Courtesy of A24 Films
Pop quiz: What do the filmmakers who won this year’s top Sundance prize (Nikyatu Jusu, “Nanny”), Cannes’ Palme d’Or (Ruben Östlund, “The Triangle of Sadness”) and Oscar’s best picture trophy (Sian Heder, “CODA”) have in common? They’re all veterans of Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch list — which also counts Taika Waititi, Chloé Zhao and Andrew Dominik among its alums.
Now it’s time to unveil the class of 2023, featuring 10 helmers with current and near-future projects set to launch their careers to the next level. The directors will be profiled in the first print edition of the new year, timed to an event in their honor at the Palm Springs Int’l Film Festival in early January.
The lineup represents a diverse mix of up-and-coming directors whose films — all first or second narrative features — distinguished themselves earlier this year on the festival circuit or else are set to premiere in 2023.
Two of the films, Alice Diop’s “Saint Omer” and Saim Sadiq’s “Joyland” were selected to represent their home countries (France and Pakistan, respectively) in the best international feature category at the upcoming Academy Awards. Cannes discovery “Aftersun,” directed by Charlotte Wells, and Toronto breakout “The Inspection” from Elegance Bratton, have already racked up nominations from the Gotham and Film Independent Spirit Awards.
Titles to look forward to in the new year include “Desperate Housewives” star Eva Longoria’s directorial debut, “Flamin’ Hot,” an inspirational (and irreverent) Searchlight release about the man whose tongue-scorching Cheetos recipe earned Frito Lay a fortune. Former CAA assistant Elijah Bynum’s “Magazine Dreams” confirms the promise of his Timothée Chalamet-starring debut “Hot Summer Nights.” In Bynum’s new film, destined for a 2023 festival premiere, Jonathan Majors delivers an unforgettable performance as a competitive bodybuilder with serious social anxiety.
Focus Features produced British writer-director Nida Manzoor’s “Polite Society,” a movie with “Bend It Like Beckham” crowdpleaser potential about a British Pakistani teen who’s determined to sabotage her older sister’s wedding. Also enriched by its helmer’s cultural heritage is Jingyi Shao’s “Chang Can Dunk,” a Disney Studios production about a vertically challenged Chinese American high school athlete who gets himself in trouble after making a wager that he can slam the ball by season’s end.
In “The Starling Girl,” writer-director Laurel Parmet takes seriously the sexual awakening of a Southern girl raised in a conservative religious community. Things get tricky for her after starting a relationship with her youth pastor. That feature shares certain elements in common with Maggie Betts’ 2017 Sundance nun debut, “Novitiate.” Betts was selected for this year’s list on the basis of her sophomore feature, forthcoming Amazon-produced courtroom drama “The Burial,” starring Jamie Foxx and Tommy Lee Jones.
The 10 Directors to Watch are:
Maggie Betts (”The Burial”)
Elegance Bratton (“The Inspection”)
Elijah Bynum (“Magazine Dreams”)
Alice Diop (“Saint Omer”)
Eva Longoria (“Flamin’ Hot”)
Nida Manzoor (“Polite Society”)
Laurel Parmet (“The Starling Girl”)
Saim Sadiq (“Joyland”)
Jingyi Shao (“Chang Can Dunk”)
Charlotte Wells (“Aftersun”)
Variety’s 10 to Watch series spotlights emerging writers, actors, producers, directors, comics and cinematographers. Each of these lists is curated by a team of Variety editors, critics and reporters.
The directors selected for this year’s list were honored at a brunch event on Jan. 6 at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, which resumed in-person screenings, panels and parties in early January, following two editions impacted by the COVID pandemic.
“It’s a thrill to partner with Variety to put the spotlight on some of today’s most exciting emerging storytellers — directors who leave you excited for what’s to come,” said PSIFF artistic director Lili Rodriguez. “Even more, we’re delighted to welcome them in Palm Springs to kick off the festival year.”
Variety's Peter Debruge contributed to this post.