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The 20 Best New Filmmakers of 2011

December 9, 2011  |  9:34am

Every day until New Year’s Eve we’ll be looking back at the best music and pop culture of 2011. Today we look at filmmakers, alternating between the 10 best new documentarians and the 10 new narrative directors whose unique visions left us with high hopes for the future of cinema.

20. Tristan Patterson – Dragonslayer
The protagonist, who is often dull, isn’t the point. The plot, such that it is, isn’t the point. The point is the gorgeous cinematography, the nicely timed edits, the of-a-piece soundtrack. There’s a reason this documentary of a skateboarding kid in Fullerton, Calif., swept through the festival circuit season.

19. Paddy Considine – Tyrannosaur
The socio-realistic drama puts its characters and viewers through the wringer, spinning a difficult and gritty story of human violence. British actor-turned-director Paddy Considine, thankfully, knows just how to handle his talent—he lets the actors do the work. Taking a minimal visual approach, with the camera close and steady from beginning to end, he allows the cast to carry his film and drive it as the character study that it is.—David Roark

18. Cindy Meehl – Buck
Meehl allows the story of the real-life Horse Whisperer to take its cues, its themes, even its rhythms from the man himself, Buck Brannaman. It’s a touching reminder of the gentle wisdom that can emerge from chaos and suffering.

17. Sophia Takal – Green
First, she had the courage to cast her fiancée and her roommate in a story about jealousy endangering a couple’s relationship. Then she had the courage to cast herself as the outsider. Then she had the courage to turn large sections of the film over to improv. All the courage paid off with an intimate, unpredictable, unsettling and very promising debut.

16. Robin Hessman – My Perestroika
Deeply dissatisfied by simplistic portrayals—from both the right and left—of Soviet life and the fall of the Soviet Union, Hessman (who lived through much of it as an exchange student and later as an expat) set out to produce a more nuanced, thoughtful, truer portrait. She succeeded.

15. Josh Radnor – happythankyoumoreplease
It takes courage to take a stand against cynicism in a cynical town and make an intelligent film that’s heartfelt and sincere, especially when you’re best known as a sitcom star. Hollywood needs more Josh Radnors.

14. Richard Press – Bill Cunningham New York
Half of making a great documentary is finding a great subject, and Press has absolutely done that in this affectionate treatment of the New York Times‘ irresistibly charming octogenarian street fashion photographer.

13. Brian Crano – A Bag of Hammers
Not only does Crano deftly juggle humor and pathos simultaneously, he also juggles actors with wildly different styles, from classically trained (Rebecca Hall, Carrie Preston) to mainstream-swimming (Jake Sandvig, Amanda Seyfried) to child prodigy (Chandler Canterbury) to the comedic force of nature that is Jason Ritter.

12. Andrea Blaugrund Nevins – The Other F Word
What happens when punk rockers grow up and have kids? That’s the central question of this very different kind of punk documentary—a surprisingly touching exploration of what happens when someone who’s spent his life raging against the man becomes the man.

11. Spencer Susser – Hesher
It’s an absolute crime that Susser’s energetic, delightful film didn’t get more of an audience in theatrical release, but it’s likely to do so in its DVD and streaming life. Susser manages a topnotch cast to perfection and creates the most memorable character of the year in Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s titular marvel.

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