From Greta Gerwig to Jordan Peele and Alice Rohrwacher: 10 filmmakers to watch out for in 2020s
Greta Gerwig, Drew Goddard, David Robert Mitchell are among the ten emerging filmmakers who could keep the wheels spinning and the lights on in this industry in flux.
Succeeding in today's oversaturated market of franchise cinema is challenging, especially when the way we watch films is in constant flux. Though the streaming services have provided filmmakers a better chance to get their work out into the world, it's never been harder to create the truly unique experiences that cinema is known for. Imagine if Apocalypse Now was pitched to the studios today.
However, it hasn't stopped some of the young subversive filmmakers from pushing boundaries and bringing a touch of novelty to their work. So, we've compiled a list of ten new cinematic voices who give us hope that cinema is still in good hands going into the 2020s. We've selected them from a talent pool who represent a diverse cross-section of the field, both in terms of diversity and the kind of films they make. These up-and-coming filmmakers don't always conform to cinema's traditional approaches to narrative or genre. They not only represent this current progressive change in the industry but will likely spark the cultural discourse in the years to come.
We had to establish a couple of parameters for them to be considered up-and-coming. 1. They must have made their directorial debuts in the last decade. So, Andrey Zvyagintsev, Barry Jenkins, Ben Wheatley, Céline Sciamma, David Lowery, Debra Granik, Hong-jin Na, Nadine Labaki, Peter Strickland, Ruben Östlund and Safdie Brothers all miss out as they made their first films before 2010. 2. They must have made at least two films in the last decade. Shout-outs to Alice Lowe, Coralie Fargeat, Jim Cummings, Julia Ducournau, Mati Diop and William Oldroyd, who have also been omitted.
Here are ten emerging filmmakers who could keep the wheels spinning and the lights on in this industry in flux. (Note: This isn't a list of our favourite emerging filmmakers, though there’s an inherent element of subjective evaluation.)
Notable work: Ex Machina, Annihilation
For years, Alex Garland's authorial imprint was buried under the directorial voice of Danny Boyle in films like The Beach, 28 Days Later and Sunshine. So, when he made the leap from novelist/screenwriter to director with Ex Machina, it turned out to be one of the pleasant surprises of 2010s cinema. After his first film earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, Skydance gave him a bigger budget to play with in his second feature, Annihilation. Sadly, despite a star cast (Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Oscar Isaac), they didn't trust the product enough to give it a wider global release, considering it "too intellectual" for mainstream audiences. Now, it sits in Netflix's streaming catalogue, waiting to blow the viewers' minds with its spiralling dream-like journey of abstract mysteries and ecological horrors. With just two films, Garland has proven himself to be a genre force to be reckoned with, having navigated science fiction, horror and philosophy with relative ease. He kicks off 2020s with the Hulu sci-fi miniseries, Devs, and we expect bigger things from him in future.
Notable work: Heavenly Body (Corpo celeste), The Wonders (Le meraviglie), Happy as Lazzaro (Lazzaro felice)
All three of Alice Rohrwacher's narrative features have premiered at Cannes, and two of them even went on to win awards at the prestigious festival: The Wonders (Grand Prix, 2014) and Happy as Lazzaro (Best Screenplay, 2018). If Heavenly Body interweaves Catholic catechism into its coming-of-age drama and The Wonders' coming-of-age tale is rooted in the stark isolation of the Tuscan countryside, Happy as Lazzaro's story of a sweet young peasant transcends time and space. Rohrwacher's films have one foot set in a rustic reality, and the other in a magical fantasyland, with the stories transpiring according to her own code, rules and pacing. There is a poetry in the intimate naturalism of her films, which give the feeling they occur in the same universe as that of Jane Campion's. Not just Campion, even her legendary forebears, Federico Fellini and Luchino Visconti, would be proud of her work.
Ana Lily Amirpour
Notable work: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Bad Batch
Amirpour is without a doubt one of the most unique voices working in genre cinema today. The UK-born Iranian-American filmmaker burst onto the scene with the vampire drama, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Of course, it was anything but your traditional vampire drama. Filmed in black and white with an Eraserhead-like barren industrial decor, the film mixes and matches genres from spaghetti westerns to neo-noir. Her second film, The Bad Batch, may not have been as well-received but she again juggled with ease a multitude of genres, bringing an I Spit on Your Grave-type tale of revenge to a Mad Max-like dystopian wasteland.
Notable work: Kaili Blues, Long Day's Journey into Night
Bi Gan's extraordinary films submerge us in an altered state, where the perceptual boundaries between reality and hallucination are not always distinct. They have a warped sense of time and space, resembling a half-remembered memory or a half-awake dream. Kaili Blues is a story about a doctor looking for his beloved nephew who may have been sold off by his father. Long Day's Journey into Night has plenty of neo-noir trappings with its gangsters, femme fatale and atmosphere. But both are exercises less driven by plot, more by simulated experiences. The staging and framing of these films are so meticulously calculated. Gan even has a Béla Tarr-like predilection for long takes, which allow you to get drunk in the films' beauty in a way similar to Hou Hsiao-hsien's Flowers of Shanghai two decades ago.
David Robert Mitchell
Notable work: It Follows, Under the Silver Lake
David Robert Mitchell made his debut with the 2010 comedy drama, The Myth of the American Sleepover, but it was his second film, It Follows (2014), which made people take notice of his obvious talent. 'It' may not be an easily recognisable form, a classifiable entity or have a discernible past, but it did become a reflection of many of our societal anxieties. If It Follows gave us a delicious cocktail of '80s slashers, Under the Silver Lake deconstructed the neo-noir genre with a labyrinthine narrative universe, built through some truly bewitching images. It solidified Mitchell's reputation as one of the most unpredictable cinematic forces.
Notable work: The Cabin in the Woods, Bad Times at the El Royale
Drew Goddard had already built an impressive resume as a writer, before he became a director. He had collaborated on TV with Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel) and JJ Abrams (Alias, Lost) before moving to films, writing screenplays for Matt Reeves (Cloverfield), Marc Forster (World War Z) and Ridley Scott (The Martian). He then became a Midas of postmodernist subversion with The Cabin in the Woods and Bad Times at the El Royale, two extraordinary genre mix-tapes boasting a unique self-awareness and playing by no rules whatsoever.
Notable work: Lady Bird, Little Women
Sorry Hannah Horvath/Lena Dunham. Greta Gerwig is the voice of our generation. The 2010s saw the Sacramento-born prodigy go from being a muse to other indie directors to becoming one of the most critically beloved filmmakers. Her first film, Lady Bird, saw her join Lina Wertmüller (Seven Beauties), Jane Campion (The Piano), Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation) and Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) in the preposterous boys club that is Oscar-nominated directors. Her sophomore feature, Little Women, also earned a Best Picture nomination. Gerwig's playful deconstruction of the classic Louisa May Alcott novel not only makes it more relevant to our times, but features a cast that includes Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Timothée Chalamet, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep. So, how could it not?
Notable work: Get Out, Us
Jordan Peele's transformation from sketch comedy actor to socio-political horror auteur was unforeseen, but now, it feels like he was always a filmmaker in the making. Through the prism of a horror film, he held up a distorting mirror to American society to reveal its ills, vices and blindspots. But his socio-political concerns never prevent the films from being, first and foremost, a horror movie. He also retains the infectious comedic style from his Key and Peele days. From the Oscar-winning screenplay for Get Out to his second feature Us, he continues to renew a completely personal style. He has thus rejuvenated the horror genre, becoming an indispensable figure in contemporary indie cinema.
Notable work: Butter on the Latch, Thou Wast Mild and Lovely, Madeline's Madeline
It is hard to find an American filmmaker who revels more in subverting the conventional — and exploring the realms of capability of a medium we often take for granted — than Josephine Decker. She not only crafts interesting narratives, but brings her unmistakable stamp to every aspect of the production. If she let the actors improvise on set in Butter on the Latch, she made Madeline's Madeline through a series of improv workshops. Moved by then 15-year-old Helena Howard's performance at a high-school arts festival, she spent the next three years building the film around her. Like we wrote in the film's review, "On the surface, Madeline's Madeline is an uncompromising portrait of a troubled teenage girl who finds sanctuary in an after-school improv theatre troupe. But, look deeper, it provides self-aware commentary about the acting process itself."
Notable work: The Witch, The Lighthouse
If he plunges us into 17th century Puritan New England in The Witch, he whisks us off to a mysterious island in 19th century Maine in The Lighthouse. The films of Robert Eggers are essentially time machines that take you on deeply immersive rides. Meanwhile, they explore the all-too-human fear of the unknown, and how sickly obsessions manifest in humans. Every word of dialogue, and every frame that appears on screen seems like they have been sculpted and approved according to his whims and desires, giving them a very particular essence. His visuals combine the grotesque and the beautiful, the surreal and the cathartic. With just two films, Eggers has already built a reputation for atmospheric thrillers which will surely be seen, analysed and enjoyed by generations of viewers.
Honourable mentions: Alejandro Landes, Ari Aster, Jennifer Kent, Kleber Mendonça Filho, László Nemes
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