The list of Hollywood’s top stars who have broken out at the Sundance Film Festival is almost endless, ranging from Mark Ruffalo (You Can Count on Me), Terrence Howard (Hustle & Flow), and Danny McBride (The Foot Fist Way) to Amy Adams (Junebug), Shailene Woodley (The Spectacular Now), and Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone). The class of 2015 looks to be particularly strong, with plenty of fresh faces primed to ride their indie festival success into the Hollywood mainstream.
Bel Powley and Alexander Skarsgaard in The Diary of a Teenage Girl
In Mariel Heller’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl, adapted from Phoebe Gluckner’s coming-of-age graphic novel, the titulargirl, Minnie, is misunderstood by her mother (Kristin Wiig) and turned on by the attention of her mother’s boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgaard). Boldly played by 22-year-old Bel Powley, Minnie is a bundle of familiar insecurities and relatable curiosities, as awkwardly confused as she is brazenly sexual. Powley embodies Minnie with such self-possessed intelligence and wry humor that it’s always clear that no matter how many bad mistakes she makes, she’ll be tough enough to survive them, and smart enough to learn from them.
Shameik Moore in Dope
Cast this kid in everything: Handsome, funny, dramatic, and a damn good dancer, 19-year old Moore does a little bit of everything in Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope. Moore plays Malcolm, a nerdy lnglewood teen who gets sucked into the drug-dealing of his neighborhood, even as he sets his sights on Harvard. His character may be obsessed with ’90s hip-hop, but Moore’s open-hearted, every-teen performance feels like a shout-out to ’80s hip-to-be-square nerds like Matthew Broderick and John Cusack.
Kiersey Clemons (center) with Tony Revolori and Moore in Dope
In a supporting role as Diggy, a pal in Malcolm’s entourage, Clemons, 21, may not have the juiciest lines in Dope,but the film wouldn’t be half as fresh without her. The live-wire, charming Clemons has a loose ease about her and a supporting actor’s most important skill: a sense of timing. She seems to know exactly when to crank up the volume on a film that already booms with charisma.
Christopher Abbott in James White
Ex-Girls boyfriend Christopher Abbott gets a meaty, tears-sex-and-drugs leading role in Josh Mond’s James White as an explosive son trying to make sense of his mother’s imminent death from cancer. On-screen for almost every shot, in command from star to finish, Abbott makes the most of the harrowing part; another brooding, dramatic lead should not be far off.
Thomas Mann in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
In Sundance’s big teen cancer breakout (and The Fault In Our Stars successor), Me and Earl and Dying Girl, Thomas Mann plays the titular “me”: a Pittsburgh geek whose awkward insecurities don’t reflect the wit and charm evident to everyone around him. In film terms, he’s a blockbuster who thinks he’s a little indie. And Mann is an indie actor who will be starring in blockbusters very soon.
Jason Mantzoukas at Sundance
Can’t we all just agree to give Jason Mantzoukas his own TV show, film, or 24-hour multimedia company? Best known as Rafi on The League, the laconic comic Mantzoukas has bounced around TV shows (Parks and Recreation, Enlightened) and films (The Dictator, Neighbors) but never quite broken through. As Jason Sudeikis’s best buddy in Leslye Headland’s raucous sex comedy Sleeping with Other People, Mantzoukas doesn’t just steal scene after scene, he hijacks the entire end-credits sequence when he and Andrea Savage improvise a married couple’s hysterical repartee, leaving premiere audiences howling for more.
Lola Kirke (right) with Greta Gerwig in Mistress America
Lola Kirke (Jemima’s sister) already stars in the iffy orchestral drama Mozart in the Jungle on Amazon. But as the co-lead of Noah Baumbach’s Mistress America, Kirke goes toe-to-toe with indie darling Greta Gerwig, as a bright, naive young woman who’s bored with college and looking for inspiration in her deeply screwed-up friend.
Ana Taylor-Joy in The Witch
Anya Taylor-Joy’s debut role in The Witch, Sundance’s best-reviewed horror film, was not exactly easy: Robert Eggers’s Puritan movie is set in 1630 and the unwieldy script often directly quotes brimstone-singed texts of the sin-fearing Puritan era. But Taylor-Joy handles all that awkward period dialogue, her child co-stars, and a load of barnyard animals without ever sacrificing the film’s sustained, damnation-or-salvation intensity.
Image credits: Courtesy of Sundance Institute