100 Best Films From Directors Under 30

100 Best Films From Directors Under 30

May 21, 2024

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In an industry dominated by seasoned veterans, these young prodigies have burst onto the scene, challenging conventions and redefining the art of storytelling. These films showcase the raw talent and unique perspectives of directors under 30 (at the time of their film’s release), proving that age is no barrier to cinematic brilliance. Prepare to be awe-inspired and witness the birth of a new generation of filmmakers who are destined to shape the future of cinema. Get ready to discover the best films by directors under 30 that will leave you in awe and eager for what’s to come.

61. Problemista (2024)

best

8.6

Country

United States of America

Director

Julio Torres

Actors

Amy Zimmer, Bardia Salimi, Brian Belovitch, Carlos E. Navedo

Moods

Original, Quirky, Thought-provoking

Some films struggle to balance style with substance, but Problemista isn’t one of them. It’s brandished with Torres’ unique brand of surrealist aesthetic, which is colorful, freakish, and fun, while also accurately relaying the pains of coming to and making it in America as an outsider. We see Alejandro accept increasingly debasing gigs as he runs out of time and money in the deep maze that is America’s immigration bureaucracy. And all the while, he’s being both genuinely funny and painfully incisive. Torres is not the first person to point out that in this day and age, the monsters we face are overbearing employers, greedy bankers, and exploitative companies, but he just might be one of the few to do it with such imaginative grace.

62. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)

best

8.5

Country

UK, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Mark Herman

Actors

Amber Beattie, Asa Butterfield, Béla Fesztbaum, Cara Horgan

Moods

Depressing, Dramatic, Emotional

You’ve probably watched and heard about enough Holocaust films to expect a formula, but you might want to put all that aside going into The Boy in Striped Pajamas. Bruno, the son of a WWII Nazi commandant forms an unlikely friendship with a Jewish kid his age in his father’s concentration camp. The film is World War II told through Bruno’s eyes, and while you might not get why this movie is so highly praised in its first scenes, the twisting and profound second half will have you recommending it to everyone in need of a moving story well executed, or quite simply a good cry.

63. The Rider (2018)

best

8.5

Country

United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Chloé Zhao, Female director

Actors

Brady Jandreau, Derrick Janis, Greg Barber, Mooney

Moods

Raw, Sunday, Suspenseful

This is quite the movie. It’s based on the true story of Brady Jandereau, an ex-rodeo star who suffered from an injury that took him away from riding horses. This is the best part, in the movie, he actually plays himself. His friends in the movie are his real-life friends. And the horse taming scenes are real wild horses being trained (by him). The line between reality and the filmmaking process is so thin here. An absolutely mesmerizing movie, directed by Chinese filmmaker Chloe Zhao. The Rider. Don’t miss it.

64. Things to Come (2016)

best

8.5

Country

France, Germany, UK

Director

Female director, Mia Hansen-Løve

Actors

André Marcon, Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet, Edith Scob, Edward Chapman

Moods

Character-driven, Slice-of-Life, Slow

In Things to Come, life tests a philosophy professor on the very same subject she teaches. For Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert) — who has two grown-up children, a husband of 25 years, and a recurring publishing contract — the future isn’t something she gives much thought, because she assumes it’ll be more of the same. When her students protest against a law to raise the pension age, this middle-aged ex-anarchist can’t bring herself to engage with their apparently far-sighted cause; unlike them, all she can think about is the present. But then a series of events overturn her life as she knew it and she finds herself, at middle age, staring at a blank slate.

This is a movie about our surprising ability to deal with disaster — the instincts that emerge when we least expect them to. What’s more, it’s about the insistence of life to keep going no matter how difficult a period you’re experiencing — something that might initially seem cruel but that is, actually, your salvation. The film’s academic characters and philosophical preoccupations never feel esoteric, because Hansen-Løve’s gentle, intelligent filmmaking puts people at its center as it explores human resilience — not through stuffy theory, but an intimate study of someone coming to terms with a freedom she never asked for.

65. Wings of Desire (1987)

best

8.5

Country

France, Germany, West Germany France

Director

Wim Wenders

Actors

Annelinde Gerstl, Beartice Manowski, Beatrice Manowski, Bernard Eisenschitz

Two angels wander the streets of a monochrome Berlin, invisible to the colorful world that bustles around them. When one of them falls in love, he begins to question his place and yearns to give up immortality to join the ranks of the living. Wim Wender’s exceptional film is a poetic meditation on faith, cinema, and a mournful tour of a city in the grip of the Cold War. 

Wings of Desire is bursting with poetry and heartbreaking humanism emphasized by the tender performances by Bruno Ganz, Otto Sander, and Peter Falk, while serving as a beautiful love letter to a city yearning for change. If you’ve only seen City of Angels, the loose American remake, then you owe it to yourself to experience the raw poetic power of the real deal.

66. Where Is the Friend’s House?

best

8.5

Country

Iran

Director

Abbas Kiarostami

Actors

Ahmed Ahmed Poor, Biman Mouafi, Mohamed Hocine Rouhi, Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh

Abbas Kiarostami delivers a tale of towering simplicity. A young boy mistakenly takes his friend’s notebook home and, knowing the friend faces expulsion without it, goes on a journey to bring it back. He visits the neighboring town but without a clue where his friend lives must rely on the kindness of strangers and overcome the stubbornness of adults who get in his way.

This adventure is both a loose moral parable as well as a striking portrait of life in rural Iran. More than this, it’s a testament to the capacity of children’s films to communicate depth when the filmmaker respects a child’s intelligence. The earnest young actors at its heart add an emotional immediacy that underscores Kiarostami’s empathetic direction.

67. The Crying Game (1992)

8.5

Country

Ireland, Japan, United Kingdom

Director

Neil Jordan

Actors

Adrian Dunbar, Andrée Bernard, Birdy Sweeney, Breffni McKenna

Moods

A-list actors, Gripping, Thought-provoking

IRA terrorists kidnap a British soldier to negotiate an exchange for one of their own imprisoned members. Among them is Fergus (Stephen Rea), whose ambivalence is amplified by his interactions with the hostage soldier Jody (Forest Whitaker) while guarding him. After the terrorists’ plan goes awry, Fergus tracks down a woman Jody spoke of during his captivity, only to become confronted with even more complications.

The film, its cast and crew won a slew of awards and nominations in 1993, including the Academy award for Best Original Screenplay. It’s a knockout. Each act presents an increasingly challenging psychological and emotional conflict for Fergus: conflicts that require him to question the choices he makes and his beliefs, even about himself. It’s a dark but deeply touching thriller that is ultimately unforgettable.

68. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

best

8.5

Country

Japan

Director

Hayao Miyazaki

Actors

Akio Otsuka, Chika Sakamoto, Haruko Kato, Hiroko Maruyama

Moods

Heart-warming, Inspiring

Hayao Miyazaki is no stranger to the fantastical. Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away conjure worlds of spirits and demons, monsters and witches, imaginary wars and extraordinary heroes. But in Kiki’s Delivery Service, the real magic arises from the mundane.

The titular teenaged Kiki leaves home, setting out to become a better witch. She arrives in the idyllic seaside town of Koriko with only her broom and best friend, a black cat named Jiji. When she serendipitously meets Osono, the gentle owner of a bakery, Kiki begins a delivery service as part of her training.

Kiki’s Delivery Service may be one of Miyazaki’s more understated films, but it’s a beautiful reminder that believing in oneself is a magical act of courage that we should all undertake.

69. Flee (2021)

best

8.5

Country

Denmark, Estonia, Finland

Director

Jonas Poher Rasmussen

Actors

Behrouz Bigdeli, Belal Faiz, Bo Asdal Andersen, Daniel Karimyar

Moods

Discussion-sparking, True-story-based

When Amin sits down for a tell-all interview about his troubling past, his memories come to life in vivid animation. Sometimes they are sweet and intimate, like when he recounts his time as a playful boy in a much freer Afghanistan. But often, they’re marred by the unbelievable horrors of refugee life. Now a successful academic and soon-to-be husband, Amin discovers the inescapability of his status and identity, the reality of which continues to threaten his safety to this day.

Relevant and vital, Flee sheds some much-needed light on an often-overlooked phenomenon. More than just displaying factoids and numbers, it relays the specific unease and constant vigilance that comes with fleeing one’s home. But as Amin’s story, it is also richly detailed and wonderfully personal; for all its harsh exposés, the film leaves enough room for Amin’s stirring realizations about love, identity, and sexuality.

70. Stand By Me (1986)

best

8.5

Country

United States of America

Director

Rob Reiner

Actors

Bradley Gregg, Bruce Kirby, Casey Siemaszko, Chance Quinn

Moods

Character-driven, Discussion-sparking, Dramatic

Stand By Me follows four young friends as they journey around their small town searching for a rumored dead body. On the surface, it moves like an adventure story. The boys narrowly avoid guard dogs and leeches, speeding trains and tough teen gangs. But along the way, they also learn much about each other, in particular about the stark reality of their home lives and the growing depths of their inner struggles, so that beneath all the small-time thrill is a beating coming-of-age story. 

Based on a novella by horror master Stephen King, Stand By Me is terrifying in its ability to evoke the unique thorniness of passing through the gates of adulthood, but also warm and comforting in its reminder of the universality of this feeling.

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