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TMW’s 10 Best Directorial Debuts of 2020

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The year's most impressive first time feature filmmakers.

With so many major releases pulled from the schedule, 2020 turned out to be a good year to make your feature directorial debut, and we got some real gems from new directors. Here are the 10 directorial debuts that most impressed us in 2020 (for the purposes of this list we've defined "directorial debut" as a first feature length narrative film).


the assistant

The Assistant (Kitty Green)
We said: "A dystopian video installation might be constructed from the film's many lengthy shots of its eponymous protagonist simply standing still and silent in her environment as fluorescent lights buzz, photocopiers hum and police sirens pierce the office walls."


babyteeth

Babyteeth (Shannon Murphy)
We said: "You might imagine a movie like Babyteeth to be a tearjerker, but aside from the emotional flashback coda that closes out the film, I found myself grinning throughout. Its characters might be living in the sort of situations we wouldn't wish on anyone, but they're vividly alive and human."


Beasts Clawing at Straws

Beasts Clawing at Straws (Kim Yong-hoon)
We said: "It is rather beautifully filmed with thick neon-noir colour stylings and a running motif of water; the film’s visual language informing us always of the democratic, Darwinian nature of crime and violence."


Bull

Bull (Annie Silverstein)
We said: "Following a series of shorts, this is Silverstein’s debut feature length film. How exciting to witness the breaking of a brand-new film maker, to be there at the start of her career. No shit, Bull is the real deal."


If You Are Happy

If You Are Happy (Xiaoming Chen)
We said: "A blackly comic satire on the desperate measures one man is willing to take to ensure a future for his daughter. With a stressful, chaotic structure akin to the films of the Safdie brothers, If You Are Happy is as nerve-wracking as any thriller."


Les Misérables

Les Misérables (Ladj Ly)
We said: "What makes Les Misérables such a gripping and stressful watch is how we're given little time to weigh up the ethical complexity of its powder keg scenario. Such moral complexity is a breath of fresh air when compared to recent American movies that have attempted to tackle similar scenarios in a simplistic fashion."


Murmur

Murmur (Heather Young)
We said: "At times, this intimate character study is acutely sad; the sort of sadness that thickens your blood and makes it difficult to breathe because it is so honest and real. A masterpiece of poignancy which troubled me a great deal."


Perfect 10

Perfect 10 (Eva Riley)
We said: "The coming of age drama meets the musical meets the sports movie meets the crime caper in this infectiously charming feature debut from writer/director Riley."


Rose: A Love Story

Rose: A Love Story (Jennifer Sheridan)
We said: "While directing shorts, Sheridan has been working steadily as an editor for the past decade, and her experience shows in her feature debut. Rose: A Love Story is immaculately assembled, with not a beat out of step in its visual storytelling."


The Swerve

The Swerve (Dean Kapsalis)
We said: "This is a grim revival of ‘The Woman’s Film’, a 2020 ‘times up’ iteration of the genre, with all the gorgeous Sirkian technicolor now curdled to muted greys and sour milk whites, but retaining a central character who is both vital to the circumstances she exists within, yet excluded from any meaningful status within that world."