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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 »
It's hard to believe, but just 49 years ago it was illegal for interracial couples to marry in sixteen states. That all changed thanks to one brave couple, who fought for and won the right to live together as husband and wife in the state of Virginia, where anti-miscegenation laws were still in place. Now, the incredible true story of Richard and Mildred Loving's historic victory with the Supreme Court in 1967 is the subject of a new film, Loving, which earned rave reviews and early Oscar buzz when it debuted at the Cannes Film Festival. Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, seen »
- Michael Miller, @write_miller
On this day in history as it relates to the movies...
1916 Disaster epic super producer Irwin Allen is born. (More on him this afternoon)
1919 Stage legend Uta Hagen is born. Though she only ever makes three movies, she originates Tony winning roles on stage that later win Oscars for movie stars (The Country Girl and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?). Also the co-author of "Respect for Acting" and a reknowned acting teacher with 70s legends Pacino & De Niro as students
1942 Anne Frank receives a diary for her 13th birthday. She does not live much longer during the horrific events of The Holocaust but The Diary of Anne Frank becomes a key text of the 20th century. The George Stevens film adaptation (of the Pulitzer winning play of the same name by the screenwriters) released in 1959 receives 8 nominations including Best Picture and takes home three Oscars
1946 Oscar-nominated costume designer Maurizio Millenotti is born in Italy. Credits include: Otello, Hamlet (1990 version), Malèna, The Passion of the Christ and Federico Fellini's And the Ship Sails On.
← 1967 The Supreme Court strikes down anti-miscenegation laws banning interracial marriage in the Loving v Virginia case. This year's Oscar hopeful Loving (2016), starring Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton tells the Loving story. There's also a movement to make June 12th, "Loving Day," an official Us holiday for celebrating multiracial families. Sadly the movie isn't opening today for this anniversary so we'll have to wait months to see it. Perhaps the 50th anniversary next year, after the story is more widely known with the movie, will help add momentum.
1985 Dave Franco is born
2010 Slow burning hit "Bulletproof" peaks on the Us charts nearly a year after its release. Two years later Beca deploys it to fuck up Aubrey's stale act in Pitch Perfect (2012)
- NATHANIEL R
Edgerton will portray a man protecting his wife and son from a mysterious presence terrorizing them right outside their doorstep. David Kaplan is producing the film with A24, which is also distributing.
Shults wrote and directed “Krisha,” which won the SXSW grand jury award for narrative feature last year.
A24 acquired “Krisha” as part of a two-picture deal with Shults and released the movie in March with domestic grosses totaling $144,000.
- Dave McNary
The family that slays together stays together" — it's a phrase might as well be inscribed in Latin on the Cody clan's crest. Three generations of burglars and thieves come together under one roof on TNT's rough-hewn new drama Animal Kingdom (an Americanized adaptation of the 2010 Australian crime thriller) and precious little is off-limits: the kids blow lines of coke in front of their elders, the oldest son delivers an extended angry tirade to his relatives while hanging dong, and if someone gets bumped off during a messy jewel heist, you »
Aussie actor Joel Edgerton, coming off the one-two punch of Jane Got a Gun and Jeff Nichols’ old-school sci-fi Midnight Special, is reportedly circling the lead role in supernatural pic, It Comes at Night.
That’s according to Deadline, noting that Edgerton has opened talks to headline the thriller. Trey Edward Shults is attached to direct, placing Edgerton in the shoes of “a father who will stop at nothing to protect his wife and son from a malevolent, mysterious presence terrorizing them right outside their doorstep.”
A24 will handle domestic distribution duties, potentially aligning the movie with a late 2017 release. It’ll also produce Trey Edward Shults’ thriller, who is coming off the back of festival hit Krisha. That represented the start of a two-picture deal between Shults and A24.
It Comes at Night remains in pre-production at this early, early stage. Beyond that, Edgerton also has roles in American Express »
- Michael Briers
One of the nice success stories of 2015 revolved around Trey Edward Shults and his directorial debut, “Krisha.” His intimate, intense family drama was a big hit at SXSW (winning the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize) and kicked off a great run for the movie which saw it hit Cannes, festivals around the world, […]
- Kevin Jagernauth
After crafting one of the most overlooked films of the year thus far, Krisha, writer-director Trey Edwards Shults is sticking with A24 for his next feature. Deadline reports that he’s found a star for his upcoming thriller It Comes at Night as Joel Edgerton will play the father “will stop at nothing to protect his wife and son from a malevolent, mysterious presence terrorizing them right outside their doorstep.” Although no shooting start has been revealed yet, hopefully we’ll see it by 2017. Meanwhile, Edgerton can next be seen in the impressive Loving (our review), his second Jeff Nichols feature of the year.
The guys behind Workaholics have been seen in a number of films the last few years, but they are about to get one to call their own. THR reports that Adam Devine, Anders Holm, Blake Anderson and Kyle Newacheck are teaming with Seth Rogen and Scott Rudin »
- Leonard Pearce
Edgerton will play a father who will stop at nothing to protect his wife and son from a malevolent, mysterious presence terrorizing them right outside their doorstep.
Source: Deadline »
- Garth Franklin
Exclusive: Joel Edgerton is in talks to star in It Comes At Night, a thriller written and to be directed by Trey Edward Shults, which A24 will produce and distribute domestically. Edgerton will play a father who will stop at nothing to protect his wife and son from a malevolent, mysterious presence terrorizing them right outside their doorstep. Shults wrote and directed Krisha, which became part of a two-picture deal with A24 along with this new pic, which is being… »
Debuting on June 14 with a two-hour premiere on TNT, Animal Kingdom sadly is one of those adaptations that just doesn't work. Whereas the 2010 Australian film starring Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton and Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver about a matriarch-run Melbourne crime family was very good, the SoCal-set small-screen series from John Wells and Jonathan Lisco pulls too dramatic many punches and ends up being merely gratuitous With Ellen Barkin as boss mama "Smurf" Cody, Scott… »
PBS SoCal’s “Variety Studio: Actors on Actors” series has nabbed its second consecutive nomination for a Los Angeles Area Emmy Award.
The series that features notable actors in conversations about their craft is a contender in the entertainment programming category. “Variety Studio: Actors on Actors” won the trophy last year on its first nomination.
Hosted by Variety‘s Jenelle Riley, the 2015 edition featured such pairings as Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, Amy Schumer and Lily Tomlin, Brie Larson and Joel Edgerton, Steve Carell and Rooney Mara and Bryan Cranston and Jason Segel.
Also nommed in the category is Kcbs/Kcal’s “Nx Soundstage” series and Ktla’s “Parade Countdown” telecast.
Univision’s Kmex and NBC’s Knbc lead the field in the 68th annual L.A. Emmy Awards derby overall with a total of 19 nominations apiece. Kcet grabbed 13 while Ktla and Telemundo’s Kvea each garnered 10.
In the news races, »
- Variety Staff
Exclusive: If “Loving Day” didn’t already exist as it has for the past 13 years, then Focus Features just might have tried to invent it. Focus is releasing Loving on November 4, but it unveiled the 1950s- and ’60s-set interracial marriage story from writer-director Jeff Nichols at last month’s Cannes Film Festival and got immediate Oscar buzz from awards pundits. The film stars Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga as Richard and Mildred Loving, a quiet couple whose… »
At a loss for what to watch this week? From new DVDs and Blu-rays, to what's new on Netflix and TV, we've got you covered.
New on DVD and Blu-ray
Those sloths at the Dmv could learn from Disney's super-fast home release of "Zootopia." The instant classic blockbuster came out in theaters in early March, and it's already arriving on Digital HD, Disney Movies Anywhere, DVD, and On-Demand on June 7. The Blu-ray and Digital releases come with a magical amount of bonus features, including "Zoology: The Roundtables," with Ginnifer Goodwin (who voices rabbit officer Judy Hopps) leading an in-depth look at the movie's characters, animation, environments, and more. Other extras include "The Origin of an Animal Tale," "Research: A True-Life Adventure," "Z.P.D. Forensic Files," "Scoretopia," a look at deleted characters, a bunch of deleted and alternate scenes (including an alternate opening), and Shakira's "Try Everything" music video. »
- Gina Carbone
Exclusive: Wme has signed David Ayer, the accomplished writer-director who wrapped the upcoming Warner Bros DC pic Suicide Squad and next directs Will Smith and Joel Edgerton in the Max Landis-scripted Bright. The latter film sold to Netflix in one of the biggest movie package auctions in recent years, with the streaming service committing to a $90 million package. Ayer had been long been repped by CAA, where the former U.S. Navy submariner wrote such thrillers as Training… »
Now that the 2016 Cannes Film Festival is safely in our rearview mirror, we can do what always happens a few days after the fest concludes…try and find some Oscar buzz! Yes, Cannes this year had some definite movies that will be in the conversation for Academy Award nominations, though as I said earlier in the week, it likely won’t be coming from their slate of prize winners. The Palme d’Or winning I, Daniel Blake doesn’t seem poised for much love, so while a title or two from the competition section will sniff the precursor season, there will be as much attention paid to the ones that played our of competition in 2016. That’s just how it wound up going down this year, though nothing is set in stone just yet… The big one it seems, if you had to choose, is Loving from Jeff Nichols. That »
- Joey Magidson
The Cannes Film Festival doesn’t much care what the American public likes. Hollywood entries at Cannes 2016, which included recent releases “Money Monster and “The Nice Guys,” played out of competition. And most of the award winners won’t register at the North American box office, no matter how much the critics adore them.
However, there was another set of movies at Cannes. While largely ignored by the jury, these titles have serious aspirations to make a mark at the arthouse this year — and at the Oscars next year. They’re the Cannes films you’re most likely to see.
Here’s our ranking of the movies with distributors that most likely to reach a sizable North American audience this fall.
- Anne Thompson and Graham Winfrey
At the Cannes film festival, Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, the stars of Jeff Nichols’s Loving, a biopic of Richard and Mildred Loving, a white man and a black woman who were arrested in Virginia in 1958 for marrying, talk to Nigel M Smith. They tell how their case echoes through to the legilisation of gay marriage in modern America. Nichols explains why he wasn’t keen on making the couple’s story a traditional court room drama
Continue reading »
- Nigel M Smith and Henry Barnes
Proof 20th anniversary screening and Q&A.
Guests who have participated in Aacta events over the last couple of years include Andrew Knight, Jeremy Sims, Jan Chapman, Tony Ayres, Joel Edgerton, Richard Roxburgh, Deborah Mailman, Penny Chapman, Ariel Kleiman, Megan Riakos and Ryan Griffen.
.Our member events are providing a platform for the public and the industry to come together to watch, discuss and share insights into great Australian productions and the creative process, and we.re pleased to have expanded our program to include television premieres on the big screen, including our upcoming screening of Foxtel.s Secret City", Trewhella said. .
- Staff Writer
Richard and Mildred Loving became icons of the civil rights movement when their fight to marry led the Supreme Court to rule all bans on interracial marriage unconstitutional. But beyond the couple's part in the historic ruling, Ruth Negga - who plays Mildred in the film adaptation of the story, Loving - tells People and Entertainment Weekly that she was drawn to the part because of the couple's enduring love for one another. "I'd seen the documentary, and I was so struck by this couple," the Irish-Ethiopian actress explained at the Cannes Film Festival, where Loving swiftly began generating Oscar buzz. »
- Michael Miller, @write_miller
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