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

Features
by Oliver Lyttelton
May 15, 2012 2:33 PM
14 Comments
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Adam Wingard
Few would deny that the horror genre needs a serious shake-up: while each year brings one or two gems, for the most part, what we get are strings of sequels, remakes and derivative rip-offs borrowing from the same "The Exorcist" or "Halloween" template that's dominated cinemas for decades. But could Adam Wingard be the next leading light of the genre? The director, a Full Sail University grad, has been working for some time, mostly on the fringes of the festival circuit, winning acclaim for 2007's hallucinogenic "Pop Skull." Several impressive short films followed (so much so that he got his own sidebar at the 2011 Fantasia Film Festival focusing on his work), but the last couple of years have really seen him gain traction. First up was 2010's "A Horrible Way To Die," about a serial killer stalking his alcohlic ex-girlfriend, which premiered at TIFF to raves from horror fans. Then he co-directed "Autoerotic" with friend and collaborator Joe Swanberg: a portmanteau picture about four sexually confused Chicago couples that's the best thing that Swanberg's been involved with in recent years, and showed that Wingard has talents beyond the horror world. And it looks like he might be set to cross over to the mainstream before the end of the year. His latest, "You're Next," about a family reunion interrupted by a home invasion, premiered at TIFF last year to strong notices. The film might sound rote, but by all accounts, Wingard gives the genre a fresh spin with crowd-pleasing thrills, and the film was snapped up by Lionsgate, which hopes that it'll become the same kind of sleeper hit that festival pick ups "Saw," "Paranormal Activity" and "Insidious" have all been in recent years. The company still haven't set a release date, but it's suspected that it'll land in time for Halloween, and the delay shouldn't ring alarm bells -- nearly two years passed between Paramount buying "Paranormal Activity" and the film becoming a worldwide phenomenon. Either way, Wingard has continued to work, contributing segments to Sundance horror hits "V/H/S" and "The ABCs of Death," which are both also set to land in the fall. 

Benh Zeitlin
Benh Zeitlin
For all the films with buzz coming out of Sundance this year, none were as rapturously received as Benh Zeitlin's "Beasts of the Southern Wild," a magic-realist tale of a father and daughter battling for survival in a landscape of Biblical floods and mythical creatures. The film walked away from Park City with critical raves, the Dramatic Jury Prize and a distribution deal from Fox Searchlight, and has meant that film writers everywhere have had to start spelling Ben with an 'h'. Zeitlin is a Wesleyan grad whose parents are both folklorists, and that's an interest that seems to loom large in his own work, from his "Moby Dick"-esque short "Egg" to 'Beasts,' which displays an ambition virtually unheard of in low-budget cinema. After graduation, Zeitlin moved to New Orleans, where he helped to found the independent collective Court 13, whose members include Spike Jonze protege Ray Tintori ("Death To The Tinman"). With them, he made the half-hour short "Glory At Sea," a precursor to "Beasts of the Southern Wild," with similar fantasy-elements and a tone haunted by the effects of Hurricane Katrina on his adopted city, and when it premiered at SXSW in 2008, it won the Wholphin Award (which was pretty much invented entirely to honor the film's ambition). Soon after, Zeitlin started working on his feature debut, and after an epic, almost Herzogian production, it bowed in Park City this January, and went on to follow the footsteps of festival grads "Precious" and "Martha Marcy May Marlene" in being selected for the Un Certain Regard section in Cannes -- it'll show at the festival on Friday. Where Zeitlin goes from here is unclear. He seems far too idiosyncratic to sell out to the studio system, but his talent is so immense that companies like Fox Searchlight will surely be lining up to finance whatever he decides to do next. Back around the time of "Glory At Sea," he mentioned another potential feature project, called "Santa Maria," which "takes place in 90 minutes of real time aboard a boat led by a maniac who has acquired all the ingredients for a new civilization but has gotten stranded in the middle of the Arctic ocean." Could that be the next step? Either way, we'll be watching. 

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14 Comments

  • 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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