Lighting the festival circuit on fire, meet the breakthrough filmmakers and actors who have made their mark at Sundance and SXSW
If this year's Sundance taught us anything, it's that 2015 is setting up as a banner year for movies. Sure, we say that every year, but this time we mean it. Rick Famuyiwa's Dope is 2015's comedic answer to Boyz N The Hood. Some observers are calling Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's YA weepy Me & Earl & The Dying Girl an Oscar lock. And it's only March. With the SXSW festival awards already being handed out, a whole new crop of actors and directors are set to challenge and surprise us. Below, ten of the year's early festival darlings (and one princess), who've set the tone for the year in movies.
CHRISTOPHER ABBOTT (ACTOR, JAMES WHITE)
We haven’t seen much of Christopher Abbott since his abrupt exit from HBO’s Girls after it’s season 2 finale, but that’s about to change. The brooding Connecticut native delivered a gut-wrenching turn as a self-destructive New Yorker who must confront his mother’s mortality in Josh Mond’s directorial debut, and winner of Sundance’s NEXT Audience Award James White. While this may have been Abbott’s first time anchoring a film, it certainly won’t be his last.
SHAMEIK MOORE (ACTOR, DOPE)
Few actors emerged from Sundance with as much buzz as this 19-year-old Atlanta native, thanks to his star-making turn as a nerdy outsider trying to claw his way out of Inglewood’s hardscrabble streets, in director Rick Famuyiwa’s hyper-kinetic portrait of teenage life in urban America. Dope would eventually sell to Open Road films in one of the richest deals in the festival’s history, and with a summer release date just announced, audiences won’t have to wait much longer to see what all the fuss is about.
Dope is released in the US 12 June
EMORY COHEN (ACTOR, BROOKLYN)
A young Irish woman (Saorise Ronan) uproots her life and moves to Brooklyn in search of love and a career. No, this isn’t the story of every girl who’s ever graduated from a liberal college. Instead, it’s the synopsis of the Sundance hit named after New York’s hippest borough, which was snatched up by Fox Searchlight and is expected to be a major awards player when it's released later this year. That’s good news for Emory Cohen, the 24-year-old American actor whose performance as Ronan’s magnetic suitor helps elevate the Nick Hornby-penned script into something far beyond melodrama. Emory has worked steadily turning heads as Bradley Cooper’s son in The Place Beyond The Pines, but watching him in Brooklyn is like watching the birth of a movie star.
LOLA KIRKE (ACTRESS, MISTRESS AMERICA)
It’s no easy feat, stealing a scene from the boundless ball of goofy energy that is Greta Gerwig, which is what makes Lola Kirke’s performance in Noah Baumbach’s Mistress America so startling. Kirke – whose sister is fancy free Girls star Jemima Kirke – plays a buttoned-up New York City freshman, opposite Gerwig’s magnetic screwball. And after another case of highway robbery as the trailer park hood in last year’s Gone Girl, the enchanting London transplant has her sights set on Hollywood. It looks like you’ve found your latest mistress, America.
TUNDE ADEBIMPE (ACTOR, NASTY BABY)
TV On The Radio’s indomitable frontman first proved his polymathic skills with an impressive turn as the stoic groom in 2008’s Rachel Getting Married. Now he’s made the case for an all-out career change in Chilean auteur Sebastian Silva’s Sundance standout Nasty Baby. As one half of a gay Brooklyn couple who enlists the help of their BFF to have a baby (Silva plays the other half, while Kristen Wiig stars as the surrogate), Adebimpe shows uncommon nuance and restraint for someone for whom acting is just a hobby. For now.
ALICIA VIKANDER (ACTRESS, EX MACHINA)
Swedish ingenue Alicia Vikander has been on the cusp of mega-stardom ever since her breakout role as Kitty in Anna Karenina, and with as many as four major films set for release this year, it looks like Vikander’s time has finally come. First up is Alex Garland’s directorial debut Ex Machina, in which she plays an enchanting (and potentially dangerous) robot opposite future Jedis Oscar Isaacs and Domhnall Gleeson. The sci-fi thriller premiered at SXSW, and will kick off what should be a breakout year for Vikander.
HANNAH FIDELL (DIRECTOR, 6 YEARS)
It’s been two years since Hannah Fidell put the industry on notice with her debut feature A Teacher, an assured and unsettling look at a forbidden romance. Now the Maryland native is back with her sophomore effort 6 Years, which premiered in SXSW’s narrative competition. Another treatise on a relationship that crumbles under the weight of impossible circumstances, 6 Years stars Taissa Farmiga and Ben Rosenfield as the star-crossed lovers, and could catapult Fidell into the big leagues.
MARIELLE HELLER (DIRECTOR, DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL)
It’s not all doom and gloom for female directors in Hollywood, thanks to bold new talents like Marielle Heller, whose writing/directing debut, the perceptive coming-of-ager Diary of A Teenage Girl, was one of Sundance’s runaway hits (it also won a top prize in Berlin). Starring future ‘it girl’ Bel Powley as a precocious teen on the brink of a sexual awakening, Diary was purchased by Sony Pictures Classics, and is expected to hit theaters later this year.
CRYSTAL MOSELLE (DIRECTOR, THE WOLFPACK)
No film at Sundance left as deep a mark on audiences as The Wolfpack, Crystal Moselle’s audacious documentary about a peculiar set of siblings who use movies to help them cope with their disturbing set of circumstances. Moselle – a graduate of New York’s School of Visual Arts – spent five years embedded with the insular family, and the result is the most provocative documentary we’ve seen in years.
KEIR GILCHRIST (ACTOR, SHARE)
Keir Gilchrist is in no rush to be famous. The 22-year-old British-born Canadian actor has skirted the usual Hollywood bombast that tempts most 'it boys' his age, in favour of more daring fare. Gilchrist wowed at Sundance in the white-knuckle thriller The Stanford Prison Experiment, and returns to the festival circuit with Share, a SXSW short film about a girl whose life is ruined when a sexually explicit video of her goes viral. And for those wondering why a film actor would ever star in a short? One word: Whiplash.