Most directors require years to truly hone their craft and start operating at the top of their game. But some, like “Moon” director Duncan Jones, manage to knock it out of the park on their very first time at bat. To celebrate “Moon’s” 10th anniversary, here are the 15 best directorial debuts from the past decade.
Neill Blomkamp – ‘District 9’ (2009)
Neill Blomkamp established a clear formula with his feature film debut, using high concept sci-fi as a way of telling a story about the racial and social inequality rampant in his come country of South Africa. Frankly, he did it best the first time around.”District 9″ stars Sharlto Copley as a government bureaucrat who learns firsthand what it’s like to live as an alien refugee on a hostile world.
Duncan Jones – ‘Moon’ (2009)
Sony Pictures Classics
Duncan Jones probably could have coasted through life just having the coolest dad in the world (his dad is David Bowie), but instead he went and established himself as one of the most exciting new voices in science fiction. “Moon” does a whole lot with its limited cast and budget, showing the quiet, desperate plight of a lunar miner who just wants to get back home, yet finds out the job is much more than he bargained for.
Drew Goddard – ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ (2012)
You could be forgiven for thinking that producer/co-writer Joss Whedon also directed “The Cabin in the Woods,” as it has that same sense of wit and energy common to so many Whedon projects. But it’s actually Drew Goddard steering this ship. What begins as a delightful homage to b-movie horror flicks like “The Evil Dead” winds up going to some pretty bizarre places by the end.
Ryan Coogler – ‘Fruitvale Station’ (2013)
The Weinstein Company
“Fruitvale Station” didn’t just show the world what a promising new talent it had in Ryan Coogler, it also kicked off a very fruitful partnership between Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan. This haunting drama follows the last 24 hours in the life of Oscar Grant III, leading up to the infamous police shooting that sparked unrest in San Francisco.
Chad Stahelski – ‘John Wick’ (2014)
As much as “John Wick” is hailed as the film responsible for bringing star Keanu Reeves back into the action movie spotlight, it’s also a showcase for director Chad Stahelski. This movie simply wouldn’t have worked without Stahelski’s keen eye and the inspiration he drew from Japanese anime and Hong Kong action movies for the many bone-crunching action scenes. Equal credit also goes to Stahelski’s fellow first-timer, uncredited co-director David Leitch.
Dan Gilroy – ‘Nightcrawler’ (2014)
Open Road Films
It’s hard to believe “Nightcrawler” is the work of a first-time director. It’s just so confident and self-assured in its exploration of the seedy underbelly of the Los Angeles news scene. It doesn’t hurt that writer/director Dan Gilroy had an incredibly intense performance from Jake Gyllenhaal to bank on.
Alex Garland – ‘Ex Machina’ (2015)
Alex Garland had built up a strong reputation as a writer on films like “The Beach,” “Sunshine” and “Dredd,” but “Ex Machina” marked his first time behind the camera. Needless to say, he didn’t disappoint one bit. “Ex Machina” is a gorgeously shot and very moody look at a robot coming to terms with her very existence.
Robert Eggers – ‘The Witch’ (2015)
Never let it be said that director Robert Eggers didn’t put in the effort to make his debut film look and feel authentic. Watching “The Witch” is like being transported back to 17th Century New England and seeing firsthand what it’s like to eke out a living in a haunted wilderness.
Tim Miller – ‘Deadpool’ (2016)
20th Century Fox
2016 would have been a lousy year for X-Men fans if Tim Miller’s “Deadpool” hadn’t shown up to ease the blow of “X-Men: Apocalypse.” Miller gave us a superhero movie that’s unabashedly adults-only, hilariously self-aware and content to tell a much more personal, small-scale superhero origin story. It was the first of several signs that this franchise may actually work best in the R-rated realm.
Travis Knight – ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ (2016)
Laika CEO Travis Knight shouldered a very different burden for the company by taking the reins of its fourth animated feature. The end result is both one of the most visually stunning animated movies in recent memory and the best Laika film since 2009’s “Coraline.”
Jordan Peele – ‘Get Out’ (2017)
A horror movie may not have been what “Key & Peele” fans were expecting from Jordan Peele’s first feature-length project. But Peele certainly left a strong impression with this satirical yet disturbing look at modern race relations. There’s a reason this one became a cultural phenomenon in 2017.
Greta Gerwig – ‘Lady Bird’ (2017)
Greta Gerwig made the jump from starring in thoughtful indie comedies to writing and directing one in 2017’s “Lady Bird.” Easily one of the most critically acclaimed releases of 2017, “Get Out” draws heavily from Gerwig’s own experiences as a restless teen in Sacramento. The result is a very funny and very authentic coming-of-age tale.
Bo Burnham – ‘Eighth Grade’ (2018)
It’s pretty rare to find a coming-of-age teen movie starring actual teenagers, but that’s one reason why Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade” stands out so much. “Eighth Grade” is another example of a director pulling from their own life (in this case, Burnham’s struggles with anxiety and depression) to craft a refreshing and authentic look at the teen experience.
Ari Aster – ‘Hereditary’ (2018)
“Hereditary” is easily one of the most unnerving horror movies to come around in a long time. Like many great horror films, “Hereditary” works because the supernatural trappings are merely there to accentuate deeper themes of tragedy and loss. This film immediately established Ari Aster as one of the most promising new voices in the genre, and we’ll see if that appeal can carry over to his followup project, “Midsommar.”
Bradley Cooper – ‘A Star Is Born’ (2018)
Plenty of big-name actors dabble in directing (it’s one of the perks of Hollywood super-stardom), but few have made the leap behind the camera as deftly as Bradley Cooper. “A Star Is Born” is hardly the first time we’ve seen this story told, but Cooper and co-star Lady Gaga make it their own. Is Cooper destined to become the next Clint Eastwood?
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