We’re a week into the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, and, like American democracy, things are starting to wind down. Most of the major movies have premiered, critics have their favorites (and least favorites), and many of the hot-ticket movies have already been snapped up by distributors, with the box-office success of “Manchester By The Sea” fueling a healthy market for sellers. There’s plenty more to come — we’ll be filing more reviews in the days ahead — but we wanted to start to take a view of the festival as a whole.
And where better to start than with the new talent that’s emerged during the festival? Perhaps more than any other major fest, Sundance is an amazing source for fresh faces and filmmakers, and after consulting our correspondents in Park City and the general buzz, we’ve picked out 30 filmmakers and actors from 21 movies that it looks like we’ll be talking about long after the last press badge has departed Utah. Take a look at our picks below, and if you were there, let us know who you’re tipping for the top in the comments.
Amman Abbasi – “Dayveon”
With a murderers’ row of indie-film veterans as producers on the movie — David Gordon Green, James Schamus, Danny McBride, Jody Hill — Amman Abbasi’s “Dayveon” came with a certain weight of expectations. The film, per Kevin’s review, doesn’t quite live up to them, but it does certainly “act as a calling card for strong directorial talents that are first displayed here, but are sure to flourish even more powerfully in future efforts.” It’s a brief, atmospheric drama (reminiscent to some extent of Green’s “George Washington”) about a young man (Devin Blackmon, also worth keeping an eye on) mourning the death of his brother and joining a local gang. It’s a familiar premise, but Abbasi “sustains a singular tone, drifting with Dayveon through a life that seems preordained.” It’s not hard to see why Schamus & co. are excited about the young director — he’s clearly a very singular voice.
Chanté Adams – “Roxanne Roxanne”
Aside from presumably being twice as good as the Steve Martin vehicle “Roxanne,” Michael Larnell’s (a Sundance Breakout here a couple of years ago for “Cronies”) “Roxanne Roxanne” is a biopic of rapper Roxanne Shanté, with some impressive talent involved — Forest Whitaker and Pharrell Williams producing; Mahershala Ali, Nia Long and Adam Horovitz among the cast. Reviews have been good rather than great, but everyone loves the film’s star, newcomer Chanté Adams, who plays the title role. The 22-year-old Adams only graduated college recently, and makes her film debut here, but it’s one that will be long remembered, with one trade saying she “displays terrific range and incandescent screen presence as she effortlessly incarnates Shante over a 10 year period, from puberty to young motherhood.” A star, it appears, has been born.
Janicza Bravo – “Lemon”
It sounds like people at Sundance aren’t really sure of what to make of Janicza Bravo’s “Lemon.” Part aggressively weird anti-comedy, part parody of other Sundance movies, it’s left many critics kind of baffled, and that just makes us even more curious to see it and anything else that Bravo has to offer. The director has been stacking up work in recent years: Her first short, the Katherine Waterston-starring “Eat,” debuted at SXSW in 2011; and follow-up “Gregory Go Boom,” with Michael Cera, followed in 2013, both to good notices; while she helmed the superb “Juneteenth” episode of “Atlanta” late last year. But her first feature “Lemon,” which she co-wrote with her husband, “Fleabag” star Brett Gelman (who also headlines a cast that includes Judy Greer, Cera, Gillian Jacobs, Nia Long and Martin Starr), looks to be a major moment for her — just days after its Sundance premiere, it’ll open the Rotterdam Film Festival tonight.
Maggie Betts & Margaret Qualley – “Novitiate”
A sincere, powerful drama about religious faith is an ambitious subject for any filmmaker — it took Martin Scorsese literally decades to get “Silence” made, and he’s one of the greatest filmmakers alive. So props to first-time helmer Maggie Betts for taking on a story about a young trainee nun in 1964 who clashes with a Reverend Mother (Melissa Leo, already winning huge praise for her turn) against the backdrop of the reform of the Catholic Church, and by many accounts doing it with authenticity, style and real power. Betts comes from a documentary background, helming 2010 film “The Carrier” about the HIV crisis in Zambia, before moving into fiction three years ago with short “Ingram.” Snapped up already by Sony Pictures Classics, it’s sure to put her on the map, along with leading lady Margaret Qualley. The daughter of Andie MacDowell, Qualley already has fans thanks to her turn on “The Leftovers,” but seemingly more than proves her ability to carry a movie here.
Macon Blair – “I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore”
If you’ve been paying any attention at all to the indie world in the last few years, you’ll likely recognize the face of Macon Blair. He gave a brilliant performance in Jeremy Saulnier’s breakthrough “Blue Ruin” as the hapless, vengeful Dwight, and then returned for Saulnier’s brutal follow-up “Green Room” as a snake-like Nazi. He’s got some big gigs on the way, including Steven Soderbergh’s “Logan Lucky,” but he may soon be as well-known a director as he is an actor thanks to his directorial debut “I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore,” the most identifiably titled movie of the festival. It’s another darkly comic crime tale, where Melanie Lynskey and oddball neighbor Elijah Wood team up to track down the people who broke into her home, and per Greg’s review, it’s the rare film where you “realize you have no idea where it’s going because it continues to cross lines you never thought it would cross.” Reviews in general were glowing, so it’s worth adding the film to your Netflix queue tout suite (it debuts next month on the service) to see Blair’s talents for yourself.
Justin Chon – “Gook”
For reasons that perhaps don’t take too much working out, riots are proving to be popular subject matter this year — Kathryn Bigelow’s latest, due in August, tackles the 1960s Detroit riots; while “Mustang” director Deniz Gamze Ergüven is planning one with Daniel Craig and Halle Berry about the 1992 L.A. riots. “Gook,” the solo directorial debut of actor Justin Chon (best known for the “Twilight” movies, and who previous co-directed 2015’s “Man Up” — not the Simon Pegg one, another one) takes its subject from the latter, too, but from quite a different perspective: that of the Asian-American community, based on the helmer’s own experiences as a 10-year-old at the time. Chon takes the lead role, too, and the film’s picked up excellent notices at the festival, where it screened in the NEXT strand, with comparisons to Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing,” a stated inspiration for the film, already being used. For a film that Chon had to film in part through Kickstarter, that’s quite a feat.
Timothée Chalamet – “Call Me By Your Name”
One of the most anticipated films going into the festival was “I Am Love” and “A Bigger Splash” director Luca Guadagnino’s adaptation of André Aciman’s seminal coming-of-age novel “Call Me By Your Name,” about the love affair between a 17-year-old boy and an older American academic. And that anticipation proved well-deserved, with a spate of rave reviews for the film and its cast, which includes Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg. But it’s rising star Timothée Chalamet who’s earned the lion’s share of the praise. Chalamet’s been one to keep an eye on for a while now, first breaking out as the young Casey Affleck in “Interstellar” and in Jason Reitman’s “Men, Women & Children” before turning heads in indie “Miss Stevens” and on Broadway in the acclaimed “Prodigal Son” last year. Nevertheless, “it’s truly hard to put into words what a revelation Chalamet is” here, according to Greg’s review, and in a year that will also see him appear with Christian Bale in Western “Hostiles” and in Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut “Lady Bird,” massive stardom surely beckons.