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The Best Directorial Debuts of 2018

Written by on December 11, 2018 

the-best-directorial-debuts-of-2018

While we aim to discuss a wide breadth of films each year, few things give us more pleasure than the arrival of bold, new voices. It’s why we venture to festivals and pore over a variety of different features that might bring to light some emerging talent. This year was an especially notable time for new directors making their stamp, and we’re highlighting the handful of 2018 debuts that most impressed us.

Below, one can check out a list spanning a variety of different genres and distributions, from those that barely received a theatrical release to wide bows. In years to come, take note as these helmers (hopefully) ascend.

Blockers (Kay Cannon)

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Blockers doesn’t pull off the impossible so much as it turns the tables on a common formula, finding something fresh, empowering, and hilarious in that time-old story of a group of friends making a pact to lose their V-card on prom night. Directed by Kay Cannon in her debut, there are a few more real-world complications for our leads, including Lisa (Leslie Mann), a single mother with an unhealthy obsession with her daughter; Mitchell (John Cena), a buff yet sensitive dad in a committed marriage; and Hunter (Ike Barinholtz), a party boy with surprising depth. This studio comedy even finds room for a tender (yet still very funny) coming out story to overbearing parents. – John F. (full review)

Blindspotting (Carlos López Estrada)

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A confident, clear-eyed debut by director Carlos López Estrada and writing duo Rafael Casal and (Hamilton alumni) Daveed Diggs, Blindspotting is a film of heightened, theatrical rhythm that builds layers of feeling and performance into both its comedy and drama; providing a propulsive movement that gives this story of class, race and gentrification a rare kind of joyful energy that leaves the viewer unconscious of the political realities of these issues until they come crashing back, manifested in the daily lives of the people who make Oakland what it is. – Josh L.

Cam (Daniel Goldhaber)

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It’s scary to be a woman online, where safe places don’t exist and any creep can look up your address if he pleases. That horror hasn’t fully acknowledged this 21st-century truth is evidence that the genre sometimes needs a woman’s touch in order to fully bring to light what’s truly scary. While the directorial debut of Daniel Goldhaber, Cam, unlike most horror films this decade, feels relevant in large part thanks to screenwriter Isa Mazzei who forces viewers to confront the horror of a total loss of agency in the digital age. – Willow M.

Custody (Xavier Legrand)

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Custody shows domestic abuse isn’t something that comes and goes. It’s not a 0-60 scenario where some days escalate and others don’t. Life perpetually travels at 80 mph instead. You must be ready for any outcome because your predator is as desperate to find you as you are to escape. And when your only connection is a young boy who can’t help being coerced by constant questioning and outside interference, isolation isn’t permanent. – Jared M. (full review)

Den of Thieves (Christian Gudegast)

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Writer/director Christian Gudegast exploded early in 2018 with this stunning 2-hour, 20-minute piece of pop sleaze cinema. His debut Den of Thieves is Heat by way of Monster energy drink; all the broad strokes of an exciting crime drama but slick, sweaty and loud, and chock-full of all the cartoonishly toxic machismo and grease-stained details you could ask for. Gerard Butler brilliantly fills in the Pacino role as “Big Nick,” a drunken, divorced gorilla cop whose violent tendencies are displayed as prominently as his cheap-takeout-filled beard.” – Josh L.

Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham)

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Eighth Grade, the comedic-dramatic study of a 13-year-old girl which marks comedian and writer-director Bo Burnham’s freshman venture into feature filmmaking, is a sometimes sidesplitting, sometimes gut-wrenching film in which, on a certain level, nothing of any tremendous significance happens. And yet, with Burnham’s immensely empathetic observations of character psychology, clever choices of structure and editing, and cinematographer Andrew Wehde’s striking closeup shots and dreamy, saturated color palette, we are brought so close into the emotionally turbulent world of a struggling middle schooler that every petty social pitfall and personal triumph carries the emotional weight that many lesser films resort to pure shock value to achieve. Dialogue about Snapchat, vlogging and sexting isn’t just there to proclaim the film’s up-to-the-minute relevance, either: the film is almost an oblique science fiction piece, insofar as it repeatedly interrogates how the technology of ubiquitous ultra-networked devices uniquely affects the psychological, social and sexual realities of a generation of Americans living their formative years in the shadow of Twitter, Instagram and Youtube. Eighth Grade isn’t just the definitive tween comedy of the 2010s: it’s an accomplished piece of impressionist cinema which announces the arrival of a potentially electrifying young talent. – Eli F.

The Great Buddha+ (Huang Hsin-yao)

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Huang Hsin-Yao is a new voice in independent Taiwanese cinema, and his first narrative feature–an adaptation of his short film The Great Buddha–carries itself with all of the vitriol that one would expect from somebody angry at the state of the Taiwanese film industry and government. This is apparent from the outset of The Great Buddha+, when Huang speaks to the audience as the credits roll, speaking harshly about the producers and delivering a personal statement. This anger remains throughout–a character named after the producer that Huang is particularly dissatisfied with is even killed off in a darkly humorous manner. – Jason O. (full review)

The Guilty (Gustav Möller)

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The Guilty is an exhilarating, minimalist thriller that effectively sinks its hooks in, despite its bland, melodramatic title. In the vein of Locke and My Dinner with Andre, it isn’t exactly a one-man show fronted by Jakob Cedergren, but works as well as it does thanks to director Gustav Möller’s taut editing, voice cast, and sound effects that create a haunting scene halfway through the film without a drop of onscreen blood. – John F. (full review)

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