I've selected some of my favorite directorial debut films from the past ten years. These were their directors' first feature-length directorial effort and released from 2002-2012. Many of these directors have gone on to make several films since, while others are still working on their sophomore releases. Either way, I've made this list to single out particular directors who are working today and whose films I will, without hesitation, go see at the theaters merely based on these debut works. I hope you liked them just as much as I did, and please post in the comments if you disagree or have other films to add.
Hunger, Steve McQueen, 2008
A deeply moving and beautiful film with an extraordinary script, Hunger was quite possibly the best movie of its year and one of the best of the decade. It introduced me to the great Michael Fassbender, an actor who continues to prove himself worthy of the highest praise. Director Steve McQueen and Fassbender teamed up again for Shame, a less successful but equally enthralling film.
Shotgun Stories, Jeff Nichols, 2007
A perfectly paced meditative film about three brothers, Shotgun Stories invokes a simple, small town sense of doom. Jeff Nichols's sophomoric movie Take Shelter, also featuring a solid and powerful acting performance from Michael Shannon, reinforced the promise of this great director. (Nichols's Mud premiered at Cannes this year; I'm excited for its general release.)
Moon, Duncan Jones, 2009
Whether science fiction is your thing or not, Moon doesn't fail to engross its audience with a mesmerizing leading man - played by the wonderful Sam Rockwell-, surprising plot turns, and strong visuals. One of the best minimalist films of its genre.
Alamar, Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio, 2009
A beautiful picture of a man, his son, and their fishing boat; Alamar works on a small scale but manages to be more impacting and entertaining than most big-budget, broadly ambitious movie fare. I'm excitedly awaiting director Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio's follow-up.
District 9, Neill Blomkamp, 2009
A science fiction sociological drama, District 9 is a surprising film that covers various genre bases while remaining refreshingly original. I'll definitely be watching director Neill Blomkamp's 2013 sophomore film, Elysium, which will star the great Matt Damon and Jodie Foster and also be set in the future.
The 40-Year Old Virgin Judd Apatow, 2005
The 40-Year Old Virgin is the extremely enjoyable film that introduced us to the great cinematic presence of former television writer and program creator Judd Apatow. Steve Carrel is endearing in the title role of an under-experienced, sweet but awkward man; Apatow surrounds him with colorful, entertaining figures and gives him a realistically charismatic love interest played by the wonderful Catherine Keener. His later Knocked Up is an equally satisfying movie-going experience.
Primer, Shane Carruth, 2004
A wonderfully simple and low-budget science fiction film, Shane Carruth's Primer is one of the most original and interesting time travel stories ever told. His second feature is in pre-production and is to be titled Upstream Color. I'm looking forward to it.
Funny Ha Ha, Andrew Bujalski, 2002
Funny Ha Ha is an endearingly simple, low-budget film that follows a young girl as she makes her way through post-college life in a small, suburban town. Non-professional actors manage to keep us engaged while presenting an honest, direct, and funny portrait of an awkward, self-doubting life phase.
Shaun of the Dead, Edgar Wright, 2004
One of the decade's funniest feature films, this collaboration with the brilliant duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost of TV's Spaced is a hilarious and smart spoof on the zombie horror movie. Edgar Wright has made a couple enjoyable films since, but this remains, in my opinion, his best.
Let the Right One In, Tomas Alfredson, Sweden, 2008
This is a beautiful story of two children where one happens to be a vampire with uncontrollable rages. It sets a dark, cold mood yet is focused on a blossoming and warm relationship. I look forward to more unconventional and thrilling fare from its director Tomas Alfredson.
- Sarah Polley's Away From Her
- Joachim Trier's Reprise
- Martin McDonagh's In Bruges
- Oren Moverman's The Messenger
- Anton Corbijn's Control
- David Muchod's Animal Kingdom