6. Boyz N The Hood
Now recognised as a modern classic Boyz N The Hood follows three young men growing up in South Central Los Angeles. Faced with constant threat from their environment they each grow and develop as they try to remain in control of their lives.
More than just a compelling drama, Boyz N The Hood talks about subjects like self-hate, love, religion, race and parenthood with such emotional intelligence and realism that it makes it one of the most impressive debuts on this list.
And John Singleton wrote and directed it at the age of 23. He also received Oscar nominations for writing and directing, making him the first African American to be nominated for Best Director and the youngest nominee ever, beating Orson Welles’ record by a number of years.
Singleton’s passion for the film is clearly key to its success; he refused to let anyone else direct it, saying they would not be able to bring the authenticity the film deserved. Standing your ground like that in front studio execs at Singleton’s age must have taken some serious guts.
And it paid off because, compared to other crime films of the time, Boyz N The Hood was original and it was one of the most financially successful movies that year, costing very little to make.
Furthermore Singleton shot the film in sequence and admits that his camera work got better as the movie progressed because of it; learning to be a director as he was directing.
7. The Class
The Class is a really fascinating hybrid of film techniques. Realism in cinema, over the last few years has started to feel almost indistinguishable from documentaries. While documentaries and documentarians have started incorporating actors and elements of fiction in their works. In 2008 director Laurent Cantet and former teacher François Bégaudeau that could arguably be classed as both.
The Class sees Bégaudeau playing a fictional version of himself as he teaches a class in a state school in a poor area of Paris. Intended to convey what it was actually like to teach and what sort of lives the kids were living the film only uses a very loose script.
A structure was kept in place to keep the film afloat but almost all dialogue and action is improvised. Cantet would film scenes of Bégaudeau teaching with three cameras, to cover as much as possible and would later be able to cut the footage together to create scenes once the day’s shooting was complete.
It is another simple trick but it’s a very effective way of capturing, a potential difficult-to-get-right scenario in a genuinely authentic way. While the students were aware that they were being filmed, the environment created by the filmmaker and the lead allowed for fantastic results without having to rely on a perfect script or finding the perfect actors.
It probably isn’t surprising that a lot of filmmakers start out as film fans. Richard Ayoade is just such a filmmaker and while he has, so far, only made two films they are both worth checking out as they are made by someone who really knows what they are doing.
Submarine is a very sweet coming of age drama set in a small Welsh town. Oliver Tate is simultaneously concerned with losing his virginity and stopping his mother from having an affair. The film is both funny and sad, but could have been overlooked among all the other coming-of-age dramas out there, and yet Ayoade manages to find a sort of magic that sets it apart.
While this is an entirely original story, Ayodae fills it with influences from other filmmakers, particularly Ingmar Bergman. In fact some of Bergman’s shots are replicated in this film. The world of the story is grown-up and bleak but, by taking influence from tonally very different films, the characters exist in another more magical and child-like reality that’s at odds with the world around them.
Ayodae expertly creates something new from something old: he takes what he loves and it’s as if he uses this film to explain why he loves it so much. It both elevates the story and shows the audience Ayoade’s unique creative voice.
9. Shallow Grave
Oscar winner Danny Boyle has often said that his Dad doesn’t think he’s made a better film than his debut, Shallow Grave. Whether you agree with that or not Shallow Grave is a fantastic film and launched the careers of most of its major players. It was so unexpectedly popular at Cannes that extra screenings had to be arranged.
Written by John Hodge, who was a practicing doctor at the time (and would go on to make many films with Boyle including Trainspotting), Shallow Grave is set in one flat where, one day, three friends find a dead body and suitcase full of cash. They decide to keep the cash and dismember the body. Living together with their decision proves to be harder than they expected.
The set-up is so good that the rest of the film almost writes itself as each friend starts to bring the worst out of each other and they become divided as greed, guilt and madness starts to take over.
Danny Boyle, John Hodge, Ewan McGregor may all now be very big names but they all started as relative unknowns. They all shared an apartment together to rehearse, auctioned off the set so they could buy enough film to finish the movie and ended up making the most commercially successful film the year of its release.
10. One Cut of the Dead
The last title on this list is less a film with an inspiring backstory and more a film that really celebrates filmmaking. Higurashi, a freelance filmmaker in Japan, is tasked with making a 40-minute, one cut zombie film to be broadcast live for the launch of a new horror channel.
The film splits itself into three neat acts; the first showing the one-cut movie in its entirety; the second flashing back and showing the auditions and rehearsal for the movie; and the third revealing what was going on off-screen while the film was being made.
While it’s definitely a comedy and not a horror its opening act has all the seriousness and charm of a kid’s home video zombie movie. It’s final act will have you in stitches as you watch desperate crew members rush to get a prop to the right place at the right time, while bits of set fall apart and actors start to go AWOL.
Its comedy comes from the tension, not from the threat of zombies but the fact that the film is being broadcast live and you genuinely care about the characters making the film and how much effort they have put into it.
The world may be over-saturated with zombie films but One Cut of the Dead manages to find a fresh take on the genre. Put it this way, no other zombie film will have you coming away feeling so touched by the relationship between a father and a daughter, dizzy from laughter rather than fear or more inspired to go and make your own. Especially as the credits role and we get to see the footage of the actual crew filming the fake crew filming the fake film.