Lola Kirke, actor ("Mistress America")
Lola Kirke may not be as well known as her sister, "Girls" star Jemima, but the younger actress is on the verge of much wider recognition. She stole scenes with supporting parts in last year's "Gone Girl" and "Free the Nipple" and currently plays the lead role in "Mozart in the Jungle," the first season of which is now available on Amazon. But it's her performance alongside Greta Gerwig in Noah Baumbach's 2015 Sundance premiere "Mistress America," which was recently picked up by Fox Searchlight, that really shows she has what it takes to become one of the most in-demand actresses of her generation. In his review of the comedy, Indiewire's Eric Kohn called Kirke the "driving force of the film," adding that her "sleepy-eyed, quasi-sarcastic delivery makes for the perfect foil to Gerwig's ceaseless energy."
Christopher Abbott, actor ("James White")
Ex-"Girls" star Christopher Abbott was no stranger to Sundance coming into this year's festival, having appeared in "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and "Hello I Must Be Going." But the 2015 edition of the event marked a major breakthrough moment for the actor. In John Mond's gut-wrenching NEXT Audience Award winner "James White," Abbott was tasked for the first time with carrying a picture, and he kills it, delivering a deeply felt performance as a young New Yorker struggling to keep his self-destructive behavior in check shortly after learning that his mother (played by Cynthia Nixon) is losing her battle with cancer. Abbott's been a fascinating screen presence for some years now (he made a strong impression in a bit role in his most recent thriller, "A Most Violent Year"), but as the titular "James White," he reached new depths to show surprising range.
Shameik Moore, actor ("Dope")
19-year-old newcomer Shameik Moore, best known for Cartoon Network sketch comedy "Incredible Crew," looks like a huge star in the making if his performance in Rick Famuyiwa's crowdpleaser is anything to go by. The actor effortlessly leads the film as a teenager obsessed with '90s hip-hop, who one day dreams of attending Harvard. Hilarious, charismatic and very handsome, Moore has the makings of a major star, should "Dope" become a hit when Open Road opens it sometime this year.
Sarah Silverman, actor ("I Smile Back")
Comedians often make for great dramatic actors; we're glad to report that Sarah Silverman is no exception. She shocks in the severely bleak drama "I Smile Back" in her first starring role. Silverman plays Laney, a suburban wife and mother who struggles with depression, reckless behavior and addiction. Within the first first 20 or so minutes of Adam Salky's harrowing adaptation of the 2008 novel by Amy Koppelman, Laney goes on a drug and alcohol fueled rampage that causes her husband (Josh Charles) to check her into rehab. Silverman is astonishing in the role, fearless in her portrayal of a woman on the verge of self destruction.
Bel Powley, actor ("The Diary of a Teenage Girl")
In her American feature film debut, "Diary of a Teenage Girl," 22-year-old British actress Bel Powley is so convincing playing a teenager in San Francisco in 1976 that you'll swear it's an autobiographical role and she's somehow time-travelled from the '70s. Adapted from Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel of the same name by writer-director Marielle Heller, "Diary" follows 15-year-old Minnie (Powley) as she explores her sexuality by losing her virginity to her mother's boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgard). Powley is total marvel in the role, appearing in every scene. She's currently on a roll; next up is Drake Doremus' futuristic love story "Equals," in which she co-stars opposite Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult.