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10 Underrated First Films You Still Haven’t Seen Yet

23 September 2013 | Features, Film Lists | by Brian White

first films

Great director debut films are never strange to us. Orson Welles’ groundbreaking first film Citizen Kane has been the greatest films of all time for decades until being topped by Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigo last year. Jean Luc Gordard’s Breathles and Francois Truffaut’s 400 Blows helped launch the exciting French New Wave. Even as movie buffs of the younger generation, we are no strangers to such classic first films like Following(Christopher Nolan),  Reservoir Dogs(Quentin Tarantino), Hunger(Steve MacQueen) and Pi(Darren Aronofsky).

First films are often not as mature as directors’ later works, but the incredible creative energy and the motivation of making a film to shock the world are something that made these debut movies so great. Movie fans love to find the roots of a director’s filmmaking style, but some underappreciated gems still haven’t gained the exposure they deserve, here’s 10 of the greatest of the lot.


10. Cronos


The Director: Guillermo del Toro

Most Famous Movies: Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth

The Debut: Guillermo del Toro made an auspicious and audacious feature debut with Cronos, a highly unorthodox tale about the seductiveness of the idea of immortality. Kindly antiques dealer Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi) happens upon an ancient golden device in the shape of a scarab, and soon finds himself the possessor and victim of its sinister, addictive powers, as well as the target of a mysterious American named Angel (a delightfully crude and deranged Ron Perlman).

Featuring marvelous special makeup effects and the haunting imagery for which del Toro has become world-renowned, Cronos is a dark, visually rich, and emotionally captivating fantasy.


9. Metropolitan

Metropolitan 1990

The Director: Whit Stillman

Most Famous Movies: Metropolitan, Barcelona.

The Debut: One of the great American independent films of the 1990s, the surprise hit Metropolitan, by writer-director Whit Stillman, is a sparkling comedic chronicle of a young man’s romantic misadventures while trying to fit in to New York City’s debutante society.

Stillman’s deft, literate dialogue and hilariously highbrow observations earned this first film an Academy Award nomination for best original screenplay. Beneath the wit and sophistication, though, lies a tender tale of adolescent anxiety.


8. Solo con tu pareja

Solo con tu pareja

The Director: Alfonso Cuaron

Most Famous Movies: Y tu mama tambien, Children of Men.

The Debut: Before Alfonso Cuaron helmed the international sensation Y tu mama tambien, he made his mark on Mexican cinema with the ribald and lightning-quick contemporary social satire Solo con tu pareja. Don Juan–ish yuppie Tomas Tomas (Daniel Gimenez Cacho, from Bad Education) spends his nights juggling so many beautiful women that he can’t keep their names straight—until one of his many conquests, a spurned nurse, gives him a taste of his own medicine.

Beautifully filmed in widescreen by the inimitable Emmanuel Lubezki, Cuaron’s wildly successful feature debut gave voice to a Mexican middle-class that had remained largely unseen onscreen, and surveys contemporary urban sexual mores with style to spare.


7. Mala Noche


The Director: Gus Van Sant

Most Famous Movies: My Own Private Idaho, The Elephant.

The Debut: With its low budget and lush black-and-white imagery, Gus Van Sant’s debut feature Mala Noche heralded an idiosyncratic, provocative new voice in American independent film. Set in Van Sant’s hometown of Portland, Oregon, the film evokes a world of transient workers, dead-end day-shifters, and bars and seedy apartments bathed in a profound nighttime, as it follows a romantic deadbeat with a wayward crush on a handsome Mexican immigrant.

Mala Noche was an important prelude to the New Queer Cinema of the nineties and is a fascinating capsule from a time and place that continues to haunt its director’s work.


6. Bottle Rocket

Bottle Rocket

The Director: Wes Anderson

Most Famous Movies: Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom

The Debut: Wes Anderson first illustrated his lovingly detailed, slightly surreal cinematic vision (with cowriter Owen Wilson) in this visually witty and warm portrait of three young misfits. Best friends Anthony (Luke Wilson), Dignan (Owen Wilson), and Bob (Robert Musgrave) stage a wildly complex, mildly successful robbery of a small bookstore, then go “on the lam.” During their adventures, Anthony falls in love with a South American housekeeper, Inez (Lumi Cavazos), and they befriend local thief extraordinaire Mr. Henry (James Caan).

Bottle Rocket is a charming, hilarious, affectionate look at the folly of dreamers, shot against radiant southwestern backdrops, and the film that put Anderson and the Wilson brothers on the map.

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