With the upcoming release of Andy Serkis’ directorial debut Breathe, it seems appropriate to take a look at some of the most memorable debuts from filmmakers that went on to achieve long and successful careers (hopefully the same can be said for Serkis).
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
The most well-known film in independent cinema comes from a now equally well-known name in mainstream Hollywood: Quentin Tarantino. Following the life of an undercover cop in his attempt to expose a gang of armed thieves, we see everything except the failed heist that burdens our characters. Instead, we’re left with something even more interesting: the aftermath. Starring a young Steve Buscemi and Tim Roth, and seasoned veteran Harvey Keitel, Reservoir Dogs is a masterclass in maintaining intrigue through dialogue. This is all credit to Tarantino’s intricate writing, with pop culture references, every day observations and horrifying torture scenes set to the sound of a classic rock soundtrack. It’s clear to see that he was bound for success from the get go.
Moving from a highly recognised film to one with a lesser reputation; Following was the birth of now uber-famous director Christopher Nolan. Yes, the man who made The Dark Knight, Inception and Interstellar all started with an $6,000 neo-noir crime drama made with friends. Telling a simple story of a young man who unwillingly falls into the criminal underworld immediately demonstrates the suspenseful and thrilling elements Nolan has become known for. It’s smart, it’s clever and it doesn’t take too long at only 70 minutes. Following allowed Nolan the opportunity to continue with his next feature, Memento.
Amores Perros (2000)
With a lot of experience in producing short films and commercials, it’s no wonder this director’s debut feature went off with a bang. It seems that Alejandro González Iñárritu had no illusions or self-doubt when it came to making his first film in Amores Perros, which follows three harrowing and powerful stories in the heartland of Mexico City. Appropriately named his Trilogy of Death, alongside 21 Grams and Babel, Amores Perros centres around a simple car accident that connects various individuals, each with their own conflicts that have led them to that exact moment. The title is a pun in Spanish that literally means dogs, but be warned – this film is not for dog lovers, with prominent dog fighting scenes. Iñárritu purposefully uses this to connect the three stories, and whilst it might make these stories difficult to watch, it serves as a reminder of the harsh realities of life in Mexico and the struggles many have faced. Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2000, Iñárritu certainly hit the ground running.
Being John Malkovich (1999)
From the man that co-created Jackass (yes, you read that right) comes the film that also marks the screenplay debut for Charlie Kauffman. Directed by Spike Jonze, who recently won the Academy Award for his original screenplay Her, Being John Malkovich follows an equally unusual concept. It’s one of those films that could possibly be the inspiration for the likes of recent hits such as Get Out and The Skeleton Key as it explores the idea of living in someone else’s body. At only 27 years old, Jonze was handed down the script from a Hollywood director who just so happened to also be his father-in-law, Francis Ford Coppola (you may have heard of him) and from there, his career as a director began. Completely original, well-written and at times even horrifying, Being John Malkovich marked one of the boldest debut films for any director as well as a brave performance from the very man himself, John Malkovich. An absurdly unique piece of independent cinema, but one that’s hardly easy to forget.
Mad Max (1979)
A debut film list wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t include the most famous Australian piece of cinema of all time, right? At a later age of 38 years, George Miller conceived this post-apocalyptic world of gasoline fueled madness alongside fellow film student and friend Byron Kennedy. Starring an uber young and handsome Mel Gibson, we follow the dark and twisted downfall of mankind into the apocalyptic wasteland that turns Max into the Mad Man we’ve grown to love. Whilst admittedly being slower paced in comparison to its sequels, it’s clear that what it lacks in big budget action, it more than makes up for in its character and set design. It’s raw, it’s gritty and it’s bloody Aussie. Mad Max will forever mark a crowning achievement not only for independent cinema, but for Australian culture.
Reservoir Dogs image courtesy of Dendy Cinema and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Following image courtesy of Next Wave Films, Amores Perros image courtesy of Niche Pictures and Madman Entertainment, Being John Malkovich image courtesy of United International Pictures and Universal Pictures, Mad Max image courtesy of Roadshow Films