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15 Breakout Artists To Watch From The 2013 Sundance Film Festival

15 Breakout Artists To Watch From The 2013 Sundance Film Festival

There’s still a couple days left of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, but for all intents and purposes it’s winding down. Most of the press have departed, pretty much every major movie has screened at least once, and many of them have been bought, or will be over the next few days.

One of the great things about the festival and its place in the calendar is the way that it introduces a host of new names (and gives a leg-up to some established ones) at the start of the new year; actors, writers and directors who, having impressed in Park City, will go on to big things throughout the rest of 2013.

And while no one film united the critics in the way that “Beasts of the Southern Wild” did last year (for example), the wealth has been spread around in 2013, with a wide range of films and talent winning approval from critics and festivalgoers. So, while we’ve still got some Sundance reviews to come, we thought we’d start our wrap-up coverage of the festival by picking out a selection artists who got noticed and stood out at Sundance 2013. Check out our picks below and let us know who you think will be the next big deal.

Ryan Coogler & Michael B. Jordan (“Fruitvale”)
When 22-year-old Oscar Grant was killed by a policeman on New Year’s Day 2009, Ryan Coogler, then a 22-year-old USC film student, was only a few miles away in Oakland. Four years later, he’s at Sundance with his feature film debut “Fruitvale,” which tells the story of Grant’s last day, and the film was one of the most celebrated of the festival, winning strong reviews and getting picked up by The Weinstein Company, who may well have awards season plans. Coogler’s film school work won him a meeting with Forest Whitaker and his Significant Productions shingle, and when he pitched the idea of a film based on Grant’s murder, Whitaker agreed to produce it on the spot. Once Coogler graduated in 2011, he set to work, and thanks to development help from the Sundance Labs, shot the film last summer. The 26-year-old filmmaker had only ever had one actor in mind for the part, Michael B. Jordan of “The Wire” and “Friday Night Lights,” and the actor is likely to get just as much of a boost as his director. He was already hot property thanks to a strong supporting role in last year’s sleeper hit “Chronicle” and his small-screen work, but “Fruitvale” seems to establish him as a leading man, and could well lead to year-end recognition if the film takes off. 

Jordan Vogt-Roberts – “Toy’s House”
When we caught the short film “Successful Alcoholics,” starring Lizzy Caplan and T.J. Miller, which premiered at Sundance three years back, it was clear that the filmmaker behind it was poised for great things, and we resolved to keep an eye on him. And Jordan Vogt-Roberts more than justified all that this year when his debut feature, “Toy’s House,” premiered and became one of the best-liked films of the festival. The Detroit-born filmmaker first came to attention after setting up the website Blerds.com, which showcased comedians including T.J. Miller and Kumail Nanjiani. This led to him being snapped up for commercial work, and to “Successful Alcoholics,” a raw, yet hilarious look at a high-functioning young couple of heavy drinkers. It landed Vogt-Roberts work directing banners for Sundance the year after, and he also went on to helm a number of episodes of the Will Ferrell/Adam McKay-produced HBO series “Funny Or Die Presents… ” But 2012 was even better. He created and directed the excellent, inventive Comedy Central stand-up series “Mash Up,” which we only just caught up on, and also went into production on “Toy’s House.” Based on a Black List-approved script by Chris Galletta, the story of three teenage boys who run away to live in a house in the woods mixes breakout new talent like Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso and Moises Arias with beloved comic stars like Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally and Alison Brie. And since it premiered in Park City last weekend, we’ve scarcely heard a bad word about it, least of all from our review, which called Vogt-Roberts “a fresh new comic voice.” The movie’s been snapped up by CBS Films, and probably has as good a chance of becoming a crossover hit as anything that screened at the festival this year. And we’re sure we’ll see much more of Vogt-Roberts as a result.

Mackenzie Davis (“Breathe In”)
Two years ago, Felicity Jones was the big festival breakout at Sundance, thanks to the British actress’ starring role in Drake Doremus‘ “Like Crazy.” This year, Doremus was back with the excellent “Breathe In” (which also stars Jones), and the filmmaker clearly still has an eye for talent, as Mackenzie Davis, who co-stars in the film, was one of the most talked about actresses in Park City. The Canadian thesp had only one tiny role in last year’s Sundance entry “Smashed” — and that hadn’t even premiered yet — when Doremus cast her as the daughter of Guy Pearce and Amy Ryan‘s characters in his fourth feature. And just as Jones leapt off the screen two years ago, Davis’ role as the girl who befriends the new exchange student living with her parents, even as she remains deeply suspicious of her, saw her shine by all accounts. Long before the film premiered Davis already started to get buzz. She was snapped up by UTA after they saw rushes from “Breathe In,” and she’s gone on to win roles opposite Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan in “The F Word,” Zac Efron, Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan in “Are We Officially Dating?” and, only this week, signing on to her studio debut with Sony‘s genre flick “The Kitchen Sink,” about a vampire, a werewolf and a zombie who team up to fight off aliens. Expect it to be the first of many.

Miles Teller (“The Spectacular Now”)
Not many people saw John Cameron Mitchell’s undervalued “Rabbit Hole” a few years ago, but those who did recognized a potential star in Miles Teller, the then-23-year-old actor who played Jason, the guilt-ridden teenager who hit and killed the 4-year-old child of Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) in a car accident. Even among a cast of heavyweights, Teller impressed, more than holding his own against the Oscar-nominated Kidman. Since then, Teller’s had some supporting roles in big movies (the comic relief best friend part in the “Footloose” remake, an older jock in “Project X“), but this year’s Sundance saw the actor really cement his talent with the lead role in “The Spectacular Now.” In James Ponsoldt‘s excellently-received teen drama, Teller plays Sutter Keely, a popular, hard-partying, borderline-alcoholic high schooler, a sort of dark, realistic version of Ferris Bueller, who falls for an introverted classmate (Shailene Woodley). Teller’s won absolute raves for the performance (our review called him “effortlessly real,” and there’s even some early awards buzz for him). Casting directors caught on early as the actor has got no fewer than four lead roles on the way. It starts with anarchic comedy “21 & Over,” the directorial debut from the writers of “The Hangover,” followed by Dylan Kidd‘s “Get A Job” alongside Anna Kendrick, Alison Brie and Bryan Cranston, high-concept rom-com “Two Night Stand” with Analeigh Tipton, and, yes, “Are We Officially Dating?,” the film that’s providing employment for seemingly half of this list. Teller’s equally adept at comedy and drama, so we’re sure this is only the beginning.

David Lowery (“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”)
With Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck leading an excellent cast, ’70s-set crime tale “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” was one of the most anticipated films of the festival, and happily, turned out to be one of the best received, with our review calling it “a wholly engrossing and impressive piece of work that the movie world will be talking about all year long.” And rising directorial star David Lowery is certainly going to be part of that conversation too. The Dallas-based filmmaker has been one of the best-kept secrets of the indie world thanks to his microbudgeted feature debut “St. Nick” in 2009, and short follow-up “Pioneer” in 2011 (starring Will Oldham), and he developed ‘Saints’ through the Sundance Labs, before WME helped bring it to the attention of Mara and Affleck, whose presence helped him to raise the $6 million budget. The film picked up some of the best reviews of the festival, and is a strong contender for the Grand Jury Prize, but that was hardly Lowery’s only contribution to the festival; he also wrote the NEXT film “Pit Stop,” and was an editor on Shane Carruth‘s equally acclaimed “Upstream Color.” He has a couple of scripts in development, along with a documentary, and the future only looks much brighter from here.

Lake Bell (“In A World…”)
Probably the best-known face on this list, 33-year-old Bell has been a regular on film and TV for a decade or so, since breaking through on “Miss Match” and “Boston Legal.” Recent years have seen her crop up in diverse roles, both comic and serious, in films like “What Happens In Vegas,” “Pride & Glory” and “No Strings Attached,” plus recurring parts on “How To Make It In America” and “Children’s Hospital.” But it’s the latter that really seemed to point the way to the future. Bell directed two episodes of the show last summer, just on the heels of her short film “Worst Enemy,” which premiered at Sundance two years ago. And this year, she was back at the festival with her feature debut “In A World…,”  a comedy which she wrote, directed and starred in. Following an aspiring voiceover artist who tries to escape from the shadow of her father, a legend in the field, Bell assembled an excellent cast including Fred Melamed, Demetri Martin, Rob Corddry, Nick Offerman and Geena Davis, and, by most accounts, proved a sure hand behind the camera and a winning presence in front of it. The inside-baseball nature of the subject matter may prevent it from truly taking off with audiences, but with terrific reviews, it’ll certainly get distribution, and should give Bell a boost as a leading lady and hopefully land her a bigger budget for her next directorial outing too.

Jeremy Lovering (“In Fear”)
If you went to Sundance looking for the next Christopher Nolan or Rupert Wyatt (who both had films premiere at the festival early in their careers), you’d be hard pressed to find a better candidate than Jeremy Lovering, whose feature film debut “In Fear” has been scaring the living shit out of people in the Midnight strand of the festival. Backed by Big Talk Productions (“Shaun Of The Dead,” “Attack The Block,” “Sightseers“), it’s a fairly simple set-up of a young teenage couple who get lost in the Irish countryside, and are tormented by a mysterious presence. But the reviews suggest that Lovering wrings the maximum tension out of it, not least with a semi-improvised approach that meant hiding his script from his cast — Alice Englert (“Ginger And Rosa“) and Iain De Caestecker (“S.H.I.E.L.D“) — and freaking them out for real. It’s a pretty fresh approach to the genre, and one that suggests that Lovering — a TV veteran who helmed episodes of “MI-5” as well as one-offs “Miss Austen Regrets” with Olivia Williams and “Money” with Nick Frost — has plenty of tricks up his sleeve. He’s about to direct one of the episodes of the new series of “Sherlock” with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, which can only raise his profile higher, and he’s got a further two films in development at Big Talk, “Child Soldier” and “Wicked Smart.” Are we looking at the next Edgar Wright/Joe Cornish/Ben Wheatley?

Stacie Passon & Robin Weigert (“Concussion”)
One of the films with the most buzz going into the festival, thanks to its controversial subject matter, selection for the Berlinale, and awards from the Adrienne Shelly Foundation and the Gothams for director Stacie Passon, was “Concussion.” Following a gay married soccer mom who receives the titular head injury, loses the passion in her relationship, and becomes a prostitute, it picked up excellent reviews (Scott Foundas said the film “is why we have a Sundance in the first place”) and was snapped up by the Weinstein Company‘s new VOD shingle Radius for distribution. As a result, we’re likely to see a lot more of both Passon and her star Robin Weigert down the line. Passon comes from the commercials world, having worked for years as a promo director and producer, and is a protege of Rose Troche (“Go Fish,” “Bedrooms and Hallways“) who serves as a producer on this film. Weigert you may well have seen, but probably won’t recognize; she grubbed up to give an astonishing performance as Calamity Jane on HBO‘s “Deadwood.” Other credits have included “The Good German,” “Synecdoche, New York” and a recurring role in “Sons Of Anarchy,” while she cropped up at Sundance last year in “The Sessions.” She’s been consistently underrated, but hopefully this is the start of a Melissa Leo/Ann Dowd-style boost for the actress.

Danai Gurira (“Mother Of George”)
The Walking Dead” might be the biggest drama series on TV right now, but its principle cast have yet to break through to the features world, for the most part. But it looks like one of the first to make an impact will be Danai Gurira, who plays fan favorite Michonne on the show. Gurira is an actress and playwright (who won an Obie Award for her 2006 effort “In The Continuum“), who made her film debut with a major supporting role as illegal immigrant Zainab in Thomas McCarthy‘s “The Visitor” in 2007. She’s popped up in other places, including “Treme” and the Broadway production of August Wilson‘s “Joe Turner’s Come And Gone,” before taking on the iconic sword-wielding Michonne on the AMC zombie series last year. But her star is set to rise even higher thanks to a reunion with Andrew Dosonmu, who worked with the actress on “Restless City,” for their Sundance film “Mother of George.” Gurira and Isaach De Bankole play a young Nigerian couple in New York trying to conceive a baby, and while notices for the film (beyond Bradford Young‘s cinematography) have been muted, Gurira’s turn in particular has won her enormous praise, with Variety calling it a “remarkable performance.” It’s notably harder for African-American actors to break out of the festival (see Adepero Oduye of “Pariah” fame, who’s only had a couple of roles since the film debuted at Sundance two years ago), but given that she’s a key part of a huge pop-culture hit at the same time, hopefully it’s all the more reason for Gurira to move onto bigger and better things.

Kaya Scodelario (“Emmanuel And The Truth About Fishes”)
For a TV show watched by a fairly small British audience, teen drama “Skins” has had an impressive effect on the movies world. In the five years since it debuted, it’s helped to introduce movie screens to Dev Patel (“Slumdog Millionaire“), Nicholas Hoult (“X-Men: First Class“), Joe Dempsie and Hannah Murray (“Game Of Thrones“), Daniel Kaluuya (“Welcome To The Punch“), Jack O’Connell (“300: Battle Of Artimesia“) and Luke Pasqualino (“Snowpiercer“), among others. And the next to join them looks to be Kaya Scodelario. The 20-year-old actress was the only character to span the first four series of the show, which led to small parts in films including “Moon” and “Clash Of The Titans.” But she really showed her abilities by playing Cathy in Andrea Arnold‘s bruising, brutal adaptation of “Wuthering Heights.” She was the best known name in the cast by some way, and more than held her own. And when Rooney Mara dropped out of Francesca Gregorini‘s “Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes,” it was Scodelario who stepped in, as the title character, a teenage girl who becomes obsessed with her new neighbor. Reviews of the film have been a touch divided (some raves, some dismissive ones), but Scodelario’s been the constant, with comparisons to previous Sundance darlings Elizabeth Olsen and Carey Mulligan surfacing a good deal. And she’s continuing to work with promising collaborators — next up is “Southcliffe,” a British TV miniseries directed by “Martha Marcy May Marlene” director Sean Durkin.

Jim Rash & Nat Faxon (“The Way Way Back”)
Sure, “The Way Way Back” writers/directors Jim Rash & Nat Faxon might have already won an Oscar, but even with both actors killing it in regular roles on network sitcoms (Rash is the Dean on “Community,” Faxon is one half of the title duo on Fox‘s recently axed “Ben & Kate“), most of the country, and even the industry, might have struggled to pick them out of a line-up, but that could all start to change once their directorial debut, “The Way Way Back,” leaves Park City and finds audiences around the world. The pair met performing with improv group The Groundlings a decade or so ago, and while they had separate acting careers (Rash appeared in “Sky High” and “That 70s Show,” Faxon in “Orange County “and “Bad Teacher,” among others), they were working together as screenwriters, with “The Way Way Back,” originally intended to be directed by Shawn Levy, being their calling card script. While the script got them other work, including on Alexander Payne‘s “The Descendants,” for which they shared the Oscar with Payne, “The Way Way Back” — a coming-of-age comedy about a young man working at a waterpark to avoid his dysfunctional family — languished in development hell. But their Academy win earned them enough heat to get the film set up as their own directorial debut, with an A-list cast including Steve Carell, Toni Collette and Sam Rockwell (plus Faxon & Rash in cameos). And the film was perhaps the popular hit of the festival this year, greeted by a standing ovation, and bought by Fox Searchlight for a near record-breaking $9.75 million. Whether or not it becomes the next “Little Miss Sunshine,” as Searchlight clearly hope, remains to be seen, but given that Faxon & Rash are likely to be without shows by the summer (barring a surprise pick-up for either), we should see a lot more of them behind the camera from now on.

Randy Moore (“Escape From Tomorrow”)
Every year, Sundance brings at least one bolt from the blue; a film that no one had really registered, but soon becomes one of the must-sees of the festival thanks to word of mouth. This year, it was “Escape From Tomorrow,” a modest black-and-white drama in the NEXT section that became the talk of the festival. It’s possible that it’ll never see the light of day, but it’s sure to make writer/director Randy Moore one to watch from now on. Famously, Moore surreptitiously shot his film, which follows the breakdown of a father who’s lost his job while on family vacation, at Walt Disney World in Florida, without the knowledge of the Disney corporation (unsurprising, given that, among other things, it depicts the Disney princesses as escorts-for-hire). The 35-year-old Moore had been working as a story editor for “The Terminator” producer John Daly, and put the film together after he “turned 33 and got very depressed,” in his words to Indiewire, and shot it on the cheap and quiet. The film received excellent reviews (including our own), and while many assumed that legal issues would prevent it from ever getting distribution, experts have since suggested that everything Moore does falls within fair use. Regardless of whether or not it gets picked up (potential buyers may still be too scared of the Mouse House to bite), it seems that we’ve found a distinctive new voice in Moore.

Josh Pais (“Touchy Feely”)
With her last couple of films, director Lynn Shelton seems to be making a habit of showcasing undersung character actors. “Your Sister’s Sister” gave a much-needed showcase to the great Rosemarie DeWitt, and her follow-up “Touchy Feely” (which also stars DeWitt, alongside Ellen Page, Allison Janney and Scoot McNairy) has a doozy of a role for character actor Josh Pais. The actor is one of those guys who you recognize when he comes on screen even if you can’t name him, but really shines in a rare leading part here, with our review calling him “particularly excellent, affecting and funny.” Pais’ first big role was, of all things, both playing and voicing Raphael in 1990’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” and has gone on to appear in smallish roles in “Rounders,” “Scream 3,” “Phone Booth,” “The Station Agent,” “Adventureland,” “Teeth,” “Please Give,” “Arbitrage” and, inevitably, “Law & Order.” But after the reception to his role in Shelton’s film, hopefully more filmmakers will be inspired to use him in more prominent roles in the future.

Michael Starrbury (“The Inevitable Defeat Of Mister and Pete”)
While it’s been as front-loaded as ever, Sundance isn’t quite over, and one of the last films to screen at the festival is “The Inevitable Defeat Of Mister And Pete,” about two Brooklyn kids (Skylan Brooks and Ethan Dizon) who leave their drug-addicted mothers to set up for themselves. Produced by Alicia Keys, directed by George Tillman Jr. (“Notorious“), and starring Jeffrey Wright, Anthony Mackie, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jennifer Hudson and Jordin Sparks, the film has drawn comparison to “The Wire” and “Precious” since it started screening for the press at the festival, and while Tillman may get a boost, it’s screenwriter Michael Starrbury who seems to be the biggest beneficiary of its success. Starrbury broke through with his Black Listed script “Watch Roger Do His Thing,” about a retired hitman, but is becoming a hot property around town, not least because of his Sundance flick. He’s got two big studio pictures in the works; “The Great Unknown,” a comic book adaptation for “MacGruber” director Jorma Taccone, and actioner “Fully Automatic” at Warner Bros. And he just landed the plum gig of rewriting the Tupac Shakur biopic off the back of the notices for ‘Mister & Pete.’ Screenwriters getting a big break out of Sundance is a relatively rare thing, but Starrbury seems to have cracked it.

Amy Seimetz (“Upstream Color”)
Over the last few years, Amy Seimetz hasn’t come anywhere near threatening to crack the mainstream, but has served as a sort of “Zelig“-figure for a particular kind of American independent film, crossing paths with many of the most notable players in the scene in some way or another. The latest is Shane Carruth; the actress stars in the “Primer” director’s sophomore feature “Upstream Color,” and while the filmmaker’s work doesn’t quite serve the actors in the way of some of his contemporaries, Seimetz has picked up strong enough notices that it could see her go on to bigger things from here on out. Seimetz first surfaced with a small role in 2006 Sundance flick “Wristcutters: A Love Story,” and two years later produced Barry Jenkins‘ excellent “Medicine For Melancholy.” After that, she appeared in both “Tiny Furniture” and “The Myth Of The American Sleepover” in the same year, as well as leading Adam Wingard‘s “A Horrible Way To Die,” 2011 saw her return to producing with both Joe Swanberg‘s “Silver Bullets” and the Greta Gerwig-written “The Dish & The Spoon,” before making her directorial debut in 2012 with crime tale “Sun Don’t Shine,” one of the best-received films at SXSW (and edited by “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” director David Lowery). She’s clearly quite the polymath, and while “Upstream Color”‘s hardly likely to help her penetrate the mainstream, the role of Chris O’Dowd’s love interest on Christopher Guest‘s HBO series “Family Tree” might help her in that direction.

That’s just a quick pick of 15 talented people, but there were other candidates too. Underrated, but bubbling comedian Kathryn Hahn has a breakout turn in “Afternoon Delight,” but we recently included her in our 10 Actors Who Deserve More Work feature. There’s also “Kill Your Darlings” director John Krokidas; while we were more mixed on the film than some were, he’s clearly very talented. And one Playlist correspondent was impressed by “Glee” actor Jonathan Groff as the lead in David Sedaris adaptation “C.O.G,” while actor Keegan Michael Key is said to steal the show in “Hell Baby,” even if he’s better than the film. “Smashed” director James Ponsoldt also consolidated his rise with “The Spectacular Now,” while Dane DeHaan confirmed he might be the most exciting young actor out there right now with “Kill Your Darlings.” And if you were at Sundance, let us know who impressed you in the comments section below.

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