It’s been just over six months since we said goodbye to 2012 and hello to 2013, and already we’ve seen a slew of promising indie talent breakthrough in big ways thanks to the Sundance, SXSW and Tribeca film festivals (among many others), and theatrical releases that caught on with the movie-going public. Today and tomorrow we’ll be publishing our picks for this year’s biggest indie breakthroughs so far (we still have half a year to go), with our reasons for why they made the cut and info on what they’re up to next. Below, find part one.
Breakout Film: “The Spectacular Now”
Why They’re On Here: Because of his role as Willard in “Footloose.” OK, maybe Teller was slightly better in, “The Spectacular Now,” a Sundance selection from earlier this year. Teller, along with costar Shailene Woodley, won a Special Jury Prize at the Utah-based festival for dramatic acting that “showed rare honesty, naturalism and transparency.” It would be difficult to come up with better adjectives for the young star, especially as Sutter Keely, a jovial and incredibly popular high school senior who befriends a nerdy girl next door (Woodley) after a bad breakup. The festival favorite is set for a limited release August 2.
What’s Up Next: “Get a Job,” co-starring Anna Kendrick, Alison Brie, and Bryan Cranston, is set for a 2013 release. Teller also has two films in post-production: “Two Night Stand” and the Zac Efron vehicle, “Are We Officially Dating?” The latter also costars Michael B. Jordan, of “Fruitvale” and “Friday Night Lights” fame. Finally, Teller will appear alongside Woodley once more for the highly-anticipated, “Divergent,” an adaptation of the popular young adult novel.
Joachin Ronning and Espen Sandberg
Breakout Film: “Kon-Tiki”
Why They’re On Here: The Norwegian directing partners hit it big with their third feature, “Kon-Tiki,” an adventure on the high seas about a South American explorer crossing the Pacific on a wooden raft. We should have seen it coming. Their first feature, “Max Manus: Man of War,” went over well at the Toronto International Film Festival as well as the Hamptons and Palm Springs IFFs. Not only did “Kon-Tiki” blow up even bigger, earning Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for Best Foreign Language Film, but its success and subject matter landed them their next job: directing the fifth “Pirates of the Caribbean” film for Walt Disney Pictures.
What’s Up Next: Ronning and Sandberg have their hands full prepping Jack Sparrow’s fifth rum-fueled excursion, a substantial step up in budget if not quality from their previous pictures.
Breakout Film: “The Bling Ring”
Why They’re On Here: Considering Emma Watson is easily the most well known face in “The Bling Ring,” many may think she plays the group leader in Sofia Coppola’s film about four youths who rob Hollywood’s rich and famous. In reality, Katie Chang got that role, and she nailed it. Indiewire critic Eric Kohn says the Chicago-native “stands out” as Rebecca, “a fame-obsessed young woman” who recruits the other members to infiltrate the homes of Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton, among others. Among all that glitz and glamor, “standing out” is quite the achievement.
What’s Up Next: Chang also appears in “A Birder’s Guide to Everything,” a film that debuted at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival and has yet to land a release date. Fans better get used to waiting. The 18-year-old Blackhawks fan recently told Teen Vogue she plans to attend Columbia University in the fall.
Breakout Film: “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints“
Why They’re On Here: David Lowery has had one heck of a year. In 2013, the writer, director, and editor had three films premiere at the Sundance Film Festival: “Upstream Color,” for which he served as editor; “Pit Stop,” which he wrote; and “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” a film he wrote and directed. It was the latter, a heartbreaking and beautiful modern western, that has truly broken Lowery from of the pack. The Texas-native penned the meditative romance featuring fine performances from Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, and Ben Foster. He’s also heavily involved in the editing process (along with Harvey Weinstein), making the film almost wholly his. It’s a little early to throw the word “auteur” around, but Lowery certainly has a bright future, immediate and otherwise, ahead.
What’s Up Next: “Pit Stop” and “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” have yet to be released. No date has been said for the former, but “Saints” will start its awards run on August 16. Lowery has yet to start working on his next project, but it will undoubtedly be an in demand feature.
Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan
Professions: Director and Actor, respectively
Breakout Film: “Fruitvale Station”
Why They’re On Here: After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January, “Fruitvale Station” has been gaining momentum by the day. The audience award and Grand Jury Prize winner next stopped by Cannes where director Ryan Coogler picked up an Un Certain Regard nomination and win. While the film’s star Michael B. Jordan has yet to win any awards, Indiewire has him ranked ninth in the Best Actor race, ahead of other better known contenders like Tom Hanks and Matthew McConaughey. Jordan, a fan favorite from esteemed television shows “The Wire” and “Friday Night Lights,” has always had a bright future ahead of him. It’s in “Fruitvale Station,” though, that his future arrives.
What’s Up Next: Coogler has yet to sign on for a follow up project, but Jordan will appear in another 2013 release, the Zach Efron-starring, “Are We Officially Dating?” In 2014, look for Jordan in “Pretenders,” a drama co-starring Anton Yelchin and David Schwimmer.
Breakout Film: “Much Ado About Nothing”
Why They’re On Here: Jillian Morgese was plucked out of obscurity by Joss Whedon after standing out as an extra in “The Avengers.” The actress, who had mostly done extra and commercial work, was suddenly handpicked by Whedon to star as Hero in his indie hit adaptation of “Much Ado About Nothing.” According to an interview in Buzzfeed, she memorized her lines in two weeks (in true Shakespearian fashion) and joined the cast of Whedon darlings that included Nathan Fillion, Sean Maher, Alexis Denisof, and Amy Acker, many of whom were her childhood idols. It’s a classic rags to riches story, but Morgese seems like she deserves every minute. During the 12-day shoot for “Much Ado About Nothing,” the actress would consistently show up even when she wasn’t called to help out and learn from her experienced co-stars.
What’s Up Next: With Morgese under Whedon’s wing and given his tendency to reuse favorite actors, another project can’t be far off for the promising newcomer.
Profession: Actor, Writer, Director
Breakout Film: “Tiny Furniture”
Why They’re On Here: Lena Dunham’s first feature “Tiny Furniture” put him on the map, and he came back strong as grumpy old soul coffee shop owner Ray Ploshansky on her show “Girls,” standing out from his fellow twenty-somethings enough to garner a Critics’ Choice Nomination. He also wrote, directed, and starred in a pair of films, “Rubberneck” and “Red Flag,” which were both released theatrically and on VOD earlier this year via Tribeca Film.
What’s Up Next: He can be seen in the upcoming Coen Brothers film “Inside Llewyn Davis,” out December 6. He has a supporting role in “Wisdom Teeth,” directed by James Benson and Bernardo Britto, which is in post-production. The plot follows a college student named Danny who gets kicked out of his dorm a month before graduating and has to couch surf before he can move to L.A. with his friend Cameron to be reality TV show staff writers, leaving behind all their friends in New York. Not much info is available on the film, but Andrew W.K. is also cast. The film showed at the 2013 Northside Festival as part of the Northside DIY Competition.
Kate Lyn Sheil
Breakout Film: “Sun Don’t Shine”
Why They’re On Here: Kate Lyn Sheil is everywhere. She’s become a staple in the indie world over the last few years with roles in “The Color Wheel,” “V/H/S,” “Green,” “Silver Bullets,” and the polarizing “The Comedy.” In “Sun Don’t Shine,” Sheil braved alligator infested swamps to play Crystal, one half of a couple on a tense and mysterious road trip. Though Sheil has been climbing the indie ladder, she’s kept some humble roots, and feels awkward getting special treatment on bigger budget films. “You feel really silly because you’ve done all the other jobs on a film set and you’re like, I don’t need to eat before those people!” she said in an Indiewire interview for her next project.
What’s Up Next: Sheil has even more on her plate. She’s co-starring with “The Color Wheel” director Ales Ross Perry in “The Traditions,” a new series for HBO. Sheil joins her “Sun Don’t Shine” writer/director Amy Seimetz in Ti West’s “The Sacrament.” Sheil has also joined the cast of Netflix drama “House of Cards.” The second season is currently shooting in Maryland.
Martha Shane and Lana Wilson
Breakout Film: “After Tiller”
Why They’re On Here: Originally classmates at Wesleyan, it was Lana Wilson who approached Martha Shane about making a documentary profiling American abortion doctors. While Shane had previously co-directed “Bi the Way,” about the country’s changing views on bisexuality, Wilson had yet to make her first foray into filmmaking. The two came together to direct “After Tiller,” a look at the last four third-trimester abortion doctors in America. The sobering doc played to great buzz and acclaim at Sundance earlier this year, getting picked up by Oscilloscope for future release.
What’s Up Next: Wilson is currently exploring topics for her next documentary, while Shane is already underway on “The Mysteries of Marie Jocelyne,” a suspenseful look at former film festival director and alleged scam artist Marie Castaldo.
Profession: Writer, director
Breakout Film: “Dead Man’s Burden”
Why They’re On Here: Jared Moshe has been active in the business end for a number of years with more credits in the producing arena including “Beautiful Losers” and the Independent Spirit Award nominated “Kurt Cobain About a Son.” “Dead Man’s Burden” was Moshe’s first foray into writing and directing. The post-Civil War western featured production design from “There Will Be Blood” Ruth De Jong and critically acclaimed performances from Clare Bowen, Barlow Jacobs and David Calls. It was picked up by Cinedigm and hit theaters this spring.
What’s Up Next: Mosche’s sticking with the genre but bringing it into the 21st century. His next project is an hour long TV drama that he describes as a modern day western. He is developing the show with indie studio Cineflix.
Profession: Writer, director
Breakout Film: “Gimme the Loot”
Why They’re On Here: With his feature debut, Adam Leon garnered the Narrative Grand Jury Prize at last year’s SXSW, as well as playing at New Directors/New Films and Cannes, before an acclaimed limited release this past March. The film in question, “Gimme the Loot,” follows two aspiring graffiti artists trying to break through into the Bronx scene, effectively capturing the scrappiness of youth and the evocative vibrancy of the city.
What’s Up Next: Leon told Indiewire that he’s working on “something that’s a little different. I’m so passionate about it that I’m paranoid to talk about.”
Breakout Film: “An Oversimplification of Her Beauty”
Why They’re On Here: Terence Nance began his career as a visual and performance artist under the name Terence Etc. He has said that he feels much more comfortable making experimental music videos, but that didn’t stop him from attempting his first narrative film. For “An Oversimplification of Her Beauty,” which premiered at Sundance in 2012 and opened theatrically this Spring, Nance mixed visual styles and included animation to create a structurally obscure film that many called brave. “I think there’s something to be said for having a way of approaching everything. And my way is that all forms, all ways of making an image, are on the table,” he told Indiewire blog Shadow and Act. “Nothing is off limits.”
What’s Up Next: Nance is working on his next feature, a surreal thriller titled “The Lobbyist” in which he plays a con man. He hopes to shoot next year.
Profession: Writer, director
Breakout Film: “Afternoon Delight”
Why They’re On Here: Jill Soloway is a well known producer for hit HBO shows like “Six Feet Under,” and “United States of Tara.” Her hilarious book “Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants,” is a combo memoir and commentary on modern life. Soloway brought her humor to her first feature “Afternoon Delight,” which stars Kathryn Hahn as an L.A. housewife who tries to “rescue” a stripper (Juno Temple) by hiring her as a live-in nanny. Soloway won the U.S. Dramatic Directing Award Sundance and “Afternoon Delight” hits theaters on August 30.
What’s Up Next: The Film Arcade will be releasing “Afternoon Delight” theatrically with Cinedigm handling supplementary distribution.
Breakout Film: “Pit Stop”
Why They’re On Here: Yen Tan was born and raised in Malaysia, studied in Des Moines, Iowa, and now resides in Austin, Texas. As in Tan’s breakout “Ciao,” wherein a Dallas man and an Italian man grieve the loss of their friend, “Pit Stop” also explores a gay relationship with a Texas background. In “Pit Stop,” the story of two working class gay men and their families, Tan uses bleak scenery and drab colors to explore his fascination with small town America. The touching drama premiered at Sundance before hitting SXSW this year.
What’s Up Next: Back at Sundance, Tan told Indiewire that he’s working on a new script about a long-term relationship, and “more key art designs!” Wolfe Releasing will be releasing “Pit Stop” later this year.
[Nigel M. Smith, Ben Travers, Casey Cipriani, Julia Selinger, Madeline Raynor and Clint Holloway contributed to this article.]