Debut Directors of ‘Smile’ and ‘Causeway’ Compete for a DGA Honor
Eric Appel (Weird: The Al Yankovic Story)
Famous parody musician “Weird Al” Yankovic co-wrote the script of his own satirical biopic, which stars Daniel Radcliffe in the title role. Appel’s film charts Yankovic’s rise to fame as well as his fictionalized relationship with Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood).
Elegance Bratton (The Inspection)
Bratton’s first narrative feature (he helmed the 2019 doc Pier Kids) is an autobiographical drama chronicling the story of a gay man (Jeremy Pope) who joins the Marines when he feels he has nowhere to turn after being rejected by his homophobic mother (Gabrielle Union).
Mariama Diallo (Master)
Regina Hall leads this horror film as Gail Bishop, the first Black woman to serve as dean of students at a prestigious college. Along with two other Black women at the school, Gail soon discovers a disturbing underlying presence at the predominantly white institution.
Adamma Ebo (Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.)
After a major sex scandal, the power couple (Regina Hall again, this time with Sterling K. Brown) running a Southern Baptist megachurch are forced to close its doors. Ebo’s comedy sees them hiring a documentary crew to capture their attempts to reopen.
Parker Finn (Smile)
This box office giant — it has earned more than $216 million worldwide — tells the story of a therapist who, after witnessing a traumatic event, begins to believe she is being haunted by something otherworldly. Finn adapted it from his 2020 short film, Laura Hasn’t Slept.
John Patton Ford (Emily the Criminal)
Aubrey Plaza earned a Gotham Award nomination for playing the title character in Ford’s crime thriller about a young woman who, saddled with student loan debt, becomes involved in a large-scale credit-card-scam ring.
Nikyatu Jusu (Nanny)
Jusu’s Nanny was the first horror film to win Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize. It follows an undocumented Senegalese woman who takes a job as a caregiver for an affluent family in Manhattan, where an unsettling entity — possibly from her past — begins to haunt her.
Lila Neugebauer (Causeway)
Theater director Neugebauer’s film debut unites Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence with Atlanta star Brian Tyree Henry for a rich character study about an Army veteran returning to her hometown after suffering a brain injury while stationed in Afghanistan.
B.J. Novak (Vengeance)
The Office veteran Novak directs, writes and stars in this dark comedy about a New York journalist who travels south to investigate the death of a girl with whom he had a brief fling, seeking to turn the murder mystery into a podcast.
Charlotte Wells (Aftersun)
Wells won the Gotham Award for breakthrough director with her self-described “emotionally autobiographical” film that follows Sophie, who reflects on a trip she took to a past-its-prime resort with her father, Calum (Paul Mescal), 20 years earlier.
This story first appeared in the Jan. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.