The 50 greatest debut movies: part three
In part three we're strapping on our chainsaw to fight 'The Evil Dead', revving up and hitting the road with Mel's 'Mad Max' and loading up on guns, ammo and harsh language with Tarantino's 'Reservoir Dogs'
Pather Panchali (1955)Directed by Satyajit RaySilence is golden
Some filmmakers’ reputations are built almost entirely on their debut. Satyajit Ray may have gone on to a glittering career as India’s most internationally respected director, but it all comes back to ‘Pather Panchali’, the film which almost single-handedly brought Indian cinema to Western audiences, and sparked a revolution in third world filmmaking. Which is ironic, because ‘Pather Panchali’ is the most unlikely groundbreaker: Ray didn’t set out to challenge any kind of filmmaking orthodoxy like the Italian neo-realists who inspired him, or the French new-wavers that followed. He was simply trying to tell the story of a single Indian family: that his film has set the template for global independent filmmakers keen to show the true face of their home country is testament to the enduring power of his lyrical vision.
Click to watch the exhilarating train scene
Read the Time Out review
29. Alice (1988)Directed by Jan SvankmajerA blackly-comic take on Lewis CarrollPoor old Tim Burton. He’s probably aware that when it comes to cinematic adaptations of Lewis Carroll’s beloved tome, the bar has already been set very high indeed. Not merely with the very decent Disney version from 1951, but by Czech stop-motion doyen Jan Svankmajer, with his first feature film after more than twenty years making politically savvy animated shorts. Few would have been surprised that Svankmajer chose to make ‘Alice’: it’s the perfect match of source material and filmmaker. He’d already proven that he could whip up the paranoid fantasies of young girls on screen with his macabre 1983 short, ‘Down in the Cellar’. All he needed to do was add the trebly soundtrack, some moving hunks of beefsteak and a white rabbit straight out of our darkest nightmares, and he was half way there. DJ
Watch the opening scene here Read the Time Out review
28. Killer of Sheep (1977)Directed by Charles BurnettArguably the greatest student film ever madeProduced for the paltry sum of $10,000 as part of his UCLA film degree, Charles Burnett’s debut film – recently re-released after 30 years in legal limbo – is nothing short of a gorgeous, humanist miracle, a debut movie that throbs with bittersweet ghetto poetry. Loosely following the woe-stricken day-to-day life of Stan (Henry G Sanders) – a taciturn family man and slaughterhouse stiff living in LA’s Watts ghetto – the film comprises a series of jokes, social encounters and family ‘scenes’ that coalesce to create a rich and realistic (or so it feels) depiction of black urban America. The film not only blazed a trail for key African American filmmakers like Spike Lee (‘She’s Gotta Have It’) and John Singleton (‘Boyz n the Hood’), but also influenced the lyrical social realism found in films like David Gordon Green’s ‘George Washington’ and Harmony Korine’s ‘Gummo’. DJ
Click here to get a sense of the movie's unique beauty Read the Time Out review
27. The Evil Dead (1980)Directed by Sam RaimiRaimi invents shakycam, tree-rape and Bruce Campbell’s chinThe movie so nice they made it three times (as short film ‘Within the Woods’, as the original feature, and as it’s own madcap spoof ‘Evil Dead 2’), ‘The Evil Dead’ is a glorious triumph of the human imagination over such piddling considerations as budget, professional acumen and common sense. And if you like this, check out Don Coscarelli’s equally berserk, cheap and dazzlingly original debut ‘Phantasm’ (1979). TH
Watch short prototype 'Within the Woods'
26. Mad Max (1979)Directed by George MillerOzsploitation's finest hour – and the birth of Mad MelIt might have tanked in the US (where the sequel would be known as ‘The Road Warrior’ in a bid to put audiences off the scent) but Miller’s frenetic Aussie auto-dystopia made megabucks everywhere else. Stripped down direction keeps the action lean and mean while a young Mel Gibson red-lines through the carnage like a charging bull. ALD
Watch the trailer
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25. Knife in the Water (1962)Directed by Roman PolanskiThe Polish forerunner to ‘Funny Games’ and ‘Dead Calm’ It’s always the way. You drive out for a nice weekend boat trip with your lover, you pick up a stranger on the way, and he ends up driving a stake between the pair of you. But as those who’ve seen Polanski’s intense and subtly erotic debut will know that it’s actually no laughing matter, as the violent three-way rivalry that ensues makes for a shocking and sensitive deconstruction of the marital idyll. Almost 50 years on, ‘Knife…’ feels even more perfect when seen within the context of Polanski’s cinematic career, especially following his regular return to ideas of claustrophobia and power relationships. DJ
Click here for a smooth-but-creepy clip Read original Time Out review
24. L'Age D’Or (1930)Directed by Luis BuñuelBunuel and Dali bust down the d'or for surrealist cinemaYou could say that Bunuel's 'debut' was actually 'Un Chien Andalou', his 1929 collaboration with Salvador Dali: it might only be 16-minutes long, but that film's notorious scene of an eyeball being slashed by a razor has been stuck in the cinematic collective memory ever since, and continues to inspire trangession on the silver screen. A year later, Bunuel collaborated with Dali again on 'L'Age d'Or', a 63-minute feature which again brought surrealism to the big screen. A heady, comic-erotic adventure about a couple whose sexual hopes are forever being dashed by the forces of conversatism, the film inspired the original Time Out Film Guide reviewer to declare that 'the celebrated toe-sucking scene (see link below) is sexier by far than almost anything since' – a personal opinion if ever there was one. Bunuel went on to direct films in Spain, France and Mexico until 1977's 'That Obscure Object of Desire', which he made six years before his death in 1983. DC
Click here for hot toe-sucking action Read original Time Out review
23. Shadows (1959)Directed by John CassavetesAn American hero is bornWhile there were some major stylistic ructions happening over in Paris at the time, John Cassavetes was quietly developing his own freewheeling and revelatory filmmaking techniques back in the US of A. His debut, ‘Shadows’, arrived on the scene like an urgent jazz workout after years of stale pop monopoly. Young men and women duke out their emotional differences in the snugs, apartments and clip joints of New York, with much of the fresh and funny dialogue improvised, and Cassavetes choosing to fly in the face of convention when it came to the shooting and editing. Also sports a superb Mingus OST. DJWatch a scene from the film here Read Time Out review
22. The Great McGinty (1940)Directed by Preston SturgesSturges beats the studio system with his snap-talking slapstickThe relative dearth of pre-’70s cinema on this list can be explained away in two words: studio system. Before the ’60s indie boom, directors would make their way up through the ranks, working as cameramen, editors and assistant directors before making the leap to directorial control, usually of some low-ranking B-picture. But there are notable exceptions: Orson Welles, John Huston and Nicholas Ray all made a sufficient splash the first time out. But perhaps the biggest game-changer was Preston Sturges, a successful screenwriter who made the shift into directing with ‘The Great McGinty’, the first film ever to bear the credit ‘Written and Directed By…’. It’s a rare example of a director’s style arriving fully formed: the snappy, emotive dialogue, the delicate, unobtrusive camerawork, the sly social commentary and the regular band of recurring players. ‘The Great McGinty’ is the work of a man who knows exactly what he wants to achieve, and does so without even breaking a sweat. TH
Watch the great Akim Tamiroff in action
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21. Reservoir Dogs (1992)Directed by Quentin TarantinoQT hits the ground running, swearing, shooting and bleedingWith the arguable exception of his latest, ‘Inglourious Basterds’, Quentin Tarantino has taken a step down the creative ladder with each of his seven completed features. So it’s lucky he started on such a remarkable high: as a statement of intent, ‘Reservoir Dogs’ is simply unbeatable. The film’s most notable element may be that sparkling, dialogue, but unlike QT’s more recent efforts, there’s much more to the movie than just a series of clever-clever conversations. The photography is crisp, the direction smooth and unfussy, the music choices magical. But what really makes the film come alive are the performances: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth and Michael Madsen obviously shine as the three big guns, but spare a thought for Chris Penn as phlegmy, avuncular stooge Nice Guy Eddie (‘outa the fuckin’ BLOO!’), the oft-overlooked Randy Brooks as Roth’s oh-so-wise undercover coach Holdaway, and of course Steve Buscemi in a career-defining turn as squirrelly gobshite Mr Pink. Even the director himself manages to be fairly inoffensive playing Mr Brown, pop philosopher extraordinaire and holder of the all-time world record for consecutive usage of the word ‘dick’ in a motion picture. TH
Click to watch a dizzying compilation of all 272 fucks in 'Reservoir Dogs'
Read original Time Out review Click here for 20 through to 11
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