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They’ve made some of the best thrillers of the past six years. We list some of the best modern thriller directors currently working...
Director Guillermo del Toro once described suspense as being about the withholding of information: either a character knows something the audience doesn’t know, or the audience knows something the character doesn’t. That’s a deliciously simple way of describing something that some filmmakers often find difficult to achieve: keeping viewers on the edges of their seats.
The best thrillers leave us scanning the screen with anticipation. They invite us to guess what happens next, but then delight in thwarting expectations. We can all name the great thriller filmmakers of the past - Alfred Hitchcock, Carol Reed, Brian De Palma - but what about the current crop of directors? Here’s our pick of the filmmakers who’ve made some great modern thrillers over the past six years - that is, between the year 2010 and the present.
To think there was once a time when Jeremy Saulnier was seriously quitting the film business.
“To be honest," Saulner told us back in 2014, “Macon and I had really given up on our quest to break into the industry and become legitimate filmmakers. So what we were trying to do with Blue Ruin was archive our 20 year arc and bring it to a close. Really just revisit our stomping grounds and use locations that were near and dear to us and build a narrative out of that.”
Maybe this personal touch explains at least partly why Blue Ruin wound up getting so much attention in Cannes in 2013, signalling not the end of Saulnier and his star Macon Blair’s career, but a brand new chapter. But then again, there’s more than just hand-crafted intimacy in Saulnier’s revenge tale; there’s also its lean, minimal storytelling and the brilliance of its characterisation. Blue Ruin is such an effective thriller because its protagonist is so atypical: sad-eyed, inexperienced with guns, somewhat soft around the edges, Macon Blair’s central character is far from your typical righteous avenger.
Green Room, which emerged in the UK this year, explores a similar clash between very ordinary people and extraordinary violence. A young punk band shout about anarchy and aggression on stage, but they quickly find themselves out of their depth when they’re cornered by a group of bloodthirsty neo-Nazis. In Saulnier’s films, grubby, unseemly locations are matched by often beautiful locked-off shots. Familiar thriller trappings are contrasted by twists of fortune that are often shocking.
Here’s one of those directors who can pack an overwhelming sense of dread in a single image: in Sicario, his searing drug-war thriller from last year, it was the sight of tiny specks of dust falling in the light scything through a window. That single shot proved to be the calm before the storm, as Villeneuve unleashed a salvo of blood-curdling events: an attempted FBI raid on a building gone horribly awry. And this, I think, is the brilliance of Villeneuve’s direction, and why he’s so good at directing thrillers like Sicario or 2013’s superb Prisoners - he understands the rhythm of storytelling, and how scenes of quiet can generate almost unbearable tension.
Another case in point: the highway sequence in Sicario, where Emily Blunt’s FBI agent is stuck in a traffic jam outside one of the most violent cities in the world. Villeneueve makes us feel the stifling heat and the claustrophobia; something nasty’s going to happen, we know that - but it’s the sense of anticipation which makes for such an unforgettable scene.
Prisoners hews closely to the template of a modern mystery thriller, but it’s once again enriched by Villeneuve’s expert pacing and the performances he gets out of his actors. Hugh Jackman’s seldom been better as a father on the hunt for his missing child, while Jake Gyllenhaal mesmerises as a cop scarred by his own private traumas.
Ramsay’s We Need To Talk About Kevin may be the most effective psychological thriller of recent years. About the difficult relationship between a mother (Tilda Swinton) and her distant, possibly sociopathic son (Ezra Miller), Ramsay’s film is masterfully told from beginning to end - which is impressive, given that the source novel by Lionel Shriver is told via a series of letters. Ramsay takes the raw material from the book and crafts something cinematic and highly disturbing: a study of guilt, sorrow and recrimination. Tension bubbles even in casual conversations around the dinner table. Miller is an eerie, cold-eyed blank. Swinton is peerless. One scene, in which Swinton’s mother comes home in the dead of night, is unforgettable. Here’s hoping Ramsay returns with another feature film very soon.
Morten Tyldum - Headhunters
All kinds of thrillers have emerged from Scandinavia over the past few years, whether on the large or small screen or in book form. Morten Tyldum’s Headhunters is among the very best of them. The fast-paced and deliriously funny story of an art thief who steals a painting from the wrong guy, Headhunters launched Tyldum on an international stage - Alan Turing drama The Imitation Game followed, and the Sony sci-fi film Passengers is up next. It isn’t hard to see why, either: Headhunters shows off Tyldum’s mastery of pace and tone, as his pulp tale hurtles from intense chase scenes to laugh-out-loud black comedy.
Granted, Joel Edgerton’s better known as an actor, having turned in some superb performances in the likes of Warrior, Zero Dark Thirty and Warror. But with a single film - The Gift, which he wrote, directed, produced and starred in - Edgerton established himself as a thriller filmmaker of real promise. About a successful, happily married couple whose lives are greatly affected by an old face from the husband’s past, The Gift is an engrossing, unsettling movie with superb performances from Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall as well as Edgerton.
A riff on the ‘killer in our midst’ thrillers of the 80s and 90s - The Stepfather, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle and so on - The Gift is all the more effective because of its restraint. We’re never quite sure who the villain of the piece is, at least at first - and Edgerton’s use of the camera leaves us wrong-footed at every turn. The world arguably needs more thrillers from Joel Edgerton.
If you haven’t seen The Gift yet, we’d urge you to track it down.
David Michod - Animal Kingdom
The criminals at play in this true-life crime thriller are all the more chilling because they’re so mundane - a bunch of low-level thieves, murderers and gangsters who prowl around the rougher parts of Melbourne, Australia. Writer-director David Michod spent years developing Animal Kingdom, and it was worth the effort: it’s an intense, engrossing film, for sure, but it’s also a believable glimpse of the worst of human nature. Ben Mendelsohn and Jacki Weaver play villains of different kinds; the latter a manipulative grandmother who looks over her brood of criminals, the former a spiteful thief. Crafting moments of incredible tension from simple exchanges, Michod launched himself as a formidable talent with this feature debut.
Affleck’s period drama-thriller Argo won all kinds of awards, but we’d argue his earlier thrillers were equally well made. Gone Baby Gone was a confident debut and an economical adaptation of Dennis LeHane’s novel. The Town, released in 2010, was a heist thriller that made the most of its Boston setting. One of its key scenes - a bank robbery in which the thieves wear a range of bizarre outfits, including a nun’s habit - is masterfully staged. With Affleck capable of teasing out great performances from his actors and staging effective set-pieces, it’s hardly surprising he’s so heavily involved in making at least one Batman movie for Warner - as well as playing the hero behind the mask.
The quiet, almost meditative tone of Anton Corbijn’s movies mean they aren’t necessarily to everyone’s taste, but they’re visually arresting and almost seductive in their rhythm and attention to detail. Already a celebrated photographer, Corbijn successfully crossed over into filmmaking with Control, an exquisitely-made drama about Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis. Corbijn took a markedly different direction with The American, a thriller about an ageing contract killer (George Clooney) who hides out in a small Italian town west of Rome. Inevitably, trouble eventually comes calling.
Corbijn’s direction remains gripping because he doesn’t give us huge action scenes to puncture the tension. We can sense the capacity for violence coiled up beneath the hitman’s calm exterior, and Corbijn makes sure we only see rare flashes of that toughness - right up until the superbly-staged climax.
A Most Wanted Man, based on the novel by John le Carre, is a similarly astute study of an isolated yet fascinating character - in this instance, the world-weary German intelligence agent Gunther Bachmann, brilliantly played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Tragically, the film proved to be one of the last before Hoffman’s death in 2014.
Mention Greengrass’ name, and the director’s frequent use of handheld cameras might immediately spring to mind. But time and again, Greengrass has proved a master of his own personal approach - you only have to look at the muddled, migraine-inducing films of his imitators to see how good a director Greengrass is. Part of the filmmakers’ visual language rather than a gimmick, Greengrass’ camera placement puts the viewer in the middle of the story, whether it’s an amnesiac agent on the run (his Bourne films) or on a hijacked aircraft (the harrowing United 93). While not a huge hit, Green Zone was an intense and intelligent thriller set in occupied Iraq. The acclaimed Captain Phillips, meanwhile, was a perfect showcase for Greengrass’ ability to fuse realism and suspense; the true story of a merchant vessel hijacked by Somali pirates, it is, to quote Greengrass himself, “a contemporary crime story.”
We can’t help thinking that, with a better marketing push behind it, Triple 9 could have been a much bigger hit when it appeared in cinemas earlier this year. It has a great cast - Chiwetel Ejiofor, Norman Reedus, Anthony Mackie and Aaron Paul as a group of seasoned thieves, Kate Winslet cast against type as a gangland boss - and its heist plot rattles along like an express train.
Hillcoat seems to have the western genre pulsing through his veins, and he excels at creating worlds that are desolate and all-enveloping, whether his subjects are period pieces (The Proposition, Lawless) or post-apocalyptic dramas (The Road). Triple 9 sees Hillcoat make an urban western that is both classic noir and entirely contemporary; his use of real cops and residents around the film’s Atlanta location give his heightened story a grounding that is believable in the moment. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the scene in which Casey Affleck’s cop breaches a building while hunkered down behind a bullet-proof shield. Hillcoat places us right there in the scene with Affleck and the cops sneaking into the building behind him; we sense the claustrophobia and vulnerability.
Hillcoat explained to us in February that this sequence wasn’t initially written this way in the original script; it changed when the director and his team discovered how real-world cops protect themselves in real-world situations. In Triple 9, research and great filmmaking combine to make an unforgettably intense thriller.
Jim Mickel - Cold In July
Seemingly inspired by such neo-Noir thrillers as Red Rock West and Blood Simple, 2014‘s Cold In July is a genre gem from director Jim Mickle (Stake Land, We Are What We Are). Michael C Hall plays an ordinary guy in 80s America who shoots an intruder who breaks into his home, and becomes drawn into a moody conspiracy that takes in crooked cops, porn and a private eye (who's also keen pig-rearer) played by Don Johnson. Constantly shifting between tones, Mickel’s thriller refuses to stick to genre expectations. In one scene, after Hall shoots the burglar dead, Mickel’s camera lingers over the protagonist as he cleans up the blood and glass. It’s touches like these that make Cold In July far more than a typical thriller.
Mickel’s teaming up with Sylvester Stallone next; we’re intrigued to see what that partnership produces.
As a filmmaker, Scorsese needs no introduction. As a director of thrillers, he’s in a class of his own: from Taxi Driver via the febrile remake of Cape Fear to the sorely underrated Bringing Out The Dead, his films are full of suspense and the threat of violence. Shutter Island, based on the Dennis LeHane novel of the same name, saw Scorsese plunge eagerly into neo-noir territory. A murder mystery set in a mental institution on the titular Shutter Island, its atmosphere is thick with menace. Like a combination of Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man and Adrian Lyne’s cult classic Jacob’s Ladder, Shutter Island’s one of those stories where we never know who we can trust - even the protagonist, played by Leonardo DiCaprio.
After the trial by fire that was Alien 3, David Fincher found his footing in the 90s with such hits as Seven and The Game. In an era where thrillers were in much greater abundance, from the middling to the very good, Seven in particular stood out as a genre classic: smartly written, disturbing, repulsive and yet captivating to look at all at once. Fincher’s affinity for weaving atmospheric thrillers continued into the 2010s, first with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, a superb retelling of Stieg Larsson’s book which didn’t quite find the appreciative audience deserved, and Gone Girl, an even better movie which - thankfully - became a hit.
Based on Gillian Flynn’s novel (and adapted by the author herself), Gone Girl is both a gripping thriller and a thoroughly twisted relationship drama. Fincher’s mastery of the genre is all here: his millimetre-perfect composition, seamless touches of CGI and subtle yet effective uses of colour and shadow. While not a straight-up masterpiece like the period thriller Zodiac, Gone Girl is still a glossy, smart and blackly funny yarn in the Hitchcock tradition. If there’s one master of the modern thriller currently working, it has to be Fincher.
See related John Hillcoat interview: Triple 9, crime, fear of comic geniuses Jim Mickle interview: Cold In July, thrillers, Argento Jeremy Saulnier interview: Green Room, John Carpenter Jeremy Saulnier interview: making Blue Ruin & good thrillers Denis Villeneuve interview: Sicario, Kurosawa, sci-fi, ugly poetry Morten Tyldum interview: The Imitation Game, Cumberbatch, Headhunters Paul Greengrass interview: Captain Phillips & crime stories Movies Feature Ryan Lambie thrillers 15 Jun 2016 - 06:11 Cold In July Triple 9 Shutter Island Gone Girl David Fincher Martin Scorsese John Hillcoat Directors thrillers movies »
No need to call in sick, just yet. Principal photography has begun on Sky Atlantic's Sick Note TV show, starring Rupert Grint, Nick Frost, and Don Johnson. Johnson recently starred in the Blood & Oil TV show which was cancelled by ABC after ten episodes, in 2015.
The new comedy shows how desperate one can become, when a lie spirals out of control. The Sick Note TV series is created and written by at Saunders and James Serafinowicz. The show will premiere on Sky Atlantic in early 2017. Sky Vision is handling international distribution.
Read More… »
Created and written by Nat Saunders ("Trollied") and James Serafinowicz ("The Mark Steel Lectures"), Grint plays a compulsive liar stuck in a failing relationship and a dead-end job under the thumb of his irrepressible boss (Johnson). When diagnosed with cancer, everyone starts to treat him better.
Then he finds out he was misdiagnosed by an incompetent oncologist (Frost), but decides to keep the new information to himself. That lie spirals out of control.
Jo Sargent will executive produce. Filming is now underway and an early 2017 airdate is planned.
Source: Deadline »
- Garth Franklin
“Harry Potter” star Rupert Grint, “Shaun of the Dead’s” Nick Frost and “Miami Vice’s” Don Johnson will star in comedy “Sick Note,” which has been greenlit by European pay TV operator Sky. The show looks at how desperate a person’s actions can become when a lie starts to spiral out of control.
The series is produced by British production company King Bert, which was founded by producer Jo Sargent (“Absolutely Fabulous,” “Miranda”) and writer-performers David Walliams and Miranda Hart. It is created and written by Nat Saunders and James Serafinowicz. The series, which is set to air on premium pay channel Sky Atlantic early next year, will be directed by Matt Lipsey, who won a BAFTA for “Little Britain.”
“Sick Note” is the story of Daniel Glass (Grint), a compulsive liar, who’s stuck in a failing relationship and a dead-end job, where he is under the »
- Leo Barraclough
Created and written by Nat Saunders (Trollied) and James Serafinowicz (The Mark Steel Lectures), Sky Atlantic’s Sick Note is a six-part comedy about how desperate a person's actions can become when a lie starts to spiral out of control. Harry Potter‘s Rupert Grint, Nick Frost (Shaun Of The Dead) and Don Johnson are starring in the King Bert production. An ealy 2017 airdate is planned. Principal photography is now underway on the story of Daniel Glass (Grint), a compulsive… »
Rupert Grint and Nick Frost will star in the 2017 comedy series "Sick Note" which will air on Sky Atlantic in 2017. Rupert plays Daniel Glass, a man misdiagnosed with cancer who keeps up the charade after realizing how great people treat him. Nick Frost plays Dr. Ian Glennis, an incompetent oncologist and also Us actor Don Johnson, who plays Kenny West, Daniel's irrepressible boss. »
In news coming out of Cannes, Don Johnson (Django Unchained) and Deborah Kara Unger (The Game) have signed on to star alongside Nicolas Cage in the upcoming thriller Vengeance: A Love Story. Also featuring in the cast are Anna Hutchison (The Cabin in the Woods) and Talitha Bateman (The 5th Wave).
Back in March, it was reported that Cage would be directing the adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ novel Rape: A Love Story following the departure of original helmer Harold Becker, before Johnny Martin (Case#13) stepped in to take the reins. Here’s the official synopsis…
On the Fourth of July, twelve-year-old Bethie Maguire (Talitha Bateman) flags down Niagara Falls Police Detective John Dromoor (Nicolas Cage). Bethie’s mother, Teena, (Anna Hutchison) has been brutally raped by four meth heads, was left for dead, and is being nursed back to health by her mother, Agnes (Deborah Kara Unger), a strong, »
- Gary Collinson
Don Johnson must have kept his finger on the fast-forward button when he watched Fifty Shades of Grey. His daughter, Dakota Johnson, opened up to Interview magazine about how her dad deals with her sex scenes in the film. Asked if her famous dad has watched any of her steamy scenes with costar Jamie Dornan, the magazine's May cover star said with a laugh, "No! God, no. Thank God." The actress was quick to add that the sex, of course, is not real, and they're not as sexy as they might look on camera. "We're not having actual sex," she noted. »
- Michael Miller, @write_miller
She's one of the most well-known breakout stars in recent years, but even Dakota Johnson is uncertain about her future in Hollywood. As the unforgettable protagonist of the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise, the 26-year-old daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith swept the industry's attention on her own in just the last year. With two more blockbuster sequels slated for the years ahead and a People's Choice Award under her belt, Johnson is on route to the kind of megastardom akin to Kristen Stewart in Twilight or Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games. However, she doesn't quite see it that way. "I still feel like I don't know what »
Much like Drew Barrymore, Kate Hudson, and Jane Fonda before her, Dakota Johnson comes from an impressive (and talented) Hollywood lineage. Her grandparents are Tippi Hedren, Hitchcock muse and star of The Birds, and Peter Griffith, a Broadway actor. Her parents, of course, are actors Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, and her former stepfather is Antonio Banderas. Dakota made her big-screen debut alongside her mother in 1999's Crazy in Alabama, but her big break came when she was cast as Anastasia "Ana" Steele in the movie adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey (she's currently filming the second film adaptation of the series with Jamie Dornan). She's also starred in Black Mass and the romantic comedy How to Be Single with Leslie Mann and Rebel Wilson. Aside from showing off her acting chops, Dakota has also blossomed into a breakout style star and made us laugh with her off-the-cuff remarks and »
- Brittney Stephens
Having grown up in Hollywood under the wing of actress mother Tippi Hedren, Melanie Griffith knows a thing or two about the pressures surrounding women in the business. Specifically, that in a town obsessed with youth, career opportunities generally decrease with age. "By the time you're 40 in Los Angeles, you're over the hill in the business," Griffith, 58, tells People. "It takes women that are strong enough to actually change the perception." Griffith, who was nominated for an Oscar in 1989 for her performance in the women-in-the-workplace empowerment classic Working Girl, cites Zoe Cassavetes, the director of her latest film, as one example. »
- Kara Warner, @karawarner
Having grown up in Hollywood under the wing of actress mother Tippi Hedron, Melanie Griffith knows a thing or two about the pressures surrounding women in the business. Specifically, that in a town obsessed with youth, career opportunities generally decrease with age. "By the time you're 40 in Los Angeles, you're over the hill in the business," Griffith, 58, tells People. "It takes women that are strong enough to actually change the perception." Griffith, who won an Oscar in 1988 for her performance in the women-in-the-workplace empowerment classic Working Girl, cites Zoe Cassavetes, the director of her latest film, as one example. Day Out of Days »
- Kara Warner, @karawarner
Joe Lansdale will bust that ass," says Michael K Williams, his face turning serious. "Don't get him twisted." Sitting across the glass conference table, British actor James Purefoy nods. "Have you seen his fights on YouTube?" he asks. "On set, we'd just ask him how to do the right moves." It's mid-morning in SundanceTV's sleek wood-and-glass offices in Manhattan, and Williams and Purefoy — stars of the new southern noir series Hap and Leonard, based on Lansdale's novels and premiering tonight on the cable channel — are describing the three months they »
If Dakota Johnson gets her way, Jamie Dornan will do full frontal nudity in Fifty Shades Darker. Along with her How to Be Single co-stars Leslie Mann and Alison Brie, the 26-year-old actress appeared on Bravo's Watch What Happens Live Wednesday, where host Andy Cohen asked her about appearing naked in explicit sex scenes for 2015's Fifty Shades of Grey. Because of the film's racy subject matter, Dakota's parents, actors Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, still haven't seen her work. "Why would they want to see that?" she asked with a laugh. "Honestly." In a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment, Jamie showed a portion of his penis in Fifty Shades of Grey. Given how little clothing she wore in »
Dakota Johnson had the support of her parents Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson at the New York premiere of her new movie How To Be Single. Dakota Johnson & Parents Proud parents Griffith and Don Johnson walked the red carpet at the How to Be Single premiere held at the Nyu Skirball Center. Griffith captioned […]
- Chelsea Regan
It was a family lovefest on the red carpet of “How to be Single” on Wednesday night outside Nyu’s Skirball Center.
Dakota Johnson’s proud parents, Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, couldn’t stop taking pictures of their daughter posing for photogs and giving interviews. That was, until the thesp looked at her mother, laughed and said, ‘Ok. Ok. You’ve got enough (pictures) already.”
“It’s not a chick flick,” pic’s Anders Holm said. “Weirdly enough it’s a d–k flick.”
Wilson concurred. “It’s not a traditional romantic comedy. The ending is unexpected, and there is a pro-single message. There are a lot of chicks and there are a lot of d–ks. But d–ks, in a good way. The men aren’t a–holes. »
- Addie Morfoot
Dakota Johnson was accompanied by her genetically blessed family at the NYC premiere of her new film, How to Be Single, on Wednesday evening. The actress, who recently returned from her Winter vacation in Aspen, Co, was all smiles when she hit the red carpet with her mother Melanie Griffith, father Don Johnson, and brother Jesse Johnson. The event also brought out Dakota's costars Rebel Wilson, Alison Brie, and Leslie Mann, who was joined by her husband, Judd Apatow. Dakota has been busy promoting the romantic comedy, in which she plays an adorably awkward girl, and during a press junket for the movie, she and Leslie interrupted an interview to hit on a reporter. Keep reading to see more photos from the event, and then watch Dakota drop the f-bomb while cursing at Darth Vader on The Tonight Show. »
- Monica Sisavat
No one is prouder of Dakota Johnson's success than her famous parents Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith. The third-generation actress, who is the granddaughter of Golden Globe-winning actress Tippi Hedren, was accompanied by her father and mother at the New York City premiere of her latest movie How to Be Single on Wednesday. Johnson, 26, looked stunning in a embellished Saint Laurent dress as she walked the red carpet with Griffith, 58, and Johnson, 66, along with half-sibling Jesse Johnson. @donjohnson and @dakotajohnson at her premier of How to be Single.... She's amazing! The movie is so funny, you laugh, you cry! »
- Karen Mizoguchi
Is it possible Ryan Reynolds, People's 2010 Sexiest Man Alive, was not always the gorgeous hunk he is today? On Friday, the Deadpool actor, 39, divulged that he hasn't always been smooth with the ladies. "I went through puberty at 27!" Reynolds joked during an appearance on The Graham Norton Show. "It was a freak thing, yeah it was not good!" The actor then went on to talk about his first crush at the age of 11 - a girl named "Fiona," that he tried to impress with a "Don Johnson" look. "She used to take the bus the opposite way of my actual home. »
- Rose Minutaglio, @RoseMinutaglio
Dakota Johnson is a young, up-and-coming actress with performing in her blood. She.s the daughter of actors Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson. It.s no surprise that the young girl who grew up around acting eventually wanted to become part of the profession herself. What is a little surprising is how much the young woman saw while growing up. She spent several years watching her parents on set, and she saw pretty much everything. In a cover story with Net-a-Porter, Dakota Johnson talks about what it was like growing up as the daughter of the guy from Miami Vice and the woman from Working Girl. Spending a lot of her time on sets watching her parents work led the girl to see a lot of things, that she really didn.t want to see. One can imagine how awkward watching your mother.s love scene can be. However, there »
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