Please note that some of the filmmakers and actors who announced their presence in 2011 are included in the other posts citing notable achievements in film.
Fans of British sitcoms might know him for portraying a corporate computer geek on The IT Crowd, but he gained notice as a filmmaker with Submarine, a Welsh coming-of-age story that locates the insecurities and pain lurking beneath its teenage hero’s veneer of relentless eccentricity. Ferociously mannered though it is, it’s a funny and memorable debut.
Unlike her co-stars in Circumstance, this Canadian of Persian descent showed a natural camera presence as a spirited girl who dreams sorrowfully of escaping from Iran to some place where her homosexuality won’t get her killed. In a year when the Middle East was rocked by mobs of defiant young people demanding rights from the corrupt regimes that governed them, it’s tempting to imagine this character in their midst, storming the barricades.
The Italian went from directing music videos for Keane and Kelis to helming The Double Hour, a thriller about a chambermaid experiencing hallucinations, or possibly apparitions, after being the victim of a violent crime. A movie likely to provoke fierce post-viewing debate over what actually happened, this head trip is a promising debut.
This time last year, no one knew who she was. This year, she appeared in five films (or six, if you count Coriolanus as one of this year’s). I hate to say it, but my favorite performance of hers was in the movie I liked the least, The Help. Her turn as a blowsy Southern wife in that movie clashed with her idealized mother figure in The Tree of Life, the businesslike homicide cop in Texas Killing Fields, and the cool professional killer in The Debt. Don’t look for her to be typecast anytime soon.
In Attack the Block, this first-time filmmaker showed the same sort of British geeky sense of humor possessed by his buddies Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, but with a social consciousness that made his comedy stand out even more than an ordinary urban thriller/alien invasion flick mash-up would have.
The actress moved into the director’s chair in Higher Ground, and while her drama about religious doubt wasn’t an unqualified success, it was a sign of promising talent behind the camera. This loose, baggy film was full of fascinating details and a feel for the rural New York setting, not to mention terrific music on the soundtrack.
John Michael McDonagh
A few years ago, Irish playwright Martin McDonagh made his first film In Bruges. This year, his brother John Michael McDonagh took up filmmaking and came up with The Guard, an even better black comedy about a deeply irresponsible Irish cop. Some of the sharpest and spikiest writing of 2011 was to be found in this hilarious first effort.
Whatever the flaws in Martha Marcy May Marlene, its leading lady exploded into view with her performance as a peculiarly arrested religious cult escapee whose severe lack of willpower coexisted with some hurtful glints of insight. Even if she weren’t the Olsen twins’ younger sister, she still would have grabbed our some attention.
Her debut feature Happy, Happy found both comedy and pathos in the story of two couples who become adulterously entangled while living in the remote Norwegian countryside. Bonus points for the musical interludes with four Norwegian guys doing a dead-on impression of a Southern gospel quartet singing hymns.