Top 5 directorial debuts of 2018
Bo Burnham, “Eighth Grade”
Maybe Bo Burnham was exactly the right person to tackle adolescence on the internet. Bo Burnham got his start on YouTube making nonsensical music, eventually moving to six-second video platform Vine and scoring his own stand-up specials on Netflix. Yet his success never gave him an inflated sense of self-importance; if anything, the sweet neuroticism that defined his bedroom YouTube videos only grew stronger. In an interview with The Daily over the summer, Burnham said “I just wanted to do an intense movie about being this person, not what it means to be a kid always throughout all of time. I was feeling very nervous and panicked and anxious on the internet, and I was looking at the internet and meeting people, and I saw all these people also feeling very nervous and panicked in their lives too.” Burnham channels these common, but culturally new feelings through Kayla (Elsie Fisher, “Despicable Me 2”), whose generation, by circumstance, has had unparalleled access to the internet. Most 20-somethings and young adults are familiar with ways the internet can interfere with how you express yourself. Anxieties about a crush turn into vague AIM status messages or logging in and out to generate notifications. Arguments and confrontations reach nebulous ends, as “leaving somebody on read” or “ghosting” become increasingly common terminology. And yet, despite their ubiquity, the effects of the internet on our most core selves have never been depicted as accurately as they have in “Eighth Grade.” Burnham’s directorial debut marks a watershed as an unflinching yet warm portrayal of being young online.
— Jack Brandon, Managing Arts Editor
Boots Riley, “Sorry to Bother You”
Rarely is a directorial debut from an absolute-unknown; especially one as fresh and surprising as Boots Riley’s “Sorry to Bother You.” It’s a fantastical satire about telemarketers and (not so subtly) ultimately the sociopolitical relationship between corporations and the workforce. It’s not surprising, then, that the road to get “Sorry” onto the big-screen was a long and winding one, with Riley fighting through a decade of production deliberations and setbacks to finally see his vision realized on screen. And “Sorry” could only really be his vision. No one else could have cooked up the type of fever-dream, fever-pitch whirlwind we end up with. Thank goodness he stuck with it to the end.
Not to give too much away, “Sorry to Bother You” is a film that always seems to have one more surprise up its sleeve. Riley is seemingly determined to never stop throwing wrenches and humanitarian crises at his audience. No-name directorial debuts tend toward the safe side, often resulting in callow pictures with little scripts that aim for a “less-is-more” mis en scene. “Sorry to Bother You” spits in the face of anybody telling it that it can’t shoot for the moon, with Riley biting off more than anyone can chew in the best possible way.
— Stephen Satarino, Film Beat Editor
Ari Aster, “Hereditary”
Horror movies are often treated with a sense of escapism. They allow viewers to feel scared for a contained period and continue on with their lives without a second thought. In sharp contrast, the reason that “Heredity” is so claustrophobically terrifying and one of the year’s best films is that it never truly leaves you after the credits roll.
Ari Aster’s feature-length debut functions in many ways like a drama rather than a scary movie, centering around how tragedy deteriorates the livelihood of the Graham family. By constructing the film like a family drama, Aster avoids tiresome horror cliches. There is no killer. There are few jump scares. There is no easy escape from the danger. The true demons of “Hereditary” are just ordinary people. This is what makes the film one of the most original and unforgettable of the year.
As important as it is to discuss Aster’s creativity, is just as important as the technical means by which that creativity manifests on screen. The lighting is often dim and somber, allowing a viewer to see the defining features of an performer’s visage but nothing more. The walls of the Graham house eventually feel like they are caving in like an abyss. Another ingenious method of Aster’s is to hold a shot for longer than expected on a painful or unsettling image, forcing viewers to powerlessly stew in grim discomfort.
“Hereditary” is a truly special horror movie. It enshrines Aster as an important name in the future of the genre and as a filmmaker whose future works will surely be too frightening to miss.
— Anish Tamhaney, Daily Arts Writer
Bradley Cooper, “A Star is Born”
You might know him as Phil, the dentist from “The Hangover,” or Ben, Amy Poehler’s partner in musical theater crime in “Wet Hot American Summer” or as David O. Russell’s favorite leading man. However you recognize the versatile actor with those piercing blue eyes. He is now officially a director. As a filmmaker, Bradley Cooper (“Burnt”) crafted the fourth re-make of “A Star is Born” with immense care, ensuring its predecessors were not overlooked while keeping a fierce eye at the future. The first-time director managed to add significant depth and raw emotion to a tale often wrought with conventionality and sappiness. The film is a stunning manifestation of the filmmaker’s vision and knowledge of filmmaking, incorporating strong editing choices, sophisticated camerawork and an ear for music emphasized by his co-star’s (Lady Gaga as “Ally”) talent. I have a feeling Cooper’s directing days are long from over; rather, he’s just getting started.
— Becky Portman, Daily Arts Writer
Peter Ramsey, Robert Persichetti Jr. and Rodney Rothman, “Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse”
Calling “Into the Spiderverse” a directorial debut is something of a misnomer given that Peter Ramsey, one of the three directors, had previously helmed “Rise of the Guardians” in 2012, but being as his two co-directors Bob Persichetti and Rodney Rothman were both newcomers to the director’s chair, I’ll say two out of three isn’t bad. Frankly, I’ll take any chance I can get to praise this movie.
If the job of a director is to take the various elements of filmmaking and storytelling and make them work together toward a singular purpose, then “Into the Spiderverse” is one of the best directed films of the year. From beginning to end, it’s a psychedelic, hyper-kinetic ride that boasts groundbreaking animation and a slew of pop culture references, yet everything always comes back to the characters and their arcs. The color scheme, the “Scott Pilgrim”-esque insertions of comic book imagery, the score, everything. At the center of “Into the Spiderverse” is Miles Morales and everything else exists in his orbit.
That isn’t to say that the rest of the movie is underdeveloped in any way. Each of the supporting characters is made memorable in their own way — from Hailee Steinfeld’s (“Bumblebee”) Spider-Gwen to Nic Cage’s (“Mandy”) hysterical Spider-Man Noir — and are made even more so by the careful attention paid to what makes them Spider-Man. It’s the ethos of the film: Anyone can be a hero, anyone can be Spider-Man, and by forefronting this spirit through such a diverse set of characters in terms of personality and animation style, Ramsey, Persichetti and Rothman ensure their film enters into the realm of the greats.
— Jeremiah Vanderhelm, Daily Arts Writer