One of the great pleasures of being a movie fan is the discovery of new performers. Faces that, months earlier, you'd have passed by in the street, suddenly gifted the role of a lifetime, and whose lives will never be the same again. It feels to us that 2013 was an especially strong year for new faces: festivals like Sundance, SXSW and Cannes, not to mention films that went straight to wide release, unleashed a veritable hurricane of talent that we'll be seeing for years to come.
Having kicked off our year-end coverage with the breakout directors of the year last week, we continue today by rounding up our 25 favorite performances by new faces—or performers that we knew, but really got to shine for the first time—from the last twelve months or so. Take a look at them below, in order from 25 to 1, and you can quibble about the ranking, and suggest your own favorite breakout stars of the year in the comments section. And here's to a whole new batch of talent in 2014.
25. Sharni Vinson - "You're Next"
As hugely entertaining and mostly well-made as it is (it was one of the better horror movies of the year), "You're Next" is hardly something to go to if you're looking for top-quality acting. Amy Seimetz shines briefly and Joe Swanberg acquits himself nicely, but otherwise the supporting cast are pretty ropey, in true low-budget horror movie fashion. But perhaps it was almost a deliberate move, because it makes the film's lead Sharni Vinson shine all the more. The Australian actress (who gets to use her native accent here, in a way that cunningly feeds into her backstory), previously best known as the lead of "Step Up 3D," is immediately iconic as Erin, the girlfriend of A.J. Bowen's Crispian, whose family are targeted by mysterious masked invaders. Most of them are like lambs to the slaughter, but Erin, initially so sweet and endearing, is a secret badass, having grown up on a survivalist compound. Vinson takes to the action like a combination of Ripley and Laurie Strode, but while it's enormously convincing as a physical turn (if Hollywood is looking for their next badass female lead, they need to look no further), she's not some killing machine: there's a very real person dodging the axes and setting the traps. The long-delayed film was disappointingly underseen on release but Erin is a character who'll be inspiring horror fans for generations to come.
24. Joanna Vanderham and Onata Aprile - "What Maisie Knew"
The cast of Scott McGehee & David Siegel's very solid "What Maisie Knew" are themselves very solid across the board, even if they're playing mostly loathsome people, as Steve Coogan and Julianne Moore do. But the ones that really turned our heads were the two least-well known performers in the main cast, in the shape of Onata Aprile and Joanna Vanderham. We'll have more to say about Aprile's performance in the title role down the line, but in brief: she's heartbreakingly good as the innocent used as a pawn in her parents' divorce battle, never even coming close to the precociousness of most child performers. Just as impressive, though less immediately attention-grabbing is young Scottish actress Joanna Vanderham, best known for BBC TV show "The Paradise," and who plays Margo, Maisie's nanny-turned-stepmother. Vanderham sells that Margo is young and naive enough to end up in a relationship with, and even marrying, Coogan's character, but also wise enough to realize that she's quickly made a mistake. She and Aprile have natural chemistry together, something so crucial to making the film's ending work, but she resists making the character into a saint at the same time. If more casting directors wise up, there's a massive movie star in the making here.
23. Tavi Gevinson - "Enough Said"
Casting a 17-year-old feminist style blog prodigy in her first major acting role is the kind of thing that, in the hands of anyone but Nicole Holofcener, would smack of attention-seeking stunt-casting. But Tavi Gevinson's performance in "Enough Said" more than justifies her unusual route to the screen. Chicago native Gevinson made her name as the 12-year-old writer of fashion blog Style Rookie, and at 15, founded the impressive Rookie Magazine, but makes her feature debut in Holofcener's latest, as Chloe, the friend of Tess (Eve Hewson), the daughter of Julia Louis-Dreyfus' Eva. It's not a huge role, but Gevinson makes a real impression with what she has. Chloe's not an unhappy kid, though she is a little neglected by her own parents, finding a surrogate parent in Eva that puts her relationship with Tess, and Eva's with Tess, in trouble. But she doesn't need soapy storylines or histrionic moments: there's a deeply authentic awkwardness to Gevinson's performance that makes it one of the more memorable teen performances of recent times. Expect Lena Dunham-style all-media dominance within the next few years.
22. Lance LeGault - “Prince Avalanche”
David Gordon Green’s sublime and hilarious “Waiting For Godot”-esque two-hander is pretty much all Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd, the duo playing two distinctly different men coming to terms with each other and themselves as road crew workers spending a summer fixing highways next to a landscape ravaged by wildfire. But the arrestingly funny, spit-take, laugh out loud comic relief from their bickering comes in the form of Lance LeGault, an unnamed shit-kicking Truck Driver, who occasionally stops by for chit-chat and to share the wealth of his moonshine. LeGault, a then 76-year-old man and former character actor was rediscovered on the set of commercials by Green who loved his stories and wild, off-the-cuff, “I’m old so I don’t give a shit anymore” nature. And while the specifics of Green’s direction is unknown, it appears that the scene-stealing LeGault (one of 2013’s biggest scene stealers bar none), was just turned loose and let buckwild in front of the camera. He’s utterly hilarious in the movie and his sassy joie de vivre is infectious in this odd little joy of a movie. LeGault unfortunately died only a few months after shooting, so he didn’t have time to get on any comeback trail (and you best bet that would have happened had he lived), but “Prince Avalanche” is a terrific film to go out on—a snapshot of an electric and dynamic comedic energy that we sadly were only able to catch a tiny glimpse of.
21. Emory Cohen - "The Place Beyond The Pines"
We won't hide it: Emory Cohen's turn in Derek Cianfrance's "The Place Beyond The Pines" is one of the more divisive of the year. Some loved it, some absolutely hated it, and the arguments in Playlist HQ over his place on this list caused enough anger and resentment that it'll likely spark off at least one multi-generational blood-feud. Those of us on pro side of the equation would maintain that it was one of the more striking turns by a young actor this year. Cohen only turns up in the final third of the crime epic, as AJ, the douchey, doughy apple-fell-far-from-the-tree offspring of Bradley Cooper's upright but compromised copper, who finds himself the target of the revenge schemes of Dane DeHaan's Jason. He is, at first, almost unbearably unlikable, Cohen doing almost too good a job at showing what an entitled little dick little AJ's turned out to be, but he's still a kid too, and the young actor shows real vulnerability once he realizes who Jason really is. Dane DeHaan, with whom Cohen shares much of his screen time, has already established himself as one of the best actors of his generation, but that Cohen was able to even stand out alongside him is certainly a testament to the potential he holds.