Behind the Camera: Directors that push the boundaries

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FIlmmaking, and the art of cinema, makes a lot of money. And it does this by giving audiences what they want, what they enjoy, and what they expect. But the only reason the art form ever evolves? Directors and creatives with the bravery to push boundaries, to take massive risks.

Given that Alex Garland has taken such a monumental swing on his staggering new opus, Civil War, we thought we’d compile a list of similarly brazen geniuses who deserve your undivided attention. So, if you’re up for some bold movies made by bold people, buckle up.


Alex Garland

Alex was already taking some massive creative risks with films like Annihilation, Deus Ex Machina and Men. With Civil War, his new film about an America torn in two, he’s really pushed the boat out. FIrstly, he’s tackled something deeply political at a time when there couldn’t be more division in America. Whilst he doesn’t take any explicit stances in the film, he’s risking a great deal by drawing parallels during the wind-up to a history-making election season.  He’s also decided to tell a war story and follow not the safe, easy choice (the soldiers), but the photographers charting America’s descent into civil war. The themes of Civil War are unsettling precisely because they hit close to home, but like all auteurs, Garland is comfortable with making you uncomfortable.

Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert

Kwan’s Everything Everywhere All at Once is a genre-defying cluster-bomb of a movie. First off, the Daniels (as they’re known) took some major risks with casting. Michelle Yeoh is an astounding performer, but even she was flabbergasted to have received such a meaty role; a leading lady whose sole job isn’t kicking butt (though she does a fair bit of that here). Jamie Lee Curtis was cast as a bizarre, bloated, hateful old crone in a turtleneck, a far cry from her usual Amazonian status. And finally, Ke Huy Quan - he ended up winning Best Supporting Actor as the Oscars, but he’d been in the acting wilderness until The Daniels pulled him back out of obscurity. They also pushed boundaries with a truly esoteric script, conflicting aesthetics, rapid changes in pacing, and a kinetic visual style.

Ari Aster (Beau is Afraid)

Horror used to be a place hacks went to make a cheap buck, but Ari, with films like Midsommar, Hereditary and Beau is Afraid, has turned horror into a playground for the arthouse. All of his films are wildly unpredictable and experimental, with Aster taking countles risks. He doesn’t give a damn about reeling audiences in with an inviting premise, then bucking them off violently as his movies descend into utter madness. He also has enough of a groundbreaking reputation to reel in celebrated actors who are dying to try something new, something weird, something truly one-of-a-kind.

Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

It would be easy to opt in for fun, frothy superhero flicks - and there’s nothing at all wrong with that! But in films like the Academy Award-winning Moonlight, or the profound If Beale Street Could Talk, Jenkins tells an indescribably affecting tale of the lived black experience in America today. He’s brave enough to apply an almost theatre approach to his staging, scripting and framing of characters - Jenkins is the kind of artist who has a deeply distinct authorial voice, and he’s someone who uses that voice to explore themes that make many people uncomfortable. His films speak to something deep inside of us.

George Miller (Mad Max)

If you ever want proof that Australia’s own George Miller is a groundbreaker, look at two of his biggest films: Mad Max, and Babe. Yep, Babe. And because Miller has such a rich, eccentric and distinct visual style, there’s shared DNA between all of his films, whether they’re dealing with road warriors or a talking, singing pig. Miller is of course best known for his Mad Max movies, with which he took increasingly vast risks - twenty minutes for a single car chase, for one. But for someone known as a gritty action filmmaker to pivot to children's movies, win a boatload of awards, then come back to action better than ever… It takes a singular, visionary mind to make that leap.

Warwick Thornton (The New Boy)

There’s a side of Australia which few are brave enough to explore, but Warwick Thornton regularly takes an unflinching look at our sunburnt country, taking small stories of apparently unremarkable people, and using those stories to say big things about the nation and its complicated history. His most recent masterpiece, The New Boy, is a semi-autobiographical story about an indigenous kid at a monastery, kept there with other indigenous kids, policed by a larger-than-life nun, Sister Eileen (Cate Blanchett). And because Thornton is an inherent risk-taker, the story isn’t afraid to stray from being a dark, tethered-in-reality biopic; things get very strange, taking viewers on an almost magical journey.

Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman).

Emerald Fennell is a risk-taker. Her last two films, Promising Young Woman and Saltburn, are all about privilege and power. In the former, it’s about a girl who decides to vengefully interrogate the way some men manipulate and overpower the women in their lives. In the latter, it’s about what wealth - truly obscene, old money wealth - does to those who pursue it. She’s got a sharp wit and a good eye, and her movies do everything they can to buck trends - even the opening titles break with conventions. She has an unerring ability to defy expectations. Oh! And she’s a great actor, too; she played Camilla on The Crown, and did a damned fine job doing so.