By Nigel M Smith and Eric Kohn | Indiewire March 18, 2014 at 3:08PM
Every year, the SXSW Film Festival serves as a calling card for folks hoping to break out in the film world. Last year's Grand Jury Prize winner "Short Term 12" made a sensation out of Brie Larson, and just a few years prior, Lena Dunham came to the festival as a complete unknown with her directorial debut, and we all know how that turned out.
With this year's edition now over, Indiewire has weeded through all the talent with films at the event and selected those who stand the best chance at going the distance based on their performance in Austin. Below are the 10 we picked (in no specific order).
Natalia Dyer - "I Believe in Unicorns"
You may recognize the elfin-looking Natalia Dyer from her appearances in "Hannah Montana: The Movie," "Blue Like Jazz," and "The Between" alongside "Hunger Games"' Isabelle Fuhrman. In "I Believe in Unicorns," the now 19-year-old actress (she was 16 when she shot this) shows off a stunning range as a daydreaming teenager whose magical romance with an older bad boy (Peter Vack, also on this list) turns sour when the pair embarks on an aimless road-trip. Writer-director Leah Meyerhoff asks a lot of Dyer for the emotionally taxing role, and Dyer flies with the challenge. She's complete dynamite.
Carlos Marces-Marquet - "10,000 KM (Long Distance)"
The tender story of a long-distance relationship in Spanish director Marces-Marquet's debut unfolds with a remarkable degree of confidence: The movie's first shot is nearly 25 minutes long, and the rest of the story largely unfolds in fragmented video chats and other forms of 21st-century communication, as the couple at the center of the film attempt to remain close while living in different countries. Natalia Dena and David Verdaguer deservedly won acting prizes for carrying this bittersweet relationship drama as the sole members of its cast, but it's the director who deserves credit for coming up with such deceptively simple material and infusing it with incredible emotion. It's not only a truly modern romance, but one that announces a fresh voice in tune with modern times.
Joel Potrykus - "Buzzard"
Joel Potrykus' nutty debut feature "Ape" followed the exploits of a deranged standup comedian struggling to make ends meet. "Buzzard" is similarly focused on a man at the bottom of the economic food chain battling to get by while stirring up trouble in every direction. It's also a genuinely brilliant contemporary satire of workplace frustrations. Like "Office Space" on crack, the movie revolves around a wry young schemer ("Ape" star Joshua Burge) who casually steals money from the bank that employs him while wasting his days with an equally directionless pal eating chips and playing video games in a basement lair dubbed "the party zone." But when his scams catch up to him, the character gradually loses his mind in a series of increasingly surreal and surprising developments that involve -- among many other things -- a treadmill, a makeshift Freddy Krueger glove, and one very long take involving pasta. By the end, like Martin Scorsese's "After Hours," Potrykus' labyrinthine farce is so compellingly weird you just have to roll with it and accept it for what it is: an astute look at what it means to attempt an escape from the system and wind up devoured by it.
Hugh Sullivan, "The Infinite Man"
Writer-director Hugh Sullivan's first feature is initially a lightweight
comic fantasy that gradually increases its sophistication with a
network of dense events littered throughout a tangled chronology,
resulting in a funny and oddly involving representation of one
relationship's ups and downs. The Australian time travel story is part of a rare breed that
uses the constant pileup of future and past events to enhance its humor
and intelligence at once. Despite its complex timeline, "The Infinite Man" is an impressively
minimalist storytelling achievement: The entire narrative revolves
around the experiences of three characters. At its center, neurotic
young scientist Dean (Josh McConville) attempts to rejuvenate his
relationship with Lana (Hannah Marshall) by taking her to an abandoned
seaside resort for their anniversary. Sullivan directs this playful story with a lightweight quality that makes it easy to get wrapped up in the thorny timeline without realizing the depth of its sophistication. It's rare to find a truly insightful science fiction story that relies on human interactions rather than CGI to make its points. We hope Sullivan keeps at it.
David Dastmalchian - "Animals"
David Dastmalchian's creepy visage, last seen as the suicidal suspect in "Prisoners," takes on softer dimensions in his role as one half of a junkie couple (his partner is capably portrayed by Kim Shaw). Dastmalchian also wrote the screenplay for this intense story about lovers fighting for survival on the streets of Chicago and constantly running out of new options. Dastmalchian's screenwriting debut (which bagged him a special prize for courage in storytelling at SXSW) bodes well for an alternative career alongside his performances. The story's patient rhythms allow for a wholly believable world to take shape before it comes crashing down.
John Karna - "Premature"
Dan Beers' riff on "Groundhog Day" stars newcomer John Karna as a teen whose awful day starts over each time he ejaculates. That goofy premise could easily yield a ceaselessly stupid comedy, but Karna's believable turn grounds the narrative in a surprisingly believable foundation. As the character lives through the day cycle of bullies, banter with friends, an awkward college interview and tentative romance, he gradually becomes aware of the solution to all his worries. No matter how ridiculous the events surrounding him, Karna provides a wonderfully sympathetic focal point. Take that, Jason Biggs in "American Pie" -- there's another nervous, sexually confused face at the party, and he's totally lovable.
Peter Vack - "Fort Tilden," "I Believe in Unicorns" and "Send"
Before Peter Vack came to SXSW, he was best known for the now-defunct MTV comedy-drama "I Just Want My Pants Back." By the time he left, he'd seen the premiere of his first short film "Send," which he wrote and directed; starred in the coming-of-age drama "I Believe in Unicorns;" and appeared in the Grand Jury Prize winner "Fort Tilden." Also during the festival, he learned that his Amazon Prime show, "Mozart in the Jungle," was picked up for a full season. Talk about an upswing. Vack's the real deal. A strong, intense actor; good looking, almost to a fault; and ambitious. He'll go far.
Brooke Bloom - "She's Lost Control"
Actress Brooke Bloom's frequented plenty of TV shows, probably most prominently in "Alpha House" as Julie. Other projects include "Person of Interest," "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," "The Good Wife," and over 30 more titles (predominantly TV shows). In the drama "She's Lost Control," Ronah proves her mettle as a strong lead, playing a fiercely individualistic sexual surrogate who takes on a new client and struggles to keep what's professional and what's personal unmixed. It's a difficult role on many levels, and Bloom nails it. Should the project gain momentum following its SXSW bow, Bloom is sure to attract attention, and hopefully, more lead roles.
Bridey Elliot and Clare McNutly - "Fort Tilden"
The surprise Grand Jury Prize winner "Fort Tilden" centers on two self-involved 25-year-olds who give "Girls"' neurotic Hannah a run for her money in the grating department. And while it's hard to love the two gals, the skilled comedic performances by the actresses who play them -- Bridey Elliot and Clare McNutly -- are too good to ignore, and play a huge role in why the film caught on the way it did at SXSW. Both have barely any credits to their name. "Fort Tilden" could change that.