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The Best American Actors Under 30 — IndieWire Critics Survey

From Kiersey Clemons to Lakeith Stanfield and Jennifer Lawrence, these are the talented actors taking American cinema into the future.

Hannah Woodhead (@goodjobliz), Social Producer at Little White Lies

“American Honey”

For me it has to be Sasha Lane. She took my breath away in “American Honey”, I couldn’t get enough of her in “The Miseducation of Cameron Post”, and I can’t wait to see her in “Heart Beats Loud”. She’s got this incredible screen presence and I could watch her in anything. More than that, she seems to pick interesting projects – I was excited to hear she’ll be in Ben Wheatley’s “Freakshift”, and she’s the only reason I’m even slightly interested in the new “Hellboy” movie.

Andrea Thompson (@areelofonesown), The Young Folks

Short Term 12

“Short Term 12”

Cinedigm

I know this is hardly news, but I’d have to go with Brie Larson. She worked her way up by giving consistently great performances and showing her range, whether it was her nearly wordless performance in “Don Jon,” dramatic turns in “Short Term 12” and “Room,” or her hilarious hosting stint on SNL. I can’t wait to see her save the Marvel universe in not only “Captain Marvel,” but the “Avengers” sequel.

Don Shanahan (@casablancadon), Every Movie Has a Lesson

“Scott Pilgrim”

On my grading scale, Brie Larson has both talent and promise equal or greater to her peers and turns 29 in 2018.  Her range across comedy and drama is endlessly impressive.  Her easy ability to display wit and charisma in films like “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World” and “21 Jump Street” is matched and then exceeded by the immeasurable heart that powers her dramatic performances, particularly in “Short Term 12,” “The Glass Castle,” and her Oscar-winning role in “Room.”  Most of all, I commend her palpable strength of personal character that she conveys off-screen.

Brie carries herself with a highly aware responsibility of being looked upon as an emerging influencer and leader in her field.  Compared to the partying likes of Jennifer Lawrence or others, Brie takes her stardom as a mission field more than a joy ride.  Look no further than her recent comments on encouraging more diversity in film criticism.  Other ingenues and “it” girls will come and go, but I think Brie Larson, even as an upcoming superhero, will continue to mature, improve, and cement her future greatness.

Emmanuel Noisette (@EmansReviews), TheMovieBlog.com

Sleight

“Sleight”

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

One of the most promising young actors I’ve seen is probably Jacob Latimore. The young man is incredibly talented from being able to sing, dance and, of course, act. Some of his more notable performances include movies such as “Detroit” (2017), “Collateral Beauty” (2017), and “Sleight” (2016). What’s impressed me the most is the amount of growth and experience he’s had in his career. He’s been able to work and learn along side other talented actors such as Will Smith, Ed Norton, Kate Winslet, Forest Whitaker and more. Latimore has the ability to be a great supporting actor in a film, or, given the right role, he could carry a movie as the lead as well. He definitely has a bright future ahead of him in Hollywood.

Manuela Lazic (@manilazic), Freelance for Little White Lies, The Ringer, Vague Visages

Winter's Bone

“Winter’s Bone”

Hollywood isn’t usually a fair place, but there’s pleasure to be had in the fact that one of the highest paid actresses today is also one of the most promising young talents. Jennifer Lawrence is only 28 years old and bound to have a long, rich and captivating career. Staring small with TV show appearances at the tender age of 16, Lawrence first caught the world’s attention with her Oscar nominated role in Debra Granik’s mesmerising “Winter’s Bone” in 2010. As Ree, the teenage girl who has to take care of her younger siblings and go look for her drug-dealer dad, Lawrence demonstrated incredible maturity and honesty. Facing the ruthless neighbors who didn’t like her to look into their sordid business, she made Ree strong but realistically so. When she desperately turns to her mentally ill mother for support (if not advice), Lawrence’s emotional distress made me shiver.

Her rise to the top of the billboard after “Winter’s Bone” was brutal, but even in franchise roles such as the X-Men movies, she didn’t let go of the mysterious ordinariness that made her so special: it’s not a coincidence that she played Mystique, the mutant who can shapeshift into anyone.

Behind Lawrence’s girl-next-door looks lies a rare ease with the often incoherent language of emotions. With David O. Russell, she soon found an outlet for this boundless energy and refusal to fit in the mold of the starlet: “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012) saw her play a woman unable to grief and letting her anger out in uncontrolled ways, until she finds a similarly broken man to dance with. Although only 22 at the time, Lawrence’s confidence and uncompromising attitude made her believable as a widow. She then brought this same maturity and strength to O. Russell’s “American Hustle” (2013) and “Joy” (2015), but also to the immense YA franchise “The Hunger Games.” Katniss is pragmatic, but in her apocalyptic conditions, pragmatism is bravery. Lawrence became a role model for little girls around the world, with her courage and integrity proving much more powerful than her rather ‘normal’ (by Hollywood’s standards) looks.

Observing a talented actor grow older is exciting, and with her more recent projects, Lawrence is getting more adventurous: say what you will about Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!” (I say it’s horrible), but the actor delivered and made the film much more tolerable than it deserved to be.

With her normalcy hiding a deep well of courage and maturity, Lawrence is one of the most surprising actors today, and one that hopefully points to a better, more feminist future for Hollywood, where women will be granted more complex roles and a salary to match that of their male co-stars.

Q.V. Hough (@QVHough), Vague Visages

“Silver Linings Playbook”

At only 27 years old, Jennifer Lawrence has already established a legacy in American cinema. She’s carried a Young Adult franchise (“The Hunger Games”), appeared in several superhero movies (“X-Men”) and won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in a romantic comedy (“The Silver Linings Playbook”). Plus, recent films like “mother!” and “Red Sparrow” suggest that Lawrence isn’t worried about maintaining a role model-like image; she’s putting herself out there and taking risks.

Maybe Lawrence has tried too hard, at times, to promote her “regular girl” personality, but that’s undoubtedly part of her appeal. She knows what buttons to push for various demographics, and it’s the little nuances for each character that make her stand out from other promising actresses. (Try rewatching “mother!” from the perspective that Lawrence’s character lives within the artist’s mind; the dialogue, and her delivery, is quite revelatory.)

Personally, I’d love to see Lawrence team up with someone like Paul Thomas Anderson, a director who could not only write a purely unique character, but also underline her versatility, and natural beauty, through his direction. And yes, I’m aware that Lawrence didn’t like “Phantom Thread.” In fact, her upfront personality makes a potential collaboration even more intriguing.

Over the next 10 years, I envision a couple more Best Actress wins for Lawrence, and I imagine that she’ll fully separate herself from trendy and less talented performers that try too hard to sell their comedic or dramatic abilities.

Luiz Gustavo Vilela (@luizgvt), Freelance, CronicodeCinema.com

“The Hunger Games”

I cannot identify any other young actress who is more talented than Jennifer Lawrence. And I thing that the same thing that make her kind of obnoxious to some part of the critics and public is what make her great in front of a camera. She has this sort of detachment over herself, a way of put just the character and nothing else to the viewer that’s just mesmerizing. A good example is her work in the first “Hunger Games”, an utterly dull movie otherwise. There’s a moment when she is preparing to get up in the platform while Lenny Kravitz gives his last words of wisdom. The camera focuses on her and she gives this very discrete shiver, a half of a second, making clear that she is very afraid for her life, but want to act tough. Brilliant.

Aaron White (@FeelinFilmAaron), Feelin’ Film

"mother!" explained

“mother!”

NIKO TAVERNISE/PARAMOUNT

This is a fun question! It’s always exciting to think about young acting talent and imagine just how great someone’s career might become. In some ways, my pick is a bit of a cheat, as this actress’ success is unrivaled among her peers in this age group. That being said, there is a reason for the accolades she has received. Jennifer Lawrence is the best actor/actress under 30. She is the only person born in the 1990’s to win a Best Actor or Actress Academy Award (for “Silver Linings Playbook”) and has three other Best Actress/Supporting Actress nominations. She has incredible range, having starred in everything from indie darlings like “Winter’s Bone” to risky experimental pictures such as “mother!”  to leading a billion-dollar franchise as an action heroine in “The Hunger Games”. Many actors and actresses have accomplished great things at a young age, but the volume of Lawrence’s stellar work at only 27 years old is special, and hopefully indicative of decades more to come.

Carl Broughton II,(@Carlislegendary) Editor-in-chief for thefilmera.com

"Moonlight"

“Moonlight”

There are so many talented American actors under thirty that picking just one made me pause and think. I am sure quite a few will pick someone like Timothée Hal Chalamet (“Call Me by Your Name”) or Hailee Steinfeld (“The Edge of Seventeen”). Relax, I love these actors too and their futures are bright, but there is one young American actor who delivered such a gut-wrenching performance I couldn’t help but pick him: Ashton Sanders, best remembered for his role as Chiron in “Moonlight”.

Sanders portrayed such nuance and vulnerability in his role as Chiron that it would make the toughest person shed a tear. At twenty-two years old and already featured in an award-winning movie, his future is promising. Sanders is starring next to Denzel Washington in the upcoming movie “The Equalizer 2.”

Ethan Warren (@ethanrawarren), Bright Wall / Dark Room

Haley Lu Richardson in the Edge of Seventeen

“The Edge of Seventeen”

That’s easy: Haley Lu Richardson. What a remarkable breakout year she just had—in under 12 months she went from virtual unknown to key supporting player in “The Edge of Seventeen” and “Split” to bona fide star in “Columbus.” Those first two performances are so distinct that you could be forgiven for not realizing (as I didn’t at first) that they were given by the same performer, but in “Columbus” she is a powerhouse, and all the more so for the fact that the role isn’t particularly flashy. It’s not so much a performance as a full-soul embodiment, and she radiates a finely-calibrated command over every element of her craft that’s just captivating. If this is what she had up her sleeve at 22, it’s head-spinning to imagine the performances we’ll get to witness in the decades to come.

Deany R. Cheng (@DeandrickLamar), Barber’s Chair Digital

“Columbus”

I’m still not over Haley Lu Richardson’s turn in “Columbus”, or Haley Lu Richardson in anything, if we’re being honest. We’ve got a bevy of great up-and-coming actors and actresses, but Richardson’s screen presence is special. Her best roles are still ahead of her, but it’s hard for me to fathom her–or anyone, really–ever topping what she does here. Even in silence, she moves you.

Fran Hoepfner (@franhoepfner), Freelance for Bright Wall / Dark Room

columbus

“Columbus”

Haley Lu Richardson. Preceded by notable supporting roles in both “The Edge Of 17” and “Split,” Richardson’s starring role in last year’s “Columbus” elevated an already beautifully-shot movie into the sublime with a raw and realized portrayal of a teenage girl.

Millicent Thomas (@MillicentOnFilm), Freelance for Screen Queens and Heroes Direct

Haley Lu Richardson and Rory Culkin in Columbus

“Columbus”

Elisha Christian/Superlative Films

I am massively intrigued by Haley Lu Richardson. She quietly stole scenes with her supporting roles in “The Edge of Seventeen” and “Split” and I’m eager to finally see her star in “Columbus” – the UK release appears to keep getting further away, but I expect I’ll love it from what I’ve heard thus far.

Sarah Welch (@dodgyboffin), Freelance for ThinkChristian, Bright Wall / Dark Room

“Lady Bird”

Saoirse Ronan.

Rob Thomas (@robt77), Madison Capital Times

“Lady Bird”

A24

Oh thank goodness Saoirse Ronan was born in the Bronx and not Ireland – it makes answering this SO much easier. I can’t think of an actor of any age who seems as comfortable in both at ease in both period and contemporary pieces (although I guess “Lady Bird” is technically a period piece as well)  she seems to inhabit not just the character but the environment that character lives in and responds to. She is so expressive and seemingly “natural” on screen, and yet that “natural” is the product of a million smart little choices. I find myself impatient for her to take on more grown-up roles than high school students and ingénues – and then have to remind myself that she’s only 24.

Caroline Tsai @carolinetsai3), The Harvard Crimson

Beanie Feldstein and Saoirse Ronan in "Lady Bird."

“Lady Bird”

A24

With three Oscar nominations under her belt at only 24, Saoirse Ronan is hardly an up-and-comer. From her early performance as a precocious 13-year-old in “Atonement” to her most recent (Oscar-nominated!) role as Lady Bird in Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age directorial debut, her career boasts many hits and very few misses. Ronan balances her performances with understated subtlety—her portrayal of homesickness in “Brooklyn” is so wonderful and pure—but also verve, a vivacity that’s particularly her own.

For reference: Lady Bird thanking her driving instructor profusely, joyfully shrieking in the street after kissing Danny, singing her heart out at her audition for the school production in the most unabashed, wholehearted, Lady Bird way. But also? Lady Bird asking for her mother’s acceptance in a Goodwill fitting room, painting over the names of the boys she loved, and standing outside the church in New York and leaving The Voicemail. Another actress might have made Lady Bird capital-q Quirky, but not Ronan, who taps into the complex psychology of an admittedly eccentric character and makes her thoughtful, human, endearing.

Not only is Saoirse Ronan insanely talented, but she also understands the magnitude of her work. In interviews, she’s eloquent and intelligent (“I didn’t realize, until ‘Lady Bird’ came along, how starved we are for female coming-of-age stories that don’t revolve around a girl being validated by romance”), all the while managing to undermine the hoops that women in the industry are made to jump through. (See: her refusal to pick famous celeb boyfriends on Ellen, her recognition of the specific boundaries that female directors face, her disdain for the typically female interview questions (“All about image and crushes. That always infuriated me.”)) She’s the ultimate unproblematic favorite! I still maintain that her Best Actress Oscar for “Lady Bird” was robbed (it was the titular role!), but there’s no doubt that more Oscar noms are in her future—and hopefully next time, a win.

Tomris Laffly (@TomiLaffly), Freelance for Film Journal, Time Out NY, Roger Ebert, FSR, etc.

“Brooklyn”

I see ‘the best’ vs. ‘the most promising’ actor under 30 as two separate questions that should yield two different names. I think of the former as a young but established name who’s already solidified his/her skills and status through a substantial list of credits, and the latter, as someone at the very early stages of a career that shows potential. But since the question specifically asked us to supply one name only, I’ll go with ‘the best’ part of the question and provide a pretty predictable answer: Saoirse Ronan.

Her singular talent is a gift to contemporary cinema, and her screen presence is why movies (even the so-called small ones with no flashy special effects) need to be seen big when possible. It’s always tricky (and very difficult) to talk about screen acting in an informed and enlightening fashion, but I feel like the way she is able to project a character’s inner world through her expressive eyes and face muscles should be carefully studied by anyone interested in the craft. During a New York Film Festival Q&A after “Brooklyn”, her director John Crowley suggested that Ronan could be a great silent film actress. It’s hard to disagree. While one of her latest films, “On Chesil Beach”, didn’t receive an overwhelmingly favorable critical response (I loved it—among my top movies of 2018 so far), I still hope that people will give it a look, as it’s an undeniably perfect showcase of what this peerless young actor is capable of in quiet but emotionally loaded screen moments.

Rosalie Kicks (@BonjourOldSport), Moviejawn.com

“The Grand Budapest Hotel”

With only twenty-nine credits to her name, Saoirse has already managed to score three Academy Award nominations for her work. Seeing her attached to a film, instantly piques my interest. From “Hanna” to “The Grand Budapest Hotel to “Brooklyn” and “Lady Bird”, she has yet to make a bad flick. Her diverse body of work also proves her dedication to the craft. I can’t wait to see what the future has to hold for this versatile talented actress.

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