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‘Birth Of A Nation’ And Beyond: 25 Filmmakers & Actors That Broke Through At The 2016 Sundance Film Festival

'Birth Of A Nation' And Beyond: 25 Filmmakers & Actors That Broke Through At The 2016 Sundance Film Festival

Dylan Gelula & Brianna Hildebrand – “First Girl I Loved”

Reviews have been somewhat mixed for Kerem Sanga‘s follow-up to 2014’s “The Young Kieslowski,” ranging from delirious Twitter reactions to underwhelmed shrugs from the trades, but no one has had a bad word to say about the two lead actresses. As high school teenagers negotiating the early stages of their lesbian attraction, Gelula plays Anne, the less socially adept one (which will be a surprise to those of us who adored her turn as brattish Queen Bee Xanthippe in “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt“), while Hildebrand is the popular athletic star whose obnoxious boyfriend is another obstacle to their nascent relationship. And we won’t have to wait long to see Hildebrand again  after just a couple of features and a short, she landed a role in the upcoming “Deadpool” as Ellie Phimister/Negasonic Teenage Warhead. So while both are somewhat established, this movie showcases their more dramatic sides, proving they have range, and with Hollywood’s appetite for beautiful ingenues as insatiable as ever, we expect big things.

Lily Gladstone – “Certain Women”

Kelly Reichardt’s latest, “Certain Women,” has as good a collection of actresses as you could ask for, with prominent roles for Michelle Williams, Laura Dern, and Kristen Stewart, but the one who ends up stealing the show is a relative newcomer. Lily Gladstone is a young actress (of Amskapi Pikuni, Kainaiwa, and Nimiipuu heritage) who had roles in Arnaud Desplechin’s “Jimmy P” and Alex and Andrew Smith’s indie “Winter In The Blood,” but she’s the anchor of the third section of Reichardt’s triptych, as a young rancher draws to the lawyer teaching her night class. It’s a performance that Variety called “revelatory,” and while her co-stars are more familiar right now, we’re sure it won’t be long before she’s racking up the credits and being seen on the same kind of level, having more than held her own alongside them in Reichardt’s film.

Sian Heder – “Tallulah”

Anyone smart enough to pair up Ellen Page and Allison Janney, whose chemistry was undoubtedly the highlight of “Juno,” and who do consistently stellar work together and apart, clearly knows what they’re doing, and everything else about “Tallulah,” Sian Heder’s directorial debut, backs that up. Following the relationship between Page’s rootless drifter and Janney’s Manhattan divorcee when Page kidnaps a baby and takes her to Janney, her ex-boyfriend’s mother, the film is, per Russ Fischer’s review, “an impressive feature debut.” A former actress, Heder’s first short film “Mother” played at Cannes a decade ago, and she’s since gone on to do fine work on TV with the likes of “Men Of A Certain Age” and “Orange Is The New Black,” but proves herself a fine film director as well as a writer here, “shaping the film around the case as each woman pays out their own specific nuances of loss and insecurity, and occasionally, optimism.”

Lucas Hedges – “Manchester By The Sea”

He’s not yet twenty, but Lucas Hedges has already worked with an impressive list of directors — Jason Reitman, Terry Gilliam, Wes Anderson (twice). But it’s Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester By The Sea” that looks to launch him into stardom proper. The son of writer-director Peter Hedges (“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?,” “Pieces Of April), he made his debut in his dad’s film “Dan In Real Life,” was dickish scout Redford in “Moonrise Kingdom,” and impressed hugely in Gilliam’s “The Zero Theorem,” but in Lonergan’s latest, he’s the co-lead as Casey Affleck’s nephew in the glowingly-reviewed drama (Noel Murray called it “magnificently messy, painfully real”). Awards buzz is already flying for a movie that Amazon acquired for a hefty $10 million, and while much of it centers around Affleck’s performance, Hedges could well go along with him.

Jim Hosking – “The Greasy Strangler”

The sheer aghast-ness of the reviews of Jim Hosking’s Midnight movie guarantees it, and its filmmaker, a kind of nasty notoriety. After all, to a certain type of moviegoer, headlines like “The most disturbing film you’ll see all year” (Total Film), “Sundance 2016’s most challenging movie” (HeyUGuys) “Sundance 2016’s Most WTF Movie” (Daily Beast), are more of an enticement than a warning. Produced by Elijah Wood and Ben Wheatley, the story of a fucked-up father-son relationship that drives dad to serial murder while slathered in animal fats, is most likely to find a life on home video formats  which can only add to its arcane cachet. The British Hosking, whose highest profile work to date was the “G” segment in “ABCs of Death 2,” is unlikely to land “Jurassic Park 5” after this “exercise in juvenile scatology,” remarkable only for its “numbing, repetitious determination to annoy” (Variety, clutching its pearls), but breakout cult status as a new auteur of endurance cinema seems assured.

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