Mickey Sumner - "Frances Ha"
We can't be the only ones hit by a mounting wave of dread when we learn that the offspring of a rock star has decided to move into the movies. And that probably went double for Mickey Sumner, the daughter of Sting and Trudie Styler, given the questionable nature of her dad's forays into acting. But fortunately, Sumner demonstrated that she's more Duncan Jones than Lily Collins with a marvelous performance in Noah Baumbach's "Frances Ha" that, while overshadowed by co-star Greta Gerwig, is certainly deserving of recognition. Sumner plays Sophie, the best friend of Gerwig's Frances, and if nothing else, the film remains striking for the way that it focuses so tightly on a female friendship. Again, Sumner and Gerwig have an instant shorthand that makes them feel like they've been BFFs in real life forever, and their interplay early on is positively joyful. It's absolutely the most central relationship in a film that sometimes risks being a one-woman-show, but that would understate Sumner's contribution: Sophie is more than just Frances' sidekick, but a young woman who's growing into adulthood at a pace that her pal can't match. She makes enough of an impression early on that you feel her absence as keenly as Frances does, and it's always a sign of a great performance when you feel it even in the frames of a film when the actor isn't present. And when Sophie returns, roaringly drunk and borderline self-destructive, Sumner shows all the insecurities and uncertainties of someone who'd earlier seemed the self-confident flipside of the title character. On the back of this funny, warm, complex turn, we look forward to seeing an awful lot more from Sumner in the future.
Adepero Oduye - "12 Years A Slave"
Bar Brad Pitt's distractingly saintly late-game cameo, almost every performer in "12 Years A Slave" could make a strong argument for picking up an acting nomination: it's an ensemble of such depth and diversity that an Oscar-nominated actress can crop up almost unnoticed in the opening scenes (yep, that's "Beasts of the Southern Wild" star Quvenzhane Wallis as Solomon Northrup's daughter early on). The film will undoubtedly and deservedly lead to nominations for Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and, in the Supporting Actress category, breakout star Lupita Nyong'o, but there's plenty more where they came from. In terms of supporting actresses in the film alone, Sarah Paulson continues to demonstrate what an asset she is to filmmakers with her loathsome, but recognizably human mistress, and Alfre Woodard risks walking away with the whole film with an enormously impressive one-scene cameo, one of the movie's highlights. But if we had to pick one other actress to join Nyong'o as a nominee, it'd be Adepero Oduye. The actress deserved awards attention a few years ago for her role in Sundance breakout "Pariah," whch sadly didn't arrive (though she picked up an Spirit Award nomination), and her role in "12 Years A Slave" is an unshowy one: she plays Eliza, a freewoman captured alongside Ejiofor's Northrup, and separated by Paul Giamatti's demonic slave trader from her children. It would be easy for the part to be nothing but weeping and wailing, but Oduye does a remarkable job with only a few short scenes in painting the true depths of Eliza's despair, while also going toe-to-toe with Ejiofor as she points out the kind of complacency he falls into early on. Being smaller than Nyong'o's part, it likely won't figure in anywhere, but hopefully it'll remind filmmakers of Oduye's talent going forward.
Kaitlyn Dever - "Short Term 12"
It's the mark of serious talent when someone can give two great performances, and it's only well after the fact that you realize they came from the same actress. That's certainly the case with Kaitlyn Dever: it was only as we came to write this piece that we discovered that the 16-year-old actress who's so impressive in Destin Daniel Cretton's film "Short Term 12" was the same one who, a few years back, gave a turn of impressive maturity and power on TV show "Justified" (she was Loretta, who comes under the questionable guardianship of Margo Martindale's Mags in the series' second season). Since then, Dever's popped up in the likes of "Bad Teacher," "J. Edgar" and "The Spectacular Now" in between her regular series gig on "Last Man Standing," but it's as troubled teen Jayden in "Short Term 12" that really cemented just how huge she's going to be. She's the sort of inciting incident in the script, the new arrival at the foster care facility who appears to be the biggest challenge that the staff have yet faced, and who ends up having more than a little in common with Brie Larson's Grace. Unlike many child stars, there's very little in the way of affectation or precociousness in Dever's performance: she's prickly and stand-offish in a very authentically teenage way, (sadly) mature beyond her years but still a little girl at heart. Dever's ferocity (and she's legitimately frightening in places) means she doesn't just become the victim that she might have been, but at the same time, your heart breaks for her. Among an extraordinary cast of newcomers, almost no-one made the impression that Dever did, and we can't wait to see what she comes up with in Lynn Shelton's upcoming "Laggies."
Honorable Mentions: Beyond these five, and those who are more likely to get nominations, there's still plenty of others worthy of mentioning. Maria Bello and Viola Davis both do sterling work among the strong ensemble of "Prisoners," while Alexandra Maria Lara was a standout, even without much to do, in Ron Howard's "Rush." Kristin Scott Thomas had more fun than almost anyone on screen as the nightmarish matriarchy in "Only God Forgives," while Reem Abdullah impressed as a much gentler kind of mother in "Wadjda."
From Sundance, there was excellent work from Maggie Siff in "Concussion," Ellen Page in "Touchy Feely" and the latest in a terrific run of performances from Rooney Mara in "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" (whose turn in "Side Effects" straddles the border between lead and supporting, but is equally praiseworthy). While overlooked by some, we thought Scottish actress Joanna Vanderham was hugely impressive in "What Maisie Knew," while teen blogging queen Tavi Gevinson also turned our heads in "Enough Said." Finally, French actress Pauline Burlet was a stand-out in "The Past," and Emma Watson proved she could put Hermione behind her when she walked away with the final act of "The Bling Ring." Any others you think deserve a mention? Let us know below.