Best First Films

by WP S.

Created 02/08/18

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The level of passion and energy in a directors first film can often define their whole career, and even overshadow it. Here is a list of first films by directors that Criterion has put out that I think are worth watching.

  • A film that has endured since it was released. Both an intimate examination of criminality in the heart of America and a emotional journey into one young girls understanding (or lack thereof) of the dangers of life.
    This is Terence Malick's most constructed, written and directed film. After this he began his long walk towards the more, poetic, free form work his been making in the 2000's.

  • Although not exactly his 'first' feature, that goes to Permanent Vacation (included on the Criterion DVD of Stranger than Paradise), this was the film that defined the Jim Jarmusch style and etiquette. From first look it's slow and very simply put together but on repeat watches, it defines the kind of slacker cool that has grown and evolved into the hipster ethos (it just did it 30 years before hand). Probably my favourite film in the Criterion Collection.

  • Godard might get the lions share of praise within the Nouvelle Vague movement, but with Truffaut's debut feature he dug deep within his childhood and produced a film that shows the struggles and joys of being young. An ambitious, yet incredibly simple story. If Godard was the brain of the New Wave, then Truffaut was the beating heart.

  • This film is incredible. I highly subjective look inside the mind of a young schizophrenic man desperate to reconect with the family he lost after his last breakdown. Using techniques of sound and editing to try and externalise the emotion he is going through, this is Lodge Kerrigan's masterpiece. Director Kerrigan has only directed a handful of movies (including one that was never finished owing to damaged film negatives during the filming), with each of his work becoming more and more oblique he has retreated to TV to work on Steven Soderbergh's show The Girlfriend Experience.
    But for to me, this is the real Lodge Kerrigan.

  • Talk about defining your career straight of the bat. Repo Man was Alex Cox's calling card, and eventual millstone as he was never able to recapture fully the ideas and exuberance of this film. With incredible performances by Harry Dean Stanton and a very young Emilio Estevez, shot by Robby Muller; Repo Man is counter culture through and through.
    It was a real eye opener when I found a copy on VHS in the late 90's and has only gotten better over time.

  • A three year production produced a film that has become David Lynch's frame work for sheer pioneering work.

    I've watched it three times and although enjoyed each time, I still can't fully understand it. It needs repeated watches. David Lynch appeared full formed with this film.

  • One of the funniest films Britain produced. A milestone. Bruce Robinson never reached such lofty heights.
    You wont be able to look in a kitchen sink that is full of dishes without thinking of the word 'matter'.

  • The first and last film by this filmmaking trio. Although Benoît Poelvoorde has gone onto become an internationally recognised actor, Andre Bonzel regreated from filmmaking and Remy Belvaux committed suicide in 2006.

    Released in the same year as Reservoir Dogs, this is every bit it's equal, it's sister film. Such incredible ideas, and wicked sense of humour; the filmmakers should have had a chance to make more work. But they have this and it will always last.

  • This film changed it all. BELIEVE. Before Tarantino, or Kevin Smith, or the rest of the 90's cinematic wunderkind's Richard Linklater created Slacker. A wandering look over 24+ hours in Austin Texas. It's like a wandering dream that flows like a river. It screams originality. This is cinema at it's finest, pushing, pulling, exploring the very crevices of what the medium could be.

  • The Godfather of American Independent cinema. This is where it started. This is the realness.

  • A film so humanist, I can't believe it took me so long to see it. After you watch it, watch the whole trilogy.

    It's about life and it does it well. The restoration look incredible. Thank God someone did the work so we have it as pristine as it is now.

  • A French crime film with young men. This was the foreign film that transcended the barriers of what teenagers would watch. Before this, young people I knew wouldn't watch films in a different language with subtitles. Then La Haine came out and you HAD TO WATCH IT.
    Kassovitz never bettered it. But how could he? He hit the cultural zeitgeist of anger within the youths of the Parisian banleiu's of the 90's. Style and substance at it's highest.

  • This is the Dardenne brother's second turn at fiction. Their redo after a couple of false starts in the late 80's.
    The Promise sets out their stall for how they have continued to make and refine their process.
    They make films about characters, and the problems they face in their lives; yet somehow they manage to make the ideas so fresh it's like they've discovered a new language.

    There's many of their films in the Criterion Collection, and this is a good place to start as they go from this being good to getting better and better.

  • This is Zwigoff's first full feature. His first film (Louie Bluie) is also avaiable on the collection. But this is a definitive character study documentary. Intimate and expansive, it reveals things about the elusive artist Robert Crumb that nobody else was able to get to.
    A film that gets better with each viewing. Worth of a place on your shelf!

  • The Coen brothers begun bending genre's to their will with this film. Frances McDormand appears into the cinematicr landscape and thankfully hasn't left since.
    It's got style in abundance. If only every filmmaker could make such an assured debut.

  • The first of Romero's zombie trilogy. He created the modern zombie film. It's as fresh today as it was 50 years ago. The Walking Dead's great grandfather.

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