By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire January 28, 2014 at 1:33PM
Everyone in "Dear White People"
Justin Simien's hilarious and provocative debut "Dear White People" was a breath of fresh air that lived up to its early promise as a zeitgeist comedy tailor made to appeal to Obama's America. And while Simien, winner of the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Breakthrough Talent award at Sundance, is the phenomenally talented man behind the picture, his cast is too good to ignore. All relatively unknown, each and every performer in Simien's film takes what could have been preachy material and injects it with a raw energy that's infectious. Watch out for this cast to blow up big in the years to come.
Jennifer Kent, "The Babadook"
No film terrified audiences more at Sundance than Jennifer Kent's mega-promising feature film debut, "The Babadook." The Australian filmmaker, who has a background in acting, wowed the festival circuit with her award-winning short film "Monster," which screened at more than 40 international film festivals. Still, nobody really saw "The Babadook" coming. Acquired by IFC Midnight out of the festival, critics were quick to praise the horror film, with many saying that she even out-skilled "The Conjuring" director James Wan in the fright department. The terrifying thriller centers on a single mother forced to deal with her violent young son and the bogeyman who lurks in their halls at night.
Jenny Slate, "Obvious Child"
If you aren't already familiar with Jenny Slate from her stint on "Saturday Night Live," you probably know her as the voice behind the title character in "Marcel the Shell with Shoes On," the stop-motion short she made with her husband Dean Fleischer-Camp that became a viral smash and screened at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. She also appeared on TV in "Parks and Recreation" and "Girls." But it's in Gillian Robespierre's comedy "Obvious Child," that Slate proves she can more than carry a project. Playing a Brooklyn comedian who refuses to grow up (think "Frances Ha," just funnier), Slate shines as a lead and is sure to become familiar to many more when A24 releases the film later this year.
Damien Chazelle, "Whiplash"
With only one feature under his belt, the little seen indie "Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench," Damien Chazelle came into Park City as a relative unknown. That changed on the first night of the festival when his phenomenally entertaining sophomore feature "Whiplash" debuted to an ecstatic response that resulted in a Sony Pictures Classics pickup out of the festival. Based on his short of the same name about an aspiring drummer and his psychologically abusive teacher, "Whiplash" continued to ride its deafening reception right through to awards night, where Chazelle was awarded with both the Audience and Grand Jury Prize awards – the same honor bestowed upon last year's sensation, "Fruitvale Station." Like that film, expect to hear a lot more about "Whiplash" come this fall's awards season, where the film is all but guaranteed to net a slew of nominations for various awards.