The Filmography Of 'Captain Marvel' Directors Anna Boden And Ryan Fleck: An Introduction

Yesterday, Marvel revealed that the directors of Captain Marvel are none other than Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, prompting people around the world to say... "Who?"

This isn't the first time that the media giant has gone from left field with their choices, hiring directors famous inside the world of independent film but not much farther than that. After all, this is the company that made James Gunn, a man who once made $150 for writing a Troma movie, a household name. This is the studio that allowed the brothers who directed Welcome to Collinwood to make the next logical step and go on to Captain America: Civil War. Through Marvel, anything is possible, and Boden and Fleck have a really solid history of crafting intense, character-driven movies...and even directing a few future Marvel superheroes along the way.

Let's take a look back through their filmography.

Stand and Deliver Dangerous Minds

Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's personal and working relationship began when they met in NYU and instantly connected, eventually collaborating on the documentary shorts Have You Seen This Man? and Young Rebels. This led to them working on a short narrative film called Gowanus, Brooklyn, which won the short filmmaking award at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. The film is concerned with a student discovering her teacher is a crack addict, and was created with the idea of attracting financiers to their undeveloped film Half Nelson. You can watch the 20 minute short below and see that, indeed, it's basically the same first act of what the feature ended up becoming.

Half Nelson expands the story quite a bit past that, of course. On the surface, it's about a white inner-city teacher opening up to minority students through an unorthodox teaching method, eschewing the usual lessons to really reach across the divide and connect with the kids. Yeah, you might think you've heard this one before, but this film is a whole lot darker than that.

Ryan Gosling stars as Dan, a middle-school teacher in Brooklyn who finds an unlikely friend in his student Drey (Shareeka Epps). As drug addict and drug dealer, they both keep each other's secrets and form an unlikely friendship, but no one is rising above their problems here. Gosling is so good at playing damaged human beings and he was nominated for an Oscar for his performance.  Fun fact: future Falcon actor Anthony Mackie also appears as a drug dealer.

The Moneyball Scout

Their next film, Sugar, told another story about someone out of their element, this time a kid from the Dominican Republic who's brought to the States by the lure of Major League Baseball and all the riches it promises. Like many of their other protagonists, the titular character (played to perfection by newcomer Algenis Perez Soto) isn't sure what to do when he finally gets what he wants.

This makes for a film that is much less of a baseball tale than you'd expect. Sugar doesn't have a final big game for the climax, and doesn't really seem to care that much about the sport itself. It definitely understands the system and the whole process of bringing players to the league (it's a well-oiled factory at this point), but it doesn't linger on that, choosing instead to focus more on the immigrant experience.

It's a fish-out-of water tale as this kid from the D.R. struggles to fit in with new religious home in Iowa, dealing with communication issues and while competing with amazing players on the field. As with Half Nelson, the movie was generally acclaimed, surprising everyone for how deeply it delved into its protagonist's experience.

Shutter the Cuckoo's Nest

If you're starting to see a trend of films that aren't quite what you'd expect from the synopsis, you're starting to understand their work.

Based on Ned Vizzini's young adult novel of the same name, It's Kind of a Funny Story is another tale of a man and his mentor in which the mentor might not be the best role model. In this case, it's a mostly serious Zach Galifianakis as an adult patient in a psychiatric ward who mentors a suicidal teen played by Keir Gilchrist. While you might assume that with guidance like that the kid is doomed, they strike up a fast friendship over the five days he's legally required to stay in the ward after almost jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge.

Sadly, this is probably their least effective film. Perhaps that's because it it tries to fix the troubled teen's issues by giving him a love interest during his stay (because if anything can cure mental illness, it's a relationship with another emotionally unstable person!). It's certainly their most emo, concerned as it is with a high school student who outwardly has it all – he's rich, goes to a private school – even though he can't quite seem to figure out this whole life thing.

Mississippi Grind trailer

The Hustler of Money

Boden and Fleck's latest film, Mississippi Grind, takes another dark turn into the life of gamblers. It's from the the most exciting studio currently in the business (A24) and is streaming right now on Amazon Prime, where you should check it out immediately.

Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom and Rogue One) stars as Gerry, a schlubby down-on-his-luck gambler. He's a horrible addict who will bet on anything and everything, and comes across a compatriot in Curtis, played by Ryan Reynolds. Curtis is everything Gerry is not, a cool, smooth guy who doesn't seem to care about the money – he just likes to gamble. Of course, not many people visit gambling establishments daily without having sort of issues prompting their attendance, and we know that both of them aren't being completely honest with each other. This definitely leads to an interesting dynamic. While most gambling movies deal with one relatively straight man and a con artist, here there are two con man with unknown grifts. Nevertheless, they join forces on an impromptu road trip.

Gerry pitches it to Curtis as an adventure, even though it's really because he owes a lot of money to some very bad people and needs someone to bankroll him. Thus begins a compelling road movie through the South, full with about as many blues tunes and smokey, dangerous gambling dens as you'd expect. There are plenty of gambling movies dealing with the issues of addiction (from The Color of Money to Rounders to The Cooler) but Mississippi Grind manages to do its own thing and fits nicely with the genre, featuring some truly fantastic performances from the leads.

Marvelous TV

In the last couple of years, Boden and Fleck have switched focus to the small screen, working with established characters and scripts that they didn't themselves write for the first time.

Fleck has a bit more experience working in TV, directing episodes of In Treatment and Looking Down the Road. He went on to direct the last two episodes of the Golden Globe-winning first season of Showtime's The Affair, a job that led to him teaming up with Boyd to direct two more in the second season.

With the band back together, they lucked out on landing an episode of The Affair (Episode 207) that features a Thanksgiving dinner. As anyone with a family knows those are rife for drama, and the characters don't disappoint, finally revealing some stories they had been hiding all along.

Since then, they have also directed three episodes of Billions, the Showtime show that features Paul Giamatti playing a character loosely based on Preet Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney for New York. The show never received much in the way of critical acclaim, although it's generally agreed that the second season (that they worked on) was superior, as it added new characters to the mix that changed up the dynamic.

The Dynamic Duo

Their TV work aside, one thing you can notice about their filmography is that it's almost solely devoted to duos. Boden and Fleck seem to love exploring what happens when you find that one perfect person, someone who can simultaneously bring out the best and worst of you. The stories they have written never tie themselves up neatly or in the typical big climax you'd expect from films of their ilk, they merely exist to explore a moment of a character's life and then leave them to move on and keep making mistakes.

We're not quite sure what their take on Captain Marvel would be, but like the best superheroes, Carol Danvers (who will be played by Brie Larson) is a flawed character despite her powers. It's fascinating to think about what they could do with such a strong lead, although it's hard to see Marvel agreeing to a film that's more vague and less mass audience-pleasing. In other words, their superhero movie will probably be a bit different than their indie work.

Still, the studio has hired a female director and two writers (Inside Out's Meg LeFauve and Guardians of the Galaxy co-writer Nicole Perlman) to tackle their first female-led superhero film. These are all good signs, and taking a look back at the directors' work only further suggests that they will treat Carol Danvers right.

Captain Marvel hits theaters March 8, 2019.