Caity Lotz, "The Machine"
As anyone who caught the Sundance horror entry "The Pact" can tell you, Caity Lotz makes for a kick-ass action heroine. Unfortunately for her, not many saw her breakout turn in the film. The majority of folks probably know her as the one of the many guest stars in "Mad Men" who left a lasting impression, playing Stephanie, the niece of the real Don Draper's widow Anna. In "The Machine," Lotz is afforded her strangest and possibly most eye-catching role to date as the titular being. The UK sci-fi adventure centers on a brilliant programmer and his ultimate creation (Lotz), a beautiful and dangerous cybernetic super soldier created to put a stop to an endless Cold War, who turns out to be the more humane of the two.
Emily Meade, "Bluebird"
24-year-old actress Emily Meade does a remarkable job of playing a virginal teenager in "Bluebird," Lance Edmands solemn ensemble character study. That, and she stands out among a cast that includes Tony-nominee Amy Morton, "Mad Men" vet John Slattery and "Girls" hunk Adam Driver. Meade is no newcomer to scene -- she's been working since 2006 -- but she's long been relegated to sub-par horror fodder ("My Soul to Take") or well-intentioned but misguided dramas ("Twelve"), when not appearing in TV shows like "Boardwalk Empire" and "Law & Order Special Victims Unit." In "Bluebird" she gets a role and film worthy of her considerable talent.
Amy Morton, "Bluebird"
Steppenwolf Theater core group member Amy Morton has been slaying it on stage for over 20 years, netting a Tony nomination and a slew of other accolades in the process. On the big screen however, Morton has remained relatively unknown save for some supporting work in "Up in the Air," "8MM" and "The Dilemma." Hopefully that changes once festival audiences catch her devastating lead turn in the solemn ensemble drama "Bluebird." In the film, Morton stars as a school bus driver whose one tragic mistake shatters the lives of those involved, including that of her husband ("Mad Men"'s John Slattery) and daughter (Emily Meade, who also made this list).
Maxine Peake, "Run & Jump"
British stage actress Maxine Peake is relatively well known in her home country for her work on the small screen in Channel 4's "Shameless," BBC's "Dinnerladies" and a number of other popular projects. Despite an appearance in James Marsh's "Red Riding" segment (it was part of a trilogy), Peake has yet to become a known commodity stateside. That could change with the dramedy "Run & Jump," in which she stars opposite "SNL" star Will Forte as an Irish wife struggling to keep her family together after a stroke leaves her husband disabled.
Michael J. Willett, "G.B.F."
Michael J. Wilett makes his film debut in "G.B.F.," a "Mean Girls"-style teen comedy that inverts the gender to place a man (Wilett) at the heart of the storyline. Wilett, a TV actor who's appeared in "Cougar Town" and "United States of Tara," here plays Tanner, a high schooler who outs himself becoming his school's first openly gay student. The news piques the interest of the school's most popular three girls, each of whom want to claim Tanner as their own Gay Best Friend (G.B.F. of the title).