dir: They Look Like People
While I'd never want to suggest that being selected to screen at Slamdance is a negative for a filmmaker the fact is that in this particular year - with the hype machine running hotter than it has for ages and distributors throwing money around like mad literally just down the street - many of the Slamdance filmmakers had a hard time cutting through the noise of Sundance and I would argue that none were more overlooked than Perry Blackshear.
Blackshear is one of those unique talents who is wired just a little bit differently from those around him and who does a bit of everything and does it all well. His debut feature feels like a spiritual cousin to the work of Spring duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead with its blend of indie drama characterization and genre thrills and he's got an obvious mastery of tension and tone. Give this guy any resources to work with at all and the sky is the limit.
dir: The Witch
And speaking of people being whipped into a frenzy at Sundance, the title people couldn't stop talking about was Robert Eggers' The Witch. Eggers left people breathless with his debut, an absolutely tension packed ride that blends fabulous craftsmanship with equally fabulous writing (also by Eggers) and performances. It remains to be seen whether a Puritan era horror film can find a mainstream audience as it's not yet entered commercial release but, honestly, no matter what happens with the film on release Eggers has already written his own ticket to do whatever he wants for his next picture.
Sam de Jong,
Sam de Jong's Prince is a coming of age tale for future fans of Harmony Korine, an edgy candy colored confection blending broken homes, adolescent angst, petty violence and longed-after sex. While the narrative doesn't quite stick the landing the obvious raw talent and seemingly endless reservoir of style is astounding. If Korine had made Spring Breakers for twelve year olds, this would be that movie and I absolutely cannot wait to see what de Jong cooks up next.
Here's the thing about Ilya Naishuller and his first person perspective action film debut Hardcore: It's not even the film he wanted to make. After having racked up millions of YouTube views with a pair of similarly styled music videos Naishuller had initially planned to move on and prove he was more than a one trick pony but then along came Wanted helmer Timur Bekmambetov who convinced Naishuller to bring his unique action style to the big screen. Hardcore was born and, hot damn, I don't see anyone beating Naishuller at this particular game any time in the near future, if ever. Yeah, you can dismiss it as 'First Person Shooter, The Movie' if you want but just go ahead and try to do it better than it was done here. There are a clear set of rules and parameters in place and they are worked to absolute perfection.
I had the chance to meet Naishuller at the Toronto International Film Festival right around the time that Hardcore was becoming the biggest single distribution acquisition of the festival and came away very impressed by the keenly intelligent and articulate filmmaker. All I know about what he's going to do next is that it will be very different from Hardcore but I have no doubt that whatever he chooses to do next Naishuller will do it very, very well.
dir: Son Of Saul
On paper is there anyone in this world who would jump at the chance to see a first person perspective Holocaust film? It seems like an odd - if not outright bizarre - combination of form and subject matter and yet that is exactly what Laszlo Nemes, a former assistant to Bela Tarr, set out to make with his debut feature, Son Of Saul and the result is an emotionally devastating piece of work that left audiences crushed and in tears after its Cannes debut. I know more than one hardened Cannes veteran who had to take the rest of the day off to allow themselves to reset emotionally following the premiere of Nemes' debut.
Like Naishuller and Hardcore it's hard to guess where Nemes goes from here because while it's hard to imagine two films more different than Hardcore and Son Of Saul both are experiences rooted so deeply and specifically into the format of how they were made that it's hard to say where exactly the rules of the format end and where the talent of the director begins while still being clear that the director is a HUGE talent. So, no, I have no idea how you follow this film but I - like many others - am eager to find out.
Osgood Perkins, dir: February
The son of the Psycho himself, writer-director Osgood Perkins has no trouble at all emerging from the shadow of his famous surname with his debut feature February. Perkins showcases admirable restraint and a sure hand throughout, letting his slow burning supernatural thriller gain mass at its own languid pace before driving it all home.
Perkins still has room to grow and develop, for sure, but he already has a startlingly clear and distinctive voice.
Robin Pront, dir The Ardennes
Seemingly tucked away in a quiet corner of the Toronto International Film Festival for its debut, nobody seemed to particularly notice young Belgian helmer Robin Pront's The Ardennes. And that's really kind of tragic because while its tale of brothers torn apart in their lives of lower class crime is nothing particularly new, Pront's telling of it is simply spectacular. He draws fabulous performances from his actors while finding enough unique wrinkles to the ageless tale to make everything feel fresh and exciting again while also striking that same balance of style and realism that gave Michael Roskam's Bullhead such heft. Keep an eye on Belgium, people, there's something going on with the young generation of filmmakers there ...
RKSS, dirs: Turbo Kid
The year's most gleefully cult hit belongs to RKSS, the Quebecois film collective who made the leap from a string of splattery short films into the feature realm with the VHS inspired Turbo Kid.
Enlisting the help of Hobo With A Shotgun director Jason Eisener as a producer, Turbo Kid shares the same vintage style and while it's tempting to dismiss these sorts of things as disposable pop entertainment the fact is that 'pop' culture won the culture wars long ago and the fact is that this is just really, really, really well made. The principal trio behind the film are already hard at work on other concepts and time will tell if they're a one hit wonder or able to maintain the energy over the long haul. My money is on the latter.
Fernando Salem, dir: How Most Things Work
I've been struggling to find a concise way to describe Argentinian writer-director Fernando Salem since first coming across his debut, How Most Things Work in Mar Del Plata. He weaves a bit of Wes Anderson style whimsy into his social realist dramedy but the Anderson comparison doesn't feel quite right. Perhaps it makes more sense to look to Chile's Sebastien Silva - who went from his Gondry influenced debut Life Kills Me to quirky Sundance drama The Maid to recent efforts Magic Magic and Nasty Baby - as a potential comparison. Salem shares Silva's sense of humor and love for blurring the line between realism and gentle fantasy, that's for sure, but at the end of the day it may simply be that comparisons don't really fit because Salem simply has his own thing going on.
Like Pront up above the actual mechanics of Salem's story here are nothing particularly new but the way he tells the tale makes all the difference. And like Perkins we appear to be witnessing the arrival of a talent driven less by genre or style rules than by the development of their own unique voice. Just trust me on this one. Salem's pretty damn fantastic and I can only hope that this film will be more widely seen in 2016.
S Craig Zahler, dir: Bone Tomahawk
Sure, sure, Quentin Tarantino is getting most of the Nasty-Ass Western love right now but writer-director S Craig Zahler beat him to that particular well - and leading man Kurt Russell - earlier this year with Bone Tomahawk. And while Zahler had nowhere near the resources Tarantino did to work with he still cooked up one fabulously nasty concoction. Zahler - a very highly in demand screenwriter and novelist - has a well known way with words but he proves no less adept at working with his performers and staging grisly action scenes. I very much doubt Zahler will ever make a film suitable for the faint hearted but for those who like a bit of the red stuff this is as promising a debut as there has been all year.