Seattle Cinema Survey – Favorite Director Under 40

Welcome to the first edition, hopefully of many, of the Seattle Cinema Survey. Each week, I will ask this area’s critics, bloggers and film fanatics a different question about the world of movies. We will be delving into underrated franchises, best pictures of year past and much much more.

To kick things off, with the critical community buzzing around Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room, I asked Who is your favorite director under 40?

My response, because of course I’m arrogant enough to be intrigued by my own questions, is Canada’s Xavier Dolan, he of the shockingly large amount of great works despite not even being 30. Mixing melodrama, music and often his own acting, Dolan’s career has included Heartbeats, I Killed My Mother and the stunning Laurence Anyways. Those alone might make him my pick. What makes Dolan the clear favorite is Mommy, his tale of a mother trying her best with a son prone to trouble and then some. Shot in Academy ratio and unleashing songs by Celine Dion and Oasis to sublime effect, Mommy is one of the ten best films of this decade, with divine acting by its ensemble and a way with high-emotions that is rarely achieved outside of Almodovar. In a Dolan film, the laughs feel richer, the tears saltier and the joys more euphoric.

And to the other responses…

Tim Hall of Seattle PI/People’s Critic @peoplescritic

I’m shocked Joe Swanberg didn’t make the list. (The original invite featured a list of young filmmakers) I almost went with Gareth Edwards because of how much I enjoy The Raid movies and V/H/S 2.

My favorite director under 40 is Ryan Coogler. I knew how Fruitvale Station ended, yet I was captivated the entire time. Creed was a predictable boxing film and I couldn’t keep my eyes off the screen. Coogler has a way of engaging his audience and wrapping them in the story. You feel like you’re part of the character(s)’ journey.

He’s also brilliant at telling modern stories about young African-Americans without them feeling like a derivative of films in the same genre. I feel like he can take any story from any genre and make it his own. I’d love to see Coogler direct a spy movie or a romantic comedy. I can’t wait to see what he does with Marvel’s Black Panther.

Ian Dinsmore of Drunk Sunshine @iandins

Ryan Coogler is my choice.  I don’t think anyone on this list made a more self-assured, thoughtful debut feature only to follow it up with an outrageously entertaining, bombastic franchise film with lofty expectations.  I find Coogler’s perspective refreshing, his choices interesting and his grasp of the medium well beyond his age.  If he can make Rocky relevant again I can’t WAIT to see what he will do next.

Special shout out to Gareth Evans and Sarah Polley, it pained me not to choose either of them!!

Matt Oakes of Silver Screen Riot @SSRdot.com

In the contest of directors weighing in under 40 revolutions round the sun, we’re hardly dealing with welterweights. After some hemming, hawing and deliberation with an abacus, I feel a confident calm electing James Pondsolt (The End of the Tour, The Spectacular Now, Smashed) as my pony in the race. In his ten years working as a professional director, Pondsoldt has shown three qualities which make him such a strong contender and a worthy standard bearer for the title. The first element worth considering is that regardless of which story he chooses to tell – be it a melodramatic addiction drama, teenage rom-com or investigative journalism piece – he approaches his tale as a character study first and foremost. The respective genre trappings fill in the fray around said study rather than informing the cadence or tone of a Pondsolt picture. Even with material that could come off as trite (or worse yet, tripe) if left in the wrong hands, Pondsolt transforms his narratives into a thing of no small wonder, serpentine emotional home runs that leave lasting impressions far after its consumption. Secondly, he’s proved an ability to direct the hell out of his actors. Though Smashed saw its issues, Mary Elizabeth Winstead has rarely been better. The Spectacular Now proved both a pre-Whiplash Miles Teller and pre-Divergent Shailene Woodley as hugely winning entities, charmed and flawed and nerdy as they were. His latest, The End of the Tour, resulted in a performance from Jason Segel that is as unforgettable and transformative as it was under-appreciated come award’s season (Jesse Eisenberg is no slouch in the film either.) And finally, as important if not more so than the previous reasons, is the fact that with each of his films, there is a clear sense of an artisan fine tuning his craft. An auteur shaping his foibles and crafting a distinct American voice. It’s no accident that his last two films have landed on my Top Ten of the Year list. No, James Pondsolt is here to stay and I am thereby naming him my best director under 40.

Erik Samdahl of Film Jabber @filmjabber

I can’t say any under-40 director stands out as someone that I follow, but I’d say James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring) catches my attention the most, at least when he’s making a horror movie.

Second would be Gareth Edwards, though his sample set is very small.

Jason Roestel of Examiner @filmbastard

Have to go with Gareth Evans (The Raid series) for this one. The most exciting thing to happen to the most exciting film genre – action thriller – since John McTiernan turned in his keys. And he hasn’t even made his first legit American movie yet.

 Drew Powell of Drew’s Movie Blog @Drewpowell123

I’m picking Ryan Coogler. He’s only made two films so far but they’re both great and wholly distinct from one another–demonstrating impressive range in Coogler’s young career.  In his stunning debut feature, Fruitvale Station Coogler recounts the final hours of Oscar Grant (Michael B Jordan) who was tragically killed by a BART police officer. What’s genius about Fruitvale Station is that Coogler’s main focus is not on the death itself or the aftermath (his death led to riots and protests) but on Oscar and his final interactions with friends and family. Coogler presents a genuine, emotionally poignant snapshot of the young man’s life that inspires sympathy from audience without making him into a saint. Oscar is not a hero or a villain, but a well-rounded human being with strengths and weaknesses. Meanwhile, in his sophomore feature Creed, Coogler reinvigorates the tired Rocky franchise as well as the boxing film itself. While the film’s plot trajectory is similar to the first Rocky Coogler tweaks the formula just enough. Adonis Creed (Jordan again) is still the underdog, but instead of coming from nowhere he has to get out from under the large shadow cast by his deceased father Apollo Creed.  Additionally, Coogler brings back Rocky himself in a substantial and meaningful way. The aging champ doesn’t show up in some glorified cameo to wink at fans of the franchise but as Adonis’ coach and friend. In the end their bond becomes the emotional core of the film.

So there you have it: a tragic, thought provoking biographical drama followed by a triumphant, energetic sports film. After just two films, Coogler demonstrates that he’s eager and capable of tackling multiple genres and styles (his next film is the Marvel’s Black Panther), making him one of the most exciting up and coming filmmakers.

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