The 50 greatest debut movies: part four

In part four we're cutting up man-made chickens with David Lynch, working our fingers to the bone in a Detroit sweat shop with Richard Pryor and relaxing with a little night music courtesy of Clint Eastwood...

Click here for the top ten

20. Primer (2004)

Directed by Shane Carruth
Putting pocket change to good use
As fellow debutant Nacho Vigalondo’s nifty Spanish puzzler ‘Timecrimes’ (2007) proved, you don’t need the bells and whistles of the ‘Terminator’ films or the loopy excesses of ‘Back to the Future’ to crank out a top-notch time-travel tale. Made for the kind of chump change you’d find down the back of James Cameron’s sofa, Carruth’s first – and so far only – film is a beautifully shot and wholly persuasive time-travel parable fashioned from a trip to the junkyard, a ping-pong table and a stainless steel fridge, and is set almost entirely in a two-car garage. But his obvious production wherewithal and blistering intelligence are secondary to the masterful direction that steers us past a babble of tricksy techno-jargon, around some increasingly mindbending chronological reverses and through the temporal looking glass. Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘I’m just off down the shed!’ ALD
Watch the trailer
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19. Gates of Heaven (1978)

Directed by Errol MorrisNot to be confused with Heaven's Gate... or Stephen King's ‘Pet Cemetery’An ordinary man stands, legs apart, on a hilltop, looking down across a verdant valley dotted with tiny gravestones. He straps on an electric guitar, cranks up the twin 100-watt speakers he has rigged up to a generator, and lets rip. That this image exists at all is a thing of beauty – that it takes place in a documentary is nothing less than awe inspiring. The man, Danny Harbert, is part-time caretaker and heir to the Bubbling Well Pet Memorial Park, one of the real-life locations in which Errol Morris shot his debut feature documentary ‘Gates of Heaven’. An examination of the culture of animal disposal in late ’70’s California, the film is dotted with extraordinary, luminous, revealing moments of pure human truth: the rendering plant foreman letting slip that they sometimes deal with ‘the big animals’ from the local zoo, the simple, passionate epithets displayed on those miniature gravestones (‘Dog is God spelled backwards’), a whole wealth of diverse existential and philosophical utterances from the unlikeliest of deep thinkers. TH
Watch a beautiful interview from the movie Read the Time Out review
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18. Eraserhead (1976)

Directed by David LynchLynch plugs the camera directly into his subconsciousFive years, countless wage-slave dollars and innumerable Bob’s Big Boy burgers in the making, Lynch’s debut stands today as one of the towering achievements of truly independent cinema. Debate may rage as to the film’s ultimate meaning, but only among those who haven’t figured out that, with Lynch, there generally isn’t one. TH
Click here to watch a vintage clip of Pixies performing 'In Heaven'

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17. Buffalo ’66 (1997)

Directed by Vincent Gallo
The ego has landed
Who knew? When also-ran bit part actor Vincent Gallo arrived on the scene with this lipsmacking comic debut, you couldn’t hear for the sound of lower jaws smacking against the floor. The reason, perhaps, is that Gallo is such a strange fruit, a man who loves to toy with his public and private persona: He often indulges in tongue-in-cheek gestures like reviewing King Crimson albums, selling his sperm ($10,000, ladies) on his personal website and taking every opportunity interviewers will give him to say that Ronald Reagan is his hero. Whether this is the ‘real’ Vincent Gallo we’re seeing is moot, but with ‘Buffalo ’66’, he managed to add another layer of mystique to an already profoundly ambiguous personality. He plays Billy Brown, ex-con fuck-up who has told his football-obsessed parents that, instead of being in chokey, he’s been living high on the hog as a successful businessman. The rub is that they don’t give a rat’s ass where he’s been, so the fact that he’s kidnapped a young ballet dancer (Christina Ricci, in her finest role to date) to act as his wife becomes totally unnecessary. It’s a brilliantly simple film, shot, scripted and acted to perfection. It’s about a mildly deranged man who just wants to be loved, so strip away the layers of irony and perhaps this is the closest we’ve got to the real Vincent Gallo. DJ
Watch one of the film's best scenes here

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16. Bleak Moments (1971)

Directed by Mike LeighLeigh sets a template from which he has barely deviated since...Bleak doesn’t quite cover the grim eloquence of Leigh’s first feature. Along with Ken Loach’s debut ‘Poor Cow’ (1967) it represents the stark reality for many young people during the supposedly Swinging Sixties. The premise is simple: a chronically shy office worker looking after her physically disabled sister is also desperate for a man in her life: what about the guitar-playing hippy she’s let sleep in her shed? Or how about a similarly up-tight teacher from the local school? Whilst undeniably – almost infuriatingly – dreary, it also manages to be by turns tender and intense, and Leigh’s ability to draw honest, realistic performances from his actors is already keenly apparent. ALDWatch some slightly jollier Leigh action

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15. Blue Collar (1978)

Directed by Paul SchraderSchrader's love song to the common manSchrader took on an incredibly complex set-up for his first feature, and delivered a film that cannot be bettered in its depiction of the feedback loop of frustration experienced by the average working stiff. Yaphet Kotto, Harvey Keitel and Richard Pryor are three Detroit assembly-line workers who have had their fill of both the shoddy treatment served up by their employers and the incompetence and complicity of their union. Taking matters into their own hands leads to a heavy brush with crime, a volley of racial backbiting and severe reprisals from the mob-affiliated higher-ups. Schrader not only marshals proceedings like a master, but makes the politics and working conditions of unionised heavy industry come to life with the authority of an insider. ALD
Click here for the awesomely bad-to-the-bone credits sequence Read the Time Out review
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14. Airplane! (1980)

Directed by Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and David ZuckerA subgenre is born... for better or worseAnother movie that, like ‘Night of the Living Dead’, created and defined a subgenre all its own, though in this case we may be slightly less grateful: the horrors that have been perpetrated in the name of the genre spoof sometimes threaten to outweigh the simple genius of the movie that started it all. And then you rewatch ‘Airplane’, and it all comes flooding back: the one-liners (‘No, I’ve been nervous lots of times’), the side characters (‘Jive-ass dude don’t got no brains, anyhow’) and the endless parade of masterfully timed, wildly imaginative sight gags (‘…then I developed this drinking problem…’). Gag-for-gag the greatest comedy of all time, what ‘Airplane’ lacks in depth, subtlety, style, character development and plot it effortlessly makes up in sheer, relentless comic brilliance. Just don’t mention ‘Scary Movie’. Ever. TH
Watch a compilation of classic moments

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13. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Directed by Tobe HooperHave you heard the buzz?Still an irrefutable model of shocking cinema, Tobe Hooper’s scandalous debut movie is ruthless in its key aims: to provoke, disturb and nauseate. Loosely based on the sadistic after-hours travails of farmboy nutjob Ed Gein, the film shows us exactly what happens when a group of peace-lovin’ kids go meddlin’ on other people’s property, especially when ‘other people’ includes a chainsaw-wielding hulk with a single-figure IQ and a penchant for dressing up in human skin. Banned in the UK since the '70s, many were surprised to eventually see a film in which blood and gore were notable by their absence. But nothing that can prepare you for a scene in which an elderly ex-abattoir worker sucks the blood out of a shrieking girl’s finger. Also contains one of the greatest closing shots in all cinema. DJ
Watch the trailer here
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12. Play Misty For Me (1971)

Directed by Clint EastwoodClint kicks off a spectacular career by inventing the bunny-boilerClint’s long-pondered move behind the camera is a jazzy, poetically inclined psychosexual freak-out that undercuts his macho image at every turn. The same year saw him start to remold his tough-guy persona with a masochistic turn in Freudian Civil War western ‘The Beguiled’, and ‘Misty’ takes it from there, with Clint’s womanizing radio DJ suffering all manner of emasculation and cuckoldry from his demented number one fan Jessica Walter (later to play acid-tongued matriarch Lucille Bluth in TVs ‘Arrested Developent’). He may be on skittish form in front of the camera, but as director Clint is as cool as a prairie wind, displaying a fine eye for composition, a good level of energy and imagination in the films staccato action set-ups and the confidence to experiment you’d expect from a young tyro or an old master rather than a major action star with the eyes of the industry on him. ALD
Watch the funky title sequence

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11. Accattone (1961)

Directed by Pier Paolo PassoliniShaddap-a you face!Pasolini kicked off his film career, and a lifelong obsession with predatory cruelty, with this grim tale of poverty-stricken Roman street thugs in the decade after Italy’s defeat in the second War. Gorgeously photographed and populated by striking, if not exactly beautiful people, the film is nonetheless an unremittingly ugly experience: involving, poetic, funny, at times genuinely moving, but unwaveringly sinister. THClick to watch a highly groovy Italian trailer from 1961
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Click here for the top ten

Author: Adam Lee Davies, David Jenkins, Tom Huddleston




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