To use an analogy we’re particularly fond of, screenwriting is a bit like being a 19th century parent. You should have as many children as possible in the hope that some of them get to adulthood healthy. Eric Heisserer’s a prime example — a writer who has early credits that some might sniff at, but who’s about to show us what he can really do. Heisserer’s been a busy writer for about ten years, and earned his first screen credit on the “Nightmare On Elm Street” reboot. That film, like “Final Destination 5” and the remake of “The Thing,” which followed the previous year, are not beloved of critics (Heisserer’s directorial debut, the Paul Walker-starring Hurricane Katrina drama “Hours,” was better liked, and is rather underrated still). But this summer’s horror sleeper “Lights Out” was one of the most effective studio movies in the genre for a long while, and his terrific script for Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival” (one of the best we’ve read in years) looks like being a major player in the season to come. The latter in particular looks to have kicked him up to the A-list: he’s next rewriting the “Sandman” movie, and the “Van Helsing” entry in the Universal Horror-verse.
Anna Rose Holmer
Telling the story of a dance team struck with a contagion of epileptic fits, “The Fits” is easily one of the most striking debut films of the year, and immediately rockets director Anna Rose Holmer to the top of to-watch lists. The NYU grad began as a cinematographer, starting out as a camera assistant on “Twilight” and a grip on Lena Dunham’s breakthrough “Tiny Furniture,” before working with “Girls” DP Jody Lee Lipes (and producing his excellent documentary “Ballet 422”). She helmed feature length documentary “Twelve Way To Sunday,” before “The Fits,” her first fiction film, was accepted by the Venice Film Festival’s Biennale College Cinema fund. The film premiered there this year, but really got a head of steam at Sundance, where our review said it “works like magic” and that it had a “unique shine.” Released earlier in the summer, it became one of the buzzier arthouse indies of the year, and bodes for a very, very bright future
For over a decade now, Kirsten Johnson has been one of the top cinematographers in the documentary sphere, with credits including modern classics like “This Film Is Not Rated,” “Fahrenheit 9/11,” “The Invisible War,” and “Citizenfour” (the latter of which she was also a co-producer on). But her second feature as director (after 2004’s “Deadline”) is one of the more striking non-fiction films we’ve seen in a long time, a ‘visual memoir’ that our Katie Walsh called at Sundance “a rumination, a treatise, a theory of documentary filmmaking — a manifesto of sorts that asserts the importance of the camera as a person.” Made up of outtakes from the films she’s worked on, in a collage form focusing on people interacting with the camera or Johnson herself, it turns out to be “an emotional and heartfelt film that tells us who Johnson is as a person and as an artist,” and proves to be a “stunning achievement in documentary form.” It’s one of the absolute must-see films of the year, and while she looks to have returned to cinematography (she filmed Laura Poitras’s ‘Risk”), we dearly hope she’ll direct again very soon.
Korean cinema is probably the most exciting in the world right now, but most people only know a few filmmakers from there — Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho, Kim Jee-woon. But if there was any doubt before now, expect Na Hong-jin to be added to that list imminently. Na’s 2008 directorial debut “The Chaser” was a fantastic, grisly, stripped-down thriller about a corrupt cop and pimp attempting to track down a serial killer who’s kidnapped one of his women, coming across like a more genre-minded Kim Ki-duk. 2010’s follow-up “The Yellow Sea” was even better, a complex crime-thriller about a down on his luck gambler hired as a hitman. The former was a huge, award-winning hit at home, while “The Yellow Sea” won acclaim at Cannes, but it’s his most recent film, “The Wailing” that cements his entry into the big leagues. Also premiering at Cannes, it’s a spectacularly good horror film about a small town tormented by strange events, one that goes to almost Lynch-ian levels of weirdness in its final act, and suggests a director in complete command of his craft. Hopefully there won’t be another six-year wait before his next film.
If a first-time writer gets her script to the attention of not just Disney, but also Oprah Winfrey, that suggests a real talent, and that’s certainly what Emma Needell is. A Colorado native who trained at Johns Hopkins and in the the Czech Republic’s FAMU before heading to L.A. After some PA work and directing a few shorts, including the compelling steampunk romance “Tick Tock,” Needell penned a script called “The Water Man.” Despite being an original tale, the script — which is an evocative, moving coming-of-age tale that melds “Stand By Me” with magic realism and folklore — sold to Disney, via Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Films company, with David Oyelowo set to star and produce too. It’s not yet moved forward, but Needell’s busy, with another original script in the works, and adapting a comic book for Dark Horse, while she also got into the graphic novel game herself, penning a creepy story in an anthology for Vertigo.