Directors are probably given too much credit both for the success or the failure of a film, but, given how difficult the job is, it makes sense. Directors not only have to bring their creative vision of their film to life, but they also have to manage a set, direct actors, deal with producers and budgets and so much more. That is why it is so impressive to get great films with clear directorial vision from newer directors. So, we would like to recognize the achievements of directors that just popped up on our radar this last year. These are directors that either released their first feature film last year or the film that they released was their first to gain any real traction. Some of these directors are familiar faces for other reasons and some of them you’ve probably never heard of, but all of them made superb films in the first part of their careers. Below are our nominees for the Best New Directors of 2017. The winners will be announced during our top 10 podcast at the end of the month. You’ll want to keep an eye on these names.
Jeremy Rush – Wheelman
By Jacob Wampfler
You can dig around on the interwebs to find Jeremy Rush’s previous film credits, but you won’t find much. His filmography on IMDB is a smattering of crew positions for short films and shows that you’ve likely never seen (I haven’t either). That’s what makes Wheelman completely astounding to me. This first time writer/director not only delivered an exceedingly interesting concept for his first feature, but he also managed to make a really great sub-genre film in the process.
Almost every choice in Rush’s Wheelman is truly inspired. The casting of Frank Grillo as the film’s namesake, the choice to shoot the entire film from inside or mounted on a vehicle, and the lack of exposition all create an aesthetic that sets Wheelman apart while also keeping it firmly rooted in its source material. Shot in only nineteen days and drawing inspiration from films like Bullitt, Drive, and Nightcrawler, it’s no wonder that Joe Carnahan’s production company is attached to Rush’s first film. Carnahan specializes in making the familiar unique, and Rush follows suit in a big way. Wheelman is a dazzling entry into the getaway driver genre and Jeremy Rush won’t be unknown for much longer.
Macon Blair – I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore
By Sam Wampfler
The brilliance of I Don’t Feel at Home In This World Anymore is apparent right from the very opening scene. We follow Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) through her daily routine and are immediately treated to the exact reasons why she doesn’t “feel at home” anymore. Every interaction she has turns into a depressing reminder of the sad state of the world, from the mundane run-ins with greedy shoppers to the racist ramblings of one of the elderly women she looks after as a nursing assistant. This wonderfully crafted sequence of misery and some dark humor leads into the catalyst for the rest of the film: The theft of Ruth’s laptop and her Grandmother’s cutlery.
Blair not only picked the best actors for the main roles, but he also got some of the best and most unique performances of their careers. Elijah Wood, who plays Ruth’s neighbor and eventual crime fighting teammate, is probably the best example of this. His role is insane. He sports a rattail, he goes into battle against common thieves with nunchaku and throwing stars, and he babbles on about some completely inane nonsense. It is by far the funniest and most creative roles Wood has ever played.
Blair walked a real tight wire act in making this film. It is a great blend of the comedic and the darkly depressing. There are some truly hilarious moments and some terribly bloody moments (sometimes there’s a bit of both). But, probably the most interesting part of the film is its ability to take such a brutal and depressing premise and still have a hopeful and heartfelt message in the end.
Justin Chon – Gook
By Josiah Wampfler
Gook is a miracle. Made for less than $100,000, director Justin Chon has delivered a true work of art despite the obstacles in his way. Drawing on his own experience of seeing his father’s shoe store looted during the 1992 L.A. Riots, Chon brings us a story set the day those riots broke out. The riots stay on the outskirts of the film for much of the run-time (budgetary reasons demanded this), but even if most of the physical destruction hasn’t reached this part of the city, the anger and resentment is spilling over. Gook brilliantly shows us a story of friendship and family during the turbulent event and shows us a side of Los Angeles that is rarely represented on screen.
Chon is a bonafide quadruple threat with Gook, taking on the duties of directing, writing, producing and starring in the film. He and his co-star David So play two Korean-American brothers (Eli and Daniel) who run a women’s shoe store in Paramount, right next to Compton. A rambunctious 11 year-old black girl named Kamilla (Simone Baker) hangs around the store periodically helping them out, even though her family would rather she stayed away from the store. It is a tale of friendship across racial boundaries, but set uniquely during a time and place we rarely see in film. Unlike most films about the riots, Gook isn’t out to reduce the riots to black vs. white, but to show just how complex the event was.
With his grad student cinematographer Ante Chen, Chon manages to capture this unique story in a brilliantly unique way. Shot in gorgeous, crisp black and white, Gook is one of the best looking films of 2017. What the duo manage to capture with mainly natural light is simply mesmerizing and there are many images I can’t top thinking about. Chon seems to truly understand the power of images in cinema and uses his camera to bring a great deal of emotional heft to the film.
Overall, I was pretty dumbfounded with Gook. The casting is incredible (Baker is going to be a star one day), the story manages to be both emotional and funny, and Chon proves that he is a filmmaker to watch. I’m so excited to see what he does next because, if he could pull this off with this low of a budget, imagine what he’ll be able to do once he has a budget.