Sony Pictures Classics release it later in the year), but fortunately, the film is so good that long after the backstory has been forgotten, her talents will remain apparent to pretty much everyone. The daughter of Saudi poet Abdul Rahman Mansour, she studied comparative literature at the American University in Cairo, and started off working in the oil industry, but found herself frustrated by its patriarchal nature, and turned to film. She directed her first short, "Who?" and followed it up with two others, "The Bitter Journey" and "The Only Way Out," which started winning prizes on the festival circuit, and then made the documentary "Women Without Shadows." Like that film, "Wadjda," which premiered at Venice last year, deals with the situation of women in Saudi Arabia, but it's never heavy-handed or polemical, instead serving as the context for a warm, funny and humane film that, while reminiscent of Italian neo-realism and more recent Iranian films, is very much in her own voice. It was one of the best films of last year, and we're sure that when the rest of the world catches up to it, they'll be just as excited to see what al-Mansour does next as we are.
2012 was a big year for director Rick Alverson, with two films hitting theaters: the acclaimed Sundance hit "The Comedy," and "New Jerusalem." This double-whammy meant that, by the time 2013 rolled around, Alverson had become a firm Playlist favorite. The prolific and articulate filmmaker was actually better known as a musician for some time, releasing several albums on indie label Jagujaguwar (behind Dinosaur Jr, Bon Iver and Foxygen, among others), mostly under the name Spokane. But the Virginia native, something of a polymath, wasn't going to stop there, and having made music videos for labelmates like Sharon Van Etten, and other artists including Bonny "Prince" Billy, moved into features with 2010's little-seen "The Builder." More attention came with "New Jerusalem," which starred Will Oldham and co-writer Colm O'Leary (who also penned and starred in "The Builder"), a smart and hypnotic drama about the friendship between an Afghanistan war veteran and a Christian. It picked up strong reviews at SXSW in 2011, but bigger things were to come at Sundance the following year, with "The Comedy." The idea of a look at aging Brooklyn hipsters might sound a little rote for the independent film world, but the film, which starred Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim and LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy, is a savage, ugly and bleak satire that was one of the favorite films of 2012 for many Playlist staffers. It might have been divisive in some quarters, but it firmly cemented Alverson's place on the indie map for us. Next up is a reunion with Colm O'Leary on "Clement," a period piece, and "Entertainment," which Heidecker will be involved in, set to star abrasive cult comic Neil Hamburger.
Danish filmmaker and screenwriter Nikolaj Arcel is not necessarily a new name. His feature debut in 2004, the political thriller “King's Game,” won him Best Director at the Danish Film Academy Awards which is not a bad way to start your career. Two solid features followed, but getting nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at last year’s Academy Awards for "A Royal Affair" launched him into a new strata. Set in the 18th century, and focusing on mentally ill King Christian VII of Denmark while chronicling an affair between the King’s wife and the royal physician, the film starred Mads Mikkelsen and boasted two career-making performances from Alicia Vikander and Mikkel Følsgaard (both on their way to becoming bankable actors, Vikander arguably already there). But on top of that, the film is directed with an assured elegance, dramatic yet unshowy, focused on performances and storytelling fundamentals. If anything, Arcel feels like a completely reliable director who positions his actors for success, and it’s hard to argue with that approach. So what's Arcel doing for an encore? Well, Hollywood has come calling. On tap is a feature adaptation of “The Power Of The Dog,” the epic Don Winslow (“Savages”) bestseller framed around the drug war and a 30-year struggle between a hard DEA agent and a family of cartel kingpins in Mexico, and also directing a remake of Alfred Hitchcock's classic psychological thriller "Rebecca" for DreamWorks and Working Title. It's not too shabby of a gig and proves that others are fully confident in his abilities.