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The 12 Major Breakouts of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival

The 12 Major Breakouts of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival

Royalty Hightower, star of “The Fits”

The young star of Anna Rose Holmer’s deeply intriguing NEXT title, Hightower commands every frame of “The Fits” with genuine charisma, nuanced emotion and a natural ability to act and move in ways that might shock — this is, after all, her first feature film role. Hightower, however, isn’t surprised, mainly because she’s wanted to be a star her whole life. A warm reception for both “The Fits” and Hightower’s individual performance should help that dream become a reality. Check out our Sundance Springboard with Hightower to hear more from the star-in-the-making herself.

Unique Documentaries like “Cameraperson” and “Kate Plays Christine”

Sundance’s dedication to experimenting with the forms and traditions of documentary filmmaking has recently started informing their picks in a major way, and new works by both Robert Greene and longtime DP Kirsten Johnson made that very clear at this year’s festival. Between Greene’s fascinating blend of fact and fiction in his sublime “Kate Plays Christine” and the emotional collage work of Johnson’s directorial outing, Sundance’s documentary section was more exciting than ever. Read our interview with Greene and his star Kate Lyn Sheil and our review of the film, along with our review of “Cameraperson,” and our interview with Johnson, to find out more.

Markees Christmas, star of “Morris from America”

Co-star Craig Robinson might have felt the love at the Sundance awards ceremony, where he picked up a Special Jury Prize for his turn in Chad Hartigan’s crowd-pleasing fish-out-of-water story, but don’t discount the charms of Christmas, who plays the eponymous Morris in the feature. A breakout star with a ton of charisma and a unique ability to juggle both the dramatic and the comedic (often in the same scene), Christmas is a real find and the true heart of the film. Check out our review of the film here.

The Songs of “Sing Street”

At some point in the next year, John Carney’s deeply crowd-pleasing musical will hit the big screen, thanks to The Weinstein Company, and moviegoers everywhere will fall head over heels in love with its dizzy, fizzy, ’80s-infused pop soundtrack. The film is packed to the gills with catchy tunes, but few match the out and out joy of “Drive It Like You Stole It.” Read our interview with Carney to learn more about the film’s darling soundtrack.

Lily Gladstone, star of “Certain Women”

Kelly Reichardt’s intriguing premiere features three loosely connected stories about very different women in the wilds of Montana, but most audiences seemed to agree that the final section, centered on Lily Gladstone’s lonely Jamie as she unexpectedly connects with out-of-towner Beth (Kristen Stewart), is the most effective and moving. Relative newcomer Gladstone owns her role and ably matches wits and charms with the always excellent Stewart in the segment, and it’s the one that will stick with audiences long after the triptych of stories has wrapped up.

First-Time Directors Nate Parker, Clea DuVall and Nicolas Pesce

Sundance often plays home to first-time directors, but this year’s crop featured a stunning range that stood out. From Nate Parker’s crowd-rousing (and now award-winning) “The Birth of a Nation” to Clea DuVall’s new wave take on “The Big Chill” with her “The Intervention” to Nicolas Pesce’s bold and terrifying “The Eyes of My Mother,” the field of first-timers was both wide and very, very deep this year. Check out our interview with Parker and our review of his film, along with our chat with DuVall and our glowing review of Pesce’s first feature

Lucas Hedges, star of “Manchester By the Sea”

If there’s one film from this year’s festival that could be considered a universal critical darling, it’s Kenneth Lodgeran’s deeply felt and painfully real “Manchester By the Sea.” Although the film features another standout performance by Casey Affleck as a man haunted by his past while he grapples with a shaken-up future, it’s immeasurably bolstered by Lucas Hedges’ work as his trepidatious nephew, Patrick. Hedges’ character is emblematic of most of the film’s biggest aims and themes, switching between mourning son and hip high schooler with ease, all while layering his performance with varying emotions and motivations, all of which feel richly earned and deserved. Affleck will likely get most of the attention come awards time, but don’t overlook Hedges. Read our review of the film to learn more.

The Rom-Com Sensibilities of “How to Tell You’re a Douchebag”

Tahir Jetter’s NEXT feature doesn’t always succeed (its two lead characters are mostly robbed of any and all likable characteristics, for one), but what does stand out is the filmmaker’s canny grasp of the mechanics of a true romantic comedy. “Douchebag” isn’t that, but Jetter plays around with the themes and tropes of the genre with so much pizzazz that it’s hard not to want to see him switch gears and go all in on a film that really does mix in both romance and comedy. 

“Swiss Army Man”

At the very least, curious audiences are going to want to check out the “farting corpse” movie that made quite a stink during the opening weekend of the festival. Stars Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe are clearly proud of the film and excited to share it with audiences, which they will be able to do soon thanks to A24 picking the feature up out of the festival. So, what about a farting corpse? Read our review to get a whiff

Netflix and Amazon’s Distribution Dominance 

Straight out of the gate, the internet giants made it clear they were going to dictate the distribution conversation at this year’s Sundance. Both Netflix and Amazon dominated the distribution scene, with Amazon snapping up six features (including the very buzzy “Manchester By the Sea”) and often opting to pair up with other outfits to get their films both streaming and theatrical releases, while Netflix grabbed five (including lauded Midnight title “Under the Shadow”). Check out our full list of deals to see just how much Amazon and Netlflix have already changed the game. 

The Christine Chubbuck Double Feature

Between Robert Greene’s “Kate Plays Christine” and Antonio Campos’ “Christine,” the tragic (and previously mostly forgotten tale) of newscaster Christine Chubbuck was forcefully resurrected at the festival. Greene went the documentary route with his film (read our review here), using Chubbuck’s story as a way to inventively address questions of consent, performance and representation, while Campos and his star Rebecca Hall took a more traditional approach to the very dramatic feature. Read up on “Christine” with our review and our interview with both Campos and Hall

Oscar Hopes for “Manchester By the Sea” and “The Birth of a Nation”

Two of Sundance’s most buzzed-about titles just may have enough staying power and audience interest to keep them chugging along into 2016’s awards season (and, yes, we’re still in the thick of 2015’s own awards season). Longeran’s haunting “Manchester By the Sea” seems like a solid contender for oodles of awards, including acting accolades for stars Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams (and Lucas Hedges, should we have our way) and attention for both Longeran’s directing and writing. Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation” won both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize at the festival, so it’s already got big-time awards heat on it. Will that hold up? We will have to wait and see.

READ MORE: The 2016 Indiewire Sundance Bible: All the Reviews, Interviews and News Posted During The Festival

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