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top 5 directorial debuts

From Godard's Breathless to Clark's Kids, Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs to Anderson's Bottle Rocket, our DVD shelves are littered with examples of directors showing that the first time can be the right time. Casting his eye over 2013, Tom Seymour shares five of the finest, fully formed debuts from the last twelve months.

Text Tom Seymour

  • 5. Antiviral – Brandon Cronenberg

    Whatever bug bit David Cronenberg was passed on to his son Brandon, who debuted with a sterile, bleak, discursively compelling thriller about the cult and fetish of celebrity. Set in a near future, Antiviral’s antihero is Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones), who gives adoring fans the illnesses of their idols, before contracting one himself from the sublimely remote Sarah Gadon. Brandon has taken the Daddy-baiters head-on by cleaving closely to his old man’s themes and aesthetic. Of course he’s my influence, he seems to be saying. Yet there’s a hard assertion of independence here, a consciously confrontational address; even as bows at the altar of his iconic father, he is attacking our willingness to create icons before tearing them down.

  • 4. Kill Your Darlings – John Krokidas

    Set in the 40s during the early days of America’s liberal-literary revolution, this origins story of the Beat generation took nine and a half years to reach the screen. Krokidas, who wrote and directed campaign ads for the 2008 Obama campaign, independently financed, wrote, directed and produced the film, as well as casting his actors by contacting them directly. With Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg, Dane DeHaan as Lucien Carr, Jack Huston as Jack Kerouac and Elizabeth Olsen as Edie Parker, Krokidas managed to assemble an ensemble cast of the hottest new wave of actors, just before they took off. A film that belies its inexperience, but sparks off the screen with the energy of real-deal new screen stars.

  • 3. Shell – Scott Graham

    Entirely set in a garage on a mountain pass of the Scottish Highlands, this study of a man’s relationship with his teenage daughter is an announcement of a major new British talent. Scottish native Scott Graham makes full use of the wind-scorched, wild locale, with newcomer Chloe Pirrie – playing opposite veteran actor Joseph Mawle – holding the camera with a morphing, nuanced performance as a girl awakened, recognising and leaving behind everything that has repressed her. This is total cinema, made with no budget and an excess of talent.

  • 2. Gimme The Loot - Adam Leon

    Shot for £42,000 on the streets of Greeenwich village, Adam Leon’s independently-funded debut feature - about two teenage graffiti artists falling in a sort of antagonistic love as they walk the streets of New York selling weed - won the Grand Jury Prize at South by Southwest last year. Leon was once a production assistant to Woody Allen, and this feature displays a comparable, but very different, adoration of New York. It’s a free-wheeling, hip-hop fused, street-level take on an urban jungle, carefree in spirit and audacious in style. The coolest film of the year.

  • 1. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints – David Lowery

    Not just the best debut of 2013 - maybe the best film. Lowery, a film editor, struck out on his won with this tragic romance set in long-shadowed, sun-dappled Texas. It stars Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara as a young married couple who rob banks and live as outlaws. After the police catch up with them, Bob takes the jail sentence so Ruth can give birth and raise their daughter. With its perpetual dusk, lens-flares, impressionistic and fragmentary storytelling, its darkly earnest mood and capture of destructive youth, the film has been compared to a Terence Malick knock-off. Well, Malick never made this film, but I bet he wished he did.