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On The Rise 2012: 10 Directors Who Look To Be Bright Sparks Of The Future

by Oliver Lyttelton
May 15, 2012 2:33 PM
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Like it or not, filmmaking is undeniably a director's medium. It wasn't always like that, of course: it was only the coming of the auteur theory in the 1950s and 1960s that popularized the idea of the director as the person responsible for all that was great and terrible about a picture. And while anyone who's worked in film knows that it's a collaborative medium, there's still no better way of seeing where the form might be going in the next few years than by looking at the directors who've been making splashes of late.

So, hot on the heels of our On The Rise pieces focusing on actors, actresses and screenwriters, we've picked out ten directors who've arrived in a big way in the last year or so, and look set for even greater things in the near future. Any tips of your own? Let us know in the comments section below.

Zal Batmanglij
One of the best films of the year so far is one that first appeared right at the beginning of 2011: Zal Batmanglij's "Sound Of My Voice." The film premiered at Sundance in January 2011, part of a double-header with "Another Earth," both co-written by and starring new indie darling Brit Marling. The box office has been pretty disappointing, but the few who have seen the film, which follows a pair of amateur documentary filmmakers investigating a mysterious cult run by a woman who claims to be from the future, know that it marks Batmanglij as a serious talent. The son of famous Persian food writer Najmieh Batmanglij (and brother of Vampire Weekend member Rostam, who scored "Sound Of My Voice"), he met Marling and "Another Earth" director Mike Cahill at Georgetown, before going on to AFI film school, where he graduated in 2006. Marling and Batmanglij started writing their project in 2008, and when financing fell through, they decided to make it with what little resources they had. You wouldn't know it to watch the film: it's a remarkably confident and complex debut, with a script that's not quite like anything you've seen, and focused, taut direction. The film landed the duo on radars in a big way, and Fox Searchlight soon snapped up their next project, "The East" (a film that they'd tried to get made before "Sound Of My Voice," with a cast including Andrew Garfield and Rooney Mara, names that financiers felt weren't big enough at the time. Oops...) Starring Marling as a woman who infiltrates an anarchist terrorist group, and with Alexander Skarsgard, Ellen Page, Toby Kebbell and Patricia Clarkson among the cast, the film is being edited, and we're guessing will hit festivals by the end of the year. From there, the sky's the limit.

Bradford Harrison/Playmaker Magazine
Gareth Evans
As far as saviors of action cinema go, Gareth Evans is an unlikely one. The 31-year-old hails from the tiny Welsh village of Hirwaun, and only five years ago was teaching Welsh as a foreign language over the internet while trying to get his micro-budget debut "Footsteps" completed. Unable to get any traction in the British film industry, the director moved with his wife to her original home of Indonesia, and found work making a documentary about the country's martial art pencak silat, which was virtually unknown outside the nation. It was there that he met Iko Uwais, a diminuitive practicioner who was working as a driver for a telecom company at the time. The duo teamed up for 2009's "Merantau," an actioner that proved to be a hit at home and on the festival circuit, but it was nothing compared to the sensation caused by their follow-up "The Raid," which premiered at TIFF last year. The film, made for a relatively meager budget, is a tight-as-a-drum actioner starring Uwais as a SWAT team member stranded in a tower block full of drug lord henchmen that are ready to murder the hell out of him, and it sent genre fans ballistic immediately, with comparisons to "Die Hard" and "Hard Boiled" flowing freely. And they're entirely justified: the film isn't just brilliantly choreographed, but thrillingly shot, the camera ever moving, but always keeping the ass-kicking clear as day. It's made Evans an overnight star, and while he's prepping a sequel to "The Raid" with Uwais, "Berental," he's starting to make inroads into Hollywood, signing on to direct former Darren Aronofsky heist project "Breaking The Bank" at Universal

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  • Rena Moretti | March 3, 2013 12:59 PMReply

    Film isn't a director's medium any longer. It's a studio executive medium. That's why recent films have been stinking so much. The studios want inexperienced directors with little to no spine so that they can control them and get the abhorrent final product that is quickly killing the film industry (if you don't believe me look at the studios quarterly reports and see how little money they're making in psite of retrenching and making fewer and fewer movies).

  • ginger | May 18, 2012 8:26 PMReply

    "Mulloy has filmmaking in her genes: while New York born, she's the son of two acclaimed animators..."

    And it appears she's had a sex change.

  • Rena Moretti | March 3, 2013 12:59 PM

    The salient point being that he/she is a daughter/son of the industry. That's how bad movies are born: Hollywood hires its own regardless.

  • Joe | May 17, 2012 8:35 PMReply

    One last point. Most of these directors will simply fizzle and remain anonymous, as most do. These young directors that get acclaim for their small or independent film early in their career rarely become known or name directors that follow it up with anything worthy.

    I'm willing to bet five years from now, at least 8 of these 10 won't be doing anything all that special in the film world.

  • Joe | May 17, 2012 8:32 PMReply

    If you're talking about pure action and stunt cinema, Len Wiseman is as good as any. People can say what they want, but his Die Hard film kicked ass. Too bad the studio butchered the film by cutting it up to get a PG-13 rating.

  • Rena Moretti | March 3, 2013 1:06 PM

    Sorry, the reply below was for the post above.

    About Len Wiseman, he is terrible. That's why he works so much. His Die Hard film was atrociously bad. A paean to bad CGI effects and nonsensical plotting. He too Die Hard from a series that stretched reality to a (badly) animated cartoon.

    None of his movies have anything to recommend them He is the quintessential yes-man who keeps working because he keeps producing the awful tripe executives think their precious 14-18 demographic want.

  • Rena Moretti | March 3, 2013 1:03 PM

    The reason will be that they either showed some signs of independent thinking and weren't ever hired again or that their trust fund ran out before Hollywood was able to believe their PR (and believe me being in those Top Ten lists is 100% about PR money bieng spent, no matter what journalists pretend).

  • Bo | May 16, 2012 7:06 AMReply

    Two others: Jamie Travis and Lee Toland Krieger

  • Marty Eli | May 15, 2012 6:28 PMReply

    How about Director Harald Zwart , who's film "The Karate Kid" with Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan that grossed over $350 million worldwide?

  • Oliver Lyttelton | May 15, 2012 4:43 PMReply

    We talked about Jeff Nichols when we first started talking about this list a year ago, but at this point, I'd say he risen rather on the rise: his new film is in competition in Cannes, after all.

  • jingmei | May 15, 2012 10:21 PM

    Indeed. Then maybe Zal Batmanglij the next one, he really rocks. And thanks for the notes about him and the awesome Vampire Weekend.

  • Sean | May 15, 2012 4:13 PMReply

    Yeah. Jeff Nichols should be on the list. And: Ti West > Adam Wingard

  • Arch | May 15, 2012 4:29 PM

    Ti West already has a few movies behind him, I guess that makes Wingard the "upcoming" one? On the other hand Wheatley could be in the list. That said it's a nice survey ...

  • Viktor Jerner | May 15, 2012 3:18 PMReply

    Jeff Nichols??

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